The Centre for Technomoral Futures launches today as a groundbreaking initiative to design more sustainable, just and ethical models of innovation.
As part of the University of Edinburgh’s Futures Institute, the Centre will be a home for multidisciplinary research, education and public engagement that unifies technical and moral expertise.
The Centre’s unique mission is driven by the insight that effective design and governance of today’s increasingly complex social systems demands a fuller integration of technical and moral knowledge than is possible in traditional academic structures, where these typically develop in isolation from one another.
The Centre is supported by a ten-year gift from the global investment firm Baillie Gifford, enabling an initial portfolio of activities focused on the ethical implications of data-driven innovation in AI, machine learning and other emerging technologies.
Directed by Professor Shannon Vallor, the University’s Baillie Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence, the Centre supports EFI’s broader ethos: to pursue and promote the participatory knowledge and critical understanding needed to support society’s navigation of complex futures.
Vallor brings to the Centre her unique blend of experiences as an internationally-recognized philosopher of technology, an ethics advisor to leading technology companies and governments, and passionate advocate for sustainable cultures of ethical practice across industry and public sector uses of data science, AI and robotics.
Professor Vallor said:
“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.”
The new Centre will leverage the strength of EFI’s network of researchers, educators, designers and practitioners drawn from across the University of Edinburgh’s schools and other hubs of Data-Driven Innovation, to host ambitious and creative programmes of multidisciplinary research, teaching, citizen engagement and private and public collaboration. While retaining the critical rigor of traditional academic inquiry, 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.
EFI’s Director, Professor Lesley McAra, said:
“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.”
In September 2020 the Centre welcomes its first cohort of five PhD students to 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 groundbreaking teaching and research programmes in EFI, including a new MSc in Data Ethics.
The Centre will also be a convening hub for public events, collaborations and partnerships that bring together technologists, policymakers, regulators, civic leaders and citizen advocates as co-producers of technomoral wisdom. In all areas of its mission, the Centre’s philosophy of co-production will drive the inclusion of underrepresented, marginalised and minoritised communities, who often bear a disproportionate share of the impacts of data-driven innovation.