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

Safiya Umoja Noble and the virtues of justice and perspective

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: safiyanoble.com

Safiya Umoja Noble embodies the technomoral virtues of justice and perspective.

Noble works as an assistant professor at Annenberg School of Communication of the University of Southern California. “She is a partner in Stratelligence, a firm that specializes in research on information and data science challenges, and is a co-founder of the Information Ethics & Equity Institute, which provides training for organizations committed to transforming their information management practices toward more just, ethical, and equitable outcomes.”

She is known for her book “Algorithms of Oppression“, in which she discusses various types of discrimination that happen in search services like Google. See the auto-complete function on the book’s front cover (below).

One day in the fall of 2010, she searched for interesting things for her stepdaughter and nieces, using the keywords “black girls”, only to find HotBlackPussy.com as the first hit. “Hit indeed” (Noble, 2018, p.3). This motivated her to embark on an extensive study of the ways in which algorithms “reinforce oppressive social relationships and enact new modes of racial profiling” (p.1).

Her book contains numerous shocking examples of search results, ranging from Google’s automatic image recognition system that tagged a picture of two black teenagers as ‘gorillas’ (in July 2015; very likely the result of training the algorithm with mainly white people’s faces–this has, by the way, not really been fixed; it looks like Google took a shortcut and ‘simply’ deleted words like ‘gorilla’, ‘chimp’, ‘chimpanzee’ and ‘monkey’) to a search in Google Maps for ‘N*gga House’, during Barack Obama’s presidency, that leads to the White House (p. 6). And from Google returning images of men, mostly white, when searching for ‘doctor’; images of women, mostly white, when searching for ‘nurse’; images of white women when looking for ‘professional hairstyles for work’; and images of black woman when looking for ‘unprofessional hairstyles for work (pp. 82-84); etc.

Noble embodies the technomoral virtue of justice, which Vallor described as a “reliable disposition to seek a fair and equitable distribution of the benefits and risks of emerging technologies” and a “characteristic concern for how emerging technologies impact the basic rights, dignity, or welfare of individuals and groups” (2016, p. 128). Noble draws attention to the ways in which search engines, which we regard as ‘objective’, are in fact not ‘objective’ at all, but very often skewed, biased, prejudiced–or, simply put: unjust. With a background in Library & Information Science she understands the importance of accessible and truthful information as a condition for democracy and justice.

Furthermore, Noble embodies the technomoral virtue of perspective, which Vallor described as “a reliable disposition to attent to, discern and understand moral phenomena as meaningful parts of a moral whole” (2016, p. 149). The results from an online search engine may seem trivial. Does it really matter whether we see pictures of black women (with ‘unprofessional hair styles’) or white women (with ‘professional hair styles’), one might ask. Yes, this does matter, visual communication shapes people’s thoughts and feelings. Noble draws attention to the ways in which online search results can propagate existing biases and injustices–or how we can fix these, to combat bias and injustice.


Possibly, you find that Safiya Umoja Noble 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

Edward Snowden and the virtues of courage, magnanimity, justice and civility

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: http://i.huffpost.com/gen/2803762/images/o-EDWARD-SNOWDEN-facebook.jpg

Edward Snowden is an American computer professional, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, and former contractor for the United States government. In 2013 he copied and leaked classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA). He revealed numerous surveillance programs of the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance with the cooperation of telecom operators and European governments.

“A subject of controversy, Snowden has been variously called a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a traitor, and a patriot. His disclosures have fueled debates over mass surveillance, government secrecy, and the balance between national security and information privacy.”

Despite the controversy, I believe that Snowden embodies the technomoral virtues of courage and magnanimity.

In a TED Talk (above), Snowden reflects: “I want to make it very clear that I did not do this to be safe. I did this to do what is right. And I am not going to stop my work in the public interest, just to benefit myself”. He saw the dangers of mass surveillance and acted bravely, for the common good, and paid a high personal price–he had to flee the US and has been living in exile since. This concurs with Vallor’s definition of the technomoral virtue of courage: “a reliable disposition toward intelligent fear and hope with respect to moral and material dangers and opportunities presented by emerging technologies” (p. 131).

Furthermore, Snowden exemplifies moral ambition and leadership; he acted from the conviction that mass surveillance needs to be checked and balanced with other values, such as privacy and transparency. This resonates with Vallor’s definition of magnanimity as a technomoral virtue that “enables and encourages moral ambition and moral leadership, two things sorely lacking in our contemporary technomoral milieu.”

Moreover, Snowden promotes the virtues of justice and civility.

In the same TED Talk (above) Snowden states: “We don’t have to give up our privacy to have good government. We don’t have to give up our library to have security”. He promotes finding better balances between security and privacy in the work of agencies like the NSA. This is in line with Vallor’s definition of the technomoral virtue of justice: a “characteristic concern for how emerging technologies impact the basic rights, dignity, or welfare of individuals and groups” (p. 128).

