Governance and Regulation Seminar 11 – Marina Jirotka, University of Oxford

Wednesday 8th December 2021

Responsible Robotics: What could possibly go wrong?

Researchers and developers in the Digital Economy (DE) face significant challenges thrown up by uncertainty about where responsibilities lie for tackling harmful outcomes of technological innovation. There are controversies about who should, for example, monitor the actions of algorithms, or remedy unfairness and bias in machine learning. These questions of responsibility are often driven by economic considerations, but the issues run much deeper and are implicated in a wider reshaping of institutional, cultural and democratic responses to governing technology. How to divide responsibilities in the DE between developers, civic authorities, users of the technology and automated systems, represents a series of as yet unsolved problems. And, challenges remain over how to embed responsibility into the processes of technological design and development. Furthermore, as the pace of innovation continues to grow, the tension between profit and responsibility also grows stronger; users can feel increasingly ill at ease in the digital economy, with values of trust, identity, privacy and security potentially undermined. 

In this talk, I will discuss the RoboTIPS project which is entwining socio-legal and technical responses in its development of an ethical black box (EBB). Black box ‘flight recorders’ are familiar from aviation and RoboTIPS is developing its EBB for use in social robots to provide data for use in the investigation of accidents and incidents. Crucially, it is not the data alone which is to be relied on in such investigations – the work draws on the important social aspects of investigation surrounding the data. This approach to new notions of responsibility that can emerge through novel configurations of technology, society and governance is being expanded throughout the newly launched Responsible Technology Institute (RTI) at Oxford. I will discuss a few research projects carried out at the newly launched Responsible Technology Institute at Oxford, as examples of embedding responsibility in the design and development of new technologies. The work of all these projects draws on interdisciplinary understandings to establish new ways of considering ‘responsibility’ that can address the challenges outlined above.

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