In the book are 16 short portraits of people whom I find admirable. They embody, exemplify, or champion specific virtues. They can function as exemplars and inspire you to cultivate and express relevant virtues.

Below are links to talks or interviews with them. You can see and hear them; and model their ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. You can try-out relevant virtues in your work and projects–learn by doing.

Please note that I do not expect that you view all of these exemplars admirable in the same way that I do. Maybe you even do not admire some of them. Still, I hope that you can learn from some of them.

[Home] [Resources] [Exemplars]
Go to ethicsforpeoplewhoworkintech.com; or go to other online resources.

Greta Thunberg

In August 2018, after a series of heat waves and wildfires during Sweden’s hottest summer since over 250 years, Greta Thunberg, then 15 years old, began her Skolstrejk för klimatet, school strike for the climate, sitting in front of the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm. She wanted the Swedish government to comply to
the Paris Agreement and reduce carbon emissions. In the ensuing months and years, she has inspired millions of people worldwide to organize climate action and demand that governments and
businesses act against the climate crisis. She has delivered a series of arresting speeches at key international conferences.

Thunberg embodies the virtue of courage because it takes lots of courage, strength, dedication, and perseverance to do what she does. She has a unique way of navigating between fear and hope. When she was 11 years old, she became depressed because she knew the facts about the climate crisis and she saw that most people in positions of power took very little action. She learned to transform her fear into positive action and inspiration for millions of people.

She also exemplifies the virtues of justice and civility. She broke away from social norms and demanded justice for future generations, insisting on their rights to inherit and inhabit a liveable planet. Moreover, she has been a significant force in mobilizing civil society organizations and to put the climate crisis on the agenda and at the centre of political and public debates.

Greta Thunberg As You’ve Never Seen Her Before: Memes, Beans and Climate Activism, 2022
Greta Thunberg’s emotional speech to EU leaders, 2019

The Guardian: Greta Thunberg responds to Asperger’s critics: ‘It’s a superpower’, 2019

Financial Times: Greta Thunberg: ‘All my life I’ve been the invisible girl’, 2019

Tristan Harris

In 2011, Tristan Harris started working at Google. There, he became increasingly concerned about the effects of digital and online products on people’s daily lives and on society. The advertisement-based business models of companies like Google yield products that aim to maximize users’ screen time, not
their wellbeing. Apps are designed like slot machines; they give little rewards, and the resulting dopamine hits make you keep on using the apps. In 2015, he left Google to found Time Well Spent, which later became the Center for Humane Technology.

Harris exemplifies the virtue of self-control, which entails the setting of goals that contribute to wellbeing, and working conscientiously towards these goals. If we cultivate self-control, we can move away from behaving like we are tools for the benefit of the company that provides these technologies and move
towards using these very same technologies as tools that promote human flourishing. Self-control is about using technology consciously and positively.

He also embodies the virtues of civility and empowerment. The Center for Humane Technology facilitates critical conversations about tech amongst developers, youth, parents and educators, and policy makers. These conversations aim to promote civility, to find ways to design and deploy technology in responsible ways. Moreover, they provide practical advice to empower people to change their relationship to tech, for example, by turning off notifications on their mobile phones, keeping phones out of the bedroom, and organizing ‘device-free’ diners.

How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day | Tristan Harris, 2017

The Center for Humane Technology: About and Take Control

How technology is designed to bring out the worst in us, Vox podcast, with Ezra Klein, 2018

Kate Raworth

Educated as an economist, Kate Raworth worked with microentrepreneurs in the villages of Zanzibar, co-authored the Human Development Report for the UN in New York, and then worked as Senior Researcher at Oxfam. She felt increasingly uncomfortable about the dominant paradigm of growth. She calls herself a ‘renegade economist focused on exploring the economic mindset needed to address the 21st century’s social and ecological challenges’. She published Doughnut Economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist.

Raworth embodies the virtue of justice; notably, ecological and social justice. The Doughnut’s two concentric circles form the boundaries where we need to stay within in order to be able to ensure that no persons fall short on life’s essentials (smaller circle), such as food, housing, health care, education, and political rights and to ensure that we do not overshoot the Earth’s capacity to support life (larger circle), regarding a stable climate, fertile soils, abundant biodiversity, healthy freshwater cycles, and a protective ozone layer overhead.

She also exemplifies the virtues of perspective and collaboration. She wants to change how we view economics: to replace pictures of curves going up, often based on extraction and exploitation, with pictures of cyclic processes, based on regeneration and inclusion. Moreover, she launched the Doughnut
Economics Action Lab
, in 2020, to collaborate with changemakers worldwide. In 2020, she was appointed Professor of Practice at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, to strengthen her collaboration with the City of Amsterdam.

