Kate Crawford and the virtues of justice, courage and humility

Inspired by Shannon Vallor’s book “Technology and the virtues: A philosophical guide to a future worth wanting”, in which she discusses a range of technomoral virtues that we need to cultivate in order to flourish (2016, p. 118-155), I am writing a series of portraits of exemplars–people who embody these virtues.

Kate CrawfordFrom: https://twitter.com/katecrawford

Kate Crawford embodies the virtues of humility, justice and courage. 

Kate Crawford is a researcher, academic and author who has spent the last decade studying the social implications of data systems, machine learning and artificial intelligence. She is a Distinguished Research Professor at New York University, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New York, and a Visiting Professor at the MIT Media Lab. Her recent publications address data bias and fairness, social impacts of artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and due process, and algorithmic accountability and transparency.

Kate is the co-founder and co-director of the AI Now Research Institute: “a new interdisciplinary research center dedicated to studying the social implications of artificial intelligence–with a focus on four themes: Bias and inclusion; Labour and automation; Rights and liberties; Safety and civil infrastructure.

Crawford draws attention to the ethical and political dimensions of the usage of algorithms and AI. In one of her presentations (below), she critiques the all-too-common attitude of engineers to not-engage in ethics (questions related to values and human dignity) or politics (questions related to power and the distribution of power)–they tend to say “I’m just an engineer“:

Crawford embodies the technomoral virtue of justice, which Vallor describes as a “characteristic concern for how emerging technologies impact the basic rights, dignity, or welfare of individuals and groups” (2016, p. 128). Crawford is concerned about the societal, ethical and political implications of AI and other technologies.

Furthermore, she embodies the technomoral virtue of courage, which Vallor describes as “a reliable disposition toward intelligent fear and hope with respect to moral and material dangers and opportunities presented by emerging technologies” (2016, p. 131). Crawford combines an intelligent concern with intelligent action, especially in her founding of the AI Now Research Institute.

Moreover, she embodies the technomoral virtue of humility, which Vallor describes as “a renunciation of the blind faith that new technologies inevitably lead to human mastery and control of our environment” (2016, p. 126-7). Crawford questions current misplaced optimism about AI and urges us to think critically.


Possibly, you find that Kate Crawford embodies other virtues as well. Or you may have other ideas about the virtues discussed above. Please post them below or contact me at: marc.steen-at-tno.nl

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Bill Gates and the virtues of justice, empathy and magnanimity

Inspired by Shannon Vallor’s book “Technology and the virtues: A philosophical guide to a future worth wanting“, in which she discusses a range of technomoral virtues that we need to cultivate in order to flourish (2016, p. 118-155), I am writing a series of portraits of exemplars–people who embody these virtues.

From: news.gsu.edu

Bill Gates founded Microsoft (in 1975) and became extremely rich. Over the years, Microsoft has been criticized for its business practices: problems with the software’s ease-of-use, robustness and security, as well as monopolist strategies, such as vendor lock-in (where hardware manufacturers have no choice other than buy Microsoft software).

Together with his wife Melinda, he established (in 2000) the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a philanthropic organization which aims to improve healthcare and reduce extreme poverty globally, and to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology in the US. Gates calls this “Catalytic Philanthropy: Innovating Where Markets Won’t and Governments Can’t“. Gates is currently working full-time for this foundation and for other charitable organizations, such as the Giving Pledge, which he founded together with Warren Buffet, “a campaign to encourage wealthy people to contribute a majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes”.

In this TED Talk Bill and Melinda reflect on their work in the Foundation: “Why giving away our wealth has been the most satisfying thing we’ve done

Their plans for the Foundation emerged as early as 1993, a couple of months before their marriage, while traveling in Africa, when they were struck by the poverty they saw.

In his role of philanthropist, Gates embodies the technomoral virtues of justice, perspective and magnanimity.

Gates exemplifies the technomoral virtue of justice–which Vallor defines as a “reliable disposition to seek a fair and equitable distribution of the benefits and risks of emerging technologies” (2016, p. 128). The Foundation aims, globally, to combat extreme poverty, to promote health, e.g., by investing in the development of new, better and affordable medicines and sanitation systems, and to develop sustainable and affordable energy.

Furthermore, Gates exemplifies the technomoral virtue of empathy–which Vallor defines as a “cultivated openness to being morally moved to caring action by the emotions of other members of our technosocial world” (2016, p. 133). For example, he realized that his fine education has enabled him to have the career and life he has had. This was one of the motives for him to improve educational opportunities in the US.

Moreover, it can be argued that Gates embodies the technomoral virtue of magnanimity–which, according to Vallor refers to moral ambition and moral leadership (2016, p. 152). Interestingly, Gates not only donates his own wealth (which he refers to as “give back”); he encourages other billionaires to also donate their wealth–which can be recognized as moral leadership.


Possibly, you find that Bill Gates embodies other virtues as well. Or you may have other ideas about the virtues discussed above. Please post them below or contact me at: marc.steen-at-tno.nl