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Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Technology and moral change: the transformation of truth and trust

Danaher, J., Sætra, H.S. 
Ethics Inf Technol 24, 35 (2022).


Technologies can have profound effects on social moral systems. Is there any way to systematically investigate and anticipate these potential effects? This paper aims to contribute to this emerging field on inquiry through a case study method. It focuses on two core human values—truth and trust—describes their structural properties and conceptualisations, and then considers various mechanisms through which technology is changing and can change our perspective on those values. In brief, the paper argues that technology is transforming these values by changing the costs/benefits of accessing them; allowing us to substitute those values for other, closely-related ones; increasing their perceived scarcity/abundance; and disrupting traditional value-gatekeepers. This has implications for how we study other, technologically-mediated, value changes.


Conclusion: lessons learned

Having examined our two case studies, it remains to consider whether or not there are similarities in how technology affects trust and truth, and if there are general lessons to be learned here about how technology may impact values in the future.

The two values we have considered are structurally similar and interrelated. They are both intrinsically and instrumentally valuable. They are both epistemic and practical in nature: we value truth and trust (at least in part) because they give us access to knowledge and help us to resolve the decision problems we face on a daily basis. We also see, in both case studies, similar mechanisms of value change at work. The most interesting, to our minds, are the following:
  • Technology changes the costs associated with accessing certain values, making them less or more important as a result Digital disinformation technology increases the cost of finding out the truth, but reduces the cost of finding and reinforcing a shared identity community; reliable AI and robotics gives us an (often cheaper and more efficient) substitute for trust in humans, while still giving us access to useful cognitive, emotional and physical assistance.
  • Technology makes it easier, or more attractive to trade off or substitute some values against others Digital disinformation technology allows us to obviate the need for finding out the truth and focus on other values instead; reliable machines allow us to substitute the value of reliability for the value of trust. This is a function of the plural nature of values, their scarcity, and the changing cost structure of values caused by technology.
  • Technology can make some values seem more scarce (rare, difficult to obtain), thereby increasing their perceived intrinsic value Digital disinformation makes truth more elusive, thereby increasing its perceived value which, in turn, encourages some moral communities to increase their fixation on it; robots and AI make trust in humans less instrumentally necessary, thereby increasing the expressive value of trust in others.
  • Technology can disrupt power networks, thereby altering the social gatekeepers to value to the extent that we still care about truth, digital disinformation increases the power of the epistemic elites that can help us to access the truth; trust-free or trust-alternative technologies can disrupt the power of traditional trusted third parties (professionals, experts etc.) and redistribute power onto technology or a technological elite.