A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not grow | Kate Raworth, 2018

Doughnut Economics; several Animations; and a short video: What is Doughnut Economics

Kate Raworth inaugurated as first Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences Professor of Practice

Otto Scharmer

Otto Scharmer works as a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and is one of the co-founders of the Presencing Institute, an action research platform at the intersection of science, consciousness, and profound social and organizational change. He has introduced the Theory U framework and created a set of methodologies for systemic change and organizational learning.

Scharmer embodies the virtue of empowerment. His leadership style is serving, with a minimum of ego getting in the way. He has set-up multiple courses and training programs, both online and in person, via edX.org and the Presencing Institute. Through these courses and programs, he has inspired and empowered more than 250,000 people to bring about positive change. His methods and tools are applied by organizations in civil society, business, government, and United Nations agencies around the globe.

He also exemplifies the virtues of perspective and care. He provides new perspectives, to analyse how we currently organize our economies and societies, and to envision moving towards more sustainable and just societies. The ‘U’ shape visualizes the path from problem to solution: not directly from A to B, but via a curve, a journey. This journey demands of the people involved that they cultivate an open mind, an open heart, and an open will: curiosity, compassion, and courage. In his courses and webinars, you can experience how he creates a safe space for learning and how he carefully combines a vocabulary of business and technology with a vocabulary of personal change and development.

Theory U – Learning from the future as it emerges | Otto Scharmer | TEDxTUHH, 2016

Theory U on Wikipedia

The u-school methods and tools feature a unique blend among state-of-the-art systems thinking, action learning, social arts, awareness practices, and tools for multi-sector systems transformation

Cathy O’Neil

After earning a PhD in math from Harvard, Cathy O’Neil was a postdoc at MIT, a professor at Barnard College, and a quant for the hedge fund D.E. Shaw during the credit crisis. She left finance in 2011 and started working as a data scientist in the New York start-up scene. In 2016, she published Weapons of
Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
. It reads like a catalogue of everything that can go wrong with algorithms and it is a must-read for anyone who is interested in, or works in, data science.

O’Neil embodies the virtues of justice and honesty, which go hand in hand for her. She knows the limits of what algorithms can do and cannot do. She debunks excessive promises that often surround algorithms. ‘Promising efficiency and fairness, [algorithms] distort higher education, drive up debt, spur mass incarceration, pummel the poor at nearly every juncture, and undermine democracy’ (Weapons of Math Destruction, p. 199).

She also champions the virtue of care. She warns us for algorithms that propagate and exacerbate injustices, for example, through using invalid proxies or deficient feedback loops. Or by using variables that can be quantified easily or data that can be collected easily. These variables and data do not necessarily represent what is actually important. Moreover, she provides practical advice for designing more just algorithms.

The era of blind faith in big data must end | Cathy O’Neil, 2017

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, 2016

Weapons of Math Destruction: how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy | Podcast, 2022

Douglas Rushkoff

A media theorist, author, lecturer, graphic novelist, and documentary maker, Douglas Rushkoff has been writing about online media since the 1990s. In a more recent conference panel, Rushkoff countered an interlocutor’s transhumanist ideas and said that he values humanity, including our human quirks. The panellist remarked ‘You’re only saying that because you are human’, to which Rushkoff declared: ‘Yes, I am on Team Human’. This became the title of his 2019 book Team Human. In it, he brings together key ideas that he developed over the years, in a dozen bestselling books on media, technology, and culture. He also hosts the Team Human podcast and community events, which enable people ‘to find the others’.

‘Our technologies, markets, and cultural institutions – once forces for human connection and expression – now isolate and repress us. It’s time to remake society together, not as individual players but as the team we actually are’ is on the book’s cover; his manifesto in a nutshell.

Rushkoff embodies the virtues of flexibility and creativity. He has been a pioneer of cyberculture, but when the early, nonprofit internet was overtaken by venture capitalism and corporate interests, he became a critic of the digital and online utopia. He also exemplifies the virtues of civility and care. He fosters conversations, sometimes provokingly, but always carefully, about what we would want to aspire towards. He proposes a humanistic approach to technology, to infuse technology with what makes us uniquely human.

