Cambridge University Ethics in Mathematics Society

Responsible Development of Mathematical Works

Lent 2024

In Lent 2024 CUEiMS will host a 10-part discussion course by Dr Maurice Chiodo titled “Responsible development of mathematical works”. This will be a small-group discussion series covering his recently released Manifesto for the Responsible Development of Mathematical Works – A Tool for Practitioners and for Management, which operationalises ethical and responsible development in mathematics. This is an advanced course on ethics in mathematics, and so rather than make the case for why ethical considerations are important and relevant for mathematicians, it will instead jump straight in to how one might carry out mathematical work ethically and responsibly.

The manifesto itself has been written as a practical tool and aid for anyone carrying out, managing or influencing mathematical work. It provides insight into how to undertake and develop mathematically-powered products and services in a safe and responsible way. Rather than give a framework of objectives to achieve, it instead introduces a process that can be integrated into the common ways in which mathematical products or services are created, from start to finish. This process helps address the various issues and problems that can arise for the product, the developers, the institution, and for wider society. To do this, it breaks down the typical procedure of mathematical development into 10 key stages; the “10 pillars for responsible development” which follow a somewhat chronological ordering of the steps, and associated challenges, that frequently occur in mathematical work. Together these 10 pillars cover issues of the entire lifecycle of a mathematical product or service, including the preparatory work required to responsibly start a project, central questions of good technical mathematics and data science, and issues of communication, deployment and follow-up maintenance specifically related to mathematical systems.

This manifesto, and the pillars within it, are the culmination of 7 years of work done by Dr Chiodo and his collaborators as part of the Cambridge University Ethics in Mathematics Project. These are all tried-and-tested ideas, that have already been presented and used in both academic and industrial environments. In their work, the authors have directly seen that mathematics can be an incredible tool for good in society, but also that without careful consideration it can cause immense harm. The manifesto is designed to empower its readers to reduce the risk of undesirable and unwanted consequences of their own mathematical work.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course you will have developed an understanding of how to analyse and “take apart” a mathematically-powered product or project, to see the key steps in its production and identify any potential “hotspots” for where oversights may have occurred in the development process. You will understand what questions to ask at each development step, including those relevant to pre-production and post-deployment. And as well as be able to scrutinise your own mathematical work, you will also be able to scrutinise and assist other mathematicians as they develop mathematically-powered tools and products.


It will be assumed that all attendees are familiar with, or at least receptive of, the fundamental ideas of ethics in mathematics. If you have not been to a first course on ethics in mathematics, or read about the topic in detail, then it is strongly advised that you watch Dr Chiodo’s recorded 8-seminar series on YouTube.

Background Reading

This course will be based on the Manifesto for the Responsible Development of Mathematical Works – A Tool for Practitioners and for Management. It is broken up into 10 "pillars", and so each session of the course will cover one of the pillars, in order. It will be assumed that before session N you will have read pillar N from the manifesto. Each pillar is only 2 pages, so this should be a manageable amount of background reading. It is recommended that you come to each session with either a print out of the relevant pillar, or a digital device to read it on and potentially take notes on or annotate.


The first eight sessions will be held at 14:00–15:30 every Tuesday from 23 January to 12 March in MR1 in the CMS, except 30 January and 27 February, which are in MR10.

Course Outline

  1. Deciding whether to begin: Why are you providing this mathematical product or service, and should you even do so?
  2. Diversity and perspectives: Do your co-workers, superiors, and you have sufficient perspective, and do you understand the limitations and biases in your thinking?
  3. Handling data and information: Are you using authorised and morally obtained datasets, in a responsible manner?
  4. Data manipulation and inference: Do you have the expertise to properly manipulate data ensuring quality and ethics?
  5. The mathematisation of the problem: What optimisation objectives and constraints have you chosen, and what are their real-life consequences? Who might the other impacted parties be?
  6. Communicating and documenting your work: Are you properly considering how to comment and document your work and communicate the results to those who need them?
  7. Falsifiability and feedback loops: Is your work falsifiable, and can you handle its large-scale impact and any feedback loops that arise?
  8. Explainable and safe mathematics: Is your mathematical output explainable, and followed up with proper monitoring and maintenance?
  9. Mathematical artefacts have politics: Are you aware of other non-mathematical aspects and the political nature of your work? What do you do to earn trust in yourself and your product?
  10. Emergency response strategies: Do you have a non-technical response strategy for when things go wrong? Do you have a support network, including peers who support you and with whom you can talk freely?