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The Media Bio

Reid Blackman, Ph.D., is the author of “Ethical Machines: Your Concise Guide to Totally Unbiased, Transparent, and Respectful AI (Harvard Business Review Press), Founder and CEO of Virtue, an AI ethical risk consultancy, and volunteer Chief Ethics Officer for the non-profit Government Blockchain Association. He has also been a member of EY’s AI Advisory Board, a Senior Advisor to the Deloitte AI Institute, and a professor of philosophy at Colgate University and UNC-Chapel Hill. His work, which includes advising and speaking to organizations including AWS, US Bank, the FBI, NASA, and the World Economic Forum, has been profiled in The Wall Street Journal and Forbes. Learn more at reidblackman.com.

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The Personal Version

Philosophy became my obsession.

Its attractions were two-fold. First, it explored answers to questions I found (and still find) fascinating. Second, it was commensurate with my general intolerance for bullshit. This may sound odd to the ears of some, because they think of philosophy as star-gazing. But anyone who has engaged in serious philosophical inquiry knows it’s exceedingly rigorous and difficult and philosophers have no tolerance for superficiality. 

I received my Masters degree from Northwestern  in 2003 and my Ph.D. from the University of Texas-Austin in 2008. Then I landed a position as a visiting professor at Colgate University, and then a Fellowship at the Parr Center for Ethics at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and then back to Colgate for a permanent position.

I started dating Leah during my first stint at Colgate, we were married in North Carolina, and so, thankfully, I returned to Colgate with a wife. That wasn’t just good for my life generally; it also led me to my ethics consultancy.

Through Leah’s activities in the Colgate community, I found myself mentoring students and local community members on how to start and grow a business. It was my experience (while in grad school) of starting and growing my fireworks company that gave me the requisite knowledge and experience to help budding entrepreneurs. What I didn’t see coming is that they would inspire me.

I saw students starting new and exciting projects and I thought, ‘I want to start something new and exciting.’ But I love ethics, and my research, and teaching, and I was not about to leave my passion behind. It defined me then no less than it had 15 years previously, when I decided to get a Ph.D. in the first place.

But!

What if I started an ethics consultancy? Are there such things? Could such a thing be successful? Years later I heard engineers ringing the alarm bells around the ethical implications of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.

I saw what I had been waiting for but never knew whether it would arrive: a business need for companies to get their ethical houses in order, and I knew I could help. 

And so, to my great surprise, I left academia and started VIRTUE. 

My goal has never been to impart my own ethical views as a kind of oracle or priest or activist. My mission is to enable others to make informed and wise ethical decisions. Now I’m deeply grateful to Leah and the world for giving me the opportunity to help businesses rise to higher ethical standards. Good thing I started that fireworks business, too.

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