Keynote at South African Conference for AI Research: ‘Artificial Intelligence and Ethical Disruption’

SACAIR 2020 is the second international conference focussed on Artificial Intelligence hosted by the Centre for AI Research (CAIR), a South African distributed research network that was established in 2011 with the aim of building world class Artificial Intelligence research capacity in South Africa. The theme for this year’s event is ‘AI transforming Humanity’ and will focus on the following broad areas of Artificial Intelligence: Machine Learning, Knowledge Representation and Reasoning, Applications of AI, AI for Ethics and Society, and AI for Development and Social Good.

Artificial Intelligence is an ethically disruptive technology: it challenges the very ethical concepts and frameworks with which it can be evaluated itself. AI systems bring radically new human-technology relations: rather than merely being ‘used’, they develop forms of ‘agency’ of their own, performing cognitive and physical tasks, and creating a new, technological environment. Moreover, they typically work on the human mind: AI interferes with human interpretations, decision-making, and creativity. Concepts like agency, responsibility, and intentionality, therefore, need to be reinterpreted in order to develop an adequate ethical approach to AI. In this lecture, I will address this ethical disruption in three steps. First, I will analyze the new human-technology relations that AI brings: how do digital technologies affect human practices, decisions, and interpretive frameworks? And how do new, hybrid forms of intentionality emerge from this, in which human and technological intentionalities are connected in novel ways? Second, I will investigate how these new human-technology relations challenge central ethical concepts and frameworks. How to understand the influence of digital technologies on moral actions, decision-making and value frameworks? Finally, I will explain how the approach of ‘guidance ethics’ can be helpful to address the ethical challenges that AI brings.

More information:

UNESCO statement on the Ethics of COVID-19 Vaccines

UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC) and the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) have called for a change of course in current COVID-19 vaccination strategies, urging that vaccines be treated as a global public good to ensure they are made equitably available in all countries, and not only to those who bid the highest for these vaccines. Both committees have a long track record in providing ethical guidance on sensitive issues*.

The statement was presented during an online event on 24 February, which gathered UNESCO’s ethics bodies together with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University, and Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO. See:

Keynote: “On Intertechnicality: Postphenomenology, New Materialism, and Digital Materiality”

March 3, 2021: keynote lecture at Conference ‘Digital Cultures’, FernUniversität in Hagen (Moderation: Selin Gerlek, Hagen/Munich).

How to conceptualize the new materiality that digital technologies bring about? Now that information technologies are merging with our physical environment, human-machine interactions can no longer be understood as “use,” but rather as immersion, telepresence, fusion, augmentation, or robotization. In this keynote lecture, I will bring together and expand insights from Postphenomenology and New Materialism to analyze the implications of this new, digital materiality.

Postphenomenology has approached the technological “means” as a “medium,” an active “in-between,” connecting human beings and the world. New technologies, though, have developed from “means” into a technological “milieu,” and sometimes even into an interactive technohuman “morph.” These new configurations bring new forms of mediated intentionality – with triangular, lemniscatic, and chiasmic structures – and add a dimension of intertechnicality to the intercorporality of social relations.

(Dutch) Academische Vrijheid in Nederland: Politiek en Maatschappelijk engagement

17 Feb 2021: Presentatie KNAW rapport over Academische Vrijheid. “Wat betekent academische vrijheid? Welke grenzen kunnen eraan gesteld worden en wie is er verantwoordelijk voor? Aanstaande woensdag presenteert de KNAW het rapport ‘Academische vrijheid in Nederland’ waarin zij het begrip academische vrijheid nader uitwerkt, en ingaat op spanningsvelden die kunnen ontstaan bij financiering van wetenschap, samenwerking met het bedrijfsleven en bij deelname aan het publieke debat.

Het rapport is een voorzet voor verdere discussie. Tijdens deze eerste bijeenkomst bespreken de deelnemers de manier waarop wetenschappers hun politiek en maatschappelijk engagement kunnen combineren met hun verantwoordelijkheid voor vrijheid en onafhankelijkheid.”


  • Paul van der Heijden, emeritus hoogleraar internationaal arbeidsrecht aan de Universiteit Leiden en voorzitter van de KNAW-commissie voor de Vrijheid van Wetenschapsbeoefening – Toelichting op het rapport Academische vrijheid
  • Ineke Sluiter, president van de KNAW
  • Annelien Bredenoord, hoogleraar ethiek van biomedische innovatie aan het Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht, lid van de Eerste Kamer namens D66 (fractievoorzitter) en lid van de KNAW-commissie voor de Vrijheid van Wetenschapsbeoefening – Kan een wetenschapper politiek geëngageerd zijn?
  • Peter-Paul Verbeek, hoogleraar filosofie van mens en techniek aan de Universiteit Twente en lid van de KNAW-commissie voor de Vrijheid van Wetenschapsbeoefening – Over value-driven research.

Link en opname van de livestream:

Societal Values in Digital Innovation

New publication: Societal Values in Digital Innovation – the results of the 2019 Thinkers’ Program of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts. On connecting societal values to digital technologies. With essays on ‘The search for a good digital life. Put people and values at the heart of digital innovation’ (Rinie van Est); ‘Technological Citizenship and the Ethical Guidance of Digitalisation’ (Peter-Paul Verbeek); and ‘Societal Values in Digital Innovation – A Technologist’s Perspective’ (Jan Rabaey). The Dutch version can be found here.

lecture at conference ‘Materiality and Agency’: Anthropological, Archaeological, and Philosophical Perspectives

December 1–5, 2020, 3 to 6 pm: conference ‘Materiality and Agency: Anthropological, Archaeological, and Philosophical Perspectives’, University of Cologne (Organizers: Thiemo Breyer & Niklas Grouls)

The conference reflects upon materiality and agency as two interrelated concepts in the study of human development, culture, and cognition. It provides a platform for critically assessing and evaluating crucial terminologies and notions in the fields of philosophy, anthropology, and archaeology. Whereas archaeology depends on material remains of past societies, on the basis of which patterns of agency can be reconstructed, anthropology investigates the observable agency of individuals and groups in their cultural embedding. One important aspect of such anthropological inquiry is the interconnection of human activity with the environment and material objects. Insofar as human agency responds to ecological demands and utilizes materiality to form cultural artefacts, both concepts – agency and materiality – can be regarded as correlates on a theoretical level. More information:

(Dutch) KNAW Webinar ‘Wat hebben de universiteiten nodig?

Het is al jaren onrustig aan de Nederlandse universiteiten. Daarom hebben drie hoogleraren onlangs een pamflet ’40 stellingen over de wetenschap’ gepubliceerd, waarin ze inhoudelijke stelling nemen over wat een universiteit zou moeten zijn. Zij pleiten voor een andere en betere financiering van universiteiten en een democratischer intern bestuur. In dit webinar gaan de auteurs van het pamflet in gesprek met kernspelers uit het Nederlandse universitaire veld. Sprekers zijn:

  • Ingrid Robeyns, hoogleraar ethiek van instituties Universiteit Utrecht en mede-auteur van het pamflet
  • Pieter Duisenberg, voorzitter VSNU
  • Stan Gielen, voorzitter NWO 
  • Rianne Letschert, rector magnificus Universiteit Maastricht
  • Ineke Sluiter, president KNAW

Meer informatie: