Paul Root Wolpe

Deep Ethics in the Age of the Algorithm

Paul Root Wolpe asks, How do we teach morals to a machine?

Artificial intelligence has proven that machines are good at learning facts, strategies, tactics. But can they learn values, have empathy, develop intuitions, have compassion? Machines can clearly learn, but can they undergo moral development or make ethical decisions?

Jewish ethicist Paul Root Wolpe will give the Oregon Humanities Center’s 2019–20 Tzedek Lecture. His talk titled “Deep Ethics in the Age of the Algorithm” will take place on Thursday, May 14, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Eugene; and in Portland on Friday, May 15, 2020 at the Billy Frank Jr. Convention Center in the Ecotrust building, 721 NW 9th Ave.

Wolpe will discuss deep machine learning, deep surveillance, deep facial recognition. Thomas Friedman called “deep” the word of 2019. The word reveals the role of complexity in our modern technological understanding of the world; complexity used to be a problem, now it is a resource. And that complexity means that often we cannot wait for an outcome before we make an ethical judgement; ethics will have to be built into the complex algorithms that will decide who will get resources, who will get arrested, and, famously, who the automated car will crash into. In an age of deep machine learning we will need a deep ethics to keep pace. It is time to ask: what will that ethics look like?

Paul Root Wolpe is the Raymond F. Schinazi Distinguished Research Chair in Jewish Bioethics and the Director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University, where he is a Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, and Sociology.

Wolpe’s work focuses on the social, religious, ethical, and ideological impact of medicine and technology on the human condition. His teaching and publications range across multiple fields of bioethics and sociology, including death and dying, genetics and eugenics, sexuality and gender, mental health and illness, alternative medicine, and bioethics in extreme environments such as space. He also writes and talks about the Jewish contribution to thinking about the ethical aspects of medicine and technology.

Wolpe, a member of Atlanta’s Congregation Shearith Israel, participates in Scientists in Synagogues—a program that explores interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. He is the son of the late Rabbi Gerald I. Wolpe, one of the great figures in American Jewish life, and brother of Rabbi David Wolpe, the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Wolpe spent 15 years as Senior Bioethicist for NASA, where he still serves as a bioethical consultant. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience. He is a past President of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities; the current President of the Association of Bioethics Program Directors; and served as the first National Bioethics Advisor to Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Wolpe’s talks in Eugene and Portland are free and open the public. Adult beverages will be available for purchase in Portland. For disability accommodations (which must be requested by May 7), contact or 541-346-3934.