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Institute of Continuing Education (ICE)

Artificial Intelligence

"The mission of the United Kingdom and all who share our values must be to ensure that emerging technologies are designed from the outset for freedom, openness and pluralism,
with the right safeguards in place to protect our peoples."

The words of UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2019, demonstrate just how relevant and urgent the ethical considerations of new technology are for us all. Dr Stephen Cave,  Executive Director of the University of Cambridge-based Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence, tells us why ICE’s new Artificial Intelligence Ethics and Society Master’s is both timely and unique.

"As a philosopher by training, I’ve been writing about AI [artificial intelligence] for 15 years, spending a lot of time considering how science and technology pose important new philosophical and social challenges,” begins Stephen. “It’s not often philosophers are called upon to burst into action urgently, but with AI becoming part of our daily reality over the last few years, now is one of those rare moments.

“We have this hugely powerful new technology that everybody  knows could be used for good or ill,” says Stephen. “Not just intentionally, but unintentionally too. Look at the impact of social media over the last 10 years. Very few people
foresaw that something used to share pictures of pets and children might stand accused of electoral manipulation. So people are asking how they can respond and deploy technology responsibly.”

The new Master's - a first for AI Ethics

The new Master’s in AI Ethics and Society, jointly offered by ICE and the Centre for the Future of Intelligence, is being launched to help address that question. Explicitly dedicated to the ethical and societal impacts of AI, the course aims to give students the critical skills, knowledge and analytical abilities to identify and address the considerations that arise from a wide variety of real-world applications. The new MSt sits alongside other new ICE postgraduate  courses, such as the MSt in Healthcare Data, which strive to develop knowledge and skills in rapidly emerging technology-dependent fields.

“All sorts of people are using this technology in different industries – from healthcare to any modern business – and asking themselves ‘How can we do that in a way that broadly benefits society?’,” notes Stephen. “We want to gather cutting-edge knowledge on responsible technology use and impart that to the developers, policymakers, businesspeople and so on who are making decisions right now about how to use this technology.”

Connecting cultures and disciplines in a common challenge

While philosophical ethics tend to focus specifically on moral rights and wrongs, Stephen is clear that he doesn’t want that definition to limit thinking on the course: “We want to think very broadly about the impact of technology on society and equip people to consider its implications imaginatively. We want to impart skills and techniques from disciplines like social sciences and critical design, for example. How can you design a product in a way that is sensitive to the values of all stakeholders?

“We hope to draw applications from those in industry who are developing and using AI, those in the public sector thinking about policy and regulation, and those in civil society who are considering how technology could be managed responsibly and used for good. The course is relevant to engineers, computer scientists, philosophers, social scientists, legal scholars – a real intellectual mix. The ethics of AI are a crossdisciplinary, cross-cultural and global  challenge. It’ll be inspiring to bring these minds together with our team.

“As well as covering ideas from different disciplines, this course will be practically oriented. I hope students will come away feeling confident to go into an organisation, assess what problems might arise from the use of AI systems in  that field and propose solutions and processes for using them responsibly.

“We don’t want to churn out technology naysayers. We hope to produce a cohort of solutions-oriented thinkers able to guide technology use in ways that impact people’s lives for the better. Given how widely used this technology is going to be, that covers almost every industry."

Learn more

Find out more about the MSt in AI Ethics and Society and how you can join us in 2021.


This article was originally published in the Lent - Easter 2021 issue of Inside ICE.

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