IA and responsibilities: How are ethical standards integrated in technical systems? Examples from finance and smart cities

Informations sur l'événement


22 - 23 March 2022


Online and at Université Laval (venue to be confirmed)

How should we consider, or reconsider, the forms of responsibilities that arise from the phenomenal development of AI and algorithms that permeate all social, economic, scientific, and cultural practices?

A first aspect of this question is to examine the ethical standards that serve as a foundation for or influence the development of algorithms, the design of technical tools, and how they are used by professionals, citizens, or consumers of these technical systems. A second aspect of the question is to understand how they engage or challenge our shared conceptions of responsibility. The complexity of these technical systems, their levels of organization, the scenarios they include, the forms of mathematization used, and the purpose they seek to achieve, make it essential to investigate how ethical standards are currently taken into account.

The relationship between AI and responsibilities will be the topic of several international conferences and workshops, and the first of these will be held in Quebec. Two examples of complex technical systems, smart cities and finance, were chosen to try to understand these systems, to challenge them and to address the phenomenon of the integration of ethical standards. This international and interdisciplinary workshop is divided in two specific workshops.

First Workshop

Cities as Technical Systems: What this means for life, living, and livelihoods?

March 22, 8:45AM to 4:30PM
The first workshop examines the ethical, psychological, sociological and political challenges of smart cities. The smart city model seems a priori more complex, but above all, more heterogeneous with different mathematical models, multiple added technological devices (connected objects) and the integration of political scenarios and ethical standards. Political scenarios such as “the sustainability of cities” and ethical standards such as “citizen engagement” play a role both in preparing and implementing smart city projects. Yet, there are various understandings of what a smart city is for the individual dweller, life and livelihoods in the neighborhoods, and the city (and city-state) as a whole. What are the causes of these different understandings, and how do they affect the city from its governance to its everyday life? How should we understand the changes that the smart city brings to the consciousness of collective living, the character of life in city neighborhoods, and responsibilities of the individual, community and state?

Discover the preliminary program

March 22, 2022

8:45 Opening Remarks Vanessa Nurock, UNESCO Chair EVA, philosophy, Université Côte d’Azur

9:00 to 9:20 Jennifer Ang, philosophy, Singapore University of Social Sciences
“Technologization and the place of human autonomy”

Martin Heidegger argues that technology is able to turn everything, including humans into “standing-reserve” to be arranged and rearranged, and disposed of when we lose our instrumentality for production. Jacques Ellul further warns us about the “technique civilization” – a society that is pervaded by technicians and dominated by complex standardized means for attaining a predetermined result.

Postphenomenologists such as Don Idhe on the other hand, sees technology as mediators of human experiences and practices that does not necessarily shape relations between humans and the world in alienating ways from themsleves and the world they live in. This talk will discuss some of these perspectives to understand what living in a technologically-embedded smart city means, and raise concerns about human autonomy in relation to choices, control and responsibility.

Jennifer Ang is an Associate Professor in Philosophy, a member of the International Standing Panel of Ethics at the Centre for Defence Leadership and Ethics at Australia Defence College, a member of the Scientific Committee at AI Singapore, and was the Director of the Univesity Core at the Singapore University of Social Sciences. She is the author of Sartre and the Moral Limits of War and Terrorism, and has published in the areas of war and humanitarian interventions, forgiveness and memories, and bad faith.

9:20 to 9:40 Shin Koseki, UNESCO Chair Professor in Urban Landscape at the University of Montréal and co-head of Environment, Smart Cities, Territory and Mobility research theme’s OBVIA
“Smart cities as tailored dynamic fields of affordances”

This paper proposes a socially informed definition of the smart city as to provide the foundation for a pragmatic urban ethic. Taking the viewpoint of urban planners and designers, the smart city becomes a space that generates affordances to individual citizens’ aspirations in real time.

Shin Koseki is UNESCO Chair Professor in Urban Landscape at the University of Montréal, where he teaches urban design and theory. Trained in architecture and urban planning, Shin Koseki works on how digital technology can foster social inclusion and sustainability in cities and urban settlements.

9:40 à 10:00 Nina Powell, psychology, National University of Singapore
“What does it mean to be a free and autonomous moral person in a smart city?”

