Cambridge University Ethics in Mathematics Project


In 2018 and 2019 we ran the world’s only conference series on Ethics in Mathematics, the EiM series, to bring together the rare few mathematicians working on this problem. These were international conferences, held in Cambridge each year. Notable speakers include Turing Prize recipients, Fellows of the Royal Society, and many mathematics professors. The aim of the conference series was to develop a research programme and active community for people inside and outside of mathematics, to support and underpin the work being done to teach ethics to mathematicians.

These conferences aimed to bring together some of the people (that we in Cambridge happened to know of) who have worked on issues of Ethics in Mathematics, who have tried to start a teaching course on ethics for mathematicians in their universities, or who have published something about Ethics in Mathematics. The recurring problem we have observed is that almost all such people are “singletons” working alone, sometimes with mere disinterest from their institutions, sometimes meeting active hostility from colleagues. We wanted to bring these people together to make a community - and the tiny kernel of a new discipline: the study of Ethics in Mathematics. Not just the ethics of algorithms, or mathematicians working for the intelligence services, but all mathematics and all mathematicians. We wanted to broaden the discussion to grasp the role of mathematics that has grown in the last 20-30 years, where almost everything we have or we do has a vast amount of highly technical, highly specialised mathematics behind it, and which is utterly incomprehensible to almost everyone who is not a trained mathematical professional. Mathematicians have become one of the most powerful communities in the world, yet they do not know it, and do not know how to take responsibility for their actions; nobody ever tells them.

These conferences were a crucial step in doing something really innovative and creating a new (and deeply multidisciplinary) project. It was a small pilot project, bringing together a small group of mathematicians we knew to be interested in Ethics in Mathematics and who have tried, one way or another, to research or teach this. We brought together some experts in fields outside mathematics to talk to the mathematicians about the particular properties of the nature of the mathematical community and mathematicians, and the reasons for the failure of mathematicians to contribute to policy and ethical considerations outside their own very narrow domains. This group of mathematicians already knows about the issues of ethics in mathematics, but they have no working community and little experience with those outside mathematics who may be able to inform or deepen their own thinking about the ethics of mathematical research and practice.

EiM 1

The first EiM conference was held in Cambridge on 20-21 April 2018. Full details, including a complete recording of the conference, can be found on the EiM1 conference webpage.

EiM 2

The second EiM conference was held in Cambridge on 3-5 April 2019. Full details can be found on the EiM2 conference webpage.

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All material on this page Copyright © 2020 Maurice Chiodo – Cambridge University Ethics in Mathematics Project.