Research areas


David Leslie is the Ethics Theme Lead within the public policy programme. He was a 2017-2018 Mellon-Sawyer Fellow in Technology and the Humanities at Boston University, where he concentrated on the ethics and politics of emerging media and computationally based innovation as well as on issues of accountability, explainability, transparency, and stakeholder participation in the governance of machine learning research and innovation.

He has previously taught at Princeton’s University Center for Human Values (UCHV), where he also participated in the UCHV's 2017-2018 research collaboration with Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy on "Technology Ethics, Political Philosophy and Human Values: Ethical Dilemmas in AI Governance."

Prior to teaching at Princeton, David held academic appointments at Yale’s programme in Ethics, Politics and Economics and at Harvard’s Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, where he received over a dozen teaching awards including the 2014 Stanley Hoffman Prize for Teaching Excellence. After receiving a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania and an MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History from Cambridge University, he received his PhD from Yale.

David’s recent monograph, Understanding artificial intelligence ethics and safety: A guide for the responsible design and implementation of AI systems in the public sector, was published in June as part of an initiative led by the Office for Artificial Intelligence and the Government Digital Service. After receiving Ministerial approval, this work has since become the guiding ethical principles and protocols for the development and use of AI systems by all public sector agencies of the UK Government.

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

  • 'Changing Shapes of Psychic Life in the Prediction Society,’ Invited Lecture, The Open University Psychological Society, 2020
  • ‘Ethics, Explainability and Interpretability in Decision Support Systems and Recommender systems,’ Panel Chair, DSRS, Bristol University
  • ‘AI Ethics and the Digital Transformation of Public Service,’ Invited Lecture, Norwegian Directorate of Labour and Welfare, 2019
  • ‘Four Principles of AI Explainability,’ ICO Roundtable on Auditability in AI, 2019
  • ‘Focusing on care, need, and context: machine learning ethics in children’s social care,’ Roundtable co-chair talk, NESTA/Turing/Rees Centre Roundtable on the ethics of machine learning in children’s social care, 2019
  • Alan Turing, On the £50 note, Radio Interview: BBC Northern Ireland, 2019
  • ‘The Geopolitics of a Cyber-Physical Reality,” Invited Lecture, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Cyber, Data Analytics, and Crime Department (CDACD), 2019
  • ‘AI Explainability with a Human Face’ Invited Lecture, The Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design, City University of London, 2019
  • ‘AI explanation and the content lifecycle,’ Driving Data Futures Lecture, The Alan Turing Institute, 2019
  • ‘Banging at the Gates of Technological Power: AI as a Global Public Utility,’ Keynote Address to Connected Life Conference, Oxford University, 2019
  • 'Towards a Human-Centred Platform for AI Ethics and Safety,’ Invited Lecture, CogX Conference, 2019
  • ‘Towards a Human-Centred Platform for AI Ethics and Safety,’ Invited Lecture, The Technical Cooperation Program UK/US/Australia/Canada/New Zealand, 2019
  • ‘The Responsible Implementation of Interpretable AI,’ Invited Lecture, AI & society: From principles to practice, CIFAR-UKRI-CNRS workshop, 2019
  • ‘A Framework for Process Transparency in the Use of Automated Decision-Making Systems,’ STIS Guest Speaker Series Seminar, University of Edinburgh, 2019
  • ‘Building a Responsible Data Innovation Ecosystem from the Cultural Ground Up,’ Keynote Address to the Insurance Supper Club, UK, 2019
  • ‘The Co-Evolution of Exploitation and Power in an Age of Algorithmic Ubiquity,’ Panel Chair, Data Power Conference, Bremen University, Germany, 2019
  • ‘The Fifth Face of Power: A Critique of Algorithmic Violence,’ Data Power Conference, Bremen University, Germany, 2019
  • ‘Self-Sovereign Identification as a Tool for Digital Identity Rights: Towards Empowering Individuals Online,’ (with Christina Hitrova), Data Power Conference, Bremen University, Germany, 2019
  • Expert Roundtable, Technology and Artificial Intelligence Commission (Sue Black OBE FBCS FRSA, Chair), Liberal Democrats, Parliament 2019
  • ‘Critical Thresholds in the Prediction Society: New Frontiers in Data Ethics,’ ICO, Data Protection Practitioners Conference, 2019
  • ‘Project ExplAIn,” Panel Chair, ICO, Data Protection Practitioners Conference, 2019
  • ‘Alan Turing as Teacher: How Turing Taught Us to Count,’ Cambridge University, EiM2, Conference on Ethics and Mathematics, 2019
  • ‘Are We at a Tipping Point?,’ Oxford University Conference on AI and the Law, 2019
  • ‘Mapping Explainability: An Actionable Taxonomy for Explanable AI,’ ICO/Turing Institute Roundtable on Project ExplAIn, 2019
  • ‘Driving Responsible Innovation in a Complex Data Ecosystem,’ Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group/Home Office Panel, 2019
  • Alan Turing, Greatest Person of the 20th Century, Radio Interviews: BBC Scotland; BBC Cornwall; BBC Oxford; BBC Coventry and Warwickshire; BBC Cambridge; BBC Solent; BBC Cumbria; BBC Three Counties, 2019
  • ‘Artificial Intelligence as a Global Public Utility and Gatekeeper Technology,’ The Alan Turing Institute, Data Ethics NHS Advisory Sub-Group, 2019
  • ‘De-Automating the Crowd: Data Ethics and the Future of Work,’ Automating the Crowd Conference, Invited Lecture, The Alan Turing Institute, January 2019
  • ‘From ‘Black Box’ to Bottleneck and Back Again: Finding the Way to Principles-Based Regulation in the Age of Machine Learning,’ Invited Lecture, 2018 IOSCO Workshop Hosted by the UK Financial Conduct Authority, December 2018

Research interests

David's current research focuses on digital ethics, algorithmic accountability, explainability, and the social and ethical impacts of machine learning and data-driven innovations. In his wider research, David studies the moral and ethical implications of emerging technologies. In particular, he is keen to question how the biospherically and geohistorically ramifying scope of contemporary scientific innovation (in areas ranging from AI and synthetic biology to nanotechnology and geoengineering) is putting pressure on the conventional action-orienting categories and norms by which humans, at present, regulate their behaviour.