Vienna Manifesto on Digital Humanism

Nov. 3, 2020
5:00 – 6:30 PM
(17:00) CET
Lecture Series
“Ethics and IT: How AI is Reshaping our World”

This panel debate will investigate the development of AI from a philosophical perspective. In particular, we will discuss the ethical implications of AI and the global challenges raised by the widespread adoption of socio-technical systems powered by AI tools. These challenges will be addressed by the three speakers from different cultural and geographical perspectives. We invite the audience to be part of the debate to increase with the panel our understanding how AI is reshaping the world and the awareness of the challenges we will face in the future.

Safety, Fairness, and Visual Integrity in an AI-shaped world
Deborah Johnson

AI algorithms are potent components in decisions that affect the lives of individuals and the activities of public and private institutions. Although the use of algorithms to make decisions has many benefits, a number of problems have been identified with their use in certain domains, most notably in domains in which safety and fairness are important. AI algorithms are also used to produce tools that enable individuals to do things they would not otherwise be able to do. In the case of synthetic media technologies, users are able to produce deepfakes that challenge the integrity of visual experience. In my presentation, I will discuss safety, fairness, and visual integrity as three ethical issues arising in an AI-shaped world.

Global Challenges for AI Ethics
Guglielmo Tamburrini

The Covid-19 pandemics is forcing us to address some global challenges concerning human well-being and fundamental rights protection. This panel presentation explores ethically ambivalent roles that AI plays in connection with two additional global challenges: (1) climate warming and (2) threats to international peace. 1. AI has a significant carbon footprint. Should one set quantitative limits to the energy consumption required for AI model training? And if so, how must one distribute AI carbon quotas among States, businesses, and research? Should one limit the collection of user data to feed into data-hungry AI systems? And who should be in charge of deciding which data to collect, preserve or get rid of for the sake of environmental protection? 2. An AI arms race is well under its way, ranging from the development of autonomous weapons systems to the development of AI systems for discovering software vulnerabilities and waging cyberconflicts. Should the weaponization of AI be internationally regulated? And if so, how to interpret and apply within this domain human rights, humanitarian principles and the UN fundamental goal of preserving world peace and stability? This panel presentation is rounded out by looking at EU efforts to cope with some of these global ethical issues.

Building Ethical AI for the Human-AI Symbiotic Society
Yi Zeng

In this talk, I will provide a global landscape of AI Ethical Principles and investigate on how the efforts complete each other, instead of compete with each other. I will then talk about concrete groundings of AI Ethical principles and introduce technical and social efforts in different domains. Finally, I will extend the discussion to long-term A(G)I ethical challenges and a possible positive path.


Deborah G. Johnson (University of Virginia, USA), Guglielmo Tamburrini (University of Naples, Italy), Yi Zeng (Chinese Academy of Sciences, China)
Moderator: Viola Schiaffonati (Politecnico di Milano, Italy)


Digital Humanism

Corona shows that our IT systems keep the system running. But at the same time IT is changing our our society. We are in the midst of the digital transformation, with computer science and its artifacts as a major driver. We experienced the metamorphosis from the stand-alone computer to the global operating system of our world, a journey leading to yet another industrial revolution: digitizing everything and automating work and thinking.

This digital and global operating system integrates, links, and permeates everything: work, leisure, politics, the personal, the professional, and the private. It influences or even shapes actions on a technical, economic, military and political level.

Whereas digitalization is opening unprecedented opportunities, it also raising serious concerns: the monopolization of the Web, the rise of extremism orchestrated by social media, the formation of filter bubbles, the loss of privacy, the spread of digital surveillance, automated decision making, and the potential loss of jobs due to automation. This is also expressed by Tim Berners-Lee (The Guardian, 16 November 2017) with his

“The system is failing”

We are at a crossroads for our future, and the issue is which direction to take, or in positive terms, how to put the human at the center and how to combine technological with social innovation in a democratic process.

This is the context of our Digital Humanism initiative. We argue for a Digital Humanism that analyzes, and, most importantly, influences the complex interplay of technology and humankind, for a better society and life, fully respecting universal human rights. We must shape technologies in accordance with human values and needs. Ourtask is not only torein in the downsides, but also to encourage human-centered innovation.

Such an approach starts from several key points:

  • IT forms a critical building block for our society; it facilitates and drives change, but it also needs rules and guidance.
  • To understand, to reflect, and to influence this development, we need a multi and interdisciplinary approach, looking at the individual and the society.
  • It is a global international issue.
  • The approach needs to be scientific, in the tradition of the enlightenment – and fact based in the best sense.
  • People are the central focus. Technology is for people and not the other way round. We need to put “humankind” at the center of our work.

The challenge of building a just and democratic society with humans at the center of technological progress needs to be addressed. The Digital Humanism initiative is supported by a growing group of internationally renowned experts. They are engaged in a series of (on- and offline) events, pointing towards a positive future!

Supported by:

SOCIALICON