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26/02/2024

AI has reached new heights, but with new technologies come new ethical risks and questions. To kick off our Responsible Tech Salon series, a panel of IE Alumni experts examined the issues around AI ethics in business—and why the humanities must play a part in addressing them.

With the rapid rise of artificial intelligence, we are entering an era where the capabilities of technology are unlike anything we’ve ever seen. The opportunities that come with that are infinite and around the world, businesses are directing increasing amounts of resources toward exploring this unexplored potential.

However, in response to these developments, we have seen another field emerge: AI ethics. It raises important questions about the responsible use and development of AI technology, with the ultimate goal of advancing principles and frameworks that ensure AI benefits, rather than harms, society. At IE Tower, we recently held the event “Managing AI Ethics: A Conversation with IE Alumni Experts.” The panel delved into a range of topics, including the role that the humanities can play in achieving this goal.

The event marked the launch of the Responsible Tech Salon series. Organized by the TechIE Club, it aims to shine a spotlight on the ethical challenges of emerging technologies through in-depth conversations with leading IE Alumni in the field. The discussion was moderated by Ted Lechterman, IE University professor and UNESCO Chair in AI Ethics and Governance

Ted also teaches various courses in the Bachelor in Humanities. He was joined by three alumni experts: Joaquina Salado, the head of AI ethics at Telefónica; Shelly Lugassy, senior technical program manager at Amazon Web Services; and Iliana Grosse-Buening, founder and CEO of the Quiet Social Club.

The panel explored several challenges that companies are facing in this new age, where the increasing power and public adoption of AI show no signs of slowing down. Among the most pressing include AI regulation, data ethics, its impact on mental health and well-being, and the widening inequality gap it’s causing. Further, they all agreed that the humanities can provide crucial, unique perspectives that can help businesses—and society as a whole—navigate this new and uncertain technological terrain. “It is very important to include humanities values in developing technology in general, but specifically for artificial intelligence,” said Joaquina, adding, “The humanities can help us use AI responsibly by introducing ethical values, critical thinking and mechanisms for transparency, accountability and responsibility.”

Shelly, who works in cloud technology, shared a similar view. She believes the humanities are fundamental, not just for cloud providers but for the tech industry as a whole: “The humanities perspective brings into account some principles that should guide how we design and use technology.” 

Iliana echoed this idea, pointing out that “technological innovation and progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it happens in the context of a society.” She also identified the soft skills—such as critical thinking, empathy and interpersonal skills—that will be needed alongside the hard skills more commonly associated with professionals working in the tech industry. “The humanities teach you those skills.”

As it turns out, they also allow us to build a holistic, multidisciplinary view that shapes our approach to these issues. According to Ted, “AI ethics is not just a technical problem and it’s not just a legal problem.” If we want to make AI more responsible and ethical, and therefore more accountable as a result, we have to first see the big picture.

He also emphasized that philosophy, one of the main branches of the humanities, is key to addressing the challenges surrounding ethical AI. “Philosophy is all about helping us understand concepts, offering us theories and methodologies for understanding and resolving dilemmas about what to do, what to think, how to live and how to treat each other.”The insights shared at this event highlighted the continuing relevance of the humanities in today’s world—on a personal and societal level, but also professionally, providing valuable skills that are increasingly sought-after across industries in the job market. We pride ourselves on always placing a strong focus on the humanities at IE University, weaving them into all our programs. With the recent launch of IE School of Humanities, we’ll welcome the first-ever cohorts of the new Bachelor in Humanities and Dual Degree in Business Administration & Humanities programs, marking our continued commitment to providing students with the most innovative and up-to-date education.