While automation offers people convenience, ease and accessibility, there is also an underlying “nudge” psychology that tends to be brought in with automation and the design of smart cities. While “nudge” psychology has been argued to be useful in many areas of decision making (e.g., economic, health, social responsibility and civic duty, etc.), there is also a broader shift that follows from “nudge” psychology that has moved us towards a society built on a prescriptive moral focus (an activation-focused morality). With a prescriptive moral focus, freedom and agency are more constrained than in a society with a focus on proscriptive morality (an inhibition-focused morality). There are questions to consider with respect to a how a “nudge”-based prescriptive moral focus as an underlying principle of automation and smart city design changes our understanding of moral agency in terms of both behaviour (crime and deviance) and cognition (beliefs about how we construct moral norms and use reason).

Nina Powell is a Senior Lecturer in the NUS Department of Psychology and has held an appointment in the National University of Singapore since 2013. Her research focuses on judgment, certainty and decision-making in children and adults, both in the context of moral decision-making and education. She teaches introductory psychology modules and upper-level seminar modules on Moral Psychology and Historical Controversies in Psychology. She is also Deputy Director of Undergraduate Studies in Psychology and the co-founder of MADE in Psych (Mentoring and Demystifying Education in Psychology).

10:00 to 1:30 Discussion

10:30 to 10:55 Pause

10:55 to 11:15 Rita Padawangi, sociology, Singapore University of Social Sciences
“Whose Smartness? Whose City? Making Sense in the Everyday Life of a “Smart City””

There is lack of coherence in conceptual understanding definition of the term “smart city” from one place to another and from one group to another (Hollands, 2008). One thing in common from the various ways of implementation is “smart city” as a universally and rationally positive paradigm to increase efficiency and effectiveness of urban governance by relying on information and communication technology. Such optimistic perspective commonly represents voices from policymakers, financiers, and corporations that produce these technological tools in public discourses of smart city (Shelton, Zook and Wiig, 2014), but rarely involves voices and experiences from the everyday life of ordinary citizens. At most, there is an assumption that smart cities would facilitate more participation as technologies would allow real-time communication between concerned citizens and policymakers, for time-efficient problem-solving. How consistent are these assumptions with everyday life experiences in a “smart city”? Knowing that social inequalities are realities of urban life, what are the impacts of these technological fixes on lives and livelihoods of groups in the margins of society? To what extent does smart city paradigm bring empowerment (or disempowerment) of marginalized groups to influence urban governance? In this presentation, I rely on field observations from several urban neighborhoods in the Southeast Asia Neighborhoods Network (SEANNET) since 2017, to examine the extent to which smart city governance paradigm affect the everyday life of the residents on the margins, particularly in terms of economic class and gender.

Rita Padawangi is Associate Professor (Sociology) at Centre for University Core, Singapore University of Social Sciences. She received her PhD in sociology from Loyola University Chicago, a Master of Arts in Urban Design from the National University of Singapore, and a Bachelor of Architecture from Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung, Indonesia. Her research interests include the sociology of architecture, social movements and participatory urban development. She is coordinator of the Southeast Asia Neighbourhoods Network (SEANNET), an initiative for urban research and education, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation.

11:15 to 11:35 Paul Rabé, political science, International Institute for Asian Studies, Erasmus University, Rotterdam
“Smart cities and governance”

Behind the technology surrounding AI and smart cities there are people who are designing the systems and the algorithms. Therefore, discussions about AI and smart cities do not escape the conventional questions and paradigms in urban governance centered around power and the responsibilities of individuals, communities and the state. Separating the technology from its human origins and motivations is to “fetishize” this technology and therefore to give it magical powers that it does not possess. Technology does not stand on its own, but it is intimately connected to the humans and their institutions that develop and use it. I argue that the motivations of these institutions must be assessed using an ethical frame based on democratic visions established in each society. Failing this, smart cities will serve not society but vice versa.

