The Ethical Imagination: Humanities vs. AI

A forthcoming talk by Teresa Heffernan

The era of “disruptive” technologies has given way to an ethical quagmire. Biased algorithms, invasive facial recognition software, proprietary black boxes, the theft and monetization of personal data, and the proliferation of hate-spewing bots and deepfakes have undermined democracy. Killer robots and the automation of war have led to a new arms raise with Vladimir Putin declaring whoever leads in AI will rule the world.

The concentration of wealth and power of corporations that own most of this resource-intensive technology and the environmental price tag of AI can only hasten climate change. In response to these ethical problems, a number of research centres are now investing in the intersection of humanities and AI in order to study its impact on society, notably the Schwarzman College for Computing at MIT, the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society at the University of Toronto, and The Schwarzman Centre’s Institute for Ethics in AI at Oxford. An article about the MIT initiative noted: “The approach has the potential not just to diversify tech but to help ‘techify’ everything else” while Geoffrey Hinton said: “My hope is that the Schwartz Reisman Institute will be the place where deep learning disrupts the humanities.” What these statements disavow, however, are the very different epistemological approaches that structure these fields. If we are to begin to deal with the ethical issues of AI, the humanities should not be “disrupted” and made to bow to the logic of big data, algorithms, and machines. In this talk, I will argue that it is only by keeping alive the tensions between artificial intelligence and the humanities that we can hope to have an informed debate about the limits and possibilities of this technology.

ETHICS OF AI IN CONTEXT. A series of talks presented by the Ethics of AI Lab, Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto

4 – 6 PM, Tuesday, Sept 17, 2019. Room 200, Larkin Bldg., 15 Devonshire Place, Toronto

For more information see Ethics of AI Lab, Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto

(Image of the internet courtesy of– All modifications by Social Robot Futures.)

%d bloggers like this: