Digital Ethics Lab

 “The focus of digitization is not data, algorithms or machines, but people and their needs. This makes ethical behavior in dealing with digital information and technologies even more important. For this we need a discussion about values and principles from the perspective of society as a whole."

Ueli Maurer, President of the Swiss Confederation

Why a Digital Ethics Lab?

Digitalization allows for the increased outsourcing of thinking and decision-making to machines, enables the collection of enormous amounts of data on all aspects of our lives, and makes human civilization increasingly dependent on digital infrastructure. This “ABC” of digitization - algorithms, big data and cybersecurity - needs ethical orientation to ensure that digital change is moving in the right direction. 

To this end, the Digital Ethics Lab of the DSI (DSI-DEL) has built up an extensive research pipeline to analyse the burning questions of digital transformation and find answers to questions such as: How do we ensure that decisions made by artificial intelligence are fair? How can the data collected about us be used for the benefit of all? How far can our privacy be invaded when it comes to cybersecurity?  How does the digitalisation of everyday life affect people as moral beings? 

Who forms the Digital Ethics Lab?

The DSI-DEL is the research core of the DSI Ethics Community. The Ethics Community unites all researchers of the DSI who work explicitly on ethical questions of digitisation. Currently (beginning of 2020), there are about 30 researchers in the community. The Ethics Community forms a “Cross-Cutting Activity” of the DSI. 

Part of the DSI-DEL are researchers who are directly involved in ethics projects of the DSI or collaborate in third-party funded projects affiliated to the DSI. Currently, these are the following researchers:

PD Dr. Markus Christen 

Dr. Markus Kneer

Dr. Michele Loi 

Dr. Eleonora Vigano 

Ning Wang

What is the DSI-DEL researching?

In recent years, the DSI-DEL has built up a comprehensive project pipeline and is successfully operating in the field of classical research funding (National Fund, Innosuisse, etc.):


  • Socially acceptable AI and fairness tradeoffs in predictive analytics: funded by the National Research Programme 77 "Digital Transformation", runs until March 2024
  • "Meaningful Human Control of Security Systems aligning international humanitarian law with human psychology", funded by the National Research Programme 77 "Digital Transformation", runs until March 2024
  • "Assessment of automated decision making in timecritical situations with high uncertainty - Development of a demonstrator for applications in the safety area". Financed by armasuisse Science and Technology, runs until December 2020.
  • "When algorithms decide in our place: the challenges of artificial intelligence". Financed by the Swiss Foundation for Technology Assessment, runs until February 2020
  • "Automated personnel management and codetermination - an expertise": funded by the AlgorithmWatch Foundation, runs until December 2019.

Big Data 

  • "Development of a code of ethics for databased value creation". Collaboration with the Swiss Alliance for Dataintensive Services, financed by Innosuisse, runs until October 2020.
  • "Creating an ELSI Task Force for the NRP75 Big Data". Financed by the National Research Programme 75 "Big Data", runs until 2021
  • "Between Solidarity and Personalization Dealing with Ethical and Legal Big Data Challenges in the Insurance Industry" Funded by the National Research Programme 75 "Big Data", runs until September 2019


  • CANVAS Constructing an Alliance for Value-driven Cybersecurity. Funded by the European Commission. Runs until October 2019

Other topics:

  • "Valuesensitive humanitarian innovation: Opportunities and challenges to integrate ethical values in the humanitarian use of drones": Funding by the Swiss Network of International Studies, runs until March 2021
  • "Moral Sensitivity: Investigating Implications, Justifications, and Means of Improvements": Project for the development of video games (Serious Moral Games) for moral training, financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation, runs until January 2020.

Which services does the DSI-DEL offer?

The DSI-DEL offers the following services for third parties:

1. Consulting: There is a growing need for consulting and guidelines for ethical issues concerning digitisation in government and industry. The DSI-DEL provides interdisciplinary teams of specialists who provide orientation knowledge for this purpose. It develops guidelines for dealing with ethical dilemmas that arise as a result of digital transformation. It sensitizes the public with events and media contributions to ethical questions of digitization.

2. Ethics tools: Research investigates the influence of the use of digital technologies in numerous applications on moral skills and ethical thinking. The results of the DSI-DEL are to be incorporated into tools that support practitioners in decision-making (e.g. simulation of the impact of different fairness intuitions in algorithms) and strengthen their decision-making competence (e.g. through serious moral games). A "One Stop Shop Privacy and Ethics" is currently being set up in cooperation with the UZH's data protection team, which will enable researchers at UZH to assess their projects in terms of privacy and ethics.

3. Education: There is a growing need in business and administration to understand the ethical aspects of using digital technologies. The DSI-DEL offers continuing education at the UZH for technical experts and other stakeholders in the assessment and application of ethical principles.