Foresight for AI ethics and false thinking on climate change: notes from the Strategic Research Conference

Strategic Research Scientific Conference

Researchers from ETAIROS project participated in the Strategic Research – Scientific Conference: A fair, just and sustainable society that was held on 12.-13 October, 2022 in Helsinki. The conference aim was “to bring together scholars that have a common interest in exploring responses to societal challenges in a fair, just and sustainable society” and to “foster an exchange of ideas, approaches and insights between the disciplines”.

On Wednesday, Nadezhda Gotcheva from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd gave a presentation about “The need for future-oriented ethics: Foresight for anticipating ethical risks and societal impacts of AI technologies”. The presentation was co-authored with Nina Wessberg from VTT.

The need for future-oriented ethics: Foresight for anticipating ethical risks and societal impacts of AI technologies

Future societal implications of AI are generally considered vague. As AI technologies are developing rapidly and new application areas are emerging, there is uncertainty related to many aspects of their design, implementation and societal implications in the future. There are pressing concerns in terms of understanding AI’s impact on society, especially relevant is how the human values, norms and overall culture are included into AI, will be affected and could influence the long-term implications.

Horizon scanning can be used to systematically anticipate ethical issues and societal impacts of AI technologies in the future by detecting and making sense of weak signals. Weak signals are the first indicators of potential changes – indicators, which can be observed, noted, sensed, discussed, or anyhow manifested in one form or another.

Scenarios provide alternative views of the future; identify significant events and challenges, main actors and their motivations, and convey how the world could function in the specified circumstances.

Weak signals and scenario building reflect the fears and hopes, which people place on AI technology in the society.

In practice, with the help of horizon scanning it is possible to systematically collect weak signals in Finnish and international media with focus on AI and potential societal impact, risks and opportunities, and analyze them in researchers workshops. ETAIROS publishes regular Signal posts on the ETAIROS project webpage and in social media. Based on the horizon scanning process, the project has created a four-scenario framework by utilizing HowSpace platform and stakeholder workshops to structure the range of ethical issues in future AI development and use.

Overall, foresight provides food for thought and vocabulary for understanding the complex phenomena we are facing with AI in the future. The hypothesis is that foresight work makes both AI and society better. With foresight we can be prepared for the future and at the same time create fair, just and sustainable future.

In an intense AI development context, there is a need for encouragement an open conversation about the futures, and imaginatively thinking and acting proactively in co-creating future for the next generations.

False thinking and climate change

On Thursday Mari Myllylä, co-authored with prof. Pertti Saariluoma, from the University of Jyväskylä held a presentation about false thinking regarding the climate change. The presentation highlighted how even though climate change is a complex phenomenon, the ultimate explanation for the current human caused climate change is what and how people think about it. Lay people’s thinking is crucial as it determines what people do with the climate change, both privately and politically. This makes it also important to study people’s climate change thinking.

Lay people’s thinking is crucial as it determines what people do with the climate change, both privately and politically.

Unfortunately, human thinking is not free from errors (see also a related previous Etairos-blog posting by Myllylä & Saariluoma here). Human mental contents can be false and information processing fallacious. Consequently, what people make are errors. Yet, the role of human thinking is seldom discussed as one of the root sources of climate change. However, Myllylä and Saariluoma argue that human thinking and mental contents concerning the climate change can be investigated by using content-based cognitive scientific analysis of human information processing. As an example, they have analyzed social media discussions from Finnish online-forum to show that thinking errors and argumentation fallacies are common. In her presentation, Myllylä concluded that information is not reliably viewed in social conversations. People’s postings can be illogical and based on false or inadequate information. There is a lack of reliable thought models about climate change.

a class of root causes for climate change can be found in false thinking and in the illusory and risky way people think about climate issues

Wrong actions, or in other times the inability to act, have caused severe problems in local and global levels. Myllylä and Saariluoma claim that a class of root causes for climate change can be found in false thinking and in the illusory and risky way people think about climate issues, because thinking guides human actions. Erroneous and delusional thought models and processes are clearly a threat for climate change mitigation and adaptation. This is also significantly threatening nature and people themselves.

For Myllylä, studying climate change thinking is essentially related to Etairos core questions.  Not “only” because it is related to sustainability per se, but more broadly studying the processes of human understanding is necessary for understanding ethical design and artificial intelligence.

Reflections about the conference

It was great to see how much research is carried out to solve difficult questions related to sustainability and its different dimensions, such as how to mitigate and adapt to the climate change while maintaining social justice.

Clearly, many research projects are related to each other and complement each other. It would be interesting to see how things would develop if the projects could cooperate even more across different disciplines.

Even though most of the themes were about difficult and heavy subjects, the conference gave a sense of hope that much is also being done. All citizens, also the lay people, should be informed about these matters – that a lot is already being done and there are many possibilities to act.

In discussions during the conference it was suggested that people seem to be increasingly ready to recognize and accept challenges related to social, ecological, and economical sustainability issues. It is now time to work together and with the best scientific means available to solve different sized wicked problems which these current times, and the future, pose.

It is inspiring to be part of a scientific community, which dares to ask and tackle the big questions in our time – there were many “big picture” thinkers at the conference, eagerly seeking linkages, possibilities and solutions for a better future.


Nadezhda Gotcheva, Research Team Leader, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, WP Foresight, Lead

Mari Myllylä, Post-doc researcher, University of Jyväskylä, WP Design, Researcher

Strategic Research Scientific Conference