On 27 October 2017, the Joint Committee organised the workshop “Freedom and Responsibility in IT Sciences” in Darmstadt. The workshop was directed primarily at the IT research community. Additional participants included other members of staff of German universities and non-university research institutions as well as representatives from the political sphere, the press and industry.
The benefits of new information technologies are often clearly visible, but the potential for misuse (e.g., new ways of influencing consumer behaviour or selective opinion-forming) is not always immediately apparent. Who bears responsibility in the case of an unintentionally harmful application or even deliberate misuse of new research findings and methods? Should the risk of abuse be taken into account when choosing research topics? Or are researchers and funding agencies not accountable to any degree for the possible misuse of their research findings? The workshop approached these questions from different perspectives.
The first session looked at the various different research areas in information technology. Wolfram Burgard (University of Freiburg) talked about robotics and presented both the numerous peaceful applications of autonomous intelligence systems and the potential to misuse their military applications. In the second session, Petra Grimm (Hochschule der Medien Stuttgart) spoke about social values, responsibility and the need to maintain privacy in the digital age. Judith Simon (Universität Hamburg) then presented three dimensions of ethics in information technology using the example of big data and artificial intelligence. The event rounded off with a panel discussion, during which Wolf-Dieter Lukas (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) provided insights into the corresponding set of values on the political and ministerial level.