Research & Publications

As the new director of the IWE and holder of an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship for Applied Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, Prof. Dr. van Wynsberghe introduces a new research focus to the IWE. This new focus strives to provide robust and comprehensive grounding to public policy guidelines for the green, proportionate and sustainable development and use of AI. To this end, the Sustainable AI Lab has been established within the IWE to further this line of research.

The research pillars of the IWE are:

Ethics of AI and Robotics
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The Ethics of AI and Robotics

Principle Lead: Prof. Dr. Aimee van Wynsberghe

The pervasive development and use of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) in the 21st century has brought optimism for progress along with concern for the stewardship of societal values and human rights. The IWE pillar for the ethics of robotics/ai deals with the impact of these technologies on: the lives of individuals, infrastructures and global society. It explores the range of ethical questions pertaining to each stage in the life cycle of robotics/ai, including idea generation, development, usage, and governance. Researchers in this pillar build on conceptual tools from ethics of technology, environmental ethics, and care ethics, to name a few.

Environmental Ethics

Principle Lead: Dr. Taylor Stone

The IWE undertakes both conceptual and practical research into the ethical dimensions of environmental issues. The 21st century will bring unprecedented environmental challenges requiring urgent action, including climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, rapid urbanization, and pollution. Alongside political action and technical innovation is a continued need to analyze the moral foundations of the problems – and proposed solutions – created by these environmental challenges. Conceptual research includes topics such as intergenerational (climate) justice, the geographical dualism of built and natural environments, and the philosophical foundations of wilderness preservation. This is complimented by practical research on topics including animal welfare and animal rights, policy guidelines for emerging technologies, the environmental costs of healthcare technologies, and urban sustainability.
Environmental Ethics
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Neuro Ethics
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Principle Lead: Prof. Dr. Bert Heinrichs

Neuroethics, broadly conceived, is the branch of applied ethics that deals with scientific research and technological developments related to the human brain. This includes imaging techniques that provide insight into how the brain works which and are used for both scientific and medical purposes. It also includes (invasive and non-invasive) interventions to alter brain states. Topics of neuroethics currently under intense discussion are, for example, issues of neuroenhancement and brain-computer interfaces, but also, specific issues of informed consent, e.g. in Alzheimer’s research. Moreover, neuroethics is increasingly focusing on the use of AI. Of particular interest here are questions of human-machine interaction as well as the prediction of brain diseases and personality traits. IWE's work aims to better understand such philosophical and ethical issues and to develop approaches that enable responsible research and implementation.
  • Rathkopf, Charles; Heinrichs, Jan-Hendrik; Heinrichs, Bert (2022): Can we read minds by imaging brains? In: Philosophical Psychology (ahead-of-print).
  • Heinrichs, Bert (2022): Discrimination in the Age of AI. In: AI & Society 37, 143–154.
  • Heinrichs, Bert; Knell, Sebastian (2021): Aliens in the Space of Reasons? On the Interaction Between Humans and Artificial Intelligent Agents. In: Philosophy & Technology 34, 1569–1580.
  • Heinrichs, Bert (2021): Advance research directives: avoiding double standards. In: BMC Med Ethics 22, 137.
  • Eickhoff, Simon B.; Heinrichs, Bert (2021): Der vorhersagbare Mensch: Zu Chancen und Risiken der KI-basierten Prädiktion von kognitiven Fähigkeiten, Persönlichkeitsmerkmalen und psychischen Erkrankungen. In: Der Nervenarzt 92, 1140–1148.
  • Knell, Sebastian; Heinrichs, Bert (2021): Entfremdung im Raum der Gründe. Überlegungen zur möglichen Transformation diskursiver Praktiken durch Künstliche Intelligenz, in: Scheidewege 51, 52-74.
  • Heinrichs, Bert (2021): Is it possible to simulate “thought”? In: Benetka, Gerhard; Werbik, Hans (eds.): Discussing Cognitive Neuroscience. Psychology, Neurophysiology, and Philosophy on the Mind, Body and Brain. Cham: Springer, 153-163.
  • Heinrichs, Bert; Eickhoff, Simon B. (2020): Your Evidence? Machine Learning Algorithms for Medical Diagnosis and Prediction. In: Human Brain Mapping 41, 1435–1444.
  • Heinrichs, Bert (2020): 学・道徳生理学・行為の根拠 [Neurosiences, Moral Physiology, Reasons for Action]. In: Yasushi Kato, Takeshi Kojima (eds.): 尊厳と社会(上) [Dignity and Society 1]. Hosei University Press, 297-318.
  • Heinrichs, Bert; Rüther, Markus (2020): Was tut der Mensch, der handelt? Christine M. Korsgaard. In: Müller-Salo, Johannes (ed.): Themen analytischer Philosophie. Eine Einführung in 16 Fragen und Antworten. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink / UTB, 157-172.
  • Heinrichs, Bert (2020): Aristotelian Naturalism and the Concept of Person. In. Hähnel, Martin (ed.): Aristotelian Naturalism: A Research Companion, Berlin: Springer, 425–439.
  • Heinrichs, Bert (2019): Myth or Magic? Towards a Revised Theory of Informed Consent in Medical Research. In: Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 44, 33–49.

Artificial Intelligence, Politics and Power

Principle Lead: Dr. Şebnem Yardımcı Geyikçi

The research pillar Artificial Intelligence, Politics and Power analyses the transformation of civil society, the public sphere, and the state in the new age of artificial intelligence. The redefinition of institutions, interests and interactions are key components of this transformation. The increasing use of AI in decision-making processes affects the nature of accountability and transparency and changes the parameters of the distribution of power between the state and society. Therefore, what actors seek to achieve through political action, i.e. interests, takes on new meanings and forms. Similarly, interaction mechanisms, which can be defined as the set of relations between actors, are also being reorganised. For example, the use of AI in the public sphere creates new forms of political and social organisation with important implications for the future of democracy and civic participation. Studies have also shown that the advanced use of AI transforms the institutional structures that hold interests and interactions together. For instance, the development of new AI technologies challenges the traditional ways in which political systems are organised. Given these complex shifts, the AI, Politics and Power research pillar aims to contribute to a critical understanding of this transformation by uncovering the ever-changing relationships between state, society and public sphere that will shape the future of politics. This research strand is inspired by the Data Pollution and Power Project conducted in 2022 at the Sustainable AI Lab.
Artificial Intelligence, Politics and Power
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