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Discussion of draft article on ethics and new technologies

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ABSTRACT: Several European Commission’s initiatives have been resorting to ethics as a means to protect individuals from the risks posed by emerging technologies and as a way to govern and regulate the same innovation fields. The proliferation of invocations of “ethics” and “ethical principles/values” in the legal and policy discourse, as well as the growing importance of ethical expertise, ethical committees, ethical advisory groups and boards, ethical guidelines and principles can be referred to as the “ethification” phenomenon. While originally limited to the fields of life and medical sciences (in particular bioethics), this increasing propagation of ethics can recently be observed in the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), especially concerning the recent European Union (EU) initiatives on (the regulation of) Artificial Intelligence (AI). This article aims to empirically analyze where and through which means ethics is articulated with other practices (in particular the law), and, in the light of this analysis, speculate to what extent it can be seen as a separate practice. First, the article will provide a mapping to locate where the ethics work is being produced in the EU. Second, the authors will elaborate a typology of ethics based on the mapping. Third, the ethification phenomenon will be analyzed through the concepts of boundary and convergence work, highlighting how ethics, on the one hand, is approximating the interests of different practices, on the other, it is tracing or obfuscating boundaries to claim autonomy from the law and exclude forms of non-genuine ethics. Fourth, the consequences of such phenomenon on the law as a practice will be drawn. The aim is to elucidate the benefits and drawbacks of the ethification of ICT governance, and its effects on the articulations of law, technology and ethics in democratic constitutional states. 

The draft article is being prepared by Niels van Dijk, Serge Gutwirth and Simone Casiraghi.