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John Tasioulas named as first director of Oxford’s AI ethics institute

Oxford University has appointed John Tasioulas, a philosophy professor at King’s College London, as the inaugural director of its Institute for Ethics in AI.

The institute will sit at the heart of a new Oxford humanities centre funded by the US billionaire Stephen Schwarzman to the tune of £150m, one of the largest ever donations to a British university.

When the funding was unveiled last year, Schwarzman – the founder of the Blackstone finance group and a former adviser to Donald Trump – said he wanted to ensure mistakes made during the development of the internet were not repeated in the field of AI.

Oxford said in an announcement today (11 September) that the institute would focus on the “major ethical challenges posed by AI, from face recognition to voter profiling, brain machine interfaces to weaponised drones, and the ongoing discourse about how AI will impact employment on a global scale”.

Tasioulas, who currently serves as the director of the Yeoh Tiong Lay Centre for Politics, Philosophy and Law at King’s College London, is one of seven philosophers joining the institute as part of its founding team.

Carissa Véliz, currently a research fellow at Oxford and Dr Milo Phillips-Brown, a fellow at MIT will join as associate professors, while Carina Prunkl and Ted Lechterman will join as research fellows. Two doctoral students will be joining in the coming year.

As NS Tech reported last year, Sir Nigel Shadbolt, the principal of Jesus College, has been steering the development of the centre, which will be housed in the philosophy department but forge close connections with a number of other departments, such as computer science and law.

In a statement, Tasioulas said: “My aim is for the institute to bring the highest standards of academic rigour to the discussion of AI ethics. The institute is strongly embedded in philosophy while also drawing on other disciplines like literature, medicine, history, music, law, and computer science. This is a radical attempt to bridge the divide between science and humanities in this area and Oxford is uniquely placed to pull it off.”

In a call with NS Tech this morning (11 September), Tasioulas said that while the centre was ultimately an academic institute, he hoped that in time it would build links to government to help guide the development of policy.

NS Tech will be publishing an in-depth interview with Tasioulas next week (w/c 14 September).