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Why we launched DeepMind Ethics & Society


Sean Legassick, Verity Harding

At DeepMind, we’re proud of the role we’ve played in pushing forward the science of AI, and our track record of exciting breakthroughs and major publications. We believe AI can be of extraordinary benefit to the world, but only if held to the highest ethical standards. Technology is not value neutral, and technologists must take responsibility for the ethical and social impact of their work.

As history attests, technological innovation in itself is no guarantee of broader social progress. The development of AI creates important and complex questions. Its impact on society—and on all our lives—is not something that should be left to chance. Beneficial outcomes and protections against harms must be actively fought for and built-in from the beginning. But in a field as complex as AI, this is easier said than done.

As scientists developing AI technologies, we have a responsibility to conduct and support open research and investigation into the wider implications of our work. At DeepMind, we start from the premise that all AI applications should remain under meaningful human control, and be used for socially beneficial purposes. Understanding what this means in practice requires rigorous scientific inquiry into the most sensitive challenges we face.

So today we’re launching a new research unit, DeepMind Ethics & Society, to complement our work in AI science and application. This new unit will help us explore and understand the real-world impacts of AI. It has a dual aim: to help technologists put ethics into practice, and to help society anticipate and direct the impact of AI so that it works for the benefit of all.

Of course, we’re far from alone in thinking about these topics. The ethical and social impact of AI is a thriving field of study, home to groundbreaking work from Julia Angwin’s study of racism in criminal justice algorithms, to Kate Crawford and Ryan Calo's examination of the broader consequences of AI for social systems, and many others besides. That’s why we plan to conduct interdisciplinary research that brings together experts from the humanities, social sciences and beyond, along with voices from civil society and technical insights from our team at DeepMind to conduct and fund interdisciplinary research.

We’re grateful that this effort will benefit from the advice and guidance of our DeepMind Ethics & Society Fellows, a respected group of independent thinkers. These Fellows are important not only for the expertise that they bring but for the diversity of thought they represent.

To guarantee the rigor, transparency and social accountability of our work, we've developed a set of principles together with our Fellows, other academics and civil society. We welcome feedback on these and on the key ethical challenges we have identified. Please get in touch if you have any thoughts, ideas or contributions.

If AI technologies are to serve society, they must be shaped by society’s priorities and concerns. This isn’t a quest for closed solutions but rather an attempt to scrutinise and help design collective responses to the future impacts of AI technologies. With the creation of DeepMind Ethics & Society, we hope to challenge assumptions—including our own—and pave the way for truly beneficial and responsible AI.