The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University has some really useful thinking and curricula around ethics. One of the things they point out is that what ethics is not is easier to talk about than what ethics actually is. And some of the things that they say about what ethics is not include feelings. Those aren’t ethics. And religion isn’t ethics. Also law. That’s not ethics. Science isn’t ethics.
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Experimentation is so commonplace on the Internet now that if you use a platform like Facebook you’re probably part of many experiments all the time.
We are here to talk about fucking machines. In London, on a foggy evening, on a Tuesday, for yet another debate about fucking machines. Another curated discussion underlined by our own human insecurity about versions of us in silica. Fucking anthropomorphic fucking machines. Machines that fuck us. And let’s face it, machines are already fucking us, or so we seem to be told.
Computers can tell stories but they’re always stories that humans have input into a computer, which are then just being regurgitated. But they don’t make stories up on their own. They don’t really understand the stories that we tell. They’re not kind of aware of the cultural importance of stories. They can’t watch the same movies or read the same books we do. And this seems like this huge missing gap between what computers can do and humans can do if you think about how important storytelling is to the human condition.
This is a moment to ask as we make the planet digital, as we totally envelop ourselves in the computing environment that we’ve been building for the last hundred years, what kind of digital planet do we want? Because we are at a point where there is no turning back, and getting to ethical decisions, values decisions, decisions about democracy, is not something we have talked about enough nor in a way that has had impact.
Victor’s sin wasn’t in being too ambitious, not necessarily in playing God. It was in failing to care for the being he created, failing to take responsibility and to provide the creature what it needed to thrive, to reach its potential, to be a positive development for society instead of a disaster.
Mary Shelley’s novel has been an incredibly successful modern myth. And so this conversation today is not just about what happened 200 years ago, but the remarkable ways in which that moment and that set of ideas has continued to percolate and evolve and reform in culture, in technological research, in ethics, since then.
Increasingly we’re using automated technology in ways that kind of support humans in what they’re doing rather than just having algorithms work on their own, because they’re not smart enough to do that yet or deal with unexpected situations.