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This month on Philosophical Disquisitions
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Welcome to the first edition of my newsletter. Thanks for subscribing. This one is somewhat unusual. It is a bumper edition, covering the best content from my blog and wider work over the past three months. Normally, the newsletter will cover just one month's worth of writing, but I thought we should start off with something special. If you like the newsletter, please spread the word and encourage others to sign up...

Thought Experiment of the Month

The Little Alex Problem by Michael Hauskeller (based on the novel/film A Clockwork Orange). Alex loves violence but is prevented from acting out in violent ways with aversion therapy: he is trained to associate feelings of nausea with his impulse for violence. As as result he achieves greater moral conformity (i.e. his behaviour is more consistent with moral norms). This is better for those who would have been victims of his violence, but is it a good thing all things considered? Some people think it isn't because Alex has lost the 'freedom to fall'. Do you agree? The graphic is something I created to go along with the post 'Moral Enhancement and Moral Freedom: A Critical Analysis'.

Is there a conservative case for biomedical enhancement?


That's the question that motivates a recent paper of mine in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Abstract:  It is widely believed that a conservative moral outlook is opposed to biomedical forms of human enhancement. In this paper, I argue that this widespread belief is incorrect. Using Cohen’s evaluative conservatism as my starting point, I argue that there are strong conservative reasons to prioritise the development of biomedical enhancements. In particular, I suggest that biomedical enhancement may be essential if we are to maintain our current evaluative equilibrium (i.e. the set of values that undergird and permeate our current political, economic, and personal lives) against the threats to that equilibrium posed by external, non-biomedical forms of enhancement. I defend this view against modest conservatives who insist that biomedical enhancements pose a greater risk to our current evaluative equilibrium, and against those who see no principled distinction between the forms of human enhancement.

Read it for free on Philpapers or Academia.edu. If you want the official version, drop me an email.

Best of the Blog
 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Podcast

Did you know that I am doing a podcast as part of my Algocracy and Transhumanism Project? You can subscribe here and here. Here the most recent four episodes:

 
  • Episode #7 - Brett Frischmann on Reverse Turing Tests: In this episode I talk to Brett Frischmann about his work on human-focused Turing Tests. Brett is a Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School in New York City. He writes a lot about technology and law, and is currently in the midst of co-authoring a book with Evan Selinger (my guest in Episode 4) entitled Being Human in the 21st Century (Cambridge University Press 2017). We have a long and wide-ranging conversation about what it means to be a machine; what it means to be a human; and how the current techno-social environment is changing who we are.
 
  • Episode #8 - Karen Levy on the Rise of Intimate Surveillance: In this episode, I talk to Karen Levy about the topic of intimate surveillance. Karen is an assistant professor in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University, and associate member of the faculty of Cornell Law School. Tracking and surveillance are now ubiquitous. We track the number of steps we take per day, the number of calories we consume, the number of likes we get on our facebook posts and much more. Governments and corporations also track information about what we like, what we buy and what we do. What happens when we use the same technology to track and surveil aspects of our intimate relationships? That's what we discuss in this podcast.
 
  • Episode #9 - Rachel O'Dwyer on Bitcoin, Blockchain and the Digital Commons: In this episode I talk to Rachel O'Dwyer who is currently a postdoc at Maynooth University. We have a wide-ranging conversation about the digital commons, money, bitcoin and blockchain governance. We look at the historical origins of the commons, the role of money in human society, the problems with bitcoin and the creation of blockchain governance systems.
 
  • Episode #10 - David Gunkel on Robots and Cyborgs: In this episode I talk to David Gunkel. David is a professor of communication studies at Northern Illinois University. He specialises in the philosophy and ethics of technology. He is the author of several books, including Hacking Cyberspace, The Machine Question and Of Remixology. I talk to David about two main topics: (i) robot rights and responsibilities and (ii) the cyborgification of society.
 
 

Recommended Reading 


Books

  • The Years of Lyndon Johnson 3: Master of the Senate (by Robert Caro) - People have raved about this biography to me for years. Turns out they were right. Definitely an amazing study of the uses and abuses of political power. I started out of sequence with this 1,000 page behemoth about Johnson's years in the senate. I'm now working on volume 2.
 
  • The Last Lion Volume 1: Visions of Glory (by William Manchester) - Another political biography that has come highly recommended. This one is about Winston Churchill. I've never really been a Churchill fan, but this book definitely changes some of my views about him. It's also one of those great biographies that fleshes out the historical context in which its central character operates. Some fascinating insights into the sexual mores of the aristocracy in the late 1800s; the colonial spirit in Victorian times; English political parties; the course of WWI and more.
 

Articles

A lot of my article-reading gets folded back into my blogging, but two papers that I've recently enjoyed and not yet had the chance to blog about are:
 
 
 
I'm hoping to talk to Frederic soon on the podcast. His paper is a really interesting exploration of the use of predictive analytics in brain implants. 

News and Media

A short video segment I did on TRT Insight about the ethics and law of self-driving cars. Click on the picture to view.
I was interviewed for RTE Radio One's Culture show for a feature about love and sex with robots. I think I feature for maybe a minute. The story is about a play featuring a domestic care robot. I was asked to provide some philosophical background. 

I was interviewed for a story in the Atlantic about the future of work. Some of my ideas about embracing the anti-work philosophy and ushering in a post-work utopia feature in this story, which also includes contributions from academics with far more interesting views than my own.

My paper 'The Threat of Algocracy' was featured on Reason.com.

I got quoted in this story for Quartz about robot rights and robot personhood, with an odd Brexit angle.

I was on the Robot Overlordz Podcast talking about my algocracy project.

I was on the Singularity Bros Podcast talking about the same thing (only at much greater length).


 

The Great Sex Robots Debacle


I had the misfortune of being featured on the Daily Star for my views about sex work and technological unemployment. Unfortunately the author originally misstated (some details have since been corrected at my request) the arguments I made on this topic in my paper 'Sex Work, Technological Unemployment and the Basic Income Guarantee'. In that paper, I look at the arguments from David Levy and Ian Yeoman and Michelle Mars claiming that sex robots will takeover the sex work trade. Although I think this has a degree of plausibility, the main purpose of my paper was to argue for the opposing view, i.e. that sex work may be resilient to technological displacement. This was missed in the original article and, alas, it got republished in a number of venues (I've lost count now), including the Daily Mail, the Express, Maxim, and more. Many of these articles state that I think the widespread availability of sex robots will reduce STDs and stamp out sex trafficking. I would never make such claims; I think they are naive in the extreme. Most of these stories suggested that I had been interviewed by the Daily Star about my views, which was definitely not the case. I tried to get some of the journalists to change the articles to more-accurately reflect my views. But I quickly ran out of stamina after the stories got republished in multiple venues and languages.

This story in the Metro is a slightly more accurate representation of my views on this matter (since they did actually interview me) but again repeats the claim that I think sex robots will reduce STDs and sex trafficking. This is despite the fact that I told the journalist that this was a distortion of my views. Apparently he put this in the original draft of the article but his editor 'corrected' it to repeat the claims found elsewhere.

The whole experience has been a fascinating insight into how web journalism works and how content gets recycled across multiple sites.
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