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Meet the Labbers: Edmond Awad

Scalable Cooperation group, MIT Media Lab

In our ongoing audio series, Meet the Labbers, we hear people from all roles across the Media Lab talk about what they do and why they do it.

Today, meet Edmond Awad.

"My name is Edmond Awad. I’m a master’s student at the Scalable Cooperation group. I’m Syrian. I already have a PhD. Previously I was working on something more theoretical; now I want to do something that is more relevant to the real world that has some implications that are very direct to societies.

The overall mission of Scalable Cooperation is basically studying how society organizes itself, within the lenses of technology. So I’m interested in the artificial intelligence ethics, specifically in the moral decisions when made by machines. I developed with my colleagues a website, which we called the Moral Machine—a platform to gather the human perspective about resolving moral tradeoffs. The website basically generates random moral dilemmas being faced by a driverless car, and asks the people, ‘What do you think the car should do? Do you think the car should stay or swerve?’ So far, we have, like, 24 million clicked responses [as of February 10, 2017] and people came from over 160 countries. This is where we plan to actually study the cultural differences and what kinds of biases people have about these different choices.

I feel like it’s something that has an impact and people are talking about it. And the idea of having machines to have moral decisions is already some kind of, like, between crazy and fascinating idea.

They support crazy ideas, which is nice because this encourages innovation.

What I like about the Media Lab is that most of the work that is done here is very relevant to the real world. I also like the interdisciplinary support. For example, what I’m working on relates to computer science, philosophy, and psychology. And, for these topics to be together, I think would be hard to combine these in other classical departments. And I feel like also grateful, because coming from a background that is not so common, it could be also a factor. Another thing is that they are very open-minded in regard to ideas. They support crazy ideas, which is nice because also this encourages innovation.”

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