Adopting Ethics by Design: Lessons from the SIENNA Project
25 June 2021

Authored by: Nuala Polo
Reviewed by: Andrew Whittington-Davis and Cristina Paca

News | 25 June 2021

Technological developments and breakthroughs can bring spectacular changes to society. Ongoing research has identified many technologies that will grow and revolutionise human life, for example, technologies in the field of virtual reality, autonomous systems, human enhancement and geo-engineering technologies. However, such technologies may have significant ethical and social implications, particularly for marginalised and vulnerable populations. To maximise the benefits of new and emerging technologies it is essential to prioritise ethics and societal values from the conception to the implementation and use of these systems.

TechEthos aims to fill that role by integrating ethics and social values in the design and development of new and emerging technologies with high socioeconomic impact by developing an Ethics by Design methodology. Ethics by Design is an approach for ensuring that a technology or system is aligned with ethical values and principles. Ethical problems in new and emerging technologies, for example, Artificial Intelligence (AI), have often been detected after the system has already been deployed. The Ethics by Design approach aims to include ethical principles in the design and development processes of technological systems in order to prevent ethical issues from arising in the first place, rather than trying to fix them after the damage has been done.

TechEthos is not starting from scratch here, work in this area has already been materialising for sometime now with the consolidation of a recent ethics framework proposed by the Eu-funded Horizon 2020 (H2020) SIENNA project. TechEthos will look to draw from the SIENNA’s framework and findings, providing a strong foundational starting base this article presents the SIENNA project in light of this, introducing the Ethics by Design methodology, and discusses the next steps for TechEthos in adopting and adapting Ethics by Design in the context of the project’s selected technology families.

The SIENNA Project

SIENNA, which recently ended in March 2021, worked to prioritise ethics in the design and development of three new and emerging technology areas: AI and robotics, genomics, and human enhancement. SIENNA developed a series of ethical frameworks and recommendations for policy makers, as well as ethics codes and guidelines for researchers and technology developers to ensure the ethical governance of these technologies. One key output from the SIENNA project that is particularly important for TechEthos, is SIENNA’s comprehensive methodology for Ethics by Design for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

This methodology includes:

  1. Identifying ethical values that should be prioritised in the context of AI and robotics, for example, fairness and transparency.
  2. Developing “ethical requisites”, which are the conditions that a system must meet to achieve its goals ethically. Ethical requisites may be met in many ways; through functionality, in data structures, in the process by which the system is constructed, and so forth. For example, in the context of AI and robotics, one way the value of fairness can be met as an ethical requisite is to require that a system does not exhibit racial bias. While many ethical requisites are aspects of the system itself, some are concerned with the way in which the system is developed. For example, the value of transparency requires that developers can explain how they tested for and removed bias from a dataset.
  3. Deriving ethical guidelines to follow at different stages of the design, development and deployment of the system. These guidelines are concrete tasks which must be performed in order to achieve the ethical requisites.

Adopting an Ethics by Design approach in the TechEthos project

TechEthos will carry forward the work begun in the SIENNA project, building upon its Ethics by Design methodology. In the context of the project’s selected technologies, TechEthos will apply SIENNA’s Ethics by Design approach: identifying relevant ethical values, developing ethical requisites and deriving a set of action-oriented operational ethics guidelines that support the work of the research community, research ethics committees and integrity bodies.

TechEthos embraces the challenge of making ethics operational by ensuring that ethical and societal values can be translated into actionable guidelines to support research and innovation, and lead to behavioural change and awareness in the scientific and technological innovation communities and society more generally, by co-creating and cooperating with them.

To learn more about TechEthos follow the project on Twitter and LinkedIn,  and sign up to the project newsletter. By joining the online community, you will be first in line to discover the technologies the project selects as the focus of its work and contribute to shaping the technologies of the future.


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TechEthos has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement no. 101006249. This website and its contents reflect only their authors' view. The Research Executive Agency and the European Commission are not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.