Societal Impact of AI
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleSOW-BKI244
Credits (ECTS)5
CategoryB2 (Second year bachelor)
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Social Sciences; Artificial Intelligence;
prof. dr. W.F.G. Haselager
Other course modules lecturer
prof. dr. W.F.G. Haselager
Other course modules lecturer
Contactperson for the course
prof. dr. W.F.G. Haselager
Other course modules lecturer
dr. G. Mecacci
Other course modules lecturer
dr. G. Mecacci
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2020
SEM1  (01/09/2020 to 24/01/2021)
Starting block
Course mode
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesYes
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
The students will be able to
  1. Display general knowledge of the philosophical foundations and implications of influential paradigms in AI and CNS, as well as their societal and ethical implications regarding topics such as autonomy, responsibility, and privacy. They will be able to present a well-informed opinion concerning some major philosophical and societal issues surrounding recent developments in cognitive science, namely:
    1. the topic of ‘genuine AI’, superintelligence, and the debates about the Turing Test and the Chinese room,
    2. the societal impact of ICT & AI: big data, privacy & job market,
    3. the impact of AI on responsible decision making: algocracy & explainable AI,
    4. Artificial Moral Agents: ethical decision making by machines?
    5. the potential implications of neurotechnology for personality and society,
    6. AI & the human self-image: how technology influences how we see ourselves
    7. neurotechnologies & the human values: freedom, authenticity, privacy
  2. Discuss current topics at the interplay between science and society, evaluating challenges and potential interventions. Students will be able to work with others with a constructive and goal oriented attitude. They will also be able to provide proper feedback and substantial contributions to their peers’ work, according to the standards of the scientific community.
  3. Express original arguments and opinions in writing according to the accepted norms for scientific publications. Students will also be able to effectively digest articles in the relevant journals, report on past and current research, and entertain an effective communication with specialists in AI and CNS, as well as with non-specialists.
  4. Display a critical scientific attitude towards research in general and AI in particular, i.e. by critically evaluating arguments, assumptions, abstract concepts and data. Students will also be able to integrate multidisciplinary knowledge and formulate theoretical research questions according to standard academic practice.
Artificial Intelligence is one of the main contributors to an interdisciplinary approach to understand and model cognition and behavior. Increasingly, developments in AI affect everyday life, on a personal, interpersonal and societal level. During this course, we will focus on how recent developments in artificial intelligence and cognitive neuroscience raise various practical issues for individuals and society (see list of topics). Specifically, we will apply a philosophical approach (conceptual analysis, ethical discussion, identification and clarification of intuitions, basic assumptions and potential societal implications) in order to address the fundamental questions underlying these practical issues. Finally, we will practice how cognitive scientists could (and should) contribute to the public debate, thereby assisting responsible decision making about (un)desired research directions and applications of resulting technologies such as machine learning, robots and brain-computer interfaces.

Topics will include:
  • The possibility of 'genuine AI' and the debates about the Turing Test and the Chinese room (Will computers and robots ever be 'really' intelligent? Will they become ‘superintelligent’?)
  • The potential implications of new neurotechnologies for the individual and society (Can modern neurotechnologies affect deeply rooted values like freedom, authenticity, and privacy?)
  • The societal effects of AI & ICT (How will the future versions of smartphones & social webforums change the way you interact with other people?)
  • The impact of robots on human life and society (Will robots take control of the world or will we marry them?)
  • Professionalism in AI research and its applications (How can you deal responsibly with the above topics?)
Students will apply the acquired skills to address the various topics mentioned above (i.e. by analysing concepts, clarifying intuitions and basic assumptions, analysing empirical research results and formulating potential implications). Finally, students will consider how, as a responsible professionals in AI, CNS or Psychology, they could contribute to the public debate, thereby assisting stakeholders in responsible decision-making about research directions and applications of resulting technologies.
These topics will be discussed on the basis of several important papers and additional background literature.
Presumed foreknowledge
Students will need to have completed at least one full year of prior study in the field of Cognitive Science, Artificial Intelligence, Psychology or Philosophy. Students from other disciplines can submit a participation request.
Test information
Mid-term exam (45%), end-term exam (45%), and intermediate-evaluations (10%). Resit is possible for both exams. Overall (Result1 x 0.45 + Result 2 x 0.45 + Result 3 x 0.1) grade needs to be 5.5 as a mimum grade.

Recommended materials
For this course there is a reader with about 20 journal articles or book chapters. The selection changes every year to remain up-to-date with the current societal debate. Here are some representative examples from the past years:
Brayne, S. (2017). Big Data Surveillance: The Case of Policing. American Sociological Review, 82(5), 977-1008.
Lin, P. (2016). Why ethics matters for autonomous cars. In M. Maurer, J. C. Gerdes, B. Lenz, & H. Winner (Eds.), Autonomous Driving: Technical, legal and social aspects (pp. 69–85). Springer Open.
Malle, B. F. (2016). Integrating robot ethics and machine morality: the study and design of moral competence in robots. Ethics and Information Technology, 18(4), 243–256.
Nyholm, S. (2018). Attributing Agency to Automated Systems: Reflections on Human–Robot Collaborations and Responsibility-Loci. Science and Engineering Ethics, 24(4), 1201–1219.
Turing, A.M. Computing Machinery and Intelligence in Mind (1950) LIX: 236, 433-460).
Winburn, K. M., & Winburn, R. H. (2018). The Impact of Technology on Business and Society. Global Journal of Business Research, 12(1), 23–39.

Instructional modes
Attendance MandatoryYes

Working group
Attendance MandatoryYes

Attendance required

Partial Exam 1
Test weight45
Test typeExam
OpportunitiesBlock SEM1, Block SEM1

Partial Exam 2
Test weight45
Test typeExam
OpportunitiesBlock SEM1, Block SEM2

Test weight10
Test typeAssignment
OpportunitiesBlock SEM1