TU Wien Informatics

UNESCO Awards Chair on Digital Humanism to TU Wien Informatics

  • By Theresa Aichinger-Fankhauser
  • 2023-05-15
  • Event

In research and teaching, ethical questions regarding the development of digital technology are of utmost importance.

Peter Knees (Chairholder), Sabine Seidler (Rector of TU Wien), Julia Neidhardt (Co-Chairholder), Martin Polaschek (Federal Minister, BMBWF) (fltr).
Peter Knees (Chairholder), Sabine Seidler (Rector of TU Wien), Julia Neidhardt (Co-Chairholder), Martin Polaschek (Federal Minister, BMBWF) (fltr).
Picture: Amélie Chapalain / TU Wien Informatics

On May 15, 2023, the UNESCO Chair on Digital Humanism was inaugurated at TU Wien Informatics in collaboration with BMBWF, BMK, BMEIA, and the City of Vienna. TU Wien Informatics is Austria’s first Faculty of Informatics to hold a UNESCO Chair, focusing on digital technologies’ ethical, social, and political implications.

“What is a desirable future?” Federal Minister for Education, Science and Research Martin Polaschek welcomed the inauguration of the new UNESCO Chair on Digital Humanism. “The establishment of this chair is an important milestone in ensuring that the digital transformation is shaped in a way that puts people at the center of technological progress.” TU Wien Rector Sabine Seidler emphasized the importance of Digital Humanism as a research field, founded by TU Wien Informatics in Vienna. “As digital technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) change our lives at a breathtaking speed, we need to ensure that these changes are compatible with our societal rules and values. The Chair on Digital Humanism will help ensure that we shape this transformation in an ethically responsible way.”

Digital Humanism: A Holistic Approach

In her video message, Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences of UNESCO, underlined UNESCOs endeavors to support governments in creating effective regulations for digital technologies. UNESCO’s recommendations on AI ethics are an essential guideline that the Chair on Digital Humanism will continue to apply and develop. The Secretary-General of the Austrian Commission for UNESCO, Martin Fritz, welcomed TU Wien to the UNESCO network: “Digital technologies are part of our everyday life and our coexistence. Their use must therefore take place within an ethical framework and serve the well-being of people and the environment. The UNESCO Chair on Digital Humanism at TU Wien will make valuable contributions to this, and we are pleased to welcome it to the global network of UNESCO Chairs.”

Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, Ambassador and Head of Directorate General for International Cultural Affairs of the Austrian Foreign Ministry was “thrilled, that the chair will promote Digital Humanism worldwide. The key here is a holistic approach. We need to ensure dignity not only for humans but for other species, nature, and the planet.” Michael Wiesmüller, Head of the Department for Key Enabling Technologies for Industrial Innovation at the Austrian Climate Ministry, strongly supported this advance because “not only do we need to tackle societal and political changes, but we have to look at the impact digital technology has on our environment – from energy consumption to electronic waste and emissions. Veronika Kaup-Hasler, Executive Vienna City Councillor for Cultural Affairs and Science, concluded the statement with the crucial question bringing all stakeholders together: “Who do we want to be in the future? The new humanism we are fighting for is not anthropocentric. It is based on the fact that we can only survive by saving the world we live in. This is why the City of Vienna incorporates and supports Digital Humanism with a wide variety of measures throughout the whole city.”

The Chair on Digital Humanism: Research, Teaching and a Global Network

Peter Knees (chair) and Julia Neidhardt (co-chair) were inaugurated as chairholders. Both are AI & Recommender Systems experts and have been active in Digital Humanism for several years. “Technology offers enormous opportunities for society’s development,” says Peter Knees, “but recent developments have increased people’s insecurity about what digital tech means to them. And what it means to be human in this world in general. With the chair, we want to create scientific foundations for meaningful regulations and educate tomorrow’s IT experts with an interdisciplinary mindset.” Peter Knees thanked Digital Humanism pioneer and former Dean of TU Wien Informatics Hannes Werthner, who was crucial for building the initiative and combining multiple international endeavors under the umbrella of ‘Digital Humanism’. “Thanks to Hannes Wertner, Digital Humanism was spotlighted worldwide. Thank you for pushing this important topic and pushing us to strive for more.”

The chair acts as a hub for research and teaching cooperation. Activities with partner universities, especially in the Global South, the international Digital Humanism Initiative, and the cross-faculty Center for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (CAIML) are linked. In addition, the team will develop curricula and research guidelines based on UNESCO’s recommendations on AI ethics.

“We are committed to advancing methods and implementation of AI systems,” co-chair Julia Neidhardt explains. “As head of the Christian Doppler Lab for Recommender Systems, analyzing bias and promoting fairness has been at the core of my work. With the chair, we want to further focus on developing systems that empower users rather than manipulate them.” Another important aspect is tackling diversity in computer science, academia, and industry. “Who develops these systems is important,” Neidhardt points out, “we’re not only aiming at gender diversity but diversity in all aspects, from ages, bodies to the ethnical background.”

TU Wien is thus becoming a pioneer for the ethically responsible use of digital technologies – in Austria and beyond. “The establishment of the UNESCO Chair on Digital Humanism is an important step towards positioning Vienna as a center of humanistic engagement with technology, 100 years after the Vienna Circle,” said Gerti Kappel, Dean of TU Wien Informatics.

Reclaiming Humanism in the Digital Age

In a panel discussion after the official inauguration, international experts including John Shawe-Taylor (Director IRCAI, UNESCO Chair in AI), Christiane Floyd (Prof.em. of Software Engineering at Universität Hamburg, Honorary Professor at TU Wien Informatics), Martin Fritz (Secretary General Austrian Commission for UNESCO), Antonio Casilli(Professor of Sociology at Télécom Paris) and Chairholder Peter Knees, discussed how to reclaim humanism in the digital age. As UNESCO Chair in AI, John Shawe-Taylor shed light on his experiences as UNESCO Chairholder: “When I was part of the group responsible for UNESCO’s recommendations for AI, I was a computer science nerd in a group of philosophers, politicians, and diplomats. But by working together, we created something meaningful. My advice to future chairholders is: to stay open. Throwing tech out is not helping with the problems it created. Computer scientists are needed to shape a better world.”


The UNITWIN/UNESCO Chair program has been promoting university research and development through cross-border cooperation since 1992. Today, more than 850 institutions in 117 countries participate in the program. There are currently eleven UNESCO Chairs in Austria, coordinated by the Austrian Commission for UNESCO. Further information

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