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What is Information Ethics? Microsoft Research Laboratory - PhD students summer school 2006 Luciano Floridi Dipartimento di Scienze Filosofiche Università

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Presentation on theme: "What is Information Ethics? Microsoft Research Laboratory - PhD students summer school 2006 Luciano Floridi Dipartimento di Scienze Filosofiche Università"— Presentation transcript:

1 What is Information Ethics? Microsoft Research Laboratory - PhD students summer school 2006 Luciano Floridi Dipartimento di Scienze Filosofiche Università degli Studi di Bari Faculty of Philosophy & IEG – Computing Laboratory University of Oxford Cambridge 6 July, 2006

2 Summary First part The roots of Computer Ethics (CE) CE problems, interpretation and approaches Information Ethics as the Foundation of CE Second part Standard vs. Non-standard Moral Theories The Role of Information in Ethics Modelling moral action informationally Extending the class of moral agents Extending the class of moral patients Four basic principles of Information Ethics Applications of Information Ethics

3 Half a century of issues: from Wiener to IE The evolution of the information (or rather) data-based society causes ethical problems. Norbert Wiener (father of cybernetics), in the late 1940s and early 1950s, was the first to predict and work on such problems. Computer ethics coined by Walter Maner in the mid 1970s, to refer to the field of research that studies ethical problems aggravated, transformed or created by computer technology. Later, it became clear that what matters is not the specific technology (computers, mobiles, ICTs in general) but the raw material manipulated by it, data/information. So in the late 1990s several researchers, especially our group in Oxford, started working on information ethics (IE).

4 What sort of ethical problems? 1940s/50s (mainframes): (speculative) Robots and humans (Benthams Panopticon and Orwells Big Brother, are not digital/computational). 1970s/80s (PCs):PAPA (privacy, accuracy, intellectual property and access), viruses (vandalism). 1990s (Internet): the triple A: availability, accessibility and accuracy; piracy; digital divide; infoglut; safety, reliability and trustworthiness of complex systems; hacking (vandalism); freedom of expression and censorship; pornography, monitoring and surveillance (Infosphere):security and secrecy; propaganda; identity theft. Add: military, health-related, social, political and religious interpretations (and anthropological, and psychological...).

5 What kind of interpretation? The Policy Vacuum Policy Vacuum: technological changes have outpaced ethical developments, bringing about unanticipated problems that have caused a policy vacuum filled by CE (Moor, 1985), which has initially surfaced from practical concerns arising in the information society. Rational decisions have to be taken, technical, educational and ethical problems must be solved, legislation needs to be adopted, codes of ethics are to be formulated and enforced. A combination of empirical evidence and logical arguments seems to provide the most obvious and promising means to achieve such pressing goals. How innovative should the approach be?

6 Which approach? (aka the Uniqueness Debate) The no resolution Approach. CE problems represent unsolvable dilemma and CE is itself a pointless exercise, having no conceptual foundation. (Parker 1981). The Professional Approach. CE is just a professional ethics. Social responsibility of computer professionals. Development of a professional- ethics approach (Gotterbarn 1991, 1992). The Radical Approach. CE is a Unique Discipline that deals with absolutely unique issues, in need of a completely new approach (Mason 1986, Maner 1996, 1999). The Conservative Approach. CE is only an Applied Ethics. Classic macroethics (e.g. Consequentialism, Deontologism, Virtue Ethics, Contractualism) might need to be adapted, enriched and extended, but they have all the conceptual resources required to deal with CE questions successfully and satisfactorily. ICT merely transform old ethical problems. (Johnson 1999). The Innovative Approach. Information Ethics as the Foundation of CE (Floridi 1999, 2004). According to IE, standard macroethics are insufficient. ICT, by transforming in a profound way the context in which moral issues arise, not only adds interesting new dimensions to old problems, but leads us to rethink, methodologically, the very grounds on which our ethical positions are based.

7 An Innovative Approach: Information Ethics Information Ethics is the theoretical foundation of applied Computer Ethics. IE is 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)a conception of environment that includes both natural and artificial (synthetic, man-made) eco-systems. IE is therefore non-standard patient-oriented, not agent-oriented environmental, non-anthropocentric but ontocentric, and based on the concepts of informational object/infosphere/entropy rather than life/ecosystem/pain.

8 Standard vs. non-standard Theories of As and Ps Moral situations involve agents and patients. Let us define: 1) the class A of moral agents as the class of all entities that can in principle qualify as sources of moral action, and 2) the class P of moral patients as the class of all entities that can in principle qualify as receivers of moral action. Ethical theories can interpret the relation between those two classes in 5 ways AP A = P Standard view, e.g. Kant PA Standard view + Supernatural Agents AP Non-Standard view e.g. Environmentalism AP Non-standard view + Supernatural Agents secularism

9 Towards a minimal common denominator among agents and patients. Suppose that 1) A is interested in pursuing whatever she considers her best course of action, given her predicament; 2) As evaluations and actions have some (to be left unspecified) moral value; then 3) A uses some information (information as a resource) to generate some other information (information as a product) and in so doing affect her informational environment (information as target). Where is the agent? A Step Back: the Role of Information in Ethics

10 A Step Forward: the Role of Information in Ethics The agent is informationally embodied and informationally embedded in the infosphere. Where is the patient? infosphere info-target info-resource info-product A infosphere info-target info-resource info-product A Infosphere (from biosphere) denotes the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including informational agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes and mutual relations.

