Algorithms have become a powerful force in our lives, driving and influencing many of our decisions and at times automating our choices. In the United States, algorithmic protections are scant, especially for children. This opinion piece explores how children, with the help of adults, might act to create protections from algorithmic manipulation while at the same time enjoying the benefits that algorithms can provide. To illustrate this future possibility, the piece depicts an artifact of the future called “Children’s Digital Bill of Rights.”
Strategic foresight methodologies were used to develop the Children’s Algorithmic Bill of Rights. Such methodologies included monitoring and analysis of a wide range trends using the STEEP framework, which considers trends across social, technological, environmental, economic, and political domains; issues analysis; ideation on potential future events (i.e., discontinuous change); scenario development; future artifact creation; and implications generation and analysis.
The authors explored such trends as:
The increasing ubiquity of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and algorithms in our daily lives;
The growing number of young people who are becoming politically active;
The increased use of smart technologies to support and encourage civic participation; and
Deepening understanding of the impacts of digital device usage on child development.
The authors also explored plans and intentions of influential stakeholders, including:
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation;
The California Consumer Privacy Act; and
The Children’s Climate Lawsuit.
The writing team then identified potential future events and generated future scenarios by making assumptions about the trajectory of the above trends, by evaluating past plans and intentions relative to data protections, and by researching and developing an understanding of the direct involvement of children in taking action on pressing future issues.
As a result of applying strategic foresight methodologies to the issue of algorithmic rights and protections for children, the authors created a scenario and artifact of the future called “Children’s Digital Bill of Rights.” Scenarios and artifacts of the future are intended to provide a glimpse into possible futures and to serve as a starting point for conversations about what types of futures stakeholders may find desirable, what futures stakeholders may want to mitigate, and what types of strategies may be needed to shape the future in desired directions.
This piece emphasizes the need to a broad range of societal actors to anticipate issues affecting children’s experience of their and others’ use of algorithms and to take action today to being influencing those issues toward a positive future. The implications and strategic considerations that it presents include, but are not limited to, the points below.
It may very well take national consensus to create such a bill. What precipitating events might have to take place for people to rally around such a cause? How might people who wish to protect children’s algorithmic rights or address similar issues create public will around complex technical issues? How might we assess and call attention to the specific needs of children in this context?
As we make greater use of algorithms in many areas of life, there will be a need to balance protections alongside efforts to maximize their benefits. How can society ensure algorithmic protections for children while at the same time allowing them to reap the benefits that algorithms can provide? In what ways might adults help accord children agency in finding that balance?
Cooperation and conversation will likely be the key to navigating the opportunities and challenges presented by increasingly pervasive algorithms. Cooperative groups of interdisciplinary professionals, policymakers, community members, educators, parents, and children will be critical for assessing the risks, benefits, and challenges of living in a world embedded with algorithms, as well as for crafting policy to help protect children. How might a range of concerned citizens, specialists, and other stakeholders play a role in creating such conversations?