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Synthetic Environmentalism 3 rd ESRC Research Methods Festival 2008 St.

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Presentation on theme: "Synthetic Environmentalism 3 rd ESRC Research Methods Festival 2008 St."— Presentation transcript:

1 Synthetic Environmentalism 3 rd ESRC Research Methods Festival 2008 St Catherine’s College Oxford, 2 July 2008 Luciano Floridi Research Chair in Philosophy of Information School of Humanities Department of Philosophy University of Hertfordshire Director, Research Group in Philosophy of Information, University of Hertfordshire Director, Information Ethics research Group, OUCL & Philosophy, University of Oxford

2 Outline The Background The Classic Analysis of the Three Revolutions 21 st Century: the Information Revolution The Information Revolution as the Fourth Revolution Re-ontologizing the infosphere Inforgs Evidence of New Scenarios What new ethical challenges? Information Ethics Back to the Fourth revolution Conclusion 2/20

3 Knowledge, Science, Technology have two ways of changing our understanding. 1) Extrovert or about the world. “What have the scientists ever done for us?” 2) Introvert or about ourselves. (more radical than Einstein). Introduction: The General Framework 3/20

4 Three revolutions that changed our self-understanding: Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543) Heliocentric cosmology displaces the Earth from the centre of the universe. Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) All species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors through natural selection. Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) The mind is also unconscious and subject to the defence mechanism of repression. The Classic Analysis of the Three Revolutions 4/20

5 21 st Century: the Information Revolution Since the fifties Computer revolution? Mobile, Internet (Web 2.0), computers as communication rather than computational devices, distributed interactivity (GPS). Digital revolution? Amazon and the book renaissance, more printing. Digital ICT Information revolution: from things to energy to information. What matters: changes in the life-cycle of information. 5/20

6 Extrovert interpretation: how the world and our interactions with it are changing. Information society: essential role played by intellectual, intangible assets (knowledge- based economy), information- intensive services (business and property services, finance and insurance comm.), public sectors (especially education, public administration and health care). 21 st Century: the Information Revolution Digital ICT Perhaps the most radical change is once again in our self-understanding (introvert interpretation). 6/20

7 The Information Revolution as the 4 th Revolution Turing and the Fourth Revolution. Information is becoming our environment (infosphere). The information revolution is deeply affecting our understanding of ourselves as agents. We are becoming not sci-fi cyborgs but connected, informational organisms, inforgs. Most radical change brought about by the fourth (information) revolution: the disclosure of human agents as interconnected, informational organisms among other informational organisms and agents, sharing an environment which is basically informational. 7/20

8 Two definitions Re-ontologize (from “re-engineering”) = radical form of re-engineering, that not only designs, constructs or structures a system (e.g. a company, or a machine) anew, but that fundamentally transforms its intrinsic nature (e.g. nanotechnologies and biotechnologies are not merely re-engineering but actually re-ontologizing our world). Infosphere (from “biosphere”) = the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including informational agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes and mutual relations. Re-ontologization of the infosphere 8/20

9 Three Theses a) digital ICTs are re-ontologizing the very nature of (and hence what we mean by) the infosphere b) the re-ontologization of the infosphere affects the nature of the agents inhabiting it and hence their moral behaviour. c) a + b are the source of some of the most profound transformations and challenging problems that we shall experience in the close future, as far as technology is concerned. Re-ontologization of the infosphere 9/20

10 A2A + A4A We are used to considering the infosphere as something we log-in to and log-out from. Our view of the world is still modern or Newtonian, made of “dead” objects (cars, buildings, furniture, clothes), non- interactive, irresponsive, unable to communicate, learn, or memorise. A2A (anything to anything) The world offline becomes a more interactive and responsive environment of wireless, pervasive, distributed, information processes. A2A works A4A (anywhere for anytime), in real time. The world as something “a-live” (a-rtificially live). Such animation of the world will, paradoxically, make our outlook closer to that of animistic cultures which interpreted all aspects of nature as inhabited by teleological forces. Re-ontologization of the infosphere 10/20

11 Reconceptualization of our ontology in informational terms: a) the world as part of the infosphere not Matrix-like scenario (dystopian) but Ghost in the Shell scenario: evolutionary, hybrid, post- cybernetic. b) the infosphere: not a virtual environment supported by a genuinely real world behind; rather, the world itself interpreted informationally, as part of the infosphere. c) infosphere moves from being a way to refer to the space of information to being synonymous with Being. This is the sort of informational metaphysics we shall find increasingly easy to embrace. d) Matter may come to be seen as an interface: what comes in between two layers of information, the informational nature of reality and the informational nature of the mind. e) consequence: living in an infosphere more and more synchronized (time), delocalised (space), correlated (interactions) and de-physicalised (matter does not count). Re-ontologization of the infosphere 11/20

12 New species of agents in the infosphere: 1 st order artificial systems (automata, zombies) 2 nd order cybernetic systems (societies of agents, e.g. companies) cyborgs (tech-augmented bio-agents, i.e. humans/animals) GM homo sapiens (enhanced human agents) artificial agents (enhanced robots, e.g. companions) inforgs These new agents already share the same ontology with their environment and can operate in it with much more freedom and control. The evolution of inforgs in the infosphere 12/20