11 5. Factual information Infosphere 7 The informational Model of Moral Action A 1 P 2 6. Envelope (Moral Situation) 6 (Set of) 1./2. Objects (Agent - Patient) activatesaffects 3 3. Message information process 4. Shell (Subjective Info-frame encapsulation) 4

12 Moral action = information process a p M (a, p) initiated by a set of one or more sources, the agent a a variably interactive process (series of messages M) that brings about a transformation of states directly affecting a set of one or more destinations, the patient (re-agent) p p may interactively respond to M with changes and/or other messages, depending on how M is interpreted by ps methods A Model of Moral Action based on OOA

13 patient methods Operations Functions Procedure Moral action = information process a p M (a, p) agent data structures constituting the nature of the entity in question (state of the object, its unique identity, and attributes) messages interaction Stimuli Actions Informational objects (in the object-oriented analysis paradigm (OOA) sense) Informational Entities

14 Information Ethics: Agents and Patients Information Ethics is 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.

15 What is an agent? An Effective Characterization a) A is an agent if and only if A is a.1) Interactive: A and its environment (can) act upon each other. a.2) Autonomous: A is able to change state without direct response to interaction, but can perform internal transitions to change its state. This provides A with a certain degree of complexity and decoupled-ness from its environment. a.3) Adaptable: A's interactions (can) change the transition rules by which it changes state. This property ensures that A might learn its own mode of operation in a way which depends critically on its experience. b) An agent is said to be a moral agent if and only if it is capable of morally qualifiable action. c) An action is said to be morally qualifiable if and only if it can cause moral good or evil. Conclusion: Artificial Agents can satisfy all these conditions therefore they can be moral agents.

16 Information Ethics: Agents and Patients Information Ethics is 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.

17 IE and the moral value of informational objects History: a tale of progressive moral inclusions, from the Athenian citizens, to animals to the Infosphere. Question: what is the lowest possible common set of attributes which characterises something as intrinsically valuable and an object of respect, and without which something would rightly be considered intrinsically worthless or even positively unworthy and therefore rightly disrespectable in itself? Answer: the minimal condition of possibility of an objects least intrinsic worthiness is its abstract nature as an informational entity. Conclusion: all entities, interpreted as clusters of information, have a minimal moral worth qua informational objects, that deserves to be respected.

18 Information Ethics as Environmental Ethics IE develops a patient-oriented ethics. The patient may be not only a human being or any form of life, but any form of being, that is, any informational object. Information as such, rather than just life in general, is raised to the role of the universal patient of any action. The ethical question asked by IE is: What is good for an informational entity and the infosphere in general? Answer = a minimalist theory of desert: all informational objects are in principle worth of ethical consideration. The duty of a moral agent is evaluated also in terms of contribution to the growth and welfare of the infosphere. Any process, action or event that negatively affects the whole infosphere - not just an information entity – impoverishes it and hence it is an instance of evil.

19 Four Principles of Information Ethics IE determines what is morally right or wrong, what ought to be done, what the duties, the oughts and the ought nots of a moral agent are, by means of four basic principles: 0.entropy ought not to be caused in the infosphere (null law) 1.entropy ought to be prevented in the infosphere 2.entropy ought to be removed from the infosphere 3.the welfare of the infosphere ought to be promoted by extending it, improving it and enriching it. The principles are listed in order of increasing moral value. They clarify, in very broad terms, what it means to live as a responsible and caring agent in the infosphere.

20 Conclusion: the Roots and the Leaves Is Information Ethics applicable? Conceptual problems are the roots, applied problems are the leaves of the same tree. None of the two can do without the other. IE has been applied in: game design (Sicart) distributed system control and e- science (Turilli) digital divide (Floridi) tragedy of the digital commons and P2P systems (Greco, Floridi) Privacy (Turilli, Floridi) Still a lot of exciting work to be done. Conceptual solutions without ultimately applicable outcomes are sterile. Applied solutions without deep conceptual roots are brittle.

21 What is Information Ethics? Microsoft Research Laboratory - PhD students summer school 2006 Luciano Floridi Dipartimento di Scienze Filosofiche Università degli Studi di Bari Faculty of Philosophy & IEG – Computing Laboratory University of Oxford Cambridge 6 July, 2006 Acknowledgements: many thanks to - Fabien Petitcolas - Sarah Cater - Microsoft Research Laboratory


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