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Umbrello's research focuses on several themes in the ethics and philosophy of technology:

  • responsible innovation

  • design for values

  • the moral acceptability of technological risks

  • engineering ethics

  • ethics of new emerging technologies.

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Co-Design of a Trustworthy AI System in Healthcare: Deep Learning Based Skin Lesion Classifier

Steven Umbrello

This paper documents how an ethically aligned co-design methodology ensures trustworthiness in the early design phase of an artificial intelligence (AI) system component for healthcare. The system explains decisions made by deep learning networks analyzing images of skin lesions. The co-design of trustworthy AI developed here used a holistic approach rather than a static ethical checklist and required a multidisciplinary team of experts working with the AI designers and their managers. Ethical, legal, and technical issues potentially arising from the future use of the AI system were investigated. This paper is a first report on co-designing in the early design phase. Our results can also serve as guidance for other early-phase AI-similar tool developments.

Robot Care Ethics Between Autonomy and Vulnerability: Coupling Principles and Practices in Autonomous Systems for Care

Alberto Pirni, Maurizio Balistreri, Marianna Capasso, Steven Umbrello and Federica Merenda

Technological developments involving robotics and artificial intelligence devices are being employed evermore in elderly care and the healthcare sector more generally, raising ethical issues and practical questions warranting closer considerations of what we mean by “care” and, subsequently, how to design such software coherently with the chosen definition. This paper starts by critically examining the existing approaches to the ethical design of care robots provided by Aimee van Wynsberghe, who relies on the work on the ethics of care by Joan Tronto. In doing so, it suggests an alternative to their non-principled approach, an alternative suited to tackling some of the issues raised by Tronto and van Wynsberghe, while allowing for the inclusion of two orientative principles. Our proposal centres on the principles of autonomy and vulnerability, whose joint adoption we deem able to constitute an original revision of a bottom-up approach in care ethics. Conclusively, the ethical framework introduced here integrates more traditional approaches in care ethics in view of enhancing the debate regarding the ethical design of care robots under a new lens.

Value Sensitive Design to Achieve the UN SDGs with AI: A Case of Elderly Care Robots

Steven Umbrello, Marianna Capasso, Maurizio Balistreri, Alberto Pini & Federica Merenda

Healthcare is becoming increasingly automated with the development and deployment of care robots. There are many benefits to care robots but they also pose many challenging ethical issues. This paper takes care robots for the elderly as the subject of analysis, building on previous literature in the domain of the ethics and design of care robots. Using the value sensitive design (VSD) approach to technology design, this paper extends its application to care robots by integrating the values of care, values that are specific to AI, and higher-scale values such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The ethical issues specific to care robots for the elderly are discussed at length alongside examples of specific design requirements that work to ameliorate these ethical concerns.

Autonomous Weapons Systems and the Contextual Nature of Hors de Combat Status

Autonomous weapons systems (AWS), sometimes referred to as “killer robots”, are receiving ever more attention, both in public discourse as well as by scholars and policymakers. Much of this interest is connected to emerging ethical and legal problems linked to increasing autonomy in weapons systems, but there is a general underappreciation for the ways in which existing law might impact on these new technologies.

20 maggio 2021

In this paper, we argue that as AWS become more sophisticated and increasingly more capable than flesh-and-blood soldiers, it will increasingly be the case that such soldiers are “in the power” of those AWS which fight against them. This implies that such soldiers ought to be considered hors de combat, and not targeted. In arguing for this point, we draw out a broader conclusion regarding hors de combat status, namely that it must be viewed contextually, with close reference to the capabilities of combatants on both sides of any discreet engagement. Given this point, and the fact that AWS may come in many shapes and sizes, and can be made for many different missions, we argue that each particular AWS will likely need its own standard for when enemy soldiers are deemed hors de combat. We conclude by examining how these nuanced views of hors de combat status might impact on meaningful human control of AWS.

Designing AI for Explainability and Verifiability: A Value Sensitive Design Approach to Avoid Artificial Stupidity in Autonomous Vehicles

One of the primary, if not most critical, difficulties in the design and implementation of autonomous systems is the black-boxed nature of the decision-making structures and logical pathways. How human values are embodied and actualised in situ may ultimately prove to be harmful if not outright recalcitrant. [...]

15 maggio 2021


Should We Reset? A Review of Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret’s ‘COVID-19: The Great Reset’

Steven Umbrello

More than simply the title of the book, The Great Reset is a theoretical construct appropriated by various communities. While popular primarily within the intellectual dark web and conspiracy circles, the term has been given more recent attention from academic scholarship (continua...)

17 febbraio 2021

4 febbraio 2021

Mapping value sensitive design onto AI for social good principles

Steven Umbrello & Ibo van de Poel

Value sensitive design (VSD) is an established method for integrating values into technical design. It has been applied to different technologies and, more recently, to artificial intelligence (AI) (continua...)

Reckoning with assessment: can we responsibly innovate?

