Bias in Computer Systems

Batya Friedman, Helen Nissenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


From an analysis of actual cases, three categories of bias in computer systems have been developed: preexisting, technical, and emergent. Preexisting bias has its roots in social institutions, practices, and attitudes. Technical bias arises from technical constraints or considerations. Emergent bias arises in a context of use. Although others have pointed to bias in particular computer systems and have noted the general problem, we know of no comparable work that examines this phenomenon comprehensively and which offers a framework for understanding and remedying it. We conclude by suggesting that freedom from bias should be counted among the select set of criteria - including reliability, accuracy, and efficiency -according to which the quality of systems in use in society should be judged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)330-347
Number of pages18
JournalACM Transactions on Information Systems
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1996


  • Bias
  • Computer ethics
  • Computers and society
  • D.2.0 [Software]: Software Engineering
  • Design
  • Design methods
  • Ethics
  • H.1.2 [Information Systems]: User/Machine Systems
  • Human Factors
  • Human values
  • K.4.0 [Computers and Society]: General
  • Standards

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Computer Science Applications


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