11:35 to 12:15 Discussion

12:15 to 1:45 Lunch break

1:45 to 2:45 Roundtable: Ethics and Recommendations

  • Stéphane Roche, professeur au Département des sciences géométriques, Université Laval
  • Mario Marosan, doctorant, Faculté de philosophie, Université Laval
  • Philippe Girard, étudiant à la maitrise, Faculté de philosophie, Université Laval

2:45 to 3:00: Pause

3:00 to 3:20 Closing Remarks, Marie-Hélène Parizeau, philosophe, Université Laval
“Ethical and Political Issues concerning Smart Cities Governance”

What kind of governance is implemented in smart cities? Two models emerge from an ethical and political perspective. The first model of governance concern smart cities created de novo. It relies on values of efficiency and technical optimization of neoliberal economy creating wealth and supporting the privatization of city services or infrastructures. The second model of governance concern the European model of smart cities. It support pluralism, a citizen centred approach, and sustainable development goals. But it realization often encountered contradictions between the development of cities digital solutions and the protection of personal data and private life.

3:30 to 4:30: Posters exhibition

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Second Workshop

Mathematical models, algorithms and ethical standards integrated in the financial system

March 23, 9:00AM to 12:30PM
The second workshop will focus on the mathematical models used upstream of the financial system and which underpin the algorithms used in current financial practices. These algorithms do not play a neutral role in the way risks are calculated or in the way professionals comply or not with the management framework. This situation contributes to a form of epistemic responsibility that values certain ethical standards over others. As a result, the dominant financial model seems to reveal an integrated or even closed system made of mathematical models, algorithms, and types of management with ethical standards that ensure its efficiency and predictability. This second workshop will question the very foundations of this model.

Discover the preliminary program

March 23, 2022

9:00 Opening Remarks

9:15 to 9:45 Conference
Christian Walter, actuaire, co-titulaire de la Chaire Éthique et Finance (FMSH, ISJPS), chercheur associé Université de Paris 1

9:45 to 10:15 Conference “AI ethics and systemic risks in finance”
Ekaterina Svetlova, economist, associate professor, University of Twente, The Netherlands.

The paper suggests that AI ethics should pay attention to morally relevant systemic effects of AI use. It uses the financial industry as an example to ask: How can AI-enhanced systemic risks be ethically accounted for? Which specific issues does AI use raise for ethics that takes systemic effects into account? The paper clarifies the moral relevance of AI use with respect to the imposition of systemic risks and proposes a theoretical framework based on the ethics of complexity.

10:15 to 10:30 Pause

10:30 to 11:00 Conference “Banal Political Economy”
Donald MacKenzie, sociologist, professor, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh, UK

Discussion of the ethics of finance, artificial intelligence, etc., necessarily deals with many complexities, but it is important not to ignore a basic, pervasively important, everyday issue that is in a broad sense ethical: the capacity of well-placed intermediaries to exact rent. Reanimating an old word, “banal”, this talk will sketch the banal political economy of two application domains of machine learning: financial trading and online advertising.

11:00 to 12:20 Roundtable

  • Louis Adam, professeur à l’École d’actuariat, Université Laval
  • Raul Dumitras, analyste investissement, BDC Capital de risque
  • Dimitri Obama, doctorant, Département de sciences politiques, Université de Montréal

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This event is organized by Marie-Hélène Parizeau, professor at Faculté de philosophie, Université Laval, and researcher member of OBVIA, with support from Jennifer Ang, Singapore University of Social Sciences, and Vanessa Nurock, Université Nice-Côte d’Azur, for the firs workshop and Christian Walter, co-titulaire de la chaire Éthique et Finance (FMSH, ISJPS), for the second workshop.

Thanks to our collaborators:

Simultaneous Interpretation

Simultaneous interpretation in French and English will be available to all participants. To benefit from the live interpretation, you will have to connect simultaneously to the Zoom broadcast and listen to the interpretation from headphones connected to your personal device (smartphone, tablet or laptop). In order to have access, you must first fill out the following form and keep the connection link:

Access to interpretation on March 22

Access to interpretation on March 23


Participants who wish to obtain a certificate of attendance of this event can indicate it in the registration form. It will be sent by e-mail by the OBVIA in the days following the event. Each participant is then responsible for taking the necessary steps to have their attendance recognized as a continuing education activity by their educational institution, their employer or their professional order.

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The International Observatory on the Societal Impacts of AI and Digital Technology is made possible by the support of the Fonds de recherche du Québec.