PH440      Half Unit
The Ethics of Data and AI

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kate Vredenburgh


This course is available on the MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, MSc in Philosophy of Science and MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course introduces you to the core philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, and ethics concepts needed to build better technology and reason about its impact on the economy, civil society, and government.

Some questions that the course might consider include:

  • What is intelligence, and how does it vary between types of agents (human, animal, artificial)? What are the normative assumptions behind research in intelligence?
  • What is data, and how can we design more ethical data governance regimes?
  • Can technology be racist? If so, what are promising strategies for promoting fairness mitigating algorithmic bias?
  • Can we understand black box AI and explain its outputs? Why is it morally important that we do so?
  • How can we embed human values into AI systems?


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the WT.

Formative coursework

Students will write a 1,000 word essay outline. Students will also engage in a variety of formative activities in seminars to build skills for summatives.

Indicative reading

  • Gabriel, “Towards a Theory of Justice for Artificial Intelligence”, Daedalus
  • Friedman, Kahn, and Borning, “Value Sensitive Design and Information Systems”
  • Serpico “What kind of kind is intelligence?”
  • Henry Shevlin, Karina Vold, Matthew Crosby & Marta Halina, “The limits of machine intelligence”
  • Halina, “Insightful artificial intelligence”
  • Alexandrova and Fabian, “Democratizing Measurement: Or Why Thick Concepts Call for Coproduction”
  • Northcott, “Big Data and Prediction: Four Case Studies”
  • Simons and Alvarado, “Can we trust Big Data? Applying philosophy of science to software”
  • Viljoen, “A Relational Theory of Data Governance”
  • Johnson, “Are Algorithms Value Free?”
  • Munton, “Beyond accuracy: Epistemic flaws with statistical generalizations.”
  • Barocas, Hardt, and Narayanan, Fairness and Machine Learning: Limitations and Opportunities
  • [selections]


Essay (70%, 2000 words) and essay (30%, 2000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2022/23: Unavailable

Average class size 2022/23: Unavailable

Controlled access 2022/23: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication