Ethics, human rights & emerging technologies: Key takeaways from the SHERPA project

Reading Time: 3 minutes
AdobeStock 267774506


Dr Rowena Rodrigues | Head of Innovation & Research
Nicole Santiago | Senior Research Analyst

Date: 30 November 2021

Over the past 3.5 years, Trilateral Research has been a proud member of the H2020-funded project SHERPA, which ended on 31 October 2021. Over the course of the project, SHERPA sought to better understand Smart Information Systems (SIS), the combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analytics. Specifically, SHERPA considered the potential ethical and human rights consequences of implementing these technologies, and highlighted measures that can be taken to prevent and address these impacts. The team worked with a broad range of stakeholders to develop recommendations for policymakers and other stakeholders to ensure that AI innovation ecosystems are conducive to human flourishing.

The SHERPA project culminated in a set of recommendations for policymakers and technology developers, which aimed to prioritise ethics and fundamental rights in the design, development, and deployment of SIS. The SHERPA recommendations are based on three main principles:

  • the clear delimitation of the ecosystem in question
  • ecosystem governance
  • the knowledge base of the AI ecosystem

These three principles gave rise to nine individual recommendations related to:

  • conceptual clarity
  • a regulatory framework
  • an EU Agency for AI
  • the creation of the role of an AI Ethics Officer
  • development of ethics by design approaches
  • AI impact assessments, educational principles
  • inclusion into standardisation
  • specific technical guidance for security of AI

Engaging with policymakers

The SHERPA project recommendations are based on extensive engagement with key stakeholders and policymakers throughout the project lifecycle.

The project’s initial phase aimed at working with policymakers to gain a better understanding of ethics and human rights implications of SIS. SHERPA developed 10 case studies of organisations or application areas that employ SIS. Following these case studies, a further five areas were investigated using Trilateral’s methodology of developing policy scenarios:

In these scenarios, we looked forward to the year 2025 to consider how new and emerging technologies may raise various issues, regarding which policymakers and other stakeholders should consider which ethical guidelines, data protection policies and other measures we might need to address the issues now, rather than five to six years from now, when there may be fewer policy options.

In addition, Trilateral undertook a Delphi study on the ethical and human rights issues of SIS. The Delphi study ran between July 2019 to October 2020 and engaged a variety of stakeholders and policymakers to validate findings and insights from across the project and provide input into the development of the project’s recommendations.

SHERPA was also pleased to engage European policymakers in a number of advocacy activities. These include a series of interviews with MEPs from across Europe, including: Eva Kaili; Yana Toom; Karen Melchior, Susana Solís Pérez, Ibán Garcia del Blanco, Lina Gálvez Muñoz, Patrick Breyer, and Dragos Tudorache.

Advocacy activities also included joint events with technology experts and policymakers from the European Commission, such as the “Policy Options for the Ethical Governance of Disruptive Technologies”conference organised with the PANELFIT and SIENNA projects and the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA), a recording of which can be found here.

SHERPA also engaged policymakers in debate during its final event, “Co-Creating the Future of European AI”, on the ways in which we can use and integrate SHERPA’s final results and recommendations in future regulatory frameworks at the European level.

Artistic Outputs

SHERPA was also pleased to relate its results and recommendations in a series of artistic outputs developed by artists Tijmen Schep and Lucy Peel and including a number of interactive art exhibits to engage the general public in SHERPA’s research and in conversations around the ethics of AI and SIS, as well as a series of animations representing the project, the policy scenarios, and SHERPA recommendations.

Tijmen Schep’s projects included “How Normal Am I“?, and “Are you you”?, interactive documentaries about facial recognition. Additional projects, entitled “The SHERPA pieces” urged viewers to explore what the world would be like if it were full of Smart Information Systems driven by AI and Big Data.

Lucy Peel’s animations outlining the policy scenarios and recommendations can be watched on the SHERPA YouTube channel here.

To learn more about SHERPA, visit the project website.

To learn more about our research in similar Horizon-2020 funded projects, see TECHETHOS and SIENNA.

Related posts

AI is rapidly transforming industries. Take for example the legal field, which is traditionally conservative in relation to technology. More…

Let's discuss your career