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Date: Nov 17, 2020

Robot ethicist will join the University of Bonn Aimee van Wynsberghe selected for Humboldt Professorship / Research on artificial intelligence and what it does to people

Living and working with robots changes people. How can artificial intelligence (AI) be innovative and respect social values at the same time? In the future, one of the world's leading experts in the field of robot ethics will be conducting research on these questions at the University of Bonn. Prof. Aimee van Wynsberghe has been selected by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for a Humboldt Professorship and will receive EUR 3.5 million—the highest endowed research prize in Germany intended to attract renowned scientists from abroad to carry out long-term research at German universities. Aimee van Wynsberghe comes from the Technical University of Delft (Netherlands) and plans to begin her work at the University of Bonn on February 1, 2021.

When surfing the Internet, people encounter artificial intelligence every day. Robots already support medical staff during surgery, for example, and can be found in children's rooms acting as playmates. For Aimee van Wynsberghe, the integration of artificial intelligence into our social lives is an ongoing social experiment that requires new rules and control mechanisms. Through her research, she wants to introduce previously neglected ethical values into the design and development of scientific and technical innovation.

Prof. Markus Gabriel, a philosopher at the University of Bonn, has been working with Aimee van Wynsberghe for many years and was key in her nomination for the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship. Gabriel emphasizes: "The University is winning an outstanding researcher who lives scientific work across disciplinary boundaries and, what is more, overcomes university boundaries by cooperating with external institutions. She and her team also show that research in the field of artificial intelligence is not a male domain.”

Sustainable AI

In her new position, she will, amongst other things, set out on a search for meaningful forms of sustainable AI. “My ambition is to make Bonn the global hub for Sustainable AI research and to show what Sustainable AI can do to help society prosper,” Aimee van Wynsberghe says. By creating the newly-designed Professorship for Applied Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, the University of Bonn will assume a vanguard position in humancentric artificial intelligence in Europe. Van Wynsberghe will also become director of the University’s Institute of Science and Ethics (IWE). Her work is part of the Transdisciplinary Research Area (TRA) Individuals, Institutions and Societies at the University of Bonn—one of six inter-faculty alliances that reflect the University-wide research profile and belong to the supporting pillars of Bonn as a University of Excellence.

Aimee van Wynsberghe’s research will address both the concept of sustainability–what values should an AI society sustain and how–as well as the technical dimension, i.e. how to make sense of the environmental impact of different AI methodologies. “One goal is to assist policy makers in the creation of policy to govern the responsible design and deployment of AI in Germany, and in Europe more generally. Equally important, another goal is to show that AI can benefit people, planet and industry if it is done right, with sustainability as the starting point rather than as an afterthought,” van Wynsberghe emphasizes.

Contributing to the political discourse

With her scientific expertise, van Wynsberghe also makes valuable contributions to the international political discourse, be it as co-director and co-founder of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics or as an advisor to the European Commission on questions of artificial intelligence. She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on Artificial Intelligence and Humanity and is committed to the major objective of putting the ethical and responsible development of robots on the global agenda.

Personal history

For nearly two decades, Canadian Professor Aimee van Wynsberghe has been active in the field of information and communications technology (ICT) as well as robotics. After studying in Canada and the Netherlands, she defended her acclaimed doctoral dissertation on the ethical design of care robots at the University of Twente in 2012. She subsequently held assistant professorships in Twente and at the Technical University of Delft, Netherlands, eventually assuming a full professorship in ethics and technology at TU Delft in 2020. She was then already director of the Artificial Intelligence Lab of the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. For her research work and her contributions to scientific dialogue, the philosopher received the L’Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science award in 2018.

The Transdisciplinary Research Area Individuals, Institutions and Societies

The Transdisciplinary Research Areas (TRA) of the University of Bonn bring together researchers from a wide range of faculties and disciplines to jointly work on key research topics that are of particular relevance for the future. Researchers within the TRA Individuals, Institutions and Societies investigate how institutions, e.g. market, law or culture, mediate complex relationships between the individual and societies. From there, they develop a new view of micro-phenomena such as development of personality, agency or individualization as well as macro-phenomena such as the global society or globalization. The aim is to identify key factors that influence social cohesion, equal opportunity, efficiency, the conservation of resources and the development of individual skills in this interplay of different aspects.

The other Transdisciplinary Research Areas of the University of Bonn are Mathematics, Modelling and Simulation of Complex Systems, Building Blocks of Matter and Fundamental Interactions, Life and Health, Past Worlds and Modern Questions. Cultures Across Time and Space, and Innovation and Technology for Sustainable Futures.

Media Contact:

Prof. Aimee van Wynsberghe

Prof. Markus Gabriel
University of Bonn
phone: +49 228 73-5067 or -3710 (Secretary)
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