Harnessing Interdisciplinarity to Promote the Ethical Design of AI Systems

Menisha Patel, Helena Webb, Martina Jirotka, Alan Davoust, Ross Gales, Michael Rovatsos, Ansgar Koene

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

There is a growing global awareness that increasingly powerful AI technologies are being developed which have the potential to reshape societies and institutions. ICT researchers and practitioners are under pressure to consider and reflect on the motivations, purposes and possible consequences of their innovations. Whilst it has long been recognised that technological innovations have social and ethical impacts, a gap remains in practice between ethics and social science research on the one hand, and computer science and engineering on the other. Few opportunities exist to incorporate ethical or social reflection into system development in order to design more responsible technologies. We argue that interdisciplinarity is fundamental to identifying pathways to best practice in the design and development of AI innovations - including their deployment in, and impact on, society. In this paper, we detail our experience of conducting an `ethical hackathon' as a tool for the facilitation of the ethical design of AI systems. This non-conventional hackathon model draws on Responsible Innovation (RI) and places primacy on the the integration of ethics by bringing together a range of disciplines as a necessary part of addressing a design task. In an ethical hackathon, computer scientists and engineers collaborate closely with specialists from other fields in order to learn how to work together effectively to design more responsible technologies. Teams which include computer scientists, engineers, ethicists, social scientists and business students, complete a task that requires them to anticipate and reflect on the social and ethical issues that may emerge from an innovation, and also consider how to address these in their technical designs. Through a qualitative analysis we highlight the significant potential of the model to facilitate the ethical design and development of AI systems. However, we also identify several barriers to the success of the approach and conclude that in order to conduct a successful ethical hackathon, and engender a truly interdisciplinary consideration of the ethics of AI, careful design and management of participants' expectations is required. To this end, we conclude the paper by providing design implications
which build on our experiences.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationECIAIR 2019 - Proceedings of European Conference on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics
EditorsPaul Griffiths, Mitt Nowshade Kabir
PublisherAcademic Conferences and Publishing International (acpi)
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-912764-44-0
ISBN (Print)978-1-912764-45-7
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2019
EventEuropean Conference on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics - Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 31 Oct 20191 Nov 2019


ConferenceEuropean Conference on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics
Abbreviated titleECIAIR 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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