When Human Dignity Meets Artificial Intelligence

Conference on the use of intelligent systems in healthcare to be held at CITEC

What should a smart apartment be allowed to decide on its own? How autonomous should cars be? Who is responsible when a robot providing care makes a mistake? On Thursday, 22 September 2016, researchers will examine these questions at the “Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare” conference at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology of Bielefeld University. This is one pre-conference symposium of the annual conference of the Academy of Ethics in Medicine, which is being held through 24 September at Bielefeld University. 

Prof. Dr. Ipke Wachsmuth from Bielefeld University investigates the philosophical and ethnical issues raised by the use of artificial intelligence. Photo: CITEC/Bielefeld University “In Japan, robots have long been a part of daily life, and are generally not regarded as negatively as in Germany,” says Emeritus computer science professor Dr. Ipke Wachsmuth, who will hold the opening talk titled “Robots as a Replacement for Fellow Humans? Humanitarian Questions about the Use of Robots in Healthcare.” Wachsmuth explains further: “It’s not only in Japan that robots are providing support to senior citizens. But can a robot provide emotional attention in the same way a human can? Is human dignity affected if a robotic doll that looks like a seal is used in providing care to dementia patients?” Since 2002, Wachsmuth has been observing the development of the robotic seal Paro, which is also being used in residential care facilities in Germany. “In Germany, people are considerably more hesitant when it comes to using robots in providing care. But with artificial intelligence and smart home technology, the possibilities are increasing. For this reason, it is important that ethical issues are taken into consideration already during the developmental stage of assistive technologies.”

Another reason to keep the ethical issues of technical systems in mind is because in the future many machines will be able to autonomously make decisions according to pre-determined criteria. But how far should these decisions reach? Should machines be programmed based on moral principles? In order to address such ethical questions at an early stage, the Cluster of Excellence founded its Ethics Group in 2014. In this working group, ten researchers from the fields of computer science, psychology, and neurobiology critically examine these issues. Together, they also organized this pre-conference symposium.

A sub-project of KogniHome deals specifically with the ethical, legal, social, and technical safety aspects of the smart, networked apartment. CITEC is coordinating this large-scale project. Together with 13 regional partners, the Cluster of Excellence is developing an apartment that provides support to its residents in the tasks of daily life to help people lead independent, self-determined lives, even in the face of old age or disability. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF) is funding the KogniHome project. The sub-project is called ELSI, which stands for “Ethical, Legal, Social, and Safety Implications,” and examines topics such as privacy or participation in social life.

After the opening lecture from Ipke Wachsmuth and the following discussion round, conference participants can visit the KogniHome research apartment at CITEC, where researchers are developing smart home technologies. At the smart apartment, researchers test how both younger and elderly adults use these new technologies, and observe where difficulties arise. Especially within your own home, very sensitive data is generated that must be encrypted and protected.

The 2016 annual conference of the Academy for Ethics in Medicine (AEM) is being organized by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Bielefeld in cooperation with the Evangelischen Krankenhaus (Protestant Hospital) of Bielefeld and the v. Bodelschwingh Bethel Foundation. Participants from philosophy will also take part in the pre-conference symposium.

Date & Time: 
Thursday, 24 September 2016, 9.30AM –12.30 PM
CITEC Building, Room 1.204

More information is available online at:

  • Schedule for the conference and pre-conference symposia: http://uni-bielefeld.de/aem2016/programm.html
  • Registration for the pre-conference symposia: http://uni-bielefeld.de/aem2016/anmeldung.html
  • „Human Dignity in Medicine and Healthcare “: (press release from 16.09.2016): http://ekvv.uni-bielefeld.de/blog/uniaktuell/entry/menschenw%C3%BCrde_in_medizin_und_gesundheitswesen
  • Information on the Academy for Ethics in Medicine: http://www.aem-online.de/

Donnerstag, 22. September 2016, 9.30 bis 12.30 Uhr
CITEC-Gebäude, Raum 1.204

Cord Wiljes, Bielefeld University 
Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC)
Telephone: +49 521 106-12036  
Email: cord.wiljes@cit-ec.uni-bielefeld.de