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HKS Library & Knowledge Services

Data + Donuts // Annette Zimmermann on “The Power of Choosing Not to Build"

Friday, November 12, 2021, 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Virtual (Zoom)
Open to the public, Presentation, Presentation,

Register here: ken.sc/d-d_zimmermann


A limited number of attendees will be admitted in person. In-person attendees must be Harvard ID holders, and follow all HKS COVID-19 policies. All other attendees must join the event via Zoom. Speaker will be presenting via Zoom. The meeting will be recorded and made available to HKS affiliates.


Annette Zimmermann is a Technology & Human Rights Fellow with the Carr Center at HKS and a political philosopher at the University of York, holding a DPhil (PhD) from the University of Oxford. Their work focuses on the ethics of algorithmic decision-making, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.


At this session of Data + Donuts, Dr. Zimmermann will speak about their current project at the Carr Center, “The Power of Choosing Not to Build: Justice, Non-Deployment, and the Purpose of AI Optimization.”


From Dr. Zimmermann: “Are there any types of AI that should never be built in the first place? The ‘Non-Deployment Argument’—the claim that some forms of AI should never be deployed, or never even built—has been subject to significant controversy recently: non-deployment skeptics fear that it will stifle innovation, and argue that the continued deployment and incremental optimization of AI tools will ultimately benefit everyone in society. However, there are good reasons to subject the view that we should always try to build, deploy, and gradually optimize new AI tools to critical scrutiny: in the context of AI, making things better is not always good enough. In specific cases, there are overriding ethical and political reasons—such as the ongoing presence of entrenched structures of social injustice—why we ought not to continue to build, deploy, and optimize particular AI tools for particular tasks. Instead of defaulting to optimization, we have a moral and political duty to critically interrogate and contest the value and purpose of using AI in a given domain in the first place.”


Data + Donuts is a learning and discussion group that offers a welcoming space to engage critically with issues of data and society. Since Fall 2018, HKS Library & Knowledge Services has hosted semi-monthly events that feature data researchers and practitioners facilitating conversations around their area of expertise. To sign up for the D+D mailing list, email alessandra_seiter@hks.harvard.edu. For a list of upcoming events, visit the HKS event calendar.

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Event Organizer

Alessandra Seiter