Spotlight: Lisa Talia Moretti

The Ethicist Spotlight highlights people who are doing some of the most important work in our field. We'll get an insight into their career paths, learn what they are working on and understand their thoughts on the future of tech ethics.


I got involved out of sheer frustration and, if I’m being brutally honest, anger by what I was seeing and experiencing myself as a tech worker.

Who are you and what do you do?

Hey! I’m Lisa Talia Moretti and I’m a Digital Sociologist working at the Ministry of Justice. I also work as an Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths (University of London) and as a Visiting Lecturer at Cardiff University and the University of Plymouth. My teaching specialisms are Digital Research Methods and Design Thinking.


How did you first get involved in technology ethics?


I got involved out of sheer frustration and, if I’m being brutally honest, anger by what I was seeing and experiencing myself as a tech worker. I wanted and needed a new set of tools and mental models that I could use to solve problems and support problem-solving with others. The language and thinking of ethics has provided me with a fresh set of skills to debate some really challenging questions and furnish design outputs with reasoning that goes beyond simply what works and looks good.


I feel super lucky to be working on such an important issue.

What are you working on at the moment?


At the moment I’m elbow-deep in lecturing at Goldsmiths with a class on data and tech ethics coming up in two weeks. It’s always my favourite class to teach. That aside, my main focus is working with my team at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Office of the Public Guardian. I’m part of a team that is working on modernising the Lasting Powers of Attorney service in England and Wales. Lasting Powers of Attorney is a legal document that allows someone to name one or more people to make decisions and manage their affairs on their behalf (from health and welfare to finance and property) should they lose mental capacity. It’s equal parts totally complex and incredibly fascinating. There are a lot of impacts to consider, many needs to meet and many stakeholders to satisfy. I feel super lucky to be working on such an important issue.



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What do you see as the biggest challenge for technology ethics over the next 5 years?


Ooooo can I be greedy and name three big challenges? Here I go:

Challenge one is about how we move from ethics guidelines and principles to ethics in action. Without changing our organisational practices and process, ethics will remain something we talk about and not something we do. Challenge two is about funding. In the same way as you would pay a hot-shot creative team to give you an amazing, jaw-dropping brand campaign, we need to make ethics work a valuable commodity that unlocks budgets so that all this great thinking and doing can be fairly compensated. Challenge three is about training and skills. We need more people trained up in this skillset so that we can scale the change we need.


If you could go back in time, what work related advice would you give to yourself 5 years ago?


Hold on tight. To be fair, this is still my work related advice to myself!


How do you avoid ethics washing in your work?


For me this comes back to challenge one that I mention above. Ethics washing is the result of a lack of meaningful action. To avoid it you need to make time for this work. My team at MoJ has moved away from two week sprints because it wasn’t allowing us the time we needed to think, do, talk, repeat. I’ve often said that there is no such thing as an ethics drive-thru. You have to make the time to do this work. Making time means you get to lean into the tough questions rather than excuse them because of a looming deadline.


Whose work do you admire in this field?


Of course, you Alice and all the brilliant and inspiring work you’re doing! Also, Kate Crawford (@katecrawford), danah boyd (@zephoria), Meredith Whittaker (@mer__edith), Joanna J Bryson (@j2bryson), Rumman Chowdhury (@ruchowdh), my dearest friend Phil David Harvey (@CodeBeard), Dr. Charlotte Webb (@otheragent), Hannah Fry (@FryRsquared) and Joy Buolamwini (@jovialjoy). There are more but I should probably stop there.


What ethics resources would you recommend to anyone in this field?


- Berkman Klein Center at Harvard

- Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University

- Joanna J Bryson’s blog

- Tactical Tech

- The Engine Room


- Algorithmic Justice League


- AI Now Institute


- Data and Society I have also found that having a stronger understanding of Systems Thinking has improved my ethics practice and understanding. Here’s a great resource.


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You can follow Lisa Talia Moretti on Twitter here.