Institute for Ethics in AI
Oxford leading the way in AI ethics
Philosophers made a major contribution to the development of medical ethics forty years ago, and we are now at a tipping point where a similar ethical intervention is needed to cope with the questions raised by the rise of AI.
The Institute for Ethics in AI will bring together world-leading philosophers and other experts in the humanities with the technical developers and users of AI in academia, business and government. The ethics and governance of AI is an exceptionally vibrant area of research at Oxford and the Institute is an opportunity to take a bold leap forward from this platform.
Every day brings more examples of the ethical challenges posed by AI; from face recognition to voter profiling, brain machine interfaces to weaponised drones, and the ongoing discourse about how AI will impact employment on a global scale. This is urgent and important work that we intend to promote internationally as well as embedding in our own research and teaching here at Oxford.
The current priorities of the Institute:
- Promoting “AI ethics” globally as a field comparable to medical ethics
- Embedding AI ethics in research and teaching at Oxford
- Developing our seminar series bringing together leaders in technology companies, governments and academia to discuss ethical issues in AI
- Designing a dedicated space for the Institute within the Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities
- A global search for an Institute Director and top academics
- Appointing an Advisory Council of world-leading AI experts to guide the future of the Institute
- Launching an International Prize for AI Ethics, and Global Visiting Fellowships
- Sharing ideas and research through a wide range of public engagement activities, supported by the Humanities Cultural Programme
Over the next year we will begin recruiting for posts and seeking partners and collaborators.
Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Chair of the Steering Group of the Institute for AI Ethics, presented the initial plans for the Institute at the AI@Oxford Conference on 18th September 2019. In this video, he explains why it is so important to think about AI ethics.
The Ethics in AI seminars
The Ethics in AI Seminar series brings together experts from a wide range of academic disciplines at Oxford to discuss the ethical challenges posed by AI. The seminars are convened by Peter Millican, Professor of Philosophy at Oxford.
The first three Ethics in AI Seminars were held in late 2019 and early 2020. More than 350 students and academics attended from more than 30 academic departments.
Here are the topics so far, with links to each talk:
Seminar 1, November 11th 2019
1. Background and Aims of the Institute for Ethics in AI (Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Principal of Jesus College, Department of Computer Science)
Seminar 2, January 27th 2020
1. AI Governance and Ethics - Allan Dafoe and Carina Prunkl, Future of Humanity Institute, Faculty of Philosophy
Seminar 3, February 10th 2020
3. Values and AI: Views from Public Policy - Jo Wolff and Vafa Ghazavi, Blavatnik School of Government
Future seminars are planned each academic term and will initially be held online due to Coronavirus mitigation measures. Topics will include AI in Public Health and Epidemic Control; AI, Propaganda and Elections; AI and the Problem of Bias; AI and the Future of Work. For more information, or to request to attend, email us.
The Steering Group
The Institute is guided by a Steering Group of leading experts at Oxford University, chaired by Professor Sir Nigel Shadbolt. Its members are:
- Professor Chris Timpson, Head of the Faculty of Philosophy
- Professor Mike Wooldridge, Head of the Department of Computer Science
- Professor Cecile Fabre, Professor of Philosophy
- Professor Phil Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute
- Professor Daniel Grimley, Associate Head of the Humanities DIvision
- Professor Alison Noble, Technikos Professor of Biomedical Engineering
- Professor Michael Parker, Director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, and the Ethos Centre
The academic team
In September, we announced the appointment of an outstanding team of philosophers, following a global search (which was covered in the New Statesman). They are:
- A Director, Professor John Tasioulas (starting in October).
- An Associate Professor in Philosophy, Dr Carissa Véliz.
- An Associate Professor in Philosophy, Dr Milo Phillips-Brown.
- A Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Carina Prunkl.
- A Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr Ted Lechterman.
- Two doctoral students, who will start their programme in the coming academic year.
Global Visiting Fellowships and an International Prize
A core aim of the Institute is to raise the profile of - and urgent need for - AI ethics. To this end, we will establish Global Visiting Fellowships and an International Prize. More information to follow later in the year.
Oxford University has been selected as one of seven universities to host The Obert C. Tanner Lectures on Artificial Intelligence and Human Values in 2021.
The Institute is already forging collaborations with government and policy officials, academics around the world, and industry leaders. We are seeking other partnerships and encourage anyone interested to contact us. You can also follow us on Twitter at @EthicsinAI.
Ethics in AI and Covid-19
Academics involved with the Institute are shaping the conversations around governmental responses to the pandemic. On 10 June Professor Michael Parker, a member of the Institute's Steering Group, has advised the UK's National Health Service on the ethics underpinning the development of its mobile contact tracing app. In a recent online discussion, he explained the ethical considerations needed to foster well-founded public trust and confidence when deploying an app-based approach to tracing people who have had Covid-19.
AI at Oxford
The Institute will bring together academics from across Oxford, where there is wide expertise in all areas of AI and ethics. Some of Oxford’s AI research can be found here.
Many of these experts featured in the University's Futuremakers podcast series. In ten episodes, dozens of Oxford academics explored questions like: Are algorithms biased? Is AI good for our health? What will AI mean for the future of humanity?
The Institute itself is part of the Faculty of Philosophy, and you can find out more about past and upcoming events on the Philosophy website.
Oxford has a wealth of researchers in relevant fields, scattered through numerous University departments – including Philosophy, Computer Science, Engineering, Social Science, and Medicine – and also a wide range of specialist “centres” and “institutes”. But hitherto, this rich number and variety of researchers has lacked any integrating focus, with those in one part of the University sometimes unaware of those elsewhere, even while working in closely cognate areas. It is against this background that Oxford is creating an Institute for Ethics in AI, to open up a broad conversation between relevant researchers and students across the entire University, and thus to generate a coherent powerhouse of AI Ethics which will be more than the sum of its (already impressive) parts.
Professor Peter Millican