Steven umbrello

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

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Steven Umbrello è stato nominato come uno dei 35 under 35 dalla banca Santander e dal centro per gli affari internazionali di Barcellona.  

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L'elenco è stato annunciato l'11 novembre 2021 alla conferenza: Santander-CIDOB Future Leaders Forum "Il futuro dell'ordine globale digitale: governance algoritmica e intelligenza artificiale”

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La lista completa dei candidati può essere trovata qui: 

Il video individuale è disponibile qui: 

Pubblicazioni 2023

27 gennaio 2023

Democratization of Quantum Technologies

Zeki Can Seskir, Steven Umbrello, Christopher Coenen and Pieter Vermaas

As quantum technologies (QT) advance, their potential impact on and relation with society has been developing into an important issue for exploration. In this paper, we investigate the topic of democratization in the context of QT, particularly quantum computing. 

The paper contains three main sections. First, we briefly introduce different theories of democracy (participatory, representative, and deliberative) and how the concept of democratization can be formulated with respect to whether democracy is taken as an intrinsic or instrumental value. Second, we give an overview of how the concept of democratization is used in the QT field. Democratization is mainly adopted by companies working on quantum computing and used in a very narrow understanding of the concept. Third, we explore various narratives and counter-narratives concerning democratization in QT. Finally, we explore the general efforts of democratization in QT such as different forms of access, formation of grassroot communities and special interest groups, the emerging culture of manifesto writing, and how these can be located within the different theories of democracy. In conclusion, we argue that although the ongoing efforts in the democratization of QT are necessary steps towards the democratization of this set of emerging technologies, they should not be accepted as sufficient to argue that QT is a democratized field. We argue that more reflexivity and responsiveness regarding the narratives and actions adopted by the actors in the QT field and making the underlying assumptions of ongoing efforts on democratization of QT explicit, can result in a better technology for society. [continua...]

Pubblicazioni 2022

Designing genetic engineering technologies for human values

Etica & Politica / Ethics & Politics, XXIV, 2022, 2, pp. 481-510 ISSN: 1825-5167

Genetic engineering technologies are a subclass of the biotechnology family, and are concerned with the use of laboratory-based technologies to intervene with a given organism at the genetic level, i.e., the level of its DNA. This class of technologies could feasibly be used to treat diseases and disabilities, create disease-resistant crops, or even be used to enhance humans to make them more resistant to certain environmental conditions.

However, both therapeutic and enhancement applications of genetic engineering raise serious ethical concerns. This paper examines various objections to genetic engineering (as applied to humans) which have been raised in the literature, and presents a new way to frame these issues, and to look for solutions. Specifically, this paper frames genetic engineering technologies within the ‘design turn in applied ethics’ lens and thus situates these technologies as co- varying with societal forces.

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This OA book explores ethically designed technologies after COVID-19 shows how resilience can be bolstered by ethical approaches to technology.

Assembles experts on ethics and technology following the COVID-19 pandemic shows comprehensive engineering integrating designs of data-driven COVID-technologies with socio-technical systems.

Vedi pagina web.

Autonomous weapons systems, often referred to as ‘killer robots’, have been a hallmark of popular imagination for decades. However, with the inexorable advance of artificial intelligence systems (AI) and robotics, killer robots are quickly becoming a reality. [continua a leggere]

This paper aims to argue for the thesis that it is not a priori morally justified that the first phase of space colonisation is based on sexual reproduction. We ground this position on the argument ... [continua a leggere]

The Role of Engineers in Harmonising Human Values for AI Systems Design

Journal of Responsible Technology, Volume 10, July 2022, 100031

Most engineers Fwork within social structures governing and governed by a set of values that primarily emphasise economic concerns. The majority of innovations derive from these loci. Given the effects of these innovations on various communities, it is imperative that the values they embody are aligned with those societies. Like other transformative technologies, artificial intelligence systems can be designed by a single organisation but be diffused globally, demonstrating impacts over time. This paper argues that in order to design for this broad stakeholder group, engineers must adopt a systems thinking approach that allows them to understand the sociotechnicity of artificial intelligence systems across sociocultural domains. It claims that value sensitive design, and envisioning cards in particular, provides a solid first step towards helping designers harmonise human values, understood across spatiotemporal boundaries, with economic values, rather than the former coming at the opportunity cost of the latter.

