Rainer Mühlhoff, Prof. Dr. phil.

Rainer is a professor of Ethics of Artificial Intelligence at the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrück, Germany. He is also an associated researcher at the Collaborative Research Center SFB 1171 Affective Societies at Freien Universität Berlin.

Research group

Rainer is the head of the Ethics of AI research group at the Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrück. The team currently consists of nine PhD students, staff members and undergraduate students from different disciplines ranging from philosophy to computer science.

An inclusive working atmosphere, gender equality, and consideration of the needs of young scientists with children are particularly important to us.

Mentoring and teaching

The research group offers excellent students and doctoral candidates a young, motivated environment for critical philosophy, ethics and social theory of the digital society – for example, in the context of bachelor’s and master’s theses as well as doctoral projects.

Together, the team contributes to the teaching program on the Ethics of AI offered at the University of Osnabrück. Our courses are generally held in English and mostly in hybrid formats (combining online/offline), so that they are also accessible to external guests.

Research profile

Rainer’s work focuses on ethics, social philosophy, philosophy of technology and media studies of the digital society. Current topics include

  • ethics of artificial intelligence,
  • privacy and data protection in the context of Big Data,
  • interface theory and critical media philosophy of Human-Machine interaction.

Rainer’s research on Artificial Intelligence starts from the assumption that Machine Learning Systems are sociotechnical systems (see “Human-Aided AI”). To map out the ethical and societal implications AI technology, he uses different philosophical schools and perspectives to analyze the interplay of technology, power and subjectivation. In particular, he brings together ethics with social philosophy and critical theories to analyse the effects of AI in terms of discrimination, social selection and inequality (see “Automatisierte Ungleicheit”).

A particular research interest is data ethics in the Context of AI and Big Data. These technologies make it possible to predict sensitive information about individuals based on the anonymized data of many other data subjects. This results in a novel, collectively induced invasion of privacy of the individuals concerned, raising new questions of collective responsibility in the digital society. Under the title Predictive Privacy Rainer works on an ethical and regulatory approach to restricting negative impact of predictive analytics.

Interdisciplinary research

In cooperation with applied sciences and industrial partners, Rainer is involved in the development of Ethics by Design approaches in human-computer interaction (see the SIMPORT project). This includes research on the ethics of usability and User Experience Design (see “digitale Entmündigung”).

In previous work, Rainer has worked on the connection of digital media and affectivity, including an affect theory of the new authoritarianism.

In many of his projects, Rainer draws on his interdisciplinary education, seeking to enter into a dialogue between the humanities and mathematics, computer science and natural sciences.

Third-party funds

Rainer Mühlhoff is involved in several third-party funded projects: As philosophical PI he leads the ethics component of the interdisciplinary project SIMPORT (BMBF, 2020-2023). Since 2019 he is a member of the Executive Board of the Excellence Cluster Science of Intelligence at the Technische Universität Berlin.

Research Projects


Before joining the University of Osnabrück, Rainer worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Excellence Cluster “Science of Intelligence” at the Technische Universität Berlin (2019–2021) and at the Collaborative Research Center SFB 1171 Affective Societies at the Freie Universität Berlin (2015–2019).

Rainer received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Freie Universität Berlin in 2016 (supervisors: Prof. Jan Slaby und Prof. Martin Saar). His dissertation was funded by the “Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes” and is available in print under the title Immersive Macht. Affekttheorie nach Spinoza und Foucault (Campus, 2018).

Earlier, Rainer studied mathematics (MA/Diplom) with the minor subjects theoretical physics and computer science. He wrote his diploma thesis on “Higher Spin Fields on Curved Spacetimes” at the University of Leipzig in 2008. As part of a second degree he studied philosophy, gender studies and German literature in Berlin.

From earlier phases of his life, Rainer has professional experience as a programmer and management consultant. As a side interest to his scientific work he has been specializing in typography and typesetting with TeX and LaTeX for more than 20 years.


Prof. Dr. Rainer Mühlhoff
Universität Osnabrück
Institut für Kognitionswissenschaft
Ethics of Artificial Intelligence Group
Wachsbleiche 27
49090 Osnabrück

Email:   web (ät) rmuehlhoff.de  |  rainer.muehlhoff (ät) uni-osnabrueck.de
Phone:   +49 (541) 969 3364