Mhairi Aitken is an Ethics Research Fellow in the Public Policy Programme. She is a Sociologist whose research examines social and ethical dimensions of digital innovation particularly relating to uses of data and AI. Mhairi has a particular interest in the role of public engagement in informing ethical data practices.

Prior to joining the Turing Institute, Mhairi was a Senior Research Associate at Newcastle University where she worked principally on an EPSRC-funded project exploring the role of machine learning in banking. Between 2009 and 2018 Mhairi was a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh where she undertook a programme of research and public engagement to explore social and ethical dimensions of data-intensive health research. She held roles as a Public Engagement Research Fellow in both the Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research and the Scottish Health Informatics Programme (SHIP). Mhairi was the lead author on an international consensus statement setting out principles to underpin best practice in public engagement relating to data-intensive health research.

Mhairi is a Visiting Fellow at the Australian Centre for Health Engagement Evidence and Values (ACHEEV) at the University of Wollongong, Australia.

Public Engagement

Mhairi is passionate about finding creative ways of engaging members of the public in discussions around the future roles of data and AI in society. She is a regular performer in the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has performed shows based on her research at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, Glasgow International Comedy Festival, Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival as well as in stand-up comedy clubs. She previously featured on an episode of Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd’s podcast series “Reasons to be Cheerful” where she spoke about the value of big data in health research.

Mhairi’s recent invited lectures, talks, and public appearances include:

  • “International Consensus Statement on Public Involvement and Engagement with Data Linkage Research” within Symposium on Involving the Public in Data Linkage Research at the International Population Data Linkage Network (IPDLN) Conference, 11th November 2020
  • Webinar as part of the Population Data BC webinar series (based in British Columbia, Canada). Title of webinar: “Why the Public Needs a Say in How Patient Data are Used for Covid-19 Responses”, 23rd September 2020
  • Keeping it Human: A focus group study of public attitudes towards AI in banking” at Interdisciplinary Workshop on Trust, Identity, Privacy, and Security in the Digital Economy (DETIPS 2020) - Virtual Event: 18th September 2020
  • We Need To Talk About Alexa!” As part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas streamed live from The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh: 8th July 2020
  • Delivered the closing plenary of the Dynamo 2020 Conference, performing “Blame It On The Algorithm!”, 25th June 2020
  • “FinTrust: A discussion of technical, ethical and social approaches to establish trust in FinTech”, workshop at the Dynamo 2020 Conference, 25th June 2020
  • Delivered Faculty of Clinical Informatics webinar of Data Ethics and COVID-19: , 7th May 2020
  • Delivered “Blame It on The Algorithm!” As the closing plenary at the Turing Institute PhD Student conference, in Newcastle, 10th March 2020
  • Performed “Blame It On The Algorithm!” at Headlands Hotel, Austinmer NSW (Australia), 29th January 2020
  • Keynote speaker at symposium on Big Data, Linking Data, Sharing Data: what can we do and what should we do? At ACHEEV, University of Wollongong. Title of talk: “Developing a Social License for Data-Intensive Health Research: Experiences from Scotland” 30th January 2020
  • Speaker and panellist at 'To Err is Machine: Biases, Failure and Fairness in AI', Fifth event in a series of public discussions organised by EdIntelligence (Machine Learning Society), School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Futures Institute, 29th November 2019
  • Speaker at Barclay’s Eagle Lab event on “Application of AI within Fraud: Detection, Protection and Prosecution” 21st November 2019
  • Performed “Getting Sexy with Data” at Bright Club at the Stand Comedy Club, Edinburgh, organised by Data Lab (Scotland's Innovation Centre for data and AI) as part of Discover Digital Week:  29th October 2019
  • Invited Talk: “An interdisciplinary journey to exploring ethics of AI” at ACM-W UK Inspire Conference, University of Kent, 6th September 2019
  • Performed Blame It On The Algorithm! Part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 25th August 2019
  • Performed Blame It On The Algorithm! At Belladrum Tartan Heart festival, 3rd August 2019
  • Delivered invited seminar at the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design (HCID) at City University of London. Title of seminar: “Establishing a Social License for Data Practices”, 12th July 2019
  • Delivered international webinar as part of the Population Data BC webinar series. Title of webinar: “Consensus Statement on Public Involvement and Engagement with Data-Intensive Health Research
  • 8th May 2019
  • Keynote speaker at “Health Data and the Welfare State: Debating data-driven futures in the Nordic countries” at Helsinki University, Finland, 11th April 2019
  • Performed “Dr Google Will See You Now!” At the Glasgow International Comedy Festival, 24th March 2019

Research interests

Mhairi’s research draws on her background in Sociology and Science and Technology Studies (STS) to examine social and ethical dimensions of innovation. Her past research has focussed in particular on the role of machine learning in finance; governance of data-intensive health research; ethical considerations around secondary uses of health data and; planning and development processes relating to renewable energy projects.

Mhairi has experience of using a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods and has a particular interest in deliberative engagement methods including citizens' juries, deliberative workshops, focus groups and public panels.