Professor Seth Lazar

D.Phil. M.Phil. BA (Hons)
Associate Professor
College of Arts and Social Sciences
T: 02 61258995

Areas of expertise

  • Social Philosophy 220319
  • Ethical Theory 220305
  • Applied Ethics 2201
  • Human Rights And Justice Issues 220104
  • Political Theory And Political Philosophy 160609
  • Decision Theory 220302
  • International Relations 160607
  • Ethical Use Of New Technology 500103

Research interests

I write on topics in political philosophy, and normative and applied ethics. In recent years, I have begun to focus exclusively on the morality, law and politics of data and AI (broadly construed). I am concurrently pursuing three major projects.

My central interests are in the political philosophy of data and AI. I aim to evaluate how big data and AI, and related technologies, create new modalities for the exercise and concentration of power, and to ask whether and how those new power relations can be legitimated and justified. This involves rethinking how analytic philosophers conceptualise power and legitimacy, as well as integrating empirical and technical research into AI and its impacts on society to enable both a critical evaluation of where we are now, and a productive attempt to articulate promising avenues for the future. This work lays the foundations for my Future Fellowship, a AU$1,020,698 grant from the Australian Research Council, to run from 2022-26.

As well as thinking about how to reshape society in order to legitimate (or eliminate) the new power relations enabled by intelligent systems, I also think about how to design those systems themselves, so that they take our moral or political values into account. This involves answering several distinct kinds of question. How would we decide which values to incorporate? Who should decide? Once that decision is made, how would we operationalise it? This involves transitioning from questions in political epistemology to practical questions in algorithm design, in collaboration with computer scientists. This project (like the others) is associated with the HMI Grand Challenge, a AU$5,500,000 investment by the ANU in the multidisciplinary pursuit of democratically legitimate intelligent systems (the Grand Challenge runs, at present, from mid-2019 to mid-2022).

Lastly, I am interested in thinking about how to design intelligent systems that are calibrated to work with humans as we are, not as we might be: that take into account the predictable and fallible biases and heuristics that we use to navigate the world, as well as attending to how our interaction with intelligent systems will itself change us. This project involves collaboration with sociologists and political scientists, and is associated with my Templeton World Charity Foundation grant (US$234,000, 2021-23).

Before working on AI, I worked on the ethics of risk, leading an ARC Discovery Project on the topic (AU$335,000, 2017-2021), and before that on the ethics of war, supported by an ARC DECRA on ‘Justifying War’ (AU$366,000, 2013-2016).

Throughout all of my work—on war, moral theory, and AI—I have had two central preoccupations: with the inadequacy of an individualist, moral-philosophy-based approach for addressing the normative questions raised by complex institutions and collective action problems; and with the necessity of incorporating uncertainty into moral and political theorising (rather than abstracting away from it). Risk and the distinct challenges raised by political normativity structured by monograph on the protection of civilians in war, and they are also central to how I think about AI.

I've published papers in many top journals, including Ethics (2009, 2015, 2017), Philosophy & Public Affairs (2010, 2012, 2018), Australasian Journal of Philosophy (2015), Nous (2017), Canadian Journal of Philosophy (2021), Synthese (2021), Philosophical Quarterly (2018), Philosophical Studies (2017), Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy (2017), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics (2019), and others. See 'Research' for more. I'm also an editor of Philosophers' Imprint, and on the editorial board of Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy. Recently I have taken on leadership roles for Computer Science-led conferences on AI and society. As well as being on program committees for both principal and ethical review for IJCAI, NeurIPS, EAAMO and other conferences, I was Program Co-Chair for the ACM/AAAI AI, Ethics and Society Conference 2021, and am General Co-Chair for ACM Fairness, Accountability and Transparency Conference 2022.

In 2019, I was awarded the ANU Vice Chancellor’s award for excellence in research, I also received an Early Career Researcher Commendation from the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia in 2016, and won the American Philosophical Association’s Frank Chapman Sharp prize in 2011.

 

Biography

I am a Professor in the School of Philosophy at the ANU, a Distinguished Research Fellow of the University of Oxford Institute for Ethics in AI, and General Co-Chair for the ACM Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency conference 2022. I am also director of a Templeton World Charity Foundation project on ‘Moral Skill and Artificial Intelligence’, lead CI of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project on Ethics and Risk, and, in 2022, I will take up an ARC Future Fellowship on ‘Automatic Authorities: Charting a Course for Legitimate AI’. I’m a member of a 15 person study committee of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, reporting to the US Congress on the ethics and governance of responsible computing research. And I was founding lead of the Humanising Machine Intelligence grand challenge, a multidisciplinary project on the morality, law, and politics of data and AI. In 2022, I will give the Tanner Lecture on AI and Human Values at Stanford University, and the Kamm Lecture in Ethics at Harvard.

 

Current student projects

Moral Anti-Rationalism

Addressing the Environmental Crisis

Contractualism and Future Generations

Predictive Power

Ethics of Machine Learning

Publications

Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  05 December 2021 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers