Centre bridges gap between tech and morality

How societies can innovate with technologies while having a firm ethical grounding is to be the focus of a major new hub.

The Centre for Technomoral Futures, which launched in August 2020, aims to bring together technical and moral expertise to help design more sustainable and just models of innovation.

Its initial focus will be on the ethical implications of data-driven innovation in Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and other emerging technologies.

The creators believe that technical and moral knowledge have traditionally developed separate from one another, but increasingly complex social systems demand that they are more closely entwined.

Research and engagement

As part of the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) at the University of Edinburgh, the Centre is supported by a ten-year gift from the global investment firm Baillie Gifford and will feature multidisciplinary research, education and public engagement.

Its director is Professor Shannon Vallor, the University’s Baillie Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence.

Professor Vallor is an internationally-recognized philosopher of technology, an ethics advisor to leading technology companies and governments, and a passionate advocate for sustainable cultures of ethical practice across industry and public sector uses of data science, AI and robotics.

I am thrilled to lead this effort to develop new models of education for the 21st century that meet the needs of our present reality. Amid climate change, a global pandemic, rising social inequality and injustice, diminished trust in scientific experts and eroding public confidence in technological solutions for the complexities of democratic governance, one thing is clear: the human family cannot navigate the road ahead without learning how to re-integrate our technical and moral capabilities.

Professor Shannon VallorBaillie Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence

Meeting challenges

The new Centre will have access to EFI’s network of researchers, educators, designers and practitioners from across the University and the other hubs of Data-Driven Innovation. 

It plans to host ambitious and creative programmes of multidisciplinary research, teaching, citizen engagement and private and public collaboration.

The Centre’s programmes and activities will be custom-built to meet the growing moral, political and technical challenges of designing and sustaining equitable and thriving futures in the Edinburgh City Region, Scotland and beyond.

The Centre is part of EFI’s broader ethos to pursue and promote the participatory knowledge and critical understanding needed to support society’s navigation of complex futures.

First students

The first group of five PhD students will join the Centre in September 2020 and will be supervised across six Schools at the University of Edinburgh and mentored in EFI.

Supported by the Baillie Gifford gift, these students will pursue applied research projects in the ethics of data and AI applications in agriculture, medicine, social robotics, education and finance.

Over the next decade, the Centre will sponsor a range of sector-leading teaching and research programmes, including a new MSc in Data Ethics.

Including the marginalised

The Centre will also be a hub for public events, collaborations and partnerships that bring together technologists, policymakers, regulators, civic leaders and citizen advocates to collaboratively produce knowledge that bridges the gap between technical and moral insights.

The co-production demands the inclusion of underrepresented, marginalised and minoritised communities, who often bear a disproportionate share of the impacts of data-driven innovation, Centre leaders say.

The Edinburgh Futures Institute is delighted to be hosting the Centre for Technomoral Futures. This Centre is integral to the core mission of EFI as we work with communities, industries and governments to build our portfolio of data-rich research, education and engagement. We are currently living through a period of great uncertainty; a period in which the values which shape our public realm are open to scrutiny as never before, and one in which technological innovation is transforming our lives. Under the leadership of Professor Vallor, the new Centre will provide the research insight and educational programmes to enhance public trust and understanding and to ensure that innovation is shaped by the highest ethical standards.

Professor Lesley McAraEFI Director

Related links

The Centre for Technomoral Futures

Edinburgh Futures Institute