Past, Future, and Present: The New Temporality of Decision-Making Software

Administrative decisions are increasingly co-produced by public officials and specialized software. Draws on “the past,” as represented by government databases, this software assembles data points to generate decisions about an individual’s access to public benefits. While such decisions are, in theory, reviewed by a human before taking effect, the technical processes by which they are produced depart from notions of temporality common to procedural fairness principles.

This paper explores this temporal shift in administrative decisions. It shows how software reaches back in time, uses the past to predict the future, and influences the present via a benefits decision. To compare the notions of time underlying procedural fairness doctrines and decision-making software, this paper draws on recent interdisciplinary studies of legal temporality, media, and governance. It then closes by theorizing how legal principles might respond to the temporality of decision-making software.