1. Responsible Innovation and Applied Ethics

This lecture set will illustrate a number of ethical dilemmas and key notions within the framework of this course.

We will start with the rather famous trolley example. The trolley problem is a famous thought experiment in ethics. The general form of the problem is this: There is a runaway trolley barrelling down the railway tracks. Some distance ahead, there are five people tied up and unable to move and the trolley is headed straight for them.

You are standing in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a side-track, thus avoiding the five soon-to-be victims. However, you notice that there is one person on the side-track. So it seems you have two options:

(1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. 

(2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side-track where it will kill one person. 

Which is the correct choice?  In the web lecture we will this address this question from the perspective of an engineer, as opposed to the philosopher who typically asks such questions.

Then we will discuss some key notions of individual and collective responsibility and the underlying dilemmas with respect to innovation.

Finally, we will move to the problem of “many hands”. Given the complexity of our socio-technical world, every complex process is the result of multiple decisions made over different durations of time, enforced and enabled by numerous personnel, not to mention the technologies – which themselves have been designed and implemented by yet others. Now if even a small error somewhere in the process results in an unfortunate outcome, who is really to blame?

All web lectures will be available as downloads including the slides and transcripts.

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Subtitles (captions) in other languages than provided can be viewed at YouTube. Select your language in the CC-button of YouTube.

The further topics in this lecture are:

  • 1. The Concept of Responsible Innovation
  • 2. Trolley Problem
  • 3. Individual and Collective Responsibility
  • 4. The Problem of Many Hands: Who is responsible

Readings are provided in the Readings section.

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