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DMU and Oxford University to lead significant new technology ethics project

A significant new project led by De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) and the University of Oxford was launched at the Palace of Westminster in London yesterday.

Bernd Stahl, Director of the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility at DMU, is co-leading the ORBIT project with Marina Jirotka, Professor of Human Centred Computing at the University of Oxford.

Orbit 2

ORBIT, which stands for the Observatory for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT, aims to ensure the sustainability, acceptability and desirability of ICT research.

The project, which is funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will also provide services to promote responsible research and innovation across the ICT research community in the UK.

The project will provide a range of services for the UK ICT research community. These include awareness raising through workshops and events, training courses, proposal development support, the provision of online resources, but also undertaking research on RRI and helping organisations to implement RRI.

Key to the success of ORBIT will be the development of a community of interested scholars which will be supported by the newly launched ORBIT journal, a platinum open access venue for dissemination and discussion of the role of ICT in modern societies.

Professor Stahl believes that this project will be an important way of managing the ever increasing use of technology in modern society.

He said: “The project demonstrates the commitment that the EPSRC has made to responsible research and innovation. If large amounts of resources are made available for research and innovation, then society has a legitimate right to be informed and involved.

“Researchers, funders, companies and others involved in research and innovation in ICT have a duty to consider how their work meets society’s needs.” 

Orbit 1

British Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week in which she highlighted many of the benefits of emerging technology, including artificial intelligence (AI).

However, new technologies such as AI can also have undesirable consequences and the ORBIT project aims to ensure that use of such technology remains ethical and sustainable.

Prof Stahl said: “The downsides of new technology can range from lower employment to malicious use by hackers or terrorists, all the way up to a changing understanding of what it means to be human.”

The Prime Minister reiterated a commitment to ensuring that new technologies contribute to the public and promised that the government will continue to legislate accordingly, a move which Prof Stahl has welcomed.

Professor Jirotka said: “This is an admirable goal that will require significant input from a range of stakeholders. Key to its achievement will be the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in 2017.

“ORBIT welcomes the Prime Minister’s renewed commitment to ensuring ethical development and use of ICT and is looking forward to engaging with government on how to achieve this aim.”

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The ORBIT launch event at the Palace of Westminster highlighted the importance of the topic by hosting four presentations from: Baroness Beeban Kidron, film director and campaigner for children’s rights in the online world and member of the UK House of Lords; Professor Tom Rodden, Deputy CEO of EPSRC and Professor of Interactive Computing at Nottingham University; Abigail Sellen, Deputy Director at Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge and Honorary Professor at the University of Nottingham and University College London; and Professor Ian Walmsley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Oxford University and Hooke Professor of Experimental Physics.

The speakers discussed the practice of responsible research and innovation in their fields before Martin de Heaver, Director of the ORBIT Project, outlined the services that will be provided by ORBIT.
Posted on Wednesday 31st January 2018

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