Debrief: Computer Ethics/Philosophical Enquiry 2009 in Corfu, Greece

I’ve returned from the 8th International Conference of Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiry in Corfu, Greece, where I presented an early draft of a paper based on my critique of the “Taste, Ties, and Time” Facebook data release. The paper was well-received, but I have work ahead of me to improve the manuscript prior to publication.

Overall, the conference was a success. Corfu was delightful, and the presentations sparked good conversations. Following are some highlights and reactions:

  • Prof Terry Bynum was awarded the Weizenbaum Award and delivered the opening day’s keynote, “Philosophy and the Information Revolution”, which provided a brilliant summary of phlisophies of information from Norbert Wiener to Luciano Floridi.
  • Stuart Ferguson, Clare Thornley, and John Weckert discussed their research on “RFIDs and Surveillance: New Ethical Dilemmas for Libraries”, which morphed into a nice conversation about the intersections between privacy, intellectual freedom, library 2.0, and social media.
  • Don Gotterbarn and Jim Moor presented “Virtual Decisions: Just Consequentialism, Video Game Ethics, and Rapid Ethical Analysis”, prompting thoughts about how video games might promote (intentionally or not) ethical decision making, raning from egoism to altruism to social responsibility, etc.
  • Stephanie Patridge delivered an excellent paper, “Default Social Meaning and Video Game Imagery: An Ethics of Video Game Play”, providing a broad analysis & critique of game imagery, while revealing the difficulty of bringing “morality into video game worlds” given the “problem of fictionality”.
  • Göran Collste‘s paper, “The Ethics of Ambient Computing for Personal Health Monitoring”, focused on issues of technological paternalism, the “medicalization of personal identity”, and the emerging “reign of technology” in personal health care management.
  • Fran Grodzinsky and Herman Tavani discussed their (much-anticipated) paper, “Can the “Contextual Integrity” model of privacy be applied to personal blogs in the blogosphere?” While it was great seeing an application of contextual integrity to a concrete example, I was left a bit unsatisfied regarding their treatment of blogs (as were others).
  • Ken Himma presented “A General Moral Defense of Intellectual Rights”, which provided a nice overview of the philosophical dimensions of the ongoing intellectual property debate. I don’t agree, however, with Himma’s assertion that users have a less morally-legitimate interest in protected content desired for entertainment than content deemed necessary for survival (ie, entertainment provides me a release valve, which can be essential to my well-being, productivity, etc).
  • Solon Barocas and Helen Nissenbaum presented their work on “What’s wrong with with Behavioral advertising?”, aruging that behavioral targeting is not inherently unethical, but the particular approach is flawed in its approach: by inherently straddline multiple contexts online, it fails to respect context-dependent norms of information flows.
  • Carson Reynolds discussed an interesting paper, “Machine Self-Sacrifice”, which argues against Floridi’s belief that informational objects have intrinsic moral worth (and thus should be preserved), insisting instead that some systems only function properly if the information they contain is destroyed (land mines, ant colonies, etc).
  • John Sullins and John Aycock led an excellent panel discussion on “Malware Ethics: The Beneficial Use of Forbidden Knowledge”, focusing on the ethics and challenges of teaching malware to computer science students.
  • SOIS grad students, and INSEIT fellows, Erin Hvizdak and Tony Hoffmann, presented their thoughts on “Issues of Research Ethics in Computer Science” and “New Directions for Information Justice”, respectively.
  • Deborah Johnson (in a debate with Jim Moor) argued that “A New Account of Computer Ethics is Needed”, mostly by giving the computer ethics discipline a (needed) lesson in STS and SCOT. Moor responded by stating what Johnson was looking for is already in the “standard view” of computer ethics…
  • Finally, Berkman Executive Director Urs Gasser delivered the closing keynote, “Past, Present, and Future of Digital Copyright Law”, providing a helpful review of the current state if IP, suggesting how “copynorms” — social norms on how we share content — developed long before the Internet, and that we must breakdown “historical technonormative identities” of producers/consumers and recast them as collaborations.

1 comment

  1. “entertainment provides me a release valve, which can be essential to my well-being, productivity, etc”

    Ah – but have you ever tried life without it? I suffered from severe depression up until the Jamie Thomas vs RIAA verdict about two years ago. Two months into my RIAA/MPAA boycott I found that I’d had become strangely content. I haven’t had a relapse since then. Now if I’m forced to watch movies for social reasons, I often find the underlying messages to be positively toxic. Television commercials are even worse. If I need to unwind I watch http://www.ted.com

    I challenge you to go three months without mainstream media – then tell us how you feel.

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