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Data Ethics in the Digital Age

Michael Rovatsos, Director of Bayes and Professor in Artifical Intelligence, wrote a blog article on the new Data Ethics Online course on offer.

Working in data science or AI, it’s easy to lose faith sometimes. Horror stories around companies and government data misuse keep emerging. As if we weren’t still reeling from Cambridge Analytica and worrying about how rogue actors might be rigging elections around the world, news about the Nightingale project emerged recently, where Google was allegedly given access to the healthcare information of millions of people in the USA without their knowledge – including personal data that was not anonymised. At the same time, the same technologies have helped connect millions of people through social media, and have an enormous potential to revolutionise healthcare.

How do we harness the power of data and AI to make the world a better place, while avoiding the dangers these scandals so vividly exemplify? Around the world, people are asking this question. So many recommendations involving the governance and ethics of these systems have emerged that researchers at Harvard University had to use data science to map proposed values in a recent exercise. Turning any of these principles into action requires informed citizens and informed technologists, scientists and engineers.

At the University of Edinburgh, we have put together an interdisciplinary MOOC on Data Ethics, AI, and Responsible Innovation, in which experts in AI, ethics, privacy, law, science and technology studies and bioethics introduce fundamental concepts and apply them to everyday life scenarios to help people navigate this complex landscape. This course is not just for experts, it’s for everybody who wants to understand how ethics work and to be equipped with the basic tools to make decisions about their attitudes to technology in their daily lives and work.

As a team of scientists who aim to behave responsibly, I’m afraid I have to issue a spoiler alert: ethical problems are not something you can easily solve! They are multi-faceted, complex and ultimately require us to make judgment calls and take hard decisions in the face of conflicting priorities. That’s what humans are good at, and that’s what we need to embed in new technologies.

 

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Acknowledgement: The MOOC on Data Ethics, AI, and Responsible Innovation is brought to you by the University of Edinburgh, and was developed by the Bayes Centre and the Edinburgh Futures Institute with support from The Data Lab and the Data-Driven Innovation Programme.