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Rule by Automation: How Automated Decision Systems Promote Freedom and Equality

  • Jacob Sparks ORCID logo EMAIL logo and Athmeya Jayaram


Using automated systems to avoid the need for human discretion in government contexts – a scenario we call ‘rule by automation’ – can help us achieve the ideal of a free and equal society. Drawing on relational theories of freedom and equality, we explain how rule by automation is a more complete realization of the rule of law and why thinkers in these traditions have strong reasons to support it. Relational theories are based on the absence of human domination and hierarchy, which automation helps us achieve. Nevertheless, there is another understanding of relational theories where what matters is the presence of valuable relationships with those in power. Exploring this further might help us see when and why we should accept human discretion.

Corresponding author: Jacob Sparks, Philosophy Department, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Bldg. 47, Rm. 37 1 Grand Avenue, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-0329, USA, E-mail:
Jacob Sparks and Athmeya Jayaram contributed equally to this article.


The authors would like to thank the Institute for Practical Ethics (IPE) at UC San Diego for its support. We would also like to thank John Evans, Craig Callender, Ava Wright, Robert Wallace, participants at the IPE Workshop and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.


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Published Online: 2022-01-06
Published in Print: 2022-10-26

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