Shannon Vallor

Monday 17 May, 2021, at 16:30

The Digital Basanos: AI and the Virtue and Violence of Truth-Telling

In ancient Greece, the basanos or touchstone had multiple meanings: a literal stone that tests the authenticity of gold by revealing its characteristic mark upon striking it, or metaphorically, a moral test of the authenticity of a life or a ruler. It also referred to a method of extracting truthful testimony by means of torture; specifically, of non-Greek slaves. The basanos thus embodies the interweaving of truth-telling with virtue, violence, and power in Western moral, political, and technical thought. In this talk I explore how contemporary uses of AI and data science have retraced and reconstituted the basanos in myriad ways, while also revealing a critical opportunity for the invention of new, more just and sustainable means of truth-telling.

Short bio

Shannon Vallor is the Baillie Gifford Chair in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence and Director of the Centre for Technomoral Futures at the Edinburgh Futures Institute, and a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Vallor’s research explores how emerging technologies reshape human moral and intellectual character, and maps the ethical challenges and opportunities posed by new uses of data and artificial intelligence. Her work includes advising academia, government and industry on the ethical design and use of AI, and she is a former Visiting Researcher and AI Ethicist at Google. She is the author of the book Technology and the Virtues: A Philosophical Guide to a Future Worth Wanting (Oxford University Press, 2016) and winner of the 2015 World Technology Award in Ethics.