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Dr Sennay Ghebreab has been appointed professor of Socially Intelligent AI at the Faculty of Science at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).
Sennay Ghebreab. Picture: Arenda Oomen.
Sennay Ghebreab. Picture: Arenda Oomen.

Ghebreab is a renowned scholar recognised worldwide for his interdisciplinary and socially-engaged work in the field of AI. He focuses on identifying ways in which AI systems either mirror or reinforce existing inequalities in society. He is also dedicated to utilising AI systems to help combat these inequalities.

AI has the potential to transform society for the better - but only if it is designed, developed and deployed with careful consideration of the values and needs of people and communities. This calls for AI to learn and promote human and public values, taking into account social, cultural, economic and political diversity between people and communities. This fundamental scientific challenge will be central to Ghebreab’s work as professor of Socially Intelligent AI. His research is situated at the intersection of two major transformations: the diversification and digitisation of society. As society continues to change demographically, technology is becoming increasingly influential. The goal of socially intelligent AI research is to create AI technology that advances the common good in an equitable and inclusive way.

Ghebreab: ‘While it is regrettable that AI systems discriminate against people and contribute to societal inequality, currently these same systems are purely a reflection of society. They reveal the fundamental flaws that exist within it and provide a unique opportunity to quantify and address those flaws.’

It is really up to us – citizens, patients, consumers and so on - to ensure that AI is properly developed and deployed for the benefit of all. Sennay Ghebreab

In recent years, AI systems have begun to permeate all sectors of society. The public, civic, private, governmental, financial sectors - all of them have increasingly been turning to AI. The potential benefits are enormous, but, at the same time, AI systems are causing anxiety and raising social, legal, and ethical problems. There are concerns about the trustworthiness of AI systems, including the dangers of codifying and reinforcing existing biases, such as those related to gender and race, or of infringing on human rights and values, such as such solidarity, dignity, integrity and equality. As the founder and scientific director of the Civic AI Lab, Ghebreab has already been working for some time in collaboration with the City of Amsterdam and the Ministry of Interior to address such issues and to tackle problems in various domains: healthcare, well-being, education, mobility and environment.

Ghebreab: ‘To ensure that AI has a positive impact on society, it is essential that we collaborate with knowledge institutes, governments, civil society, and individuals from all backgrounds to co-create it. While AI has the ability to self-learn and improve, it is ultimately really up to us – citizens, patients, consumers and so on - to ensure that it is properly developed and deployed for the benefit of all.’

About Sennay Ghebreab

Ghebreab received his PhD from the UvA in 2001 in computer vision and medical imaging. From 2002 till 2005, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, after which he returned to the UvA. Since 2005, he has held multiple positions at the UvA, including assistant professor in the Informatics Institute and at the Psychology Institute, head of the Social Sciences at Amsterdam University College, and associate professor in the Informatics Institute.

He is a member of the State Commission against Discrimination and Racism set up by the Dutch Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations. He is a member of the Supervisory Board of the NEMO Science Museum. He sits on advisory committees including the Ethical Committee of the Dutch National Police, and Reception and Integration at the Dutch Refugee Council. In recent years, he was acknowledged as one of the 200 most influential people in the Netherlands, and received the Black Achievement Award for his contributions to science and education. He has a been the recipient of grants from, among others, from the Dutch Research Council and Horizon Europe.