Artificial Intelligence, Philosophically Discussed

Professors Stefan Kopp and Rüdiger Bittner answer questions from Geniale visitors

 What does CITEC do to ensure that research projects are not used for military purposes? Why does KogniHome, the smart apartment, have to save data about its residents? Professor Dr. Stefan Kopp, a computer scientist, and Professor Dr. Rüdiger Bittner, a philosopher, discussed these types of questions with visitors to the Geniale science festival on 25 August in the Mensazelt (dining pavilion) on the Jahnplatz, Bielefeld’s central square.

Thomas Milse moderated the discussion and fielded new questions from the audience. Photo: CITEC/Bielefeld UniversityFrom young people to retirees, all ages were represented. Moderator Thomas Milse did not have to coax the audience for long: in quick succession, the 40 visitors posed a series of questions on artificial intelligence and the future of these technologies. Both scientists addressed, for instance, the ethical aspects of CITEC innovations, including those connected to Billie, a virtual avatar that assists people in their daily lives. They also discussed which ethical questions should be taken into account with social robots, such as Paro, a robot seal, or the voice assistant Siri.

“The unique thing about a discussion at Geniale is the diversity of the audience,” says Professor Dr. Stefan Kopp, who heads the “Kognitive Systeme und sociale Interaction” (Social Cognitive Systems) research group. “Unlike with other researchers who visit us at CITEC, questions are asked at these kinds of events that are directly linked to application and use, or express the expectations and fears people have.” With his research group, Kopp investigates how technical systems can become socially intelligent cooperative partners. Applying principles from human communication to the technology is at the heart of this research. Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Bittner and Prof. Dr. Stefan Kopp discussed questions from Geniale visitors. Photo: CITEC/Bielefeld University.

Rüdiger Bittner is an emeritus professor of philosophy, who studied at Harvard, Tübingen, Berlin, and Heidelberg. He taught at Heidelberg, Princeton, Yale, and most recently at Bielefeld. Dr. Bittner deals in particular with action theory, moral philosophy, and political philosophy. During the discussion, he was able to draw from his wide-ranging experience in many different topical areas.

Both professors hail from different disciplines, yet the meeting was not a debate – it was an open discussion. In cooperation with the Faculty of Philosophy, CITEC researchers formulated ethical principles, which are meant to help researchers not lose sight of the big picture with their innovations, and also to help them already consider ethical guidelines during the research phase. For this reason, both researchers often ended up on the same page when it came to questions of artificial intelligence.

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