The Ethical Dilemma of Artificial Intelligence

Moral Machines

In the middle of the 21st century, artificial intelligence (AI) will take many decisions on behalf of humans. Not to enslave people, but to save humanity, posits Roberto Simanowski in his talk. He looks back from the future to the present time, in which the first decisions for this development are made. Fiction for a better understanding of the present.

The talk discusses the ethical challenges that artificial intelligence (AI) poses to humans. Starting from the necessary programming of self-driving cars for the event of an accident and the Trolley dilemma, Simanowski holds that technical developments de facto replace the ethics enshrined in human rights law with utilitarian ethics, which in its model of optimization corresponds more closely to the mathematical logic of algorithms. Considering that technology imposes standardization, Simanowski discusses to what extent a globally operating AI can be based on or lead to universal ethical values. Finally, he will take AI in self-driving cars as a test run for the cybernetic society and speculate, starting with reference to Isaac Asimov’s “Laws of Robotics”, on the promises and perils of an “AI-Nanny” or an AI as “benevolent dictator” and “protector god,” respectively. Can humankind entrusts AI to save the planet from climate crisis?

About the speakers

Roberto Simanowski is an Associated Member of the Excellence Cluster Temporal Communities at Freie Universität Berlin. He holds a Ph.D. in literary studies and a Venia Legendi in media studies and served as Professor of German Studies at Brown University and as Professor of Media Studies at University Basel and City University of Hong Kong. He is the founder of the journal on digital culture and aesthetics dichtung-digital.org (1999-2014) and has published widely on aesthetics, culture, and politics of digital media. His recent publications include Data Love (Columbia University Press 2016), Facebook Society. Losing Ourselves in Sharing Ourselves (Columbia University Press 2018), Digital Humanities and Digital Media: Conversations on Politics, Culture, Aesthetics and Literacy (Open Humanities Press 2016) and The Death Algorithm and Other Digital Dilemmas (MIT Press 2018), whose updated German version received the Tractatus-Award for best philosophical essay in German in 2020.

Kristina Irion (moderator) is Associate Professor at the Institute for Information Law (IViR) at the University of Amsterdam. A baseline of her research is the interpretation and analysis of the transformational processes that reconfigure the legal properties of digital data in line with societal needs. Irion’s current research agenda focuses on the governance of transnational digital technologies and global data value chains from the perspective of European law and international economic law. In terms of societal relevance, much of the commissioned research she has led or contributed to did generate a significant impact on public policy. She frequently provides expertise to the European Commission and the Parliament, ENISA, the Council of Europe, the OECD, national governments as well as civil society organizations.

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