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Outlining Traceability: A Principle for Operationalizing Accountability in Computing Systems

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Accountability is widely understood as a goal for well governed computer systems, and is a sought-after value in many governance contexts. But how can it be achieved? Recent work on standards for governable artificial intelligence systems offers a related principle: traceability. Traceability requires establishing not only how a system worked but how it was created and for what purpose, in a way that explains why a system has particular dynamics or behaviors. It connects records of how the system was constructed and what the system did mechanically to the broader goals of governance, in a way that highlights human understanding of that mechanical operation and the decision processes underlying it. We examine the various ways in which the principle of traceability has been articulated in AI principles and other policy documents from around the world, distill from these a set of requirements on software systems driven by the principle, and systematize the technologies available to meet those requirements. From our map of requirements to supporting tools, techniques, and procedures, we identify gaps and needs separating what traceability requires from the toolbox available for practitioners. This map reframes existing discussions around accountability and transparency, using the principle of traceability to show how, when, and why transparency can be deployed to serve accountability goals and thereby improve the normative fidelity of systems and their development processes.