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Friday, December 22, 2017

Is Technology Value-Neutral? New Technologies and Collective Action Problems

John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Originally published December 3, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Value-neutrality is a seductive position. For most of human history, technology has been the product of human agency. In order for a technology to come into existence, and have any effect on the world, it must have been conceived, created and utilised by a human being. There has been a necessary dyadic relationship between humans and technology. This has meant that whenever it comes time to evaluate the impacts of a particular technology on the world, there is always some human to share in the praise or blame. And since we are so comfortable with praising and blaming our fellow human beings, it’s very easy to suppose that they share all the praise and blame.

Note how I said that this has been true for ‘most of human history’. There is one obvious way in which technology could cease to be value-neutral: if technology itself has agency. In other words, if technology develops its own preferences and values, and acts to pursue them in the world. The great promise (and fear) about artificial intelligence is that it will result in forms of technology that do exactly that (and that can create other forms of technology that do exactly that). Once we have full-blown artificial agents, the value-neutrality thesis may no longer be so seductive.

We are almost there, but not quite. For the time being, it is still possible to view all technologies in terms of the dyadic relationship that makes value-neutrality more plausible.

The article is here.