The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics seeks to strengthen teaching and research about pressing ethical issues; to foster sound norms of ethical reasoning and civic discussion; and to share the work of our community in the public interest.
Our “Community Profiles” interview series highlights the longstanding members of our community at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.An Interview with Postdoctoral Fellow in Technology and Democracy Josh Simons
By: Alexis Jimenez Maldonado
Josh Simons is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Technology and Democracy at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. His research explores the political character of predictive tools like AI and machine learning and how those tools should be governed to support the flourishing of democracy. He focuses on two areas of law and policy: equality and civil rights law, and the regulation of technology companies through anti-monopoly and public law. He has written widely on equality and discrimination, platform regulation, privacy and digital rights, and public understanding of technology.
Alexis Jimenez Maldonado: You joined the Center in 2019 as a Graduate Fellow but had been in the Center’s orbit before that. What drew you towards pursuing a fellowship with the Center? How did your fellowship influence your graduate work?
Josh Simons: What was there not to love about the Center? One of the things that drew me to it, among many, was the interdisciplinary mode of conversation that the Center hosts. I had watched a Fellows in Residence seminar and thought the interdisciplinary conversation was awesome and could be much more widely used. I was able to subject my own work to that kind of interdisciplinary conversation and scrutiny in such a positive and supportive environment. The goal isn’t to make the respondents or the other people in the room feel big and important, but instead to really interrogate the substance of the work in an empathetic and thoughtful way.
AJM: You are now a Postdoctoral Fellow with our JHD Impact Initiative and the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at HKS. Can you tell me about the work that you are doing this year? I know that you have a couple of projects underway.
JS: My PhD was about how democracies should govern and regulate the design and use of predictive tools. One of the things that I found in writing my PhD is that it's a space that both requires multidisciplinary work, but it also requires conversation and engagement across different sectors. Scholars need to sit down with decision makers and both of them need to sit down with policy experts. Because if you have a particular institution that's thinking about using a machine learning system or an AI system, they have to figure out how to design it, how to use it, and how to integrate it into their existing systems. To do that, you need to get the right people around the table, having the right kind of conversation, and asking the right kinds of questions. That requires both multidisciplinary work and also cross sectoral work.