Man vs Machine: Accountability Mechanisms and New Technology

43 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2019

See all articles by Amelia Retter

Amelia Retter

Victoria University of Wellington, Faculty of Law, Student/Alumni

Date Written: 2018


Technology is becoming more complex and is increasingly being used in law. Tools used to assist in decision making are also becoming more complex. It is important to ensure accountability structures keep up with developments in technology so that we do not lose control of decision making processes. This paper identifies four types of decision making: human decisions, decisions using non-machine learning algorithms, decisions using machine learning algorithms, and decisions where machine learning makes the decision. Issues are identified in applying accountability mechanisms for each, focusing on challenges in pinpointing an actor to hold accountable and finding forums equipped to ask questions. The use of machine learning is a significant hurdle in being able to choose an actor because these kinds of algorithms are opaque and require significant expertise to comprehend. Users do not necessarily know how the algorithm works and so cannot provide adequate account for the decisions that the algorithm makes. Programmers may have to shoulder some of the accountability burden, however they too may be unable to provide complete answers. Likewise, forums may lack knowledge to ask meaningful questions as a result of lack of expertise and lack of transparency on the part of the algorithm. Problems identifying these parties in an accountability context need to be resolved for the future as machine learning algorithms become more common.

Keywords: machine learning, accountability

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Retter, Amelia, Man vs Machine: Accountability Mechanisms and New Technology (2018). Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper, Student/Alumni Paper No. 36/2019, Available at SSRN: or

Amelia Retter (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington, Faculty of Law, Student/Alumni ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, Victoria 6140
New Zealand

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