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Engineers on responsibility: feminist approaches to who’s responsible for ethical AI

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Drage, Eleanor 
Browne, Jude 


Responsibility has become a central concept in AI ethics; however, little research has been conducted into practitioners’ personal understandings of responsibility in the context of AI, including how responsibility should be defined and who is responsible when something goes wrong. In this article, we present findings from a 2020–2021 data set of interviews with AI practitioners and tech workers at a single multinational technology company and interpret them through the lens of feminist political thought. We reimagine responsibility in the context of AI development and deployment as the product of work cultures that enable tech workers to be responsive and answerable for their products over the long and short term. From our interviews, we identify three key pain points in understanding the distribution of responsibility between actors and developing responsible design and deployment practices: (1) unstable business ecosystems and AI lifecycles, which require an approach to responsibility that accounts for the dynamic nature of these systems; (2) the issue of incentivizing engineers to take responsibility for the mundane maintenance practices essential to the functioning of AI systems and (3) the need to overcome individual and structural barriers to taking ownership over AI products and their effects. From these findings, we make three recommendations based on feminist theory: (1) organisations should move from a static model of responsibility to a dynamic and ethically motivated response-ability; (2) companies need to revalue care and maintenance practices; and (3) firms must move away from individualistic ideas of responsibility towards fostering wider cultures of responsibility.


Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Dr Stephen Cave, Director of the Institute of Technology and Humanity, and Dr Youngcho Lee, our research assistant on the Gender and Technology project. Many thanks also to the editorial team and reviewers at Ethics and Information Technology for their kind and thoughtful feedback. Finally, we would like to thank our interviewees for their generosity and their time.


Ethics, Responsibility, Artificial intelligence, AI ethics, Feminism

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Ethics and Information Technology

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Springer Netherlands
Christina Gaw (Christina Gaw, Christina Gaw)