Read up on the opening keynote of MLCon and VoiceCon 2019

ML Conference and Voice Conference 2019 have started – “Actions are never morally neutral, nor are the products of human actions”

Maika Möbus

The first day of ML Conference and Voice Conference 2019 started out with an exciting keynote and you can read all about it here. The speaker, Dr. Janina Loh, raised questions about the moral and ethical implications of robots in the digital age.

ML Conference 2019 and Voice Conference 2019 are taking place in Berlin, and you can find out what happened on the first main conference day. If you couldn’t attend in person, you can either watch the video of the opening keynote that was streamed live or continue reading.

Program chair Sebastian Meyen (Software & Support Media Group) greeted the attendees of the two co-hosted conferences with the mention of lots of buzzwords: “innovation, digital transformation, digital disruption.” But what impact do these concepts have on society? As Sebastian pointed out, most importantly, we don’t know where this journey will take us. He stressed the importance of discussing innovation and change, technology and possibilities, but also risk and ethical challenge.

Ethical challenges were then addressed in the first keynote of the day.

Technology is not morally neutral

In her keynote ”Robots and Ethics in the Digital Age,” Dr. Janina Loh (University of Vienna) started out with a short introduction to the philosophical sub-discipline of robot ethics. She explained that “human beings are normative beings,” and therefore, wherever people are, there are values. “Actions are never morally neutral, nor are the products of human actions, such as technologies.” Consequently, technologies are never neutral.

Implementation approaches

How, though, can we implement ethical systems into robots? There are currently three approaches, as Janina elaborated further:

  •   Top-down approaches
  •   Bottom-up approaches
  •   Hybrid approaches

Top-down approaches describe the implementation of ethical principles into the robot, of which it is not allowed to break free, such as Asimov’s laws. Bottom-up approaches consist of learning algorithms that are designed to allow robots to learn as human children learn. The ethical principles are not pre-programmed, but the robot should rather acquire a set of rules via trial and error. Hybrid approaches merge the previous two.

The keynote ended with Janina Loh’s plea for responsibility regarding the ethical use of technology on different levels. These levels include personal individual actions, schools, universities, enterprises and firms, as well as ethics committees and similar institutional bodies.

ML Conference and Voice Conference are taking place from December 9-11, 2019, in Berlin—bringing together experts from the fields of machine learning, data science, voice assistants & more.

Maika Möbus
Maika Möbus has been an editor for Software & Support Media since January 2019. She studied Sociology at Goethe University Frankfurt and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.

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