Virginia Dignum: what ethical AI can do for us

Artificial intelligence is no longer a computer science problem alone. We need ethics expertise, legal expertise and more… A 30 year veteran of the field puts it in context for us.


A discussion about the potenial of AI in our lives – and the growth of the ethical discussion about it.

  • Virginia Dignum is Associate Professor on Social Artificial Intelligence at the Faculty of Technology Policy and Management at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. From October 2018, she will be Professor of AI and Society at University of Umeå in Sweden.
  • Holley M. Murchison is an author, education producer, and strategist whose work lies at the intersection of communication and culture with a focus on amplifying marginalized voices to catalyze change.

AI is no longer a computer science subject, it’s a multi-disciplinary one. We need legal, we need ethical, and so on.

It’s not magical, though. It’s a tool and a service which we are building, drawing on our backgrounds and our knowledge and our beliefs. It’s not happening to us, we are making it happen. It all depends on what we put into the system.

Right now, AI is making decisions for us. Sometimes we want it to, sometimes we don’t know it’s doing it for us. It’s going to help us make more and more decisions and — in particular — if we get it right it could help us make decisions that align with our values.

For example, Google is making decisions for us about what we see, based on a whole range of factors. We need to be aware of that. We need to be aware that the results will change based on all sorts of factors.

We as consumers have choice. Right now, we’re paying for services online mainly with our data. In the future, we might choose other services to avoid that. With AI, we should look at the values built into the AIs, and chose the ones we use based on their alignment with our own values.

Ethics in AI

Holley M. Murchison and Virginia  Dignum

Not a day goes past without another set of AI principles being launched. The word “ethics” is being used more and more – and it surprised me, because it was never there in the 30 years I’ve been in the field before now. This is good. More and more political and civil organisations are getting involved in the discussion.

The EU is looking at both ethical standards, but also policies and investments in AI. In the same way that GDPR has been developed, they want to develop similar systems for other technologies.

AI, at its best, will help us make better decisions, and then put our beliefs and values into action.