TU Wien Informatics

Alexander Pretschner: Software Can Do Wrong

  • 2023-05-16
  • Lecture
  • Event
  • Social Responsibility

Alexander Pretschner talks about ethics in agile software engineering.

Alexander Pretschner: Software Can Do Wrong

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

The online lecture by software engineering expert Alexander Pretschner will be moderated by Carlo Ghezzi.


Software can do wrong, as prominently witnessed by Cambridge Analytica and defeat devices in the automotive industries. But what is wrong, and who is responsible? As software continues to permeate our lives, this question, also at the core of the ongoing debate about regulation of AI in Europe, becomes increasingly relevant – for engineers, for companies, for educators, for regulators, and for society as a whole. One prominent approach today is the formulation of codes of conduct. Unfortunately, a common perception is that these catalogs of values specifically fail to provide useful guidance to engineers. This is because the respective values tend to conflict with each other (for instance, privacy vs. transparency), and because software and software engineering are fundamentally context-specific, which makes the existence of a universally applicable set of values very unlikely.

As a consequence, ethical deliberations need to be embedded into software development activities in a project-specific manner, and not just for AI-based systems. As agile development methodologies fundamentally rest on the concepts of short-term planning, empowerment, incrementality, and learning, they turn out to be particularly well suited for embedding ethical deliberations into the development process. In this talk, we first argue why this is the case. In a second step, we present our schema for ethical deliberation in agile processes, the result of a long-standing cooperation between software engineers and (business) ethicists at the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation. We will close by discussing the applicability in industry and education.

Alexander Pretschner

Alexander Pretschner is a professor of software and systems engineering at TUM; a founding director of bidt, the interdisciplinary Bavarian research institute for digital transformation; and the scientific director of fortiss, Bavaria’s research and transfer institute for software-intensive systems. Research interests include all aspects of software engineering, with a current focus on testing and accountability. Prior appointments include those of a professor at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, of a group manager at Fraunhofer IESE and an adjunct associate professor in Kaiserslautern, and of a senior researcher at ETH Zurich. PhD from TUM, MS degrees in computer science from RWTH Aachen University and the University of Kansas.

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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