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INESC TEC will promote a debate on the ethical dimension of research in Defence

The latest international geopolitical changes bring the Defence sector to the forefront of discussions in the European Union. This issue has a key impact on the scientific community at both European and national levels, as the connection between research projects and the Defence sector - with possible military applications - presents new and complex questions. In this sense, INESC TEC will promote a series of online sessions entitled "INESC TEC Open Talks on Ethics in Research and Defence" - with the first talk scheduled for September.

08th July 2024

The Open Talks will focus on many key issues, like how to ensure the transparent development of technologies, and that they are used (namely, in the Defence sector) responsibly and ethically. And what about human rights? How can we prevent surveillance or emotional recognition technologies - especially when combined with AI systems that use biometric data - from becoming too intrusive, undermining human rights and democratic principles?

"The scientific community must discuss issues related to ethics in defence research. For instance, we must explore how reasonable – and how do we address this issue – is the researchers' right to refuse participating in projects related to Defence, based on their ethical and moral beliefs. Can we – or should we – place limits on objections? Or, should we ensure that the development of Defence systems focuses on protecting civilians and civilian infrastructures? Is it feasible to implement protocols that safeguard the safety of civilians?", stated Pedro Guedes de Oliveira, president of the INESC TEC Ethics Committee, and leader of this initiative.

To ensure a productive discussion with an impact on public policies, INESC TEC will bring together a group of national and international experts for each session. Each  one will open with an initial lecture, followed by a debate between the speakers and the audience.

Three sessions have already been confirmed: September 12, October 1 and November 26.

The first one (September 12, 5 pm, and available in Portuguese), is entitled "Humanism without borders". Álvaro Vasconcelos, founder of the Demos Forum and Holder of the José Bonifácio Chair at the University of São Paulo is the speaker. Álvaro Vasconcelos - who features regularly on several media outlets (Público, Diário de Notícias, and Expresso newspapers, RTP, Porto Canal and SIC) - will focus on how we should advocate for borderless humanism, with an agenda of compassion, hospitality, defence of the rights of the rightless, and social justice. By proposing an agenda based on a new multilateralism at the service of humanity, this speaker – a strong opponent of the Estado Novo regime, who once lived in exile – believes that only this vision will allow the preservation of the democratic state. You can register here.

“My facial recognition system is 100% accurate - is it good news?” is the name of the second talk, which will take place on October 1, at 5 pm. This session (in English) will feature Caterine Tessier, Director of Research and Research Integrity and Ethics Officer at ONERA (Toulouse, France). "Digital research has applications in many fields including military applications. Techniques like facial recognition may be used for different purposes: for instance to unlock your smartphone, for tracking people in the streets or for targeting people automatically". – this is the motto for the second session, as the speaker herself explained. The goal is to discuss the necessary ethical deliberation researchers should put in place alongside their scientific work in order to go further than a mere acceptance or objection. Questions like "what arguments can be used to accept or refuse to join research projects, based on ethical values" will be discussed in this session, whose registration can be done here.

The third session, scheduled for November 26 (5 pm), will feature Virginia Dignum, professor at Umeå University (Sweden) - Department of Computer Science, and member of the EC’s High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence. "Beyond the AI hype: balancing innovation and social responsibility" – is the topic of the third session. Virginia Dignum aims to discuss the need for a responsible approach to AI that emphasises trust, cooperation, and the common good. According to the speaker, taking responsibility involves regulation, governance, and awareness, and designing AI systems with values in mind, implementing regulations, governance, monitoring, agreements, and norms. "Responsible Artificial Intelligence is not an option but the only possible way to go forward in AI", stated the speaker. You can register for the third talk here.

The remaining sessions will be announced in due course.