Finally, when asked to reflect on his role, in the same TED Talk (above), Snowden replies that he sees himself primarily as a citizen–a citizen concerned with values like privacy and transparency. This is in line with Vallor’s definition of civility: “a sincere disposition to live well with one’s fellow citizens of a globally networked information society: to collectively and wisely deliberate about matters of local, national, and global policy and political action” (2016, p. 141).


Possibly, you find that Edward Snowden Aimee van 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

Aimee van Wynsberghe and the virtues of care, self-control and justice

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.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Aimee) van Wynsberghe

From: https://www.itweb.co.za/content/KWEBb7yalR17mRjO

Aimee van Wynsberghe has been working in ICT and robotics since 2004. She began her career as part of a research team investigating the network variables related to surgical robots. She works as Assistant Professor in Ethics and Technology at Delft University of Technology. She is co-founder president of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics. The Foundation’s mission “is to shape a future of responsible robotics design, development, use, regulation, and implementation”.

She was recently (June 2018) appointed as one of 52 experts for the European Commission’s High Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence.

Aimee van Wynsberghe promotes the technomoral virtues of care, self-control and justice.

Van Wynsberghe promotes the virtue of care–which Vallor defines asa skillful, attentive, responsible, and emotionally responsive disposition to personally meet the needs of those with whom we share our technosocial environment” (2016, p. 138)–on multiple levels: on the application level, she focuses on the deployment of robots in health care contexts; on the design level, she advocates carefully considering ethical issues in the designing of robots; and on the level of (meta) ethics, she proposes ethics of care, an approach in ethics that starts with relationships and interdependencies between people.

Furthermore, Van Wynsberghe promotes the virtue of self-control–which Vallor defines asan exemplary ability … to choose, and ideally to desire for their own sakes, those goods and experiences that most contribute to contemporary and future human flourishing” (2016, p. 124)–e.g. in her work in the Foundation, where she argues that: “Robots are tools with no moral intelligence, which means it’s up to us – the humans behind the robots – to be accountable for the ethical developments that necessarily come with technological innovation.” So we, designers and developers, need to cultivate self-control.

Moreover, Van Wynsberghe promotes the virtue of justice, which Vallor defines as a “characteristic concern for how emerging technologies impact the basic rights, dignity, or welfare of individuals and groups” (2016, p. 128)–e.g., when she argues that: “Addressing ethical issues in robotics means proactively taking stock of the impact these innovations will have on societal values like safety, security, privacy, and well-being, rather than trying to contain the effects of robots after their introduction into society.” She advocates proactively upholding and defending values that are needed in a just society.


Possibly, you find that Aimee van Wynsberghe 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

Luciano Floridi and the virtues of honesty, perspective, flexibility and justice

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.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Luciano Floridi

From: https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/people/luciano-floridi/

Luciano Floridi embodies the technomoral virtues of honesty, perspective, flexibility and justice.

Luciano Floridi is currently Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information and Director of the Digital Ethics Lab, at the University of Oxford, Oxford Internet Institute, and holds several other academic positions. He was originally educated as a historian of philosophy; he then became interested in analytic philosophy (MA) and in epistemology and philosophy of logic (MPhil and PhD). He contributed greatly to the Philosophy of Information (and Technology), and Information (and Computer and Digital) Ethics, e.g., in his recent books: “Philosophy of Information” (2011), “The Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics” (editor) (2010), “Information: A Very Short Introduction” (2010), “The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality” (2014), and “The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Information” (2016).

Moreover, Floridi has been deeply engaged with initiatives on the socio-ethical value and implications of digital technologies and their applications; nationally (e.g., in the UK, with the House of Lords, the Cabinet Office, and the Information Commissioner’s Office),  internationally (e.g., member of the EU’s Ethics Advisory Group on Ethical Dimensions of Data Protection), and with corporations (e.g., member of Google Advisory Board on “the right to be forgotten”). He is one of the members of the recently established High Level Group of Artificial Intelligence.

The Onlife Manifesto

In the context of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research program, he was editor of the “Onlife Manifesto: Being Human in a Hyperconnected Era“. The authors of this Manifesto argue that “ICTs are not mere tools but rather environmental forces that are increasingly affecting: 1. our self-conception (who we are); 2. our mutual interactions (how we socialise); and 3. our conception of reality (our metaphysics); and 4. our interactions with reality (our agency).” Moreover, they argue that this impact of ICTs is “due to at least four major transformations: a. the blurring of the distinction between reality and virtuality; b. the blurring of the distinction between human, machine and nature; c. the reversal from information scarcity to information abundance; and d. the shift from the primacy of stand-alone things, properties, and binary relations, to the primacy of interactions, processes and networks.”

