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Research Projects

Co-designing the BERLIN ETHICS LAB for Responsible AI and Responsible Human-Machine-Interaction


Ethical issues regarding emerging technologies raise increasing concerns among the population. Progress in Artificial Intelligence (AI), evident in face recognition, self-driving cars, and automated decision-making tools, is deemed “transformative” with unknown social implications. As a technological breakthrough, AI comes with great potential, but also with great risks for social cohesion. As an emerging technology, AI raises sensitive issues with regard to data privacy, legal responsibility, regulations, bias and discriminations. Major firms have recognized the importance of the topic for governments and public opinion. However, as development of these new technologies is primarily triggered by economic interests, ethical disputes should not be left to these actors alone but rather be held in the domain of public research. 

With the 6-month grant from the Berlin University Alliance, we will enter into a comprehensive process of co-design by drawing on Design Thinking methodology. The goal is to develop a prototype for the Berlin Ethics Lab involving scientists, engineers, social scientists and humanities scholars, activists, artists as well as citizens. We will bring together stakeholders in joint exploration. The project will end with a final workshop, where the prototype of the Berlin Ethics Lab will be presented and discussed with all participants of the process.


Project members: Sabine Ammon (Projektleitung), Jens Krause, Tim LandgrafRainer Mühlhoff, Steffen Müller, Gerrit Rößler, Rainer Stark, Christa Thöne-Reineke

Term: 2019-2020

Sponsor: Berlin University Alliance (BUA)

Sovereign and intuitive management of personal location information (SIMPORT)

Sovereign and intuitive management of location data on smartphones 

From the course of a person’s GPS location, extensive conclusions can be drawn about their activities, place of residence, tendencies, beliefs or social network. However, most smartphones pass this information on by default, e.g. to apps or companies, without informing users about risks in a thorough and understandable way or providing detailed control options.

This is precisely where SIMPORT comes into play. We develop guidelines and software modules for the sovereign management of personal location information on one’s mobile device. In cooperation with industrial partners, we develop freely available software components that allow one to visualize possible conclusions that can be drawn from their location information in a comprehensible way, and to better understand the advantages and disadvantages of the transfer of location information.  Thereby, an explanation of the risks and side effects can take place precisely at the moment when users must decide whether to pass on such data. To this end, we develop innovative forms of interaction that enable users to determine in detail what location data is shared, when, with whom and to what degree.

With close cooperation between computer science and social sciences, we investigate how users can be made more aware of the risks, opportunities and control options regarding the dissemination of location information in order to promote their decision-making competence. 

Project members: Rainer Mühlhoff, N.N.




Robot support for routine tasks to strengthen cooperation in care facilities (RoMi)

In the joint project, possibilities for supporting and relieving nursing
staff by means of a specially adapted assistance robot are being
investigated. To this end, the work and everyday routines of nursing
staff and patients are analyzed and processes are identified that lead
to more time for nursing work, more attention for the patients and
personal interaction by means of robot support. A robot platform
provided by the project partner pi4_robotics GmbH will be used and
further developed to study interaction scenarios and the trust and
acceptance of robots in care. Effects of the robot system on nursing
practice and on the interactions of persons in need of care will be
investigated in detail, especially with regard to ethical values such as
autonomy and dignity of persons in need of care, as well as the
responsibility of nursing staff.


Project members: TU Berlin (Peter Remmers), HU Berlin, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft (HTW), pi4_robotics GmbH (project coordinator)

Term: 03/2020 - 02/2023

Sponsor: BMBF (VDI/VDE IT)

For more information about the project, click here.

Ethics of Intelligence

As a cross-sectional study of the DFG-Cluster of Excellence Science of Intelligence (SCloI), the project develops methods for integrating principles of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) among others into basic research. The research of the Cluster of Excellence, which deals with forms of artificial and biological intelligence, raises a number of ethical questions. These stem from concerns about the growing ability of algorithms (in software and robotic systems) to become decision-making actors in nearly all spheres of human life. The aim of the project is to identify undesirable and unintended consequences of the cluster’s research as early as possible in order to allow for appropriate countermeasures to be taken. In pursuit thereof, elements of a foresighted, reflective, consultative, and responsive dialogue are fed iteratively into the overall research process. The methods employed include vision assessment, ethical scenario analysis, focus group discussions, stakeholder interviews and stakeholder workshops.

Project members: Sabine Ammon, Rainer Mühlhoff, Tim Hildebrandt in cooperation with Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer, NN

Term: 2019-2022

Sponsors: DFG, Exzellenzcluster Science of Intelligence (SCIoI)

For more information about the project, click here.