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A value sensitive design approach for designing AI-based worker assistance systems in manufacturing

Susanne Vernim, Harald Bauer, Erwin Rauch, Marianne Thejls Ziegler, Steven Umbrello in Procedia Computer Science, Volume 200, 2022, Pages 505-516

Although artificial intelligence has been given an unprecedented amount of attention in both the public and academic domains in the last few years, its convergence with other transformative technologies like cloud computing, robotics, and augmented/virtual reality is predicted to exacerbate its impacts on society. The adoption and integration of these technologies within industry and manufacturing spaces is a fundamental part of what is called Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The impacts of this paradigm shift on the human operators who continue to work alongside and symbiotically with these technologies in the industry bring with it novel ethical issues. Therefore, how to design these technologies for human values becomes the critical area of intervention. This paper takes up the case study of robotic AI-based assistance systems to explore the potential value implications that emerge due to current design practices and use. The design methodology known as Value Sensitive Design (VSD) is proposed as a sufficient starting point for designing these technologies for human values to address these issues.

Pubblicazioni 2021

Responsible nudging for social good: new healthcare skills for AI-driven digital personal assistants

in Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy (2021) Marianna Capasso & Steven Umbrello 

Traditional medical practices and relationships are changing given the widespread adoption of AI-driven technologies across the various domains of health and healthcare. In many cases, these new technologies are not specific to the field of healthcare. Still, they are existent, ubiquitous, and commercially available systems upskilled to integrate these novel care practices. Given the widespread adoption, coupled with the dramatic changes in practices, new ethical and social issues emerge due to how these systems nudge users into making decisions and changing behaviours. This article discusses how these AI-driven systems pose particular ethical challenges with regards to nudging. To confront these issues, the value sensitive design (VSD) approach is adopted as a principled methodology that designers can adopt to design these systems to avoid harming and contribute to the social good. The AI for Social Good (AI4SG) factors are adopted as the norms constraining maleficence. In contrast, higher-order values specific to AI, such as those from the EU High-Level Expert Group on AI and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, are adopted as the values to be promoted as much as possible in design. The use case of Amazon Alexa's Healthcare Skills is used to illustrate this design approach. It provides an exemplar of how designers and engineers can begin to orientate their design programs of these technologies towards the social good.

Opinion paper on climate change

Ethics of climate engineering: Don’t forget technology has an ethical aspect too

Laurence Brooks, Sara Cannizzaro, Steven Umbrello, Michael J. Bernstein, Kathleen Richardson

Climate change may well be the most important issue of the 21st century and the world’s response, in the form of ‘Climate Engineering’, is therefore of equal pre-eminent importance. However, while there are technological challenges, there are equally just as important ethical challenges that these technologies also generate. 

Governments, funding agencies and non-governmental organisations increasingly recognise the importance of incorporating ethics into the development of emerging technologies (for example, within the EU draft legislation on AI). As the world faces the global challenge of climate change there are urgent efforts to develop strategies so that responses to the climate problems do not reproduce more of the same. Ethical values from the onset are fundamental to this process and need highlighting. Hence, this paper analyses a series of ethical codes, framework and guidelines of the new emerging technologies of climate engineering (CE) through a review of both published academic literature and grey literature from either industry, government, and non-governmental (NGO) organisations. This paper was developed as part of a collaboration with international partners from TechEthos (TechEthos receives funding from the EU H2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No 101006249; Ethics of Emerging Technologies), an EU-funded project that deals with the ethics of the new and emerging technologies anticipated to have high socio-economic impact. Our findings have identified the following ethical considerations including autonomy, freedom, integrity, human rights and privacy in the developmental process of climate engineering, while a poverty of ethical values reflecting dignity and trust were noted.

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

Pubblicazioni 2020

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

Pubblicazioni 2019

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