New technologies increasingly mediate our interactions with each other and the institutions on which we depend. What special moral problems do these new technologies pose? Are existing moral categories and practices up to the task? For the April edition of Philosophy in the Library, three philosophers--Joanna Smolenski, Tony Doyle, and Samir Chopra--present short talks on the ethics of ongoing developments in genetic engineering, big data, and artificial intelligence, followed by a Q&A with the audience.
Part 1: Editing the Genome--How CRISPR/CAS9 is Changing the Game
Joanna Smolenski of CUNY Graduate Center discusses CRISPR technology, and how it can be used to modify both somatic cells and the germline (i.e., reproductive cells). This talk will consider the pros and cons of such modification, as well as unique ethical challenges it could present. For instance, could we ever legitimately consent to the editing of our germlines? Ultimately, it would seem that our existing consent protocols are inadequate to ensure robust informed consent to germline editing, and so we should hold off on such interventions until we have a better understanding of their downstream impacts.
Part 2: Big Data & the Future of Privacy
Tony Doyle of Hunter College considers how big data, with its massive collection, thorough aggregation, predictive analysis, and lightning dissemination of personal information has produced previously unfathomable benefits and insights. Analysis is replacing intuition; the gut is yielding to algorithm. However, as our digital wake ripples out, big data is putting privacy on the run with unnerving inferences about our preferences, commitments, aspirations, and vulnerabilities. How we are sorted by big data’s analytics can determine the opportunities that come our way: a reasonable mortgage, a good job, or a decent apartment. Privacy matters because it promotes autonomy, that is, our ability to make choices, free of coercion or manipulation, in the light of our considered conception of the good life. But ultimately, is privacy doomed to be a lost cause?
Part 3: Artifacts & Agency
Samir Chopra of Brooklyn College considers how thinking about the agency--both moral and legal--of artifacts can be helpful in thinking about the puzzles that artificial intelligence creates for us. Thinking about agency lets us think about actions and powers and ends--the kinds of things we should be thinking of, in considering how to 'fit' AI into our world.