William Knight, Christine Aicardi and Inga Ulnicane

How do we make scientists and engineers aware of societal and ethical issues? And how do we engage diverse publics with the latest developments in future and emerging technologies? What challenges do we face and what can we learn from such engagements? These were guiding questions for the panel ‘Engaging with emerging technologies: representation, responsibility and reflexivity’ organized by the Researcher Awareness team of the Human Brain Project (HBP) at the Science in Public 2018 conference ‘Intersecting Science’ that took place in Cardiff, 17-19 December.

Intersecting Science

The conference focussed on the multiple ways that scholars have sought to intervene in, understand, talk about, and co-produce with, the natural science. It brought together some 200 delegates from 14 countries and diverse scientific disciplines and research fields including Science and Technology Studies (STS), Public Understanding of Science, Science Communication, Medical Sociology, History of Science and others.

The conference programme included panels, workshops and keynotes on a wide range of topics such as collaboration, interdisciplinarity, health and medicine, women in science and expertise. As a sign of the times, there was also particular interest in exploring politics of science and its publics. A considerable amount of attention was paid to the ‘hot topic’ of Artificial Intelligence that was addressed in panels and talks on AI narrative project,  self-driving vehicles and geopolitics of AI as well as ‘Author Meets Critics’ session on Harry Collins new books ‘Artifictional Intelligence: Against Humanity’s Surrender to Computers’. In addition to more traditional academic events, the conference also included an exhibition ‘Intersection’ located in a shopping centre. The exhibition included artworks from three artists selected for the critical engagement with science and technology in their practice.

Conference participants at the exhibition ‘Intersection’

Reflections on Responsible Research and Innovation in the Human Brain Project

The panel convened by the HBP Researcher Awareness team focussed on lessons and challenges derived from their own experience of being embedded in the HBP’s Ethics and Society subproject that applies the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) approach in its research and practices. The panel gave insights into some examples from a broad ranging Ethics and Society work programme in the HBP. In this case the focus was on science fiction, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence.  

Christine Aicardi reflected on her experiments with science fiction as a way to try and improve RRI. Her open ended collaborative experiments with sci fi writers and labs have led to a number of public events such as ‘Strange Brains, Alien Minds’. Based on her experience, she explored questions on whose views get to be represented in scientific research and technological development, and how effectively, and how social scientists can try and encourage reflexivity in scientists and technologists.

William Knight discussed RRI of Big Data in the HBP in particular focusing on the work that Ethics Support team does on compliance management, ethics-related data governance and the work of the HBP data protection officer. He highlighted some of the challenges of data governance in international neuroscience such as allocation of responsibility for dual use or misuse and dealing with diversity of local interpretations, ethical cultures and legal systems.

In her talk ‘Old wine and new tech: Novel and recurring engagement issues in the case of AI’, Inga Ulnicane highlighted similarities and differences between AI and other emerging technologies. She discussed lessons that emerging AI policies can draw from existing ethical frameworks of technologies as well as AI-specific governance innovations needed. Her research feeds into the HBP work on AI including relevant education activities. The panel was well-attended and a wide-range of questions from the audience confirmed timeliness and broader interest in the questions addressed.

Global & local engagements between practitioners & researchers

‘Science in Public’ is an annual UK based conference which has been running since 2006 under the auspices of the Science in Public Research Network that aims to foster cross-disciplinary discussion and debate on the topic. The next Science in Public 2019 conference focusing on the theme ‘the global and the local’ and hoping to increase engagement between practitioners and researchers will take place in Manchester, 10-12 July.

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