Giving a talk about ethics of Artificial Intelligence at the HBP Science Alignment meeting in Alpbach (Austria), May 2018. Photo credits: Bjoern Kindler

Over the last year, Ethics Dialogues blog have published Q&A with the task leaders of the Ethics Support work package in the Human Brain Project (HBP). So far, the following tasks have been introduced: Ethics Support in the HBP, Compliance Management, Support for Ethics Advisory Board, Ethics Rapporteur Programme, Ethics-Related Data Governance and Data Protection Officer.

The final Q&A with Ethics Support task leader is with Dr. Inga Ulnicane, task leader for Ethics Support Outreach and Dissemination.

Q1 & Q2: What are the aims and main activities of Ethics Support Outreach and Dissemination?

Today outreach and dissemination often is part and parcel of research, as scientists are expected to engage with diverse scientific communities, social and professional groups, policy-makers and media. The main aim of this specific task is to facilitate links with stakeholders within and beyond the HBP to share the Ethics Support’s research results and good practices such as dialogues approach to ethics developed by the team.

A broad range of activities is used to that end from scientific publications and talks at the scientific conferences to organisation of and contribution to outreach and education activities. It also includes the launch and maintenance of Ethics Dialogues blog and communication via social media such as Ethics Support twitter account. These activities cover many topics from Ethics Support tasks such as compliance and data governance as well as other topics on which we work together with our collaborators, for example, Responsible Research and Innovation, dual use and ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

As a separate task in the HBP Ethics Support work package, it is limited to the current HBP funding period that started in April 2018 and will end in March 2020. However, it builds on the activities started earlier and many of the activities will continue in the next funding period where they will be integrated in a new project structure.

Q4: What are the main achievements of Ethics Support Outreach and Dissemination so far?

The team has been very active in many diverse dissemination and outreach activities ranging from scientific publishing to contributing to EU ethics developments. Recent scientific publications include articles on ethics dialogues, data governance and gender. Further scientific publications are in the pipeline. Our team members regularly participate in international scientific conferences and workshops. For example, during the past year, we have contributed to scientific events on topics such as healthcare in the era of Big Data and changing relationships between technology, security and society in Europe. And of course, we actively contribute to the HBP events like the HBP Summit and Open Day and many others organised together with our collaborators (more on that later).

We also facilitate participation of the HBP in the EU-wide ethics developments. For example, we initiated and supported the HBP contribution to the piloting process of the EU guidelines for Trustworthy AI.

The Ethics Support team is always looking for new and innovative ways of outreach and dissemination. Our Ethics Dialogues blog is an example of that. We started this blog a year ago in October 2018 and since then we have published more than 30 blog posts written by our team members and collaborators. We are developing our blog as an inclusive platform to encourage sharing of research results, expert opinions, good practices and new developments. 

Q5: What are the main challenges for Ethics Support Outreach and Dissemination for the next years?

As mentioned earlier, while by the end of March 2020 it will cease to exist as a separate task, many of the activities will continue, finding other ‘homes’ in the new project structure for the next HBP funding period. Among many future challenges, two can be mentioned here: responsible dual use and ethics of AI.

At the end of 2018, the Ethics and Society Opinion on Responsible Dual Use was published and HBP Dual Use Working Group was established. The task of the Dual Use Working Group is to implement the recommendations of the Opinion addressed to the HBP, European Union and other international actors. First steps in starting to implement some of the recommendations have raised many new questions that require further research and engagement with scientists within and beyond the HBP, policymakers as well as social and professional groups. How to ensure responsible use and avoid misuse of neuroscience, computing technology and brain research infrastructure will be important research and practical questions for the next years.

Giving a lecture on Responsible AI at the HBP curriculum workshop at Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, November 2018. Photo credits: HBP Education

Another important theme for the next years is about social and ethical aspects of AI. We are collaborating on this topic with our partners in the Ethics and Society Subproject, Ethics Rapporteur Programme and across other HBP Subprojects to prepare relevant research and awareness raising activities.

