When AI, big data, ethics and human rights converge

“Artificial intelligence and big data analytics bring a variety of benefits to society, but at the same time have the potential to disrupt society, ethical values and human rights, and life as we know it”, says Bernd Stahl, Director of the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, De Montfort University and co-ordinator of the SHERPA project. “The EU-funded SHERPA project examines these issues and is working to enhance the responsible development of such technologies.”

On 2-3 May 2018, representatives of 11 different organisations (from academia, industry, civil society, standards bodies, and ethics committees) from six European countries met in Brussels to launch the EU-funded SHERPA project which will examine how smart information systems (SIS), (i.e., the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analytics) impact ethics and human rights. In dialogue with stakeholders, the project will develop novel ways to understand and address ethical and human rights challenges to find desirable and sustainable solutions that can benefit both innovators and society.
Researchers and innovators want to experiment with AI and big data analytics and devise new solutions that avoid ethical and regulatory barriers. “But it is also critical that research and innovation are acceptable, desirable and sustainable, in line with the Rome Declaration on Responsible Research and Innovation in Europe, 2014”, said Prof. Stahl.

The project comes at a time when many organisations, e.g., the European Commission, the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE), the UK House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence and national data protection authorities, are actively deliberating about ethical and legal issues and trying to find answers to AI and big data concerns.
On 3 May 2018, SHERPA organised a workshop on “AI and Big Data: Ethical and Human Rights implications” at the Press Club Brussels Europe. The workshop, chaired by Doris Schroeder (Professor of Moral Philosophy in the School of Law at University of Central Lancashire Cyprus), was attended by 27 people. Speakers included Luke Dormehl (freelance journalist, author and public speaker, author of Thinking Machines); Marek Havrda (Founder, Strategy Advisor, Good AI, Neopas); Félicien Vallet (Privacy Technologist, Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL); Stéphanie Laulhé Shaelou (Head of Law School and Professor of European Law and Reform, University of Central Lancashire, Cyprus); and Philip Brey (Professor of philosophy of technology at the Department of Philosophy, University of Twente and co-ordinator of the EU-funded H2020 SIENNA project).

The SHERPA partners highlighted a range of ethical and legal issues, e.g., equality, privacy and data protection, public security, duty of care to vulnerable members of society, transparency, fairness, justice, proportionality. Key messages included: the need to ensure fairness of systems; importance of not delegating blindly and maintaining vigilance, the potential for EU policy leadership in providing the best ethical and regulatory framework; greater engagement with the technologists, and making society more human as it becomes more AI-dependant. Prof Stahl’s concluding remarks pointed project partners and stakeholders to the challenges that lie ahead: “One can’t be a leader in AI or smart information systems and simultaneously override privacy concerns and human rights. How innovators should undertake research responsibly is the pressing topic to which SHERPA hopes to contribute.”


The SHERPA project – Shaping the ethical dimensions of smart information systems (SIS) – a European perspective – has received grant agreement No 786641 under the European Union’s H2020 research and innovation programme.
SHERPA’s work includes case studies, scenarios, artistic representations, stakeholder interviews, a large-scale online survey, a Delphi study, preparation of a workbook on responsible development of smart information systems, standardisation, dissemination, exploitation, advocacy and communication activities.

Meet the team

SHERPA is co-ordinated by Professor Bernd Carsten Stahl, De Montfort University (UK). Its partners include Universiteit Twente (Netherlands), EUREC (European Network of Research Ethics Committees (Germany), University of Central Lancashire (Cyprus), Depoorter Dries (Belgium), Trilateral Research (UK), Stichting Nederlands Normalisatie (NEN) (Netherlands), Mutual Shoots Ltd (UK), Aequitas Ltd (Cyprus), European Business Summit (Belgium) and F-Secure OYJ (Finland).

Contact and further information

More information on the SHERPA website: www.project-sherpa.eu
Follow us on Twitter: @project_sherpa
Coordinator: Professor Bernd Carsten Stahl, De Montfort University
E-mail: bstahl@dmu.ac.uk, phone: +44 116 207 8252
Disclaimer: This text and its contents reflect only SHERPA’s view. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.