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Ethics & Digital Technologies


Course description

Over the past decade, the importance of including ethical considerations in the development and deployment of digital technologies has been vastly recognized. Where the law is ambiguous or fails to give guidance or limitations for balancing different stakeholders interests, ethical deliberation offers a highly needed extra dimension to legal analysis for both design and regulation of technological applications.
This course aims to develop knowledge and understanding of ethical issues that may arise when operating as a legal professional in the domain of digital technologies. How do law, technology and ethics relate in the regulatory landscape? Do tech-companies have a moral obligation to be transparent about their use of data? Does society have a moral obligation to reap the (apparent) benefits from profiling techniques, even if it may structurally disadvantage certain individuals or groups? What constitutes manipulation in the digital environment and (why) is it bad? What is the moral status of autonomous digital processes, robots and/or AI? Can algorithmic systems help increase fairness in decisions? What do trust and trustworthiness mean in the realm of digital technologies? What is moral responsibility and how to attribute or distribute it across the complex network of parties involved in the application of digital technologies?
As technologies may disrupt established practices across different domains and bring forth unintended consequences that cannot always be adequately addressed by traditional regulation, students will be trained in identifying, analyzing and providing advice on mitigating these ethical dilemmas.
Underpinned by theories in the field of ethics and philosophy of technology, students will get acquainted with strategies of design, development, deployment and evaluation of digital technologies to fulfill ethical priciples and societal values. They will be able to present the ethical assessment of an application of digital technology in the form a policy advice, adding an extra and highly needed dimension to their legal analysis. The aim of this course is two-sided: (1) to thoroughly familiarize the students with ethical theory, analysis and argumentation, and (2) to develop the necessary skills to bring this theory into practice by constructively discussing ethical dilemmas specific to the context of digital technologies.
The teaching method relies on active learning. Students are expected to actively engage with a curated collection of readings, and engage in case discussions involving digital technologies. Students are explicitly asked to bring in their own knowledge and expertise in order to develop a multifaceted ethical assessment. Specific attention will be paid to balancing different stakeholder perspectives, cultural diversity, and disciplinary differences in relevant practices and thinking about solutions. There will be group work in debate sessions and the writing assignment, to facilitate optimal interaction and exchange of ideas.
The course will have themed lectures and interactive sessions on: ethics and law, understanding the normative impacts of digital technologies, autonomy, fairness, responsibility, trustworthiness, frameworks for responsible innovation, ethics guidelines and codes of ethics.
As the field is rapidly and continuously evolving, a definitive course reader will be compiled on Brightspace with a collection of state-of-the-art research articles and current discussions around moral impacts of digital technologies. Below is a list of relevant texts, (excerpts of) which may be part of the reading list:

  • Julia Driver: Ethics, The Fundamentals (2006), Wiley-Blackwell, 192 p.

  • EU HLEG Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI (2019).

  • European Commission Whitepaper On Artificial Intelligence - A European approach to excellence and trust. Whitepaper 19.02.2020 COM(2020) 65 final

  • Metcalf, Moss, boyd. Owning Ethics: Corporate Logics, Silicon Valley, and the Institutionalization of Ethics. Social Research: An International Quarterly, Volume 82, Issue 2, Summer, 2019, pages 449-476.

  • Verbeek, P.-P., Moralizing technology: Understanding and designing the morality of things. 2011, Chicago ; London: The University of Chicago Press. ix, 183 p.

  • Swierstra, T. and K. Waelbers, Designing a Good Life: A Matrix for the Technological Mediation of Morality. Science and Engineering Ethics, 2012. 18(1): p. 157-172.

  • Mittelstadt, Brent, Patrick Allo, Mariarosaria Taddeo, Sandra Wachter, and Luciano Floridi. The Ethics of Algorithms: Mapping the Debate. Big Data & Society. 3(2). (2016)

  • Rueben Binns Fairness in Machine Learning: Lessons from Political Philosophy. Proceedings of Machine Learning Research 81:1-11, 2018

  • The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.):
    o Müller, Vincent C., "Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics", 2020;
    o Bynum, Terrell, "Computer and Information Ethics", 2018;
    o Noorman, Merel, "Computing and Moral Responsibility", 2020;

Course requirement

Master Degree


The timetable of this course will be available for students in Blackboard


More information on this course is offered in Brightspace


Attendance of 80% of the scheduled course lectures is mandatory

Assessment method

  • In-term assignments (10%)

  • Written exam (50%)

  • Policy Advice Paper (40%, group assignment) (To pass the course, the weighted average of the three components should be greater than or equal to 5.50)

Contact information

Programme Coordinator
Ms Patricia Garcia Fernandez
Telephone number: 0031- 71 527 4228

Disclaimer: This course has been updated to the best of our knowledge at the current time of publishing. Due to the Covid 19 pandemic and the fluctuating changes in lock down regulations all information contained within this course description are subject to change up to 1 September 2021.
Due to the uncertainty of the Covid 19 virus after 1 September 2021, changes to the course description can only be made in the event of strict necessity and only in the circumstances where the interests of the students are not impinged. Should there be a need for any change during the duration of the course, this will be informed to all students on a timely basis and will not be to the prejudice of students. Modifications after 1 September 2021 may only be done with the approval and consent of the Faculty Board