How to be “Team Human” in the digital future | Douglas Rushkoff, 2019

Douglas Rushkoff: Team Human vs. Team AI: To make artificial intelligence live up to its promise, we need to understand and reframe the values implicit in the technology

Team Human, host of a long-standing podcast, e.g., this episode: Kibbitz Room II live, 2022

Marleen Stikker

In 1993, Marleen Stikker brought the Internet to the Netherlands; she founded De Digitale Stad (The Digital City; nominated, in 2020, for the Unesco Memory of the World list), in Amsterdam. This involved installing a series of internet terminals in public buildings, on which citizens could create virtual homes and communicate with others. Several years later, she co-founded a centre for research and innovation
in the public domain, notably in culture, health care, and education. First named Society for Old and New Media, it is now known as Waag, a Future Lab for technology and society, named after the 15th-century weighing house it is located in.

Stikker embodies the virtue of collaboration, notably between diverse organizations and between people with diverse disciplinary backgrounds. This is key when it comes to questioning and understanding our current challenges from different perspectives and when it comes to mobilizing and combining different
fields of expertise to explore and create solutions.

Furthermore, she exemplifies the virtues of justice and civility. In her book, The Internet is broken; but we can repair it (in Dutch), she reflects on the Internet’s original spirit of creativity and conviviality and on the ways in which corporations introduced a focus on commerce, profit, and winner-takes-all strategies. Moreover, she advocates an approach to using the internet in ways that prioritize public values, as an alternative to business- or state-dominated approaches.

Marleen Stikker | Odyssey Ethical Deep Dive, 2019

De Digitale Stad (The Digital City), nominated as Unesco World Heritage; UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

The Digital City unlocked

Jaron Lanier

In the 1980s, Jaron Lanier pioneered Virtual Reality and founded VPL Research to produce and sell equipment for VR. From 2009, he has worked at Microsoft Research as an Interdisciplinary Scientist. He wrote several books in which he critically engages with digital and online technologies, like: You Are Not A Gadget, Who Owns the Future? Dawn of the New Everything, and Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. He is also a musician.

Lanier embodies the virtue of perspective. He has a humanistic vision on technology, and his perspective ranges from attention for small things, like a user interface detail that supports or stifles communication, so that it results in, for example, a civil conversation or in toxic mob behaviour, to attention to large things, like the ways in which digital and online technologies are designed in ways to grab and manipulate people’s attention, thereby damaging the fabric of society.

In addition, he exemplifies justice and flexibility. Lanier worries about the inequalities that many digital and online services propagate and exacerbate. Silicon Valley’s belief that ‘information wants to be free’ has let to one-dimensional, ad-driven business models, which amass huge profits for a very small number
of people. He flexibly moves back and forth between, on the one hand, action and entrepreneurship, and, on the other hand, reflection and academic work. He is simultaneously a friend and a critic of Silicon Valley.

How we need to remake the internet | Jaron Lanier, 2018

You will love this conversation with Jaron Lanier, but I can’t describe it, Vox podcast with Ezra Klein, 2018

The New York Times: Jaron Lanier fixes the internet, 2019

The New Yorker: There is no AI: There are ways of controlling the new technology—but first we have to stop mythologizing it, 2023

The Guardian: Tech guru Jaron Lanier: ‘The danger isn’t that AI destroys us. It’s that it drives us insane’, 2023

Jaron Lanier Looks into AI’s Future | AI IRL

Sherry Turkle

For almost 40 years, Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, has studied how people relate to computers. She wrote an impressive series of best-selling books, among which: The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (1984), about how computers affect how we look at ourselves, and think and act; Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (1995), about how people can go into virtual worlds and explore multiple identities; Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011), about how our obsession with connectivity corrodes natural, organic, genuine communication; and Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015), which deals with how being ‘always on’ made us forget the benefits of solitude and how to connect to others.

In Reclaiming Conversation, she discusses how our obsession with being ‘always on’ made us forget the benefits of solitude, without screens and the value of connecting to others. This has corroded our skills for conversation. Critically, we need to ameliorate this situation; this can be done by cultivating skills for
having and hosting conversations.

Turkle exemplifies the virtue of civility: she is committed to promoting collective deliberation about the good life and to foster collaboration towards in order to live well together. In addition, she champions the virtues of empathy and care. With her analyses and proposals, she urges us to cultivate empathy, to cultivate the skills of conversation, and to cultivate care between different people and groups of people. She is not against technology, but pro conversation.

Connected, but alone? | Sherry Turkle, 2012

Sherry Turkle in conversation with Douglas Rushkoff, on the Team Human podcast, 2022

Yuval Noah Harari

A professor in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yuval Noah Harari is best known for his books. In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, he writes about how we have created subjective realities: we believe in ideas and thereby make them real. People built pyramids and
empires, invented money, and the rule of law. In Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, he writes about the merging of infotech and biotech: integrating computers into our bodies and delegating tasks to computers.

