Autonomous cars

This week, we continued our conversation on robots and ethics by taking a look at ethics issues related to autonomous cars. We read Daniel did a great job of presenting the Awad paper, which highlights the three principles that everyone seem to agree on, and how everyone’s moral preferences diverge from there.

Then we read JafariNaimi paper that provided a contrast — a critique, if you will — of using dilemma scenarios, and algorithmic morality more broadly. This led to a lively discussion about whether autonomous cars should make us pause and think about their place in our society, how our cities would need to be designed differently from the way they are today if they are marked autonomous-cars-only cities.

Social Robots

In the last few sessions, we had lively conversations on the ethics and politics of automated decision making systems, and the roles of humans in them. This week, and following interest by several participants, we will be discussing what happens when computing acquires embodied and affective characteristics. We have two exciting readings on social robots by Matthias Scheutz and Sherry Turkle that we trust will make for good discussion:
— Scheutz, Matthias (2009) The Inherent Dangers of Unidirectional Emotional Bonds between Humans and Social Robots. Robot ethics: The ethical and social implications of robotics (pdf file)
— Turkle, Sherry (2006) A nascent robotics culture: New complicities for companionship. Online article (pdf file)

Ethics of Automated Decision Making; Heteromation

The readings on the algorithmic automation of welfare last week led to a lively conversation on the recasting of social work as information processing, the role of tech corporations in designing the “digital welfare state”, and the institutional and physical architectures (the poorhouse) that preceded and prefigured its workings. As a group, we decided to delve more into the regulations around automated decision making systems, to discuss ethical frameworks for their design, and to also consider the role of humans in these systems.
The three short readings below tackle these topics:

Automation and Inequality

Our discussions on social constructionist approaches to technology and the case history of homophily, led us to discuss the role technology plays in exacerbate inequality in our society. To delve into it a bit further, we will read two short, recent journalistic articles relevant to the topic, and two chapters from a book to set the scene for these articles.

Social constructions of technology

In the last session, we explored the notion of authoritarian to democratic technics described in the 60’s against the backdrop of how democratic and decentralized nature of open source software development that significantly contribute to our digital infrastructure has its own challenges. We will continue the conversation with a recent article on the urban (and racial) history of a sociological concept behind the algorithm that is behind the “like” button, and a landmark text on the social construction of technology.

Democratic technics

If, to echo a theme from the first session, technical configurations embed social and political order, then can technologies be democratic, or be rendered as such by specific modes of technological governance? This session will explore this question through a recent report on digital infrastructure and hidden challenges of open source software, paired with a classic piece on technology, democracy, and authoritarianism.
—  The first piece is Nadia Eghbal’s 2016 report Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure (Selected Chapters: “History and Background of Digital Infrastructure”; “Challenges Facing Digital Infrastructure” — the rest will be summarized by AJung).
— The second piece is Lewis Mumford’s “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics” (Technology and Culture, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Winter, 1964), pp. 1-8.).

Machine bias and the politics of artifacts

We will be kicking off our conversations with a pairing of a recent Pulitzer-nominated piece on algorithmic bias and a landmark text on technologically-embedded politics:
—  The first piece is a report on bias in algorithms predicting recidivism, published in the investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica by Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Surya Mattu and Lauren Kirchner. You can find the piece here: https://www.propublica.org/article/machine-bias-risk-assessments-in-criminal-sentencing
* Optional: For debate around the piece you can also see this MIT review article, the software company’s defence and the journalists’ response.
— The second piece is political theorist Langdon Winner’s “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” (Winner, L. 1980. “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” Daedalus 109 (1): 121-136).
Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.