TU Wien Informatics

20 Years

Tina Peterson: “Abstracted Power and Responsibility”

  • 2023-02-21
  • Public Lecture
  • Event
  • Social Responsibility

In this online lecture, Tina Peterson will talk about abstracted power and a greater sense of personal responsibility.

Tina Peterson: “Abstracted Power and Responsibility”

  • This is an online-only event.
    See description for details.

The online lecture by Tina Peterson (University of Texas, Austin, USA) will be moderated by Carlo Ghezzi (Politecnico di Milano, Italy).


Technology often serves as a lever to extend and amplify our power. It is increasingly possible in the 21st century to make decisions that have profound impacts on people thousands of miles away from us. As it extends our reach geographically and culturally, this long arm of technology can also distance us perceptually from impacts, of our decisions and make the consequences easier to ignore. We call the outcome of this phenomenon ‘abstracted power,’ and identify it as an important obstacle to overcome as we promote social responsibility in engineering education. Our work is with computer science students, but abstracted power could apply to any engineering field and indeed may find traction beyond those disciplinary boundaries.

In this interactive talk, I will introduce the concept of abstracted power and the highlights of a paper my colleagues Rodrigo Ferreira and Moshe Vardi and I recently published on the subject. Next, I will describe how I have used this concept in my computer science ethics classes and share some students’ observations of this phenomenon in the ‘real world.’ I will then invite members of the audience to share their thoughts on this concept in the context of their own disciplines. Finally, I will talk about ways to un-abstract power and make computer scientists and others feel a greater sense of personal responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

About Tina Peterson

Tina L. Peterson is an assistant professor of instruction in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on ethics and social responsibility in computer science, including AI and robotics. She is senior personnel on a National Science Foundation Research Traineeship program, The Convergent, Responsible, and Ethical AI Training Experience (CREATE) for Roboticists. She received the B.Sc. degree in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, in 2000, the M.A. degree in Critical Theory and Cultural Studies from the University of Nottingham, in 2003, and the Ph.D. degree in Mass Media and Communication from Temple University, in 2012. In addition to teaching and research, she is the author of the children’s book ‘Oscar and the Amazing Gravity Repellent’ (Capstone, 2015).

About Carlo Ghezzi

Carlo Ghezzi is an Emeritus Professor at Politecnico di Milano, where he has been teaching and doing research for over 40 years. He is an ACM Fellow, IEEE Fellow, member of Academia Europaea, and member of the Italian Academy of Sciences (Istituto Lombardo). He received the ACM SIGSOFT Outstanding Research Award. He has been President of Informatics Europe. He has done research on programming languages and software engineering. He has published over 200 papers in international journals and conferences and co-authored 6 books. He is interested in the ethical implications of research in computer science. He is currently chairing the Ethics Committee at Politecnico di Milano.

Online Event

We are looking forward to seeing you:

  • Participate via Zoom (Password: 0dzqxqiy).
  • The talk will also be live streamed and recorded on the DIGHUM YouTube channel.
  • For further announcements and information, please visit the DIGHUM website, which also provides slides and recordings of all our past events.

The DIGHUM Lecture Series

Digital Humanism deals with the complex relationship between man and machine. It acknowledges the potential of Informatics and IT. At the same time, it points to related apparent threats such as privacy violations, ethical concerns with AI, automation, and loss of jobs, and the ongoing monopolization on the Web. The Corona crisis has shown these two faces of the accelerated digitalization—we are in a crucial moment in time.

For this reason, we started the DIGHUM Lecture Series, a new initiative with regular online events to discuss the different aspects of Digital Humanism. We will have a speaker on a specific topic (30 minutes) followed by a discussion of 30 minutes every second Tuesday of each month at 5:00 PM CEST. This crisis seriously affects our mobility, but it also offers the possibility to participate in events from all over the world—let’s take this chance to meet virtually.

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