Societal Implications of Recommendation Systems: A Technical Perspective

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One of the most popular applications of artificial intelligence algorithms is in recommendation systems (RS). These take advantage of large amounts of user data to learn from the past to help us identify patterns, segment user profiles, predict users’ behaviors and preferences. The algorithmic architecture of RS has been so successful that it has been co-opted in many contexts, from human resources teams, trying to select top candidates, to medical researchers, wanting to identify drug targets. Although the increasing use of AI can provide great benefits, it represents a shift in our interaction with data and machines that also entails fundamental social threats. These can derive from technological or implementation mistakes but also from profound changes in decision-making.
Here, we overview some of those risks including ethical and privacy challenges from a technical perspective. We discuss two particularly relevant cases: (1) RS that fail to work as intended and its possible unwanted consequences; (2) RS that work but at the possible expense of threats to individuals and even to democratic societies. Finally, we propose a way forward through a simple checklist that can be used to improve the transparency and accountability of AI algorithms.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMultidisciplinary Perspectives on Artificial Intelligence and the Law
EditorsH. Sousa Antunes, P. M. Freitas, A. L. Oliveira, C. Martins Pereira, E. Vaz de Sequeira, L. Barreto Xavier
Place of PublicationCham
ChapterChapter 3
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-031-41264-6
ISBN (Print)978-3-031-41263-9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024

Publication series

NameLaw, Governance and Technology Series, vol 58
ISSN (Print)2352-1902
ISSN (Electronic)2352-1910


  • Recommendation systems
  • Ethical risks
  • Societal threats
  • Decision-making
  • AI accountability
  • Privacy


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