Primary target group
Ethics and Technology PhD programme candidates.
About the topic
This course explores the relationships between technology and goodness. We will look at goodness for human beings (will particular technologies make our lives better), goodness for society (will they make society better) and moral goodness (will they realize moral values and make things morally better)? A running theme throughout the course is that emerging technologies are socially disruptive: they challenge the status quo and change the way society is organized, the way people behave and think, the way social institutions are arranged, and even the way that philosophical and moral categories are understood.
We will start with a meeting on this idea of socially disruptive technologies. How do technologies disrupt and what does that mean for the goodness of human lives and society and for ethics? In a second – extended – class meeting, we will look more closely at different ways in which new technologies affect the goodness (quality) of life and the goodness of society. We will also look at various theories to assess the moral implications and quality of life / society implications of technology.
In a third meeting, we then look in more detail at ideas of disruption, technology, and the good life by exploring the idea of the ‘quantified self’. If we can observe, record, and analyse technology’s impacts, this may increase our understanding of the disruptive effects of technology on users and society. However, this urge to quantify ourselves and our society is itself disruptive; GTUS will discuss the ways that more information about our well-being can become detrimental to that well-being.
GTUS closes out by looking at particular sets of technologies, the ways that they disrupt our sense of self and society and reveal existing conceptual complexities in our personal and social lives. The first example is the Internet of Things (IoT) and the ways that it impacts our notions of privacy. One the one hand, the IoT presents a significant challenge to interpersonal notions of privacy, opening up our most private spaces and activities to external surveillance. On the other hand, however, the IoT can be an ‘inhuman system’ where no human operators access this personal information. So, perhaps the IoT is a privacy protecting set of technologies. Instead, this class will show that while interpersonal privacy may be protected (in some cases at least) political privacy is a major problem for the IoT. Staying with the IoT, we next look at the way that the IoT spans both informational and physical realms. In this class, we look at smart houses to ask what matters more – informational security, or physical safety? On closer analysis, it looks like we should take a more pluralistic approach and recognise that there are good reasons to favour the informational realm over the physical, and good reasons to favour the physical over the informational.
The final set of technologies that we will discuss concern human enhancement technologies. In this class, we will see how the particular social context that a technology is assessed in can cause the same technology to be thought of as both an enhancement and a disenhancement. We look in particular at military technologies, in which a technological intervention may be an enhancement in the context of conflict, but may be a disenhancement when a solider returns to the civilian context. We thus see the ways that the good life for individuals and society changes not just on the technology, but changes how we judge that technology. Technologies not only disrupt our notions of the good life, but they also force us to rethink just what the good life means for users and society.
Teaching will be centered on a series of lectures delivered to students, together with discussion and in-class assignments, but the bulk of the learning will occur in the students’ own time as they research the different areas using recommended readings and following their own research interests. This will be supplemented by assessed presentations given by the students regarding a final paper to be delivered at the end of the course. Help will be offered for both of these assignments through one-on-one meetings with the course professors.
Aim / objective
At the end of this course:
- The student has insight into leading ethical and political philosophical issues and debates regarding well-being, the good society and technology and will be able to compare and apply these effectively.
- The student has deepened insight into general theories and methods for technology ethics, including values in design, ethics approaches for emerging technologies, and the relations between technology, disruption, and the good.
- The student will have knowledge of theories of individual responsibility and gain insight into how they can be applied or need to be revised in light of the development of autonomous information systems.
- The student will gain knowledge of theories disruption, and how to apply them to a range of personal and social technologies.
Philip Brey, Adam Henschke
There are no prior preparations for PhD candidates.
Attendance in class is expected but not mandatory
Certificate / credit points
Study load is the equivalent of 5 EC.