What Would Responsible AI Ecosystems Look Like?

Written by Bernd Stahl, Professor of Critical Research in Technology, School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham.

In my recently published paper entitled “Embedding responsibility in intelligent systems: from AI ethics to responsible AI ecosystems”, I discuss the question where responsibility can be located in intelligent systems. The paper is a contribution to a special collection of the journal Scientific Reports on the topic of “human-centred intelligent systems”. I start the paper with the observation that intelligent systems are considered those systems that are capable of making autonomous decisions based on input from their environment. Such intelligent systems have great potential to do good, but they also raise significant social and ethical concerns. The discourse on ethics and artificial intelligence (AI) has covered these concerns in depth and developed an array of possible ways of addressing them.

The article argues that a shortcoming of this discourse is that it concentrates on specific issues and their mitigation but neglects the nature of intelligent systems as socio-technical systems of systems that are often described as ecosystems. Building on the discussion of ethics and AI, the article suggests that it would be beneficial to come to an understanding of what would constitute responsible AI ecosystems. By introducing the concept of meta-responsibility or higher-level responsibility, the article proposes characteristics that an ecosystem would have to fulfil, to be considered a responsible ecosystem. This perspective is theoretically interesting because it extends the current AI ethics discourse. It furthermore offers a novel perspective for researchers and developers of intelligent system and helps them reflect on the way they relate to ethical issues.

The ecosystems perspective thus offers the potential of better understanding of the dynamics of intelligent systems and the question of what responsible ecosystems of intelligent systems might look like. However, this conceptual proposal can only be a start. It will have to be filled with empirical content that informs us how such ecosystems can be defined or delineated, how their main components and their interaction can be observed, and how such complex entities can be governed. The article will therefore hopefully provide a solid basis for further investigation into the socio-technical realities of the increasingly powerful intelligent technologies that affect all aspects of our lives.


Stahl, B.C. Embedding responsibility in intelligent systems: from AI ethics to responsible AI ecosystems. Sci Rep 13, 7586 (2023).