13 1) in the re-ontologized infosphere, progressively populated by ontologically-equal agents, where there is no difference between processors and processed, online and offline, all interactions become equally digital: “read/write” (i.e., access/alter) and “execute”. 2) our understanding of ourselves as agents will also be deeply affected. Not as a sci-fi “cyborged” humanity. Not as GM humanity. But as inforgs: connected informational organisms (inforgs). 3) the moral status and accountability of both human and artificial agents will become an ever more challenging issue. 4) When the e-migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped or poor to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. The evolution of inforgs in the infosphere 13/20

14 Evidence of New Scenarios 2000: "CAPTCHA" "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”. 2008: Visual age-verification on cigarette vending machines in Japan replaced because the system can be fooled by a magazine photo of an adult. DARPA $6.7 million contract to Northrop Grumman to develop 'brainwave binoculars'. EEG electrodes monitor the wearer's brain activity for patterns consistent with object identification/recognition. The binoculars may pick up on any object anywhere in the wearer's field of view, where a person can only pick up on things that he focuses both his eyes and his attention on. It would be an electronic device that uses human eyes and brain to collect and partially process the data which it then feeds back to the human. Chrysler. American third-largest automaker has announced that all its 2009 models will have wireless Internet as an option, called UConnect Web. 14/20

15 Children: Consider the socio/psycho/pedagogical impact of Neopet, (online virtual pet game): ca. 154 million owners of ca. 227 million digital pets. (March 2008). In 2007, ca. $40.8 billion spent on biological pets in the U.S. alone. Saudi Arabia plans to invest at least $40 billion over the next 20 years to meet the kingdom's water needs, according to Reuters. Grandparents: people age 65 and over will outnumber children under age 5. Future generations: useful projections from the game industry: 67% of American heads of households play computer and video games average game player is 33 years old and has been playing games for 12 years. Technology should be planned more for the digitally impaired than the computer illiterates. Evidence of New Scenarios 15/20

16 What sort of ethical problems? 1940s/50s (mainframes): (speculative) Robots and humans (Bentham’s Panopticon and Orwell’s Big Brother, are not yet digital/computational). 1970s/80s (PCs): PAPA (privacy, accuracy, intellectual property and access), viruses (vandalism). 1990s (Internet): “the triple A” (availability, accessibility and accuracy); ownership and piracy; digital divide; infoglut; safety, reliability and trustworthiness of complex systems; hacking (vandalism); freedom of expression and censorship; pornography, monitoring and surveillance. 2000 (Infosphere): security and secrecy; propaganda; identity theft, construction of the self; panmnemonic issues and personal identity; new forms of agency (artificial and hybrid); re-prioritization of values and virtues; the emergence of inforgs. Add: military, health-related, social, political and religious interpretations (and anthropological, and psychological...). 16/20

17 Synthetic Environmentalism: Information Ethics We need IE as an expansion of environmental ethics towards 1) a less anthropocentric concept of agent, which now includes also non-human (artificial) and non- individual (distributed) entities; and 2) a less biologically biased concept of patient as a ”centre of ethical worth”, which now includes not only human life or simply life, but any form of existence. 3) an enlarged conception of environment that includes both natural and artificial (synthetic, man- made) eco-systems. 17/20

18 We are experiencing a wide and influential informational turn, a fourth revolution in the long process of dislocation and reassessment of humanity’s fundamental nature and role in the universe. We are not immobile, at the centre of the universe (Copernicus). We are not unnaturally detached and diverse from the rest of the animal world (Darwin). We are not Cartesian subjects entirely transparent to ourselves (Freud). We are not disconnected entities, but rather inforgs, sharing with biological agents and engineered artefacts a global environment ultimately made of information, the infosphere (Turing). Back to the Fourth Revolution 18/20

19 Important consequence: the moral status and accountability of both human and artificial agents will become an ever more challenging issue. E-research is affected by ethical issues but can also uncover, tackle and reframe them. We are accepting this new conceptual revolution with much less reluctance, as humbling, but also exciting. Great opportunity: developing a new ecological approach to the whole of reality. How we build, shape and regulate the new infosphere ecologically is the crucial challenge brought about by the fourth revolution. Future generations will find synthetic environmentalism unproblematic. It is going to be our task to ensure that the transition from our environment to theirs will be as ethically smooth as possible.Conclusion 19/20

20 Synthetic Environmentalism 3 rd ESRC Research Methods Festival 2008 St Catherine’s College Oxford, 2 July 2008 Luciano Floridi Research Chair in Philosophy of Information School of Humanities Department of Philosophy University of Hertfordshire Director, Research Group in Philosophy of Information, University of Hertfordshire Director, Information Ethics research Group, OUCL & Philosophy, University of Oxford This talk is based on: “A look into the future impact of ICT on our lives”, The Information Society, 2007, 23.1, 59-64. Available at Many thanks to: William Dutton, Rosemary Lawrence and the Staff of the Festival. COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER – Texts, marks, logos, names, graphics, images, photographs, illustrations, artwork, audio clips, video clips, and software copyrighted by their respective owners are used on these slides for non- commercial, educational and personal purposes only. Use of any copyrighted material is not authorized without the written consent of the copyright holder. Every effort has been made to respect the copyrights of other parties. If you believe that your copyright has been misused, please direct your correspondence to: stating your position and I shall endeavour to correct any misuse as early as possible.

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