Blog: Ethics in Action Panel

Author: Nicole McAlee


On April 29th, we held our inaugural spring event, Ethics in Action: Moving from Principles to Practice in Technology Ethics. According to the UN Secretary General's Roadmap on Digital Cooperation, there are more than 160 distinct organizational, national, and international sets of AI ethics and governance principles worldwide, and even more related to technology ethics more generally. This panel, moderated by our founding director, Elizabeth M. Renieris, convened a group of experts from across academia, industry, standards-setting bodies, the public sector, and civil society to share their perspectives on translating these frameworks, principles, and guidelines into action.

Jessica Fjeld, lecturer on law and assistant director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, was a lead researcher on the Berkman Klein Center's Principled Artificial Intelligence data visualization and white paper, published in January 2020, which sought to map consensus across the many ethical and rights-based approaches to AI principles. She began by sharing a summary of the project and providing an overview of the data visualization, and then moved onto sharing some key findings as well as questions raised by the project. Fjeld noted that the researchers found a "convergence of themes" across many of the sets of principles. However, despite having a multilingual team and striving for geographic diversity, the researchers still found that the majority of principles were dominated by organizations from North America and Europe, and to a lesser extent, East Asia and China. Fjeld noted that "vast regions of the world that are likely to be highly impacted by AI" are not well-represented. 

Francesca Rossi, IBM Fellow and the IBM AI Ethics Global Leader, stressed the importance of having a vision for AI that advances people and societies, so that principles can be developed and then operationalized in line with the vision. She also noted that "principles are just the beginning of a long journey," and that it's time to move forward to action. To that end, she suggested creating governance, toolkits, educational material, and culture change initiatives for designers, developers, and executives.

John C. Havens, Executive Director of the Council on Extended Intelligence and The IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, shared more information about the IEEE's Ethically Aligned Design document. He noted that feedback on the first draft of the document was largely positive, but noted that the context was very Western. The committee reconvened and added resources to the document, including a chapter incorporating ideas around classical ethics from Shinto, Ubuntu, and other cultural traditions. Havens also spoke about the IEEE's P7000 series, a series of technical standards focusing on metrics of well-being, specifically the "triple bottom line" of people, planet, and prosperity.

Philippe-André Rodriguez, Deputy Director of the Center for International Digital Policy at Global Affairs Canada, noted that in 2017, when conversations around the use of AI were really just beginning among the G7, there was a lot of resistance to discussing AI as an ethical issue, rather than an industrial issue. The outcome of this initial resistance was the Canada-France Statement on Artificial Intelligence, which eventually became the basis for the Global Partnership on AI. Rodriguez noted that one challenge over the last four years has been inclusively bridging the gap between countries with a longer history of having normative conversations about AI ethics issues and those that are just beginning the conversations, while keeping up with the rapid pace of technological development. He also noted that domestically in Canada, the government has taken proactive steps to develop, promote and continuously revise human-rights framed AI policy, and to educate the citizenry so they can participate in the conversation.

Fabro Steibel, Executive Director at ITS Rio, started by speaking about the different technology ethics priorities between the global north and the global south. He noted that the global north's focus tends to be principle and implementation, while the global south's focus tends to be inclusion and education, and how this connects to funding. While government and private sector funding of AI ethics initiatives is more stable because it is diversified, funding for civil society and academia has decreased over the last four years. Steibel also noted that finding the balance between "use and abuse" is different in the global south; for example, he noted that in Brazil, where 30% of the population doesn't have access to internet and 40% doesn't have a bank account, the use of technology such as facial recognition may provide more inclusion in society.

We will continue to track the translation of principles into principled action, and to discuss the state of applied technology ethics - follow us on Twitter or sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop. We are grateful to all of our panelists for sharing their time, and for all of the audience members who were able to join us for the live event last week.

If you missed this event, you can watch the panel below or on our YouTube channel:


Jessica Fjeld

Jessica Fjeld is a Lecturer on Law and the Assistant Director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. She focuses her legal practice on issues impacting digital media and art including intellectual property; freedom of expression, privacy, and related human rights issues; contract; and corporate law. Recently, she has emphasized work with AI-generated art, the overlap of existing rights and ethics frameworks on emerging technologies, and legal issues confronted by digital archives. She is a member of the board of the Global Network Initiative, a multistakeholder organization the protects and advances user freedom of expression and privacy around the world.