Methods of the Synthetic Approach

As a cross-sectional study of the DFG-Cluster of Excellence Science of Intelligence (SCloI), the project investigates the cluster’s methodology of using synthetic artifacts (such as computer programs or robots) to research intelligent behaviour. Through this approach, the synthetic artefacts become epistemic objects that enable the exploration, stabilisation and validation of knowledge. The aim of the project is to explore the opportunities and limitations of the synthetic approach for the investigation of intelligent behaviour of synthetic and biological agents. The project is based on comparative case studies that investigate the interaction between epistemic objects, human actors, tools, methods and experimental frameworks. To this end, methods of scientific theoretical analysis of theories, models and concepts are combined with empirical observation and data collection (interviews with project members, participatory observation in the laboratory, and artefact analysis).

Project members: Sabine Ammon, Martina Vortel in cooperation with Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer, Ole Pütz, NN

Sponsors: DFG, Exzellenzcluster Science of Intelligence (SCIoI)

For more information about the project, click here.



Autonomous Robots for Assistance: Basic Interactive Skills (ARAIG)

Within the project "Autonomous Robots for Assistance: Basic Interactive Skills (ARAIG)", we examine the ethical and legal aspects of robots for assistance. ARAIG attends to eight consortium projects that develop technologies in the field of Human-Robot-Interaction (HRI). From an ethical point of view, we look at fundamental changes of HRI that occur because of new autonomous functions and collaborative scenarios. We question the meaning of autonomy, responsibility and anthropomorphization of technology in the robotics of assistance. In addition, the IKEM e.V. has been assigned to look at the legal framework for the application of autonomous robotic functions. The goal of the overall project is to develop a conceptual and methodological groundwork for a responsible HRI design.

Affiliated partners: Human-Factors-Consult (HFC), Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA) and Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA).

Handled by: Peter Remmers, Penelope Freund

Duration: 2017-2020

Coordination: BMBF, Program Human-Robot-Interaction "Technik zum Menschen bringen"

For further information click here.

From Artefacts to Knowledge-Facts. On the Scientification of Designing through IT Artefacts using the Example of CAD, CAM, and CAE in Mechanical Engineering

One special feature of the dynamics of knowledge in engineering sciences is that knowledge is gained in design processes through artefacts, and that this knowledge is made manifest in artefacts. A key function goes to IT tools, which are employed for the genesis of knowledge in engineering sciences, and which make available the knowledge gained. This subproject of the research group aims to scrutinize the epistemic efficacy of IT artefacts in design processes and their resulting consequences for knowledge dynamics in engineering sciences. IT artefacts are not only important means in knowledge acquisition, knowledge coordination, and knowledge integration. Through their developmental framework, they are also constitutive in knowledge genesis.

This approach allows two levels of investigation. On the one hand, the research will concentrate on IT artefacts as knowledge manifestations, in which knowledge condenses and which embody knowledge. On the other hand, the investigation will focus on the role of IT artefacts as knowledge tools and their related epistemic practices. The perspective of usage is employed to explain how the epistemic preconditions of tools merge into developmental processes and to explain how new knowledge in engineering sciences is gained with their help. This theoretical-conceptual analysis will be developed in accordance with empirical case studies. They are taken from the field of mechanical engineering using the example of automotive engineering / brake system and aim at revealing and critically investigating the employment of CAD (computer-aided design), CAE (computer-aided engineering), and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) from an epistemological perspective.

Not least due to the widespread opinion that knowledge in engineering sciences merely employs knowledge provided by other disciplines, a profound understanding of the dynamics of knowledge in engineering sciences remains an important desideratum for research. The project tackles this deficit in two ways: First, it shows the epistemological characteristics of this area, and hence it provides an important building block for a general philosophy of engineering sciences, which still needs to be developed. Second, the results promise indications for dealing with the world-making potential of IT artefacts. By illuminating the underlying processes, the preconditions of design can already be revealed in its developmental phase. Its critical analysis will contribute significantly to increasing the lack of reflexivity in engineering sciences.

Project members: Sabine Ammon, NN

Term: 2016-2020

Sponsor: DFG

For more information about the project, click here.

Knowledge Dynamics in the Engineering Sciences

This interdisciplinary interest and project group analyses the way knowledge is dealt with in the engineering sciences, thereby contributing to foundational research in knowledge and technology studies. The goal of the project is to carve out elements specific to the engineering sciences and the dynamics of technological knowledge. In doing so, the project will review generally accepted classifications of technological knowledge (theoretical knowledge, knowledge of rules, experiential knowledge, etc.). It focuses on examining and systematically modelling the way this knowledge is handled – from genesis to application. At the core of the project lie several case studies, which each exemplify different perspectives from the humanities, social sciences, and human factors on the engineering sciences. Academic research will be the central focus of the investigations; however, other context factors such as the economy, politics, and the public will also be considered where appropriate.

The group wants to provide a theoretical-systematic foundation in order to reconsider and design the way knowledge is dealt with in the engineering sciences. The group expects to offer manifold initial points of reflection for the field: a more precise self-conception of the engineering sciences, a more precise positioning of the engineering sciences within the system of sciences, an improved means of communication – both internally and externally – through the clarification of central terminology, a better understanding for the dynamics of networks of knowledge, and an increased reflexivity in the engineering sciences.

Contact: Sabine Ammon

For more information about the project, click here.

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