Outsourcing Without Fear?

This is the second in a series of blogposts by the members of the Expanding Autonomy project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

by Neil Levy

As Adam Carter emphasises in the first post in this series, offloading cognitive capacities comes at a cost: the more we depend on external scaffolding and supports to perform a certain task, the less we develop the internal capacities to perform that task. The phenomenon is familiar: people probably really are much less able to do mental arithmetic today than in the past, thanks to the introduction of the calculator. We tend to think of new technologies when we worry about what we lose as a consequence of scaffolding, but the concern is ancient. In the Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates approvingly recounting the story of an Egyptian king who worried that the invention of writing “will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it, through lack of practice at using their memory.” Continue reading

Cross Post: Brainpower: Use it or Lose it?

This is the first in a series of blogposts by the members of the Expanding Autonomy project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Written By: J Adam Carter, COGITO, University of Glasgow

E-mail: adam.carter@glasgow.ac.uk

 

What are things going to be like in 100 years? Here’s one possible future, described in Michael P. Lynch’s The Internet of Us. He invites us to imagine:

smartphones are miniaturized and hooked directly into a person’s brain. With a single mental command, those who have this technology – let’s call it neuromedia – can access information on any subject ….

That sounds pretty good. Just think how quickly you could gain information you need, and how easy and intellectually streamlined the process would be. But here is the rest of the story:

Now imagine that an environmental disaster strikes our invented society after several generations have enjoyed the fruits of neuromedia. The electronic communication grid that allows neuromedia to function is destroyed. Suddenly no one can access the shared cloud of information by thought alone. . . . [F]or the inhabitants