Harari embodies the virtue of humility. He acknowledges the limits of our knowledge and abilities. We, humans, are remarkably similar to non-human animals. In addition, he champions the virtue of empathy. He follows a vegan diet to reduce the mass scale torturing and killing of cows, pigs, and chickens. He also
uses our cruel treatment of animals as a cautionary tale for how cruelly some future artificial, superior lifeform may, one day, treat us.

Moreover, he exemplifies the virtue of perspective. In his books, he fashions novel perspectives on the human condition. Interestingly, he practices Vipassana meditation to cope with the deluge of thoughts and to have a clearer perspective on reality. Another example is the way he talks about his experience
of being gay. He learned to distinguish between some people’s belief that ‘homosexuality is wrong’ and the biological fact that ‘homosexuality is present in many species’, and to dismiss the former and embrace the latter.

Yuval Noah Harari on Vipassana, Reality, Suffering, & Consciousness, 2018

Yuval Noah Harari Reveals the Real Dangers Ahead | The TED Interview, 2022

The New Yorker: Yuval Noah Harari’s History of Everyone, Ever, 2020

The Economist: Yuval Noah Harari argues that AI has hacked the operating system of human civilisation, 2023

Mariana Mazzucato

A professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London and founding director of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, Mariana Mazzucato is the author of The entrepreneurial state: Debunking public vs. private sector myths; The value of everything: Making and taking in the global economy; and Mission economy: A moonshot guide to changing capitalism. These books can be read as a trilogy, in which she advocates organizing better collaborations between government, industry, and societal actors. More specifically, she promotes mission-oriented innovation: to create innovations that contribute to more sustainable economies and just societies; to better align our innovation efforts with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Mazzucato exemplifies the virtues of anticipation and responsiveness. She has supported numerous organizations in looking ahead and moving towards responsive action, notably in her advocacy for mission-oriented innovation and in multiple advisory roles, for example, for the European Commission, in helping them to shape their research and innovation programmes.

She also champions the virtues of honesty and courage. She is honest and, indeed, very knowledgeable, about the ways in which finance works; how financialization, unchecked, can lead to exploitation and injustices. In addition, she enables people to envision alternative ways of organizing economies and societies; this requires courage and hope, to go against the stream.

Mariana Mazzucato: Government — investor, risk-taker, innovator, 2013
What is economic value, and who creates it? | Mariana Mazzucato, 2020

Wired: This economist has a plan to fix capitalism. It’s time we all listened, 2019

John C. Havens

John C. Havens is a multi-talented person. He has been a professional actor, business consultant and speaker, journalist and author, and founder of several initiatives to promote wellbeing. He is also executive director of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems, which delivered recommendations for Ethically Aligned Design, co-authored by some 600 experts from around the globe.

He embodies the virtues of empathy and compassion. He expresses these virtues both on the international level, for example, in his concerns for global issues and in his efforts to help steer innovation towards promoting people’s wellbeing and on the practical level of interacting with others, for example, in his welcoming way to invite and include people with diverse backgrounds in IEEE working groups. He would probably refer to these virtues as kindness. This is the focus of his current interest: to study and promote self-directed and other-directed kindness.

In addition, Havens exemplifies the virtues of collaboration, diversity, and inclusion. He is keen to promote collaboration, for example, in his work for IEEE, which involves collaboration between people from academia, industry, and policy making. He also promotes diversity and inclusion, for example, by inviting people with different qualities and backgrounds and fostering mutual learning. Fun fact: he also has brought playfulness to multiple conferences or meetings, playing blues tunes on his harmonica.

Ethically Aligned Design & Applied AI Ethics with John C. Havens, 2020

John Havens: The ethics of AI: how to stop your robot cooking your cat, 2015

The IEEE Planet Positive 2030 Initiative, under the leadership of Maike Lukenn and John Havens

Safiya U. Noble

An associate professor of Gender Studies and African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she serves as co-founder and co-director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, Safiya U. Noble is known for her book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. It contains numerous examples of shocking search results, ranging from Google’s image recognition that tagged a picture of two black teenagers with ‘gorillas’ to Google Maps that pointed to the White House, during Barack Obama’s presidency, when looking for ‘N*gga House’, to pictures of white women that pop up when searching for ‘professional hairstyles for work’, and pictures of black women when searching for ‘unprofessional hairstyles for work’.

In her work, Noble champions the virtues of diversity and inclusion. Notably, she critiques the application of biased algorithms, which produce racist and sexist outcomes—algorithms that marginalize the experiences of minority groups and deteriorate their opportunities.

