New research into the ethical impact of data science reveal a range of complex challenges which need to be addressed in order to enable data science innovation to flourish. The findings are generated by a workshop held at The Alan Turing Institute in order to scope its research into data ethics

2083-cover-sourceData science provides huge opportunities to improve public and private life, as well as our environment. However, such opportunities are also coupled to significant ethical challenges, posed by the ever-increasing volume of data – often personal, if not sensitive – and the growing reliance on algorithms to analyse them, combined with the gradual reduction of human involvement or even oversight over many automatic processes.

A paper published today
in Philosophical Transactions A by Luciano Floridi and Mariarosaria Taddeo on behalf of The Alan Turing Institute and the Oxford Internet Institute, asks ‘what is data ethics?’ and outlines the context behind this emerging branch of research.

In the paper, Floridi and Taddeo split the ethical challenges posed by data science into three key areas of research:

  • the ethics of data (how data is generated, recorded and shared)
  • the ethics of algorithms (how artificial intelligence, machine learning and robots interpret data)
  • the ethics of practices (devising responsible innovation and professional codes to guide this emerging science)

A key recommendation of the paper is to implement a large-scale ethical framework to address the impact and implications of data science, rather than relying on ad hoc or narrow approaches. This framework should build on the rich legacy of computer and information ethics which has developed over the past 30 years in response to the growth of digital technologies.

Professor Luciano Floridi, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the Oxford Internet Institute and Turing Faculty Fellow, commented:

“While the data ethics landscape is complex, we are confident that these ethical challenges can be addressed successfully.

Striking a robust balance between enabling innovation in data science technology, and respecting privacy and human rights will not be an easy or simple task. But the alternative, failing to advance both the ethics and the science of data, would have regrettable consequences.

The new research published today was generated by a workshop held to determine the research agenda for the newly-created national centre for data science, The Alan Turing Institute.

As the Institute begins its first ever academic year, experts in social data science, computer science, the ethics of data science and privacy and security will come together in the Institute to spearhead research into data ethics, with the goal to answer some of the challenges this paper outlines.”


For more information please contact

The Alan Turing Institute: Sophie McIvor, Head of Communications,

The Oxford Internet Institute: David Sutcliffe,

Notes to Editors