See below for a compilation of our current research topics.
AI Ethics & Governance
Ethics and Epistemologies of Big Data
Algorithmic Bias, Discrimination & Fairness
Our society and personal lives are increasingly structured by algorithms, from recommendations of music, food, and romantic relationships to decisions on loans, employment, and punishment. Software, however, can be biased because of the flawed input data, inappropriate methods as well as the intentional or unintentional inscription of stereotypes by programmers. Such biases combined with automated decision-making, therefore, could result in discrimination hidden in plain sight. We scrutinize the sources of bias in software and discuss the problems of discrimination in relation to them. We also examine the criteria for making software more accountable, transparent and fair.
Emotions and Technology
The cognitive and ethical significance of emotions has enjoyed a recent revival in Philosophy, Psychology, and other disciplines. Researchers argue that emotions play an important role in cognition and moral behaviors. At the same time, recent development in information technology has demonstrated machines capacity to detect, recognize, or even understand and influence individuals' emotions. If these 'emotional technologies' become more pervasive in our everyday life, there are important epistemological and ethical challenges ahead. Particularly, it is essential to examine the role(s) emotional technologies can play for our cognition and moral behavior, or whether we should develop and create machines that can influence our emotions at all.
Privacy and Surveillance
In the digital society we have become accustomed to leaving behind digital traces whatever activity we engage in, which offers vast opportunities for surveillance - the purposeful collection and analysis of data and information - by both corporations and governments. At the same time, citizens and organizations are increasingly concerned with the importance of protection from surveillance and the preservation of some degree of privacy. From an ethical viewpoint, the kinds of questions we investigate are for instance what privacy is, why it is valuable and how its meaning might change in the context of digital technologies, where it is threatened and perhaps where it ought to be threatened, and if and under what conditions surveillance is permissible and by whom.
Regulation of Online Speech
Facebook, Twitter and other social media have long engaged in the development of standards which regulate what can and what cannot be said and posted on their platforms. More recently, discussion on filter bubbles, fake news and the manipulation of elections have increased the public’s attention to the question of how we should regulate the creation and sharing of information and opinions online. As the internet has set free and helps to widely spread hate and hate speech, it appears imperative to protect its victims and make the net a safe discursive space for all. At the same time censorship might impeach on free speech and weaken democratic mechanisms. In our research group, we investigate the ethical issues related to the regulation of online content and speech via an empirical analysis of the German „Facebook law" (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz), which has provided a highly contested political attempt to regulate speech online and enforce respective legislation.
Digitalization and Democracy
Not long ago, the internet was hailed as the new cradle of participatory democracy, providing access to knowledge, and supporting open government. Nowadays, more sober inspections reveal problematic transformations of governance and the public sphere through the Internet and social media. Does digitalization strengthen participation of civil society and transparency of politics? Or do fake news and filter bubbles facilitate populism? Does e-government facilitate access to administrations? We investigate various aspects of e-government, democratic participation, discuss the trade-off between freedom and security, and examine the protection of fundamental rights and democratic principles.
Transformation of Media and the Public Sphere through Digitalization
The internet, digital media and social networks continue to shape the public sphere. They have major impacts on the way the (news) media operate and the way people consume information and learn about facts and current events. Phenomena such as filter bubbles, echo chambers and “fake news” are heavily discussed within and beyond academia. Such phenomena can have far-reaching impacts on the media sphere and public discourse, and thus require careful ethical reflection.
In our research group, we study related phenomena from various perspectives. One of our research perspectives studies how trust in science and in what counts as facts is established or undermined, and how scientific insights are either contested or become part of a broader public knowledge (Judith Simon). Another research project studies the discourse surrounding an attempt to regulate phenomena such as fake news and hate speech via legal instruments (the German NetzDG) with a particular focus on the normative dimensions which come to bear here (Laura Fichtner).