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor floridi why ai is both logically possible and utterly implausible

From: https://aeon.co/essays/true-ai-is-both-logically-possible-and-utterly-implausible 

Floridi also contributed to the debate on Artificial Intelligence. In response to alarmist messages by Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, Floridi wrote that “True AI is not logically impossible, but it is utterly implausible” (Should we be afraid of AI?). Instead of being overly optimistic/utopian or overly pessimist/dystopian, he proposes to be realistic about AI and use it for the greater good and benefits of society: “We should make AI environment-friendly [and] human-friendly […] We should make AI’s predictive power work for freedom and autonomy […] And finally, we should make AI make us more human.”

In his search for scientific rigour and his efforts to generate an overall vision on the role of ICTs, Floridi embodies the technomoral virtue of honesty and perspective, which Vallor defines as, respectively, “an exemplary respect for truth, along with the practical expertise to express that respect appropriately in technomoral contexts(2016, p. 122), and a reliable disposition to attend to, discern and understand moral phenomena as meaningful parts of a moral whole” (2016, p. 149). 

In his engagement with society and collaborations with policy makers and corporatons, Floridi embodies the technomoral virtues of flexibility and justice, which Vallor defines as, respectively, a “reliable and skillful disposition to modulate action, belief, and feeling as called for by novel, unpredictable, frustrating, or unstable technosocial conditions” (2016, p. 145), and a “characteristic concern for how emerging technologies impact the basic rights, dignity, or welfare of individuals and groups” (2016, p. 128).


Possibly, you find that Luciano Floridi 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

Sherry Turkle and the virtues of empathy, courage, civility and care

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.

Sherry Turkle headshotFrom: https://sherryturkle.com/

Sherry Turkle embodies the technomoral virtues of empathy, courage, civility and care.

“Sherry Turkle has spent the last 30 years exploring the relationship between people and technology. It’s complex. It’s ever-changing. And it affects everything – how we work and learn, how we parent and govern, and even how we love.”

Sherry Turkle obtained a BA in Social Studies and a Ph.D. in Sociology and Personality Psychology at Harvard University, and joined MIT in 1976, where she works as a Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology. For over 30 years, she has studied people’s relationships to computers. She wrote a series of best-selling books: “The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit” (1984), about how computers affect the ways in which we look at ourselves and the way we think and act, “Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet” (1995), about how people can go into virtual worlds, interact with others, and explore multiple identities, and “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” (2011), about how our obsession with devices and connectivity corrodes natural, organic, genuine communication.

In her most recent book, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” (2015), she offers a diagnosis of the problem: our obsession with devices and being always ‘on’ and connected made us forget the benefits of solitude (we’re so afraid for boredom that we fill every minute of free time staring at devices), we forgot how to connect to others (we’ve lost basic skills for making conversations, we’re avoiding ‘awkward’ conversations and thus have lost basic skills for empathy), and we forgot how to organize conversations in groups (most people are staring at their screens, in schools, in work places, etc.). In addition, she gives some practical ‘self help’ advice: to make an effort, to put your phone away, to learn to be alone, to learn to connect to others, and to learn how to foster genuine conversations. The key problem, i.e. a lack of conversations, can be solved be solved by exactly that what’s lacking, by having better conversations.

The chairs on the book’s cover are a visual reference to a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “I had three chairs in my house: one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society“.

Turkle has conducted ethnographic studies with thousands of people over more than 30 years, and over the course of those years, these conversations have made her concerned. In the 1980’s computers were exciting; we could use them as tools to explore our identities. But now, in the 2010’s our tools are controlling us. These interactions moved her to want to ameliorate this situation. She is simultaneously worried, about the lack of conversation, and hopeful, about the potential of better conversations as a solution.

In her work, Turkle embodies the technomoral virtues 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), and of courage: “a reliable disposition toward intelligent fear and hope with respect to moral and material dangers and opportunities presented by emerging technologies” (2016, p. 131).

Moreover, through her work, she advocates cultivating the technomoral virtues of civility, which Vallor defines as “a sincere disposition … to collectively and wisely deliberate about matters of local, national, and global policy and political action; to communicate, entertain, and defend our distinct conceptions of the good life; and to work cooperatively toward those goods of technosocial life that we seek and expect to share with others” (2016, p. 141), and of care, which Vallor defines as “a skillful, attentive, responsible, and emotionally responsive disposition to personally meet the needs of those with whom we share our technosocial environment” (2016, p. 138). With her analysis and advice, she urges us to reclaim conversation, to cultivate the skills of conversation, for the sake of civility and humanity, as an act of care to our fellow humans. 


Possibly, you find that Sherry Turkle 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