Conference Proceedings

Give Me Convenience and Give Her Death: Who Should Decide What Uses of NLP are Appropriate, and on What Basis?

Kobi Leins, Jey Han Lau, Timothy Baldwin

Proceedings of the 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics | Association for Computational Linguistics | Published : 2020


As part of growing NLP capabilities, coupled with an awareness of the ethical dimensions of research, questions have been raised about whether particular datasets and tasks should be deemed off-limits for NLP research. We examine this question with respect to a paper on automatic legal sentencing from EMNLP 2019 which was a source of some debate, in asking whether the paper should have been allowed to be published, who should have been charged with making such a decision, and on what basis. We focus in particular on the role of data statements in ethically assessing research, but also discuss the topic of dual use, and examine the outcomes of similar debates in other scientific disciplines.


Awarded by Australian Research Council

Funding Acknowledgements

This research was supported in part by the Australian Research Council (DP200102519 and IC170100030). The authors would like to thank Mark Dras, Sarvnaz Karimi, and Karin Verspoor for patiently engaging in rambling discussions which led to this hopefully less rambling paper, and to the anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and insights.