Implications and Forecasting of Automation Technology


Course description

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a key enabling technology for expanding our cognitive capabilities, similar to how the steam engine was a key enabling technology for expanding our muscle power. It is already transforming our society and essentially every smartphone or internet user uses AI enabled services. This course cover how to forecast the impact of technology, ethical considerations of technology, the sustainable development goals (SDGs), and backcasting for identifying leverage points to realise a desired future fulfilling environmental constraints. Participants get to explore the relation between AI/Automation and (i) ethics, (ii) society, and (iii) environment. Technology is seen from a holistic perspective and the rebound effect, i.e. when more new resource efficient technology leads to reduced prices and increased consumption, is discussed. The rather wide-spread naïve norm viewing technology and technological development as inherently good is challenged through examples of how AI is used to discriminate based on race/gender, manipulate elections, cause addiction, and kill people.

人工智慧(AI)是擴展我們認知能力的關鍵支援技術,如同蒸汽機是如何作為一個擴展我們肌肉力量的關鍵支援技術。AI已經在改變我們的社會,基本上每台智慧手機或每位互聯網用戶都使用支援AI的服務。本課程談討如何預測科技所帶來的影響,科技的道德考量,永續發展目標(SDG)以及回顧進而找到一個施力槓桿點以實現滿足環境限制條件的理想未來。學生將探索AI /自動化技術與倫理、社會和環境之間的關係。課程將從整體角度看技術,並討論反彈效應,意即,當更多新的資源效益技術導致價格降低和消費增加時。我們將經由AI如何用於基於種族/性別進行歧視,操縱選舉,導致成癮和人命喪失的例子,說明將技術和技術發展本質上視為良善的天真觀點已經受到挑戰

Course Objectives

  • Apply data based forecasting of technological trends
  • Apply backcasting
  • Use a framework for ethical decision making
  • Understand fundamental ethical theories and reasoning
  • Understand planetary boundaries and the current state
  • Understand the social foundation and the current shortfall
  • Understand how the current economic system fail to distribute resources
  • Understand why the third industrial revolution is our best hope
  • Knowledge about Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable development goals

Teaching Strategies

How this course is going to be taught
  • Lecture 50% 50%
  • Workshop 40% 40%
  • Discussion 10% 10%

Course material

Short videos explaining a topic with companion lecture notes, suggested reading, exercises, and/or example code. All material is or will be freely available online. All material produced specifically for this course will be under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license with attribution to Prof. Nordling, Nordling Lab.

  1. Bonde, S., Briant, C., Firenze, P. et al. Making Choices: Ethical Decisions in a Global Context. Sci Eng Ethics 22, 343–366 (2016).
  2. Bonde and Firenze 2013. Making Choices: A Framework for Making Ethical Decisions. Product of the seminar Making Choices:  Ethical Decisions at the Frontier of Global Science held at Brown University in the spring semester 2011. URL:
  3. Steffen, W. et al., 2015. Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223), pp.1259855–1259855. Available at:
  4. O’Neill, D. W., Fanning, A. L., Lamb, W. F., & Steinberger, J. K. (2018). A good life for all within planetary boundaries. Nature Sustainability, 1(2), 88–95.
  5. Raworth, K., 2017. Doughnut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist, Chelsea Green Publishing.
  6. Raworth, K., 2017. A Doughnut for the Anthropocene: humanity’s compass in the 21st century. The Lancet Planetary Health, 1(2), pp. E48-E49. DOI:
  7. Rifkin, J., 2011. The Third Industrial Revolution, Palgrave Macmillan.
  8. O’Neil, C., 2016. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, Crown Random House. Available at:
  9. Jordan, M.I., 2018. Artificial Intelligence — The Revolution Hasn’t Happened Yet. Medium. Available at:
  10. Purdy, M. & Daugherty, P., 2016. Why artificial intelligence is the future of growth, Available at:

Course policy

  1. Project (100%) – Two individual projects (forecasting and ethical decision making) and one group project (backcasting).

Course outline

  1. Future scenarios. Brainstorming for concerns.
  2. Technology forecasts. Wright’s learning curve. Megatrends, trends, weak signals. Data sources. Forecasting project.
  3. Examples of how AI is used to discriminate based on race/gender, manipulate elections, cause addiction, and kill people. Presentation of forecasting project.
  4. A framework for making ethical decisions. Ethical dilemmas. Ethical decision making project.
  5. Planetary boundaries, social shortfall, and inequality. Presentation of ethical decision making project.
  6. Backcasting. Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable development goals (SDGs). SDG backcasting project.
  7. How does the financial system work?
  8. Why a third industrial revolution?
  9. Conclusion. Presentation of the SDG backcasting project.