Teaching Ethics Through the Back Door? Employing Ideas From Assemblage Theory to Foster a Responsible Innovation Mindset

C. Herzog*, H. Diebel-Fischer

*Corresponding author for this work


Adding ethics courses to engineering curricula seeks to equip students with the critical mindset that enables careers committed to serving humanity. Yet, the knowledge of ethical theories is neither a necessary, let alone sufficient condition for being good [1]. There is no automatism that translates ethical knowledge into action, overriding attitudes that were developed during the enculturation of a student. However, we deem teaching assemblage theory a promising means to achieve a sustained commitment to responsible innovation practice. We base our argument on assemblage theory's (cf. [2, 3]) capacity to conceptualize the interplay of human actors and technological artefacts in terms of dynamic evolutionary systems. The notion of an assemblage as a collection of potentially heterogeneous elements that-despite displaying consistency-remains malleable through reorganization, interconnection and, (re-)attribution forms the ontological basis that guides a conceptual approach to thinking in-between the extremes of technological determinism and social constructivism. Information algorithms, e.g., can be regarded as having the power to facilitate ethical action as part of a larger assemblage [4] and artificial intelligence can arguably only be understood as “trustworthy” within socio-technological systems in which a shared responsibility realizes both epistemic and moral conditions for trust [5]. Ultimately, we intend engineering students to realize the extent of their influence on the world and, therefore, their responsibility for contributing to a prosperous community. Thus, ethics is not only taught by conveying its classical normative theories but rather explored by discovering the entangledness of technology and society.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSEFI Annual Conference
Publication date2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Cite this