Friday, June 9, 2023

The Ethics of Academia (Podcast Series)

About a year ago, I put together a series of podcasts called 'The Ethics of Academia'. The purpose of the podcast was to explore the ethical dilemmas facing academics in their work as researchers, teachers and (to a slightly lesser extent) administrators/leaders. Here are the links to all 12 episodes, along with brief descriptions of their content. You can subscribe/download the full set of episodes on Apple or Spotify or Amazon or Google a range of other services

  • 1 - Sven Nyholm and the Division of Labour: A wide-ranging conversation with Sven Nyholm (now Professor of the Ethics of AI at University of Munich) in which he reflects, in particular, on the ethical importance of the division of labour in academia (among many other topics)

  • 2 - Michael Cholbi on Being Answerable to Humankind: Interview with Michael Cholbi, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. We reflect on the value of applied ethical research and the right approach to teaching. Michael has thought quite a lot about the ethics of work, in general, and the ethics of teaching and grading in particular. So those become central themes in our conversation

  • 3 - Regina Rini and the Value of Speaking to the Public: Interview with Regina Rini, Canada Research Chair at York University in Toronto. Regina has a background in neuroscience and cognitive science but now works primarily in moral philosophy. She has the distinction of writing a lot of philosophy for the public through her columns for the Time Literary Supplement and the value of this public writing becomes a major theme of our conversation.

  • 4 - Justin Weinberg on the State of Philosophy: Interview with Justin Weinberg, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. Justin researches ethical and social philosophy, as well as metaphilosophy. He is also the editor of the popular Daily Nous blog and has, as a result, developed an interest in many of the moral dimensions of philosophical academia. As a result, our conversation traverses a wide territory, from the purpose of research to the ethics of grading.

  • 5 - Brian Earp on Connecting Research to the Real World: Interview with Brian Earp, Senior Research Fellow with the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics in Oxford. He is a prolific researcher and writer in psychology and applied ethics. We talk about how Brian ended up where he is, the value of applied research, and the importance of connecting research to the real world.

  • 6 - Helen de Cruz on Prestige Bias and the Duty to Review: Interview with Helen de Cruz, Danforth Chair in Humanities at the University of St. Louis. Helen researches the philosophy of belief formation, but also does a lot of professional and public outreach, writes science fiction, and is a very talented illustrator/artist. We talk about the ethics of research, teaching, public outreach and professional courtesy. Some of the particular highlights from the conversation are her thoughts on prestige bias in academia and the crisis of peer reviewing.

  • 7 - Aaron Rabinowitz on the Pedagogy of Moral Luck: Interview with Aaron Rabinowitz, veteran podcaster and philosopher. He is currently doing a PhD in the philosophy of education at Rutgers University. He is particularly interested in the problem of moral luck and how it should affect our approach to education. So that's what we talk about. 

  • 8 - Zena Hitz on Great Books and the value of learning: Interview with Zena Hitz, currently a tutor at St John’s College. She is a classicist and author of the book Lost in Thought. We talk about losing faith in academia, the dubious value of scholarship, the importance of learning, and the risks inherent in teaching. I learned a lot from Zena and found her perspective on the role of academics and educators to be enlightening.

  • 9 - Jason Brennan on the Moral Mess of Higher Education: Interview with Jason Brennan, Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. Jason has written quite a bit about the moral failures and conundrums of higher education, which makes him an ideal guest for this podcast. We talk about the purpose of research, the ethics of (excess?) scholarly productivity, the problem with PhD programmes and the plight of adjuncts.

  • 10 - Jesse Stommel on the Philosophy of Ungrading: Is grading unethical? Coercive and competitive? Should we replace grading with something else? In this podcast I chat to Jesse Stommel, one of the foremost proponents of ‘ungrading’. Jesse is a faculty member of the writing program at the University of Denver. We talk about the problem with traditional grading systems, the idea of ungrading, and how to create communities of respect in the classroom.

  • 11 - Jessica Flanigan on Gadflies and Critical Thinking: Interview with Jessica Flanigan, Professor of Leadership Ethics at the University of Richmond. We talk about the value of philosophical research, whether philosophers should emulate Socrates, and how to create good critical discussions in the classroom. I particularly enjoyed Jessica’s thoughts about effective teaching and I think everyone can learn something from them.

  • 12 - Olle Häggström on Romantics vs Vulgarists in Scientific Research: Interview with Olle Haggstrom, a professor of mathematical statistics at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Having spent the first half of his academic life focused largely on pure mathematical research, Olle has shifted in recent years to consider how research can benefit humanity and how some research might be too risky to pursue. We have a detailed conversation about the ethics of research and contrast different ideals of what it means to be a scientist in the modern age. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

110 - Can we pause AI Development? Evidence from the history of technological restraint

In this episode, I chat to Matthijs Maas about pausing AI development. Matthijs is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Legal Priorities Project and a Research Affiliate at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge. In our conversation, we focus on the possibility of slowing down or limiting the development of technology. Many people are sceptical of this possibility but Matthijs has been doing some extensive research of historical case studies of, apparently successful, technological slowdown. We discuss these case studies in some detail.

You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe the podcast on AppleSpotifyGoogleAmazon or whatever your preferred service might be.

Relevant Links

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Mechanisms of Techno-Moral Change: A Taxonomy and Overview

I just published a new paper with my co-author Henrik Skaug Sætra. It's about the ways in which technology can alter our moral beliefs and practices. Many people study the phenomenon of techno-moral change but, to some extent, the existing literature is fragmented and heterogeneous - lots of case studies and examples but not enough theoretical unity. The goal of this paper is to bring some order to existing discussions by proposing a taxonomy of mechanisms of techno-moral change. We argue that there are six primary mechanisms through which technology can alter moral beliefs and practices and that these slot into three main categories (decisional, relational, perceptual). More details in the abstract below. The table, pictured above, summarises the key ideas in the paper. The full paper is available open access at the link provided.

Title: Mechanisms of Techno-Moral Change: A Taxonomy and Overview
Links: Official (free OA); Researchgate; Philpapers
Abstract: The idea that technologies can change moral beliefs and practices is an old one. But how, exactly, does this happen? This paper builds on an emerging field of inquiry by developing a synoptic taxonomy of the mechanisms of techno-moral change. It argues that technology affects moral beliefs and practices in three main domains: decisional (how we make morally loaded decisions), relational (how we relate to others) and perceptual (how we perceive situations). It argues that across these three domains there are six primary mechanisms of techno-moral change: (i) adding options; (ii) changing decision-making costs; (iii) enabling new relationships; (iv) changing the burdens and expectations within relationships; (v) changing the balance of power in relationships; and (vi) changing perception (information, mental models and metaphors). The paper also discusses the layered, interactive and second-order effects of these mechanisms.