Woo Park | Journal of Asian Sociology
Public administration research has documented a shift in the locus of discretion away from street-level bureaucrats to “systems-level bureaucracies” as a result of new information communication technologies that automate bureaucratic processes, and thus shape access to resources and decisions around enforcement and punishment. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are accelerating these trends, potentially altering discretion in public management in exciting and in challenging ways. We introduce the concept of “artificial discretion” as a theoretical framework to help public managers consider the impact of AI as they face decisions about whether and how to implement it. We operationalize discretion as the execution of tasks that require nontrivial decisions. Using Salamon’s tools of governance framework, we compare artificial discretion to human discretion as task specificity and environmental complexity vary. We evaluate artificial discretion with the criteria of effectiveness, efficiency, equity, manageability, and political feasibility. Our analysis suggests three principal ways that artificial discretion can improve administrative discretion at the task level: (1) increasing scalability, (2) decreasing cost, and (3) improving quality. At the same time, artificial discretion raises serious concerns with respect to equity, manageability, and political feasibility.