Her advocacy for diversity and inclusion is aligned with her championing of honesty and justice. She unveils how search engines, which are often regarded as ‘objective’, are, in fact, very often skewed, biased, prejudiced—or, in short: unjust. Moreover, with a background in Library and Information Science, she is well aware of the importance of accessible and truthful information and the critical role of information as a condition for democracy and justice.

Safiya Noble, Internet Studies and Digital Media Scholar | 2021 MacArthur Fellow (Extended), 2021
How biased are our algorithms? | Safiya Umoja Noble | TEDxUIUC, 2014

The Intersection of Technology, Power and Society, Safiya Umoja Noble, co-director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, is committed to re-imagining technology and championing racial and economic justice

John Tasioulas

After studying philosophy and law at the University of Melbourne, John Tasioulas received a Rhodes Scholarship, and moved to Oxford, to become an expert in moral, legal, and political philosophy. He is Professor of Ethics and Philosophy of Law at the University of Oxford and the inaugural Director of their Institute for Ethics in AI. He is known for his work on the philosophy of human rights; he has proposed to understand these as moral rights, with foundations both in human dignity, which all people share, and in obligations to meet diverse human needs.

Tasioulas exemplifies the virtue of collaboration. Throughout his career, he has promoted collaboration between experts from different fields. In a recent essay, for the Ada Lovelace Institute, he advocated for involvement of the arts and humanities in our thinking about AI. In it, he outlines three tenets for a humanistic approach to the ethics of AI: pluralism, to embrace a plurality of values in our understanding and promoting of human wellbeing and morality; procedures, to care about ‘not just the value of the outcomes that AI can deliver, but the processes through which it does so’; and participation, to enable diverse stakeholders to participate in decision making related to the design and deployment of AI.

He also champions the virtues of diversity and justice. The aim of such a humanistic approach, and of his work more broadly, is to promote diversity and justice.

Why We Need AI Ethics with Dr. John Tasioulas, 2021

John Tasioulas: The role of the arts and humanities in thinking about artificial intelligence (AI), 2021

The University of Oxford’s Institute for Ethics in AI: Confronting the ethical implications of AI from a philosophical and humanistic perspective

Timnit Gebru

In December 2020, Timnit Gebru was fired by Google, where she worked as co-lead of the Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team. Her firing was triggered by a paper they wrote about language models, such as GPT-3; they compared these to parrots, in that they repeat combinations of words from the training data, which makes them susceptible to bias in these training data. The incident is one of many examples of the inabilities of tech companies to deal with critique of their ‘normal’ ways of working; their inabilities to uphold justice.

Gebru champions the virtue of justice. She has helped pioneer research into facial recognition bias against people of colour. Inspired by, for example, the ProPublica research into COMPAS (the recidivism-risk algorithm with racial bias), she has been at the forefront of critiquing such software.

In 2021, she launched the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR), which aims to not only document such biases and harms, but also to develop applications that can instead have positive impacts on disadvantaged people. DAIR promotes ‘Community, not exploitation’, ‘Comprehensive, principled processes’, and ‘Proactive, pragmatic research’ and aims to be a place for ‘Healthy, thriving researchers’. She fosters collaboration between organizations with similar goals, for example, Data & Society, Algorithmic Justice League, and Data for Black Lives. In her work, she exemplifies also the virtues of diversity and empowerment.

How To Stop Artificial Intelligence From Marginalizing Communities? | Timnit Gebru | TEDxCollegePark, 2018

Wired: What Really Happened When Google Ousted Timnit Gebru, 2021; and Ex-Googler Timnit Gebru Starts Her Own AI Research Center, 2021

Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute

Edward Snowden

In 2013, Edward Snowden, while working for US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), copied and leaked classified documents about the National Security Agency, notably about global surveillance programs run by the NSA and Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance between the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The leaked documents revealed that these countries had been spying on one another’s citizens and had shared the collected intelligence, in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on the surveillance of citizens.

Some call him a patriot and a hero. Others call him a traitor and a danger to government. For me, he embodies the virtue of care. It is exactly because he cares about security and privacy that he became a whistle blower. In a 2014 TED Talk, he argued that ‘We don’t have to give up our privacy to have good government. We don’t have to give up our liberty to have security’.

He also exemplifies the virtues of civility and courage. In this TED Talk, Snowden explained that he sees himself primarily as a citizen: a citizen who is concerned with privacy and transparency. He saw the dangers of mass surveillance and acted out of courage, for the common good, and has paid a high price; he had to flee prosecution in the US and currently lives in exile in Russia.

How we take back the internet | Edward Snowden, 2014

Edward Snowden on Wikipedia

The Freedom of the Press Foundation, which ‘protects, defends, and empowers public-interest journalism in the 21st century’