Before joining the Clinic, Jessica worked in Business & Legal Affairs for WGBH Educational Foundation, where she advised the American Archive of Public Broadcasting along with numerous WGBH productions. She began her legal career as an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP focused in corporate transactions. Jessica is also a poet, the author of Redwork (BOAAT Press, 2018), and the recipient of awards from the Poetry Society of America and the 92nd Street Y/Boston Review Discovery Prize. She holds a JD from Columbia Law School, where she was a Hamilton Fellow, James Kent Scholar and Managing Editor of the Journal of Law and the Arts; an MFA in Poetry from the University of Massachusetts; and a BA from Columbia University.

John C. Havens

John C. Havens is Executive Director of the Council on Extended Intelligence and The IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems. He is the Founding / current Vice-Chair of the IEEE 7010 Well-being Metric for Autonomous and Intelligent Systems Working Group, Founding Chair of the IEEE P7000 Draft Model Process for Addressing Ethical Concerns During System Design Working Group, Founding / co-chair of The Personal Data and Individual Access Control Committee for The IEEE Global Initiative and Founding / co-chair of the Wellbeing Committee of the IEEE Global Initiative. Previously, John was an EVP of Social Media at PR Firm, Porter Novelli, and a professional actor for over 15 years. John has written for Mashable and The Guardian and is author of the books, Heartificial Intelligence: Embracing Our Humanity To Maximize Machines and Hacking Happiness: Why Your Personal Data Counts and How Tracking it Can Change the World.

Philippe-André Rodriguez

Philippe-André Rodriguez is the Deputy Director of the Center for International Digital Policy at Global Affairs Canada, and a Professor of Practice at McMaster University. He previously served as senior advisor at Canada’s Privy Council Office on issues related to digital, platforms, and artificial intelligence governance. Prior to joining the Canadian government, he was a Fellow at Yale Law School, and completed a DPhil at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. His research has been published in the Cambridge Review of International Affairs, the European Review of History, and the Human Rights Review, among others.

Francesca Rossi

Francesca Rossi is an IBM fellow and the IBM AI Ethics Global Leader. She works at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Lab in New York, USA, where she leads research projects on Artificial Intelligence (AI), the research area that she has focused on during her entire career.

She obtained her Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Pisa, where she remained for 6 years as an assistant professor. Afterwards, she joined the University of Padova, where she has been a professor of computer science for about 20 years before joining IBM. She published over 200 scientific articles. In 2019 she published the book for the Italian market “Il confine delfuturo: ci possiamo fidare dell’Intelligenza Artificiale?” with Feltrinelli.

She is a fellow of both the worldwide association of AI (AAAI) and of the European one (EurAI), and she will be the next president of AAAI. In 2020 she was the general chair of the AAAI 2020 conference, that saw the participation of more than 4,000 AI researchers.

Besides her scientific results and her activities in support of the AI research community, in the last few years she has become a leader also in AI ethics, founding the IBM internal AI ethics board and leading or contributing to the main global initiatives around this topic. For example, she has been a member of the European Commission High Level Expert Group on AI and currently collaborates on these themes with many research centers in USA, UK, Europe, and Australia, with the United Nations, and with the World Economic Forum. She is also part of other high-impact initiatives, such as the Global Partnership on AI, a coalition that includes about 20 countries (including USA and Italy) with the aim to facilitate the international collaboration on the responsible development and use of AI.

Fabro Steibel

Fabro Steibel is a post-doc affiliated with the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University, and a member of the Global Council of the World Economic Forum. He acted for 6 years as the Independent Researcher (IRM) at the Open Government Partnership in Brazil, and is a fellow in open government from by the Organization of American States, a postdoctoral fellow at the United Nations University, and a visiting researcher at the University of California San Diego. Fabro is the executive director of ITS Rio.


Elizabeth M. Renieris

Elizabeth M. Renieris is the Founding Director of the Notre Dame-IBM Technology Ethics Lab, the applied research and development arm of the University of Notre Dame’s Technology Ethics Center, where she helps develop and oversee projects to promote human values in technology.

She is also a Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a Practitioner Fellow at Stanford’s Digital Civil Society Lab, and an Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

Elizabeth’s work is focused on cross-border data governance, as well as the ethical challenges and human rights implications of digital identity, blockchain, and other new and advanced technologies.

As the Founder & CEO of HACKYLAWYER, a consultancy focused on law and policy engineering, Elizabeth has advised the World Bank, the U.K. Parliament, the European Commission, and a variety of international organizations and NGOs on these subjects. She’s also working on a forthcoming book about the future of data governance through MIT Press.

Elizabeth holds a Master of Laws from the London School of Economics, a Juris Doctor from Vanderbilt University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard College.