Steven Umbrello

Emad Yaghmaei and Ibo van de Poel (eds.): Assessment of responsible innovation: Methods and practices, 1st edition. London: Routledge, 2020, 394pp, £96 HB

15 gennaio 2021

4 dicembre 2020

Interessante intervista al nostro dottorando Steven Umbrello disponibile su PodBean.

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A new book by Maurizio Balistreri, Sex robot. L’amore al tempo delle macchine, is reviewed. Sex robots not only exacerbate social, ethical and cultural issues that already exist, but also come with emergent and novel ones. This book is intended to build on the recent research on both robotics and the growing scholarship on sex robots more generally, however with greater attention to the developments of the philosophical issues of how to deal with these new artefacts and steps for living among these types of systems into the future.


Combinatory and Complementary Practices of Values and Virtues in Design: A Reply to Reijers and Gordijn


The purpose of this paper is to review and critique Wessel Reijers and Bert Gordijn’s paper moving from value sensitive design to virtuous practice design. In doing so, it draws on recent literature on developing value sensitive design (VSD) to show how the authors’ virtuous practice design (VPD), at minimum, is not mutually exclusive to VSD. This paper argues that virtuous practice is not exclusive to the basic methodological underpinnings of VSD. This can therefore strengthen, rather than exclude the VSD approach. Likewise, this paper presents not only a critique of what was offered as a “potentially fruitful alternative to VSD” but further clarifies and contributes to the VSD scholarship in extending its potential methodological practices and scope. It is concluded that VPD does not appear to offer any original contribution that more recent instantiations of VSD have not already proposed and implemented.

Steven Umbrello (University of Turin, Italy & Institute for Ethics and Technology, Italy)

The value sensitive design (VSD) approach to designing emerging technologies for human values is taken as the object of study in this chapter. VSD has traditionally been conceptualized as another type of technology or instrumentally as a tool. The various parts of VSD's principled approach would then aim to discern the various policy requirements that any given technological artifact under consideration would implicate. Yet, little to no consideration has been given to how laws, policies, and social norms engage within VSD practices, similarly, how the interactive nature of the VSD approach can, in turn, influence those directives. This is exacerbated when considering machine ethics policy that has global consequences outside their development spheres. This chapter begins with the VSD approach and aims to determine how policies come to influence how values can be managed within VSD practices. It shows that the interactional nature of VSD permits and encourages existing policies to be integrated early on and throughout the design process.

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4894-3.ch007

Meaningful Human Control Over Smart Home Systems

A Value Sensitive Design Approach


The last decade has witnessed the mass distribution and adoption of smart home systems and devices powered by artificial intelligence systems ranging from household appliances like fridges and toasters to more background systems such as air and water quality controllers. The pervasiveness of these sociotechnical systems makes analyzing their ethical implications necessary during the design phases of these devices to ensure not only sociotechnical resilience, but to design them for human values in mind and thus preserve meaningful human control over them. This paper engages in a conceptual investigations of how meaningful human control over smart home devices can be attained through design. The value sensitive design (VSD) approach is proposed as a way of attaining this level of control. In the proposed framework, values are identified and defined, stakeholder groups are investigated and brought into the design process and the technical constraints of the technologies in question are considered. The paper concludes with some initial examples that illustrate a more adoptable way forward for both ethicists and engineers of smart home devices.

Batya Friedman; David G. Hendry; Steven Umbrello; Jeroen van den Hoven; Daisy Yoo

Paradigm Shifts in ICT Ethics: Proceedings of the ETHICOMP* 2020

Testo completo

Lucia Gazzaneo, Antonio Padovano, Steven Umbrello

Procedia Manufacturing, Volume 42, 2020, Pages 219-226

Under a Creative Commons license

Umbrello, S. Imaginative Value Sensitive Design: Using Moral Imagination Theory to Inform Responsible Technology Design. Sci Eng Ethics 26, 575–595 (2020).

Umbrello, S., Torres, P. & De Bellis, A.F. The future of war: could lethal autonomous weapons make conflict more ethical?. AI & Soc 35, 273–282 (2020) - DOI: 10.1007/s00146-019-00879-x

Umbrello, Steven, 2019 , Delphi: Interdisciplinary Review of Emerging Technologies, Vol. 2, No. 2, 79-83. DOI:10.21552/delphi/2019/2/6

Umbrello, Steven, 2019 , TECNOSCIENZA: The Italian Journal of Science & Technology Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1., 71-88

Umbrello, Steven, 2019 open_in_new, International Journal of Technoethics (IJT), Vol. 10, No. 2, 1-21. DOI: 10.4018/IJT.2019070101

Umbrello, Steven, 2019, Sorgner, S. L. , Philosophies, Vol. 4, No. 2, (24). DOI: 10.3390/philosophies4020024

Umbrello, Steven, 2019, Delphi, Interdisciplinary Review of Emerging Technologies, Vol. 1, No. 2, 30-34. DOI: 10.21552/delphi/2019/1/7

Umbrello, Steven, 2019 open_in_new. Big Data and Cognitive Computing, Vol.3, No.1, (5). DOI: 10.3390/bdcc3010005