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In this month’s podcast we discuss the new ways to approach the ethics of AI and digital technologies and what research is being done to answer the questions and the dilemmas these new technologies raise.

Our ADAPT Centre experts today are researching alternative methods of ethical and critical thinking in the design of digital technologies and AI. They are Assistant Professor at the School of Information and Communication Studies in University College Dublin (UCD), Dr Marguerite Barry and postdoctoral researcher at the School of Information and Communication Studies at UCD, Dr Paul O’Neill.

During the podcast, both researchers delved into the realms of ethics and critical thinking in AI. Marguerite explored avenues for clarifying these concepts from the inception of technology design and development. She emphasised the importance of understanding the practicalities of the design process and identifying useful approaches for researchers when conceiving innovations. From Paul’s perspective, a key focus lies in thinking critically about ethical concerns within the context of your research. Paul’s primary interest revolves around integrating art and creativity into this communication process, particularly through critical media art practices and engaging with artists.

A key example of Paul’s work is his ongoing project, the Dublin Infrastructure Tour, running since 2018. This innovative initiative combines elements of a walking tour, academic presentation, and artistic intervention with the primary objective of revealing aspects of Dublin City’s physical internet infrastructure alongside the corporate structures supporting it. Through this endeavour, Paul aims to address critical concerns surrounding society’s relationship with major technology companies while also demystifying the technical underpinnings of internet functionality.

Both Marguerite and Paul discussed their involvement with the Beta festival. Beta is a new festival of art and technology critically engaging with the impact of emerging technologies on society. At Beta, Marguerite Barry, Paul and Danny Snow presented ‘The Ethics Studio’, a space where visitors can explore the ethical implications of new and emerging digital technologies, and examine attitudes, ideas, values and methods around the ethical design and development of such innovations. The studio was also a live research environment, where ADAPT researchers conducted studies throughout the festival, on using creative methods and tools to explore ethics and digital technologies.

Both researchers also discussed Interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, particularly in light of the amalgamation of Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council and how this level of Interdisciplinary will hopefully become a much more typical way of solving problems. They also explored strategies for enhancing individuals’ understanding and cultivating critical thinking skills concerning the technology we interact with daily, emphasising the importance of supporting organisations that engage thoughtfully with research rather than being swayed by fleeting trends.

Regarding education and artistic practice, mention was made of organisations like Tactical Tech, an NGO based in Berlin with a two-decade-long history. They specialise in public scholarship, collaborating with artists, researchers, journalists, and the general public. Notable among their resources is the Data Detox Kit, which has been incorporated into exhibitions by entities like EP and ADAPT. This kit offers practical guidance on ‘detoxing’ from excessive data usage, presented in a non-prescriptive manner. Supporting such organisations is deemed crucial, as they play a significant role in shaping discussions and debates surrounding the ethical dimensions of technology.

Additionally, the conversation touched on empowering individuals to engage in dialogue and express concerns, whether by seeking clarification from researchers and industry professionals or by voicing opinions to public representatives and policymakers. Legislative regulation holds sway in shaping the trajectory of technological development, underscoring the need for public engagement in these matters. It is imperative for individuals to advocate for more comprehensive regulation, particularly concerning the implementation of AI in public services. While automation may enhance efficiency, there’s recognition of the essential human touch, especially in contexts involving vulnerable populations, where automation could lead to marginalisation.

ADAPT Radio: HumanAIse is ADAPT’s newest podcast series providing an in-depth look at the future of AI, automation and the implications of entrusting machines with our most sensitive information and decisions.