Steven Umbrello

researcher (ORCID 0000-0003-2594-6313)

Steven Umbrello is an Italian-Canadian ethicist and researcher of ethics of technology at the University of Turin. He is the Managing Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, a think tank focused on techno-progressivism.

Steven Umbrello



AI and the Ethical Conundrum (2020)

AI and the Ethical Conundrum, by Capgemini Research Institute, October, 2020
  • Technology in general, and AI in particular, is not value-neutral. The design decisions that are taken while developing AI impart certain values to AI whether we want them to or not. The key is to bridge the gap between high-level principles and design of AI systems.
  • You need to be able to trace every AI design decision right from pre-design phase all the way to deployment of the system. Along with that, we also have to track the relevant moral reasons for the variables along this design history.
  • If AI systems are designed in a way that incentivize only certain economic values such as profit maximization and have no consideration for human values such as empathy, it will be no surprise to see that the outcomes of such AI systems will lack a human connection.
  • We want to promote AI for doing good. The design requirements should operationalize AI not only to avoid doing harm but also to actively do good. For that, we use the UN Sustainable Development Goals as one of the higher-level sources of values for designing artificial intelligence

Towards an Ethics of Technology (2020)

Towards an Ethics of Technology, by Impactscool Magazine, January, 17, 2020
  • Progress is progress no matter how small. But small and slow it is. The primary difficulty with AI ethical development, as has been true of ethical progress in any form over the millennia is ethical agreement. Although it is almost universally accepted at the EU, if not global level, the social/economic/legal/cultural impacts of AI, the problem is the next step. A failure to translate ethics into practice is quite dangerous given the impacts that recalcitrant AI can have, if not simply misused AI systems.
  • This is a general gap between the ivory tower and the public at large. The motivations are varied ranging from personal disinterest by scholars of public perception or awareness to the capitalization of scholarship by large publishers making research inaccessible to the public, if not to other scholars more generally. There are both personal and economic barriers to the dissemination of scholarship that would otherwise change public perception and understanding of these issues, which is quite important since the publics that typically engage in these issues tend to be direct stakeholders and thus of central value to the design of these systems.
  • novel technologies present us with possible worlds that ultimately involve significant and fundamental changes to society. I see no reason to be overly optimistic nor pessimistic. A cautious optimism that we will find the means to adapt and deal with transformative technologies will most likely prevail given the amount of resources and attention on the topic at a global level, but this should not make us complacent to any idea of certainty of beneficial outcomes. Similarly, imagining how the future will be is only useful in that it helps us to speculate about ethics and impacts, although making any strong predictions about our relationships with technologies ultimately is contingent on what those technologies are, how they were designed, for whom they were designed, how they function in different sociocultural contexts and why we built them in the first place.

To Ghost or not to Ghost? (2016)

To Ghost or Not to Ghost?, by Complex, June, 26, 2016
  • When I engage in any conversation, virtual or otherwise, I am entering into a social construct. These social constructs have social mores that are associated with them, most implicit and unsaid. For example, how often does one meet a person, begin talking to them, and mid-conversation turn around and leave without any antecedent reason? Naturally, their interlocutor will most likely be confused at this awkward social circumstance. It is simply something that defies social convention.
  • The point of technology is to make our lives easier; as a tool for progressive change. However, using technology as an avenue through which you are able to engage in anti-social behavior without criticism is against our very nature.
  • This does not mean that we must adhere to all social conventions, some are arguably dumb, while others act like the cohesion of our society. One of the best pieces of advice I can offer ... is to be simply authentic, be the person that you would be if you are speaking to the person face to face
  • A little bit of empathy goes a long way
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