Q3: Who are the main collaborators of Ethics Support Outreach and Dissemination within and beyond the HBP?

Our team has many collaborations within and outside the HBP. Important collaborations within the HBP include interactions with Researcher Awareness task and HBP Education team. A great example of our Researcher Awareness collaborations is Ethics and Neurorobotics workshop. This workshop brought together researchers from Ethics and Society Subproject and Neurorobotics platform to discuss social and ethics issues of neurorobotics and led to joint follow-up research activities. The Researcher Awareness team regularly shares these and other experiences with relevant scientific communities, for example, by organising dedicated panels at recent Science in Public conferences in 2018 and 2019.

The Ethics Society team members regularly contribute to the HBP Education activities by delivering lectures at HBP Young Researcher Events and workshops on dual use and Responsible Research and Innovation as well as gender and diversity. Among other interesting links, interactions with the International Brain Initiative and its Global Neuroethics Summit can be mentioned. Some of our collaborators have contributed to our Ethics Dialogues discussions, for example, on gender and AI ethics.

Totally different but nevertheless very important are our collaborations with local students. We regularly engage graduate and undergraduate students from different disciplines in our work. During their internships with us they learn about international research collaboration, ethical and societal issues of emerging technologies as well as about outreach and dissemination. Several of them have also contributed to Ethics Dialogues blog. PhD candidate Toni Leach wrote about her research on sci-fi and about AI ethics talk. Undergraduate law student Winter-Gladys Wanjiku contributed to a post about the HBP curriculum ethics workshop, while PhD candidate Juliana Nnadi reflected on her experience of attending HBP curriculum workshop on diversity. Neuroscience PhD researcher Pelumi Obasaju wrote about the workshop on AI and gender and shared her ideas on how to engage scientists in ethics. It is really important that the next generation of researchers and professionals is exposed to international science and social and ethical aspects of technologies.    

Q6: Anything else?

My own research topics include questions about international research collaboration and European integration in research and innovation. The HBP is an interesting case as one of the biggest EU research policy experiments ever. This leads to a number of important scientific and policy questions. From earlier research we know that scientists often prefer small-scale research projects that allow space for freedom and creativity and involve as little administration as possible (Ulnicane 2015a). Can organizational factors that allow scientific creativity be scaled up? What are researcher experiences with academic freedom and administration in large-scale projects? Do opportunities and challenges encountered in the large-scale research projects differ from those in smaller-scale collaborations? And how diverse and inclusive large-scale international projects are? EU research funding increasingly come with conditions for supporting researchers and their careers (Ulnicane 2016a). Are scientists working on EU funded projects aware of these conditions and do they benefit from them?

The HBP as a FET Flagship that is now developing to become EBRAINS research infrastructure raises interesting topics in the context of broader trends in European science. Is the size of project important for tackling Grand societal challenges (Ulnicane 2016b), ensuring paradigm shifts and delivering on high impact expectations that accompanied many of EU research investment initiatives during the times of austerity (Ulnicane 2016c), including the idea of FET Flagships? And what are the challenges of turning fixed-term research projects into sustainable research infrastructures in the European Research Area (Ulnicane 2015b)?

While the EU has decided that the FET Flagship funding scheme will be discontinued, it is necessary to analyse what lessons can be learned from these large-scale experiments for future organization of international science. When earlier this year Airbus finally decided to end the production of its grand A380, some aviation experts pointed out that one of the positive outcomes of the project has been its contribution to the development of the new A350. What will be the next generation models for facilitating excellent and responsible science and technology developed thanks to the insights gained from FET Flagships?

Dr. Inga Ulnicane has more than 10 years of international and interdisciplinary research, teaching and engagement experience in the field of science, technology and innovation policy and governance. She has published on topics such as international research collaboration, European Research Area and Grand societal challenges concept and undertaken commissioned studies for European Parliament and European Commission. She is co-chair of the HBP Dual Use Working Group. Her current research topics include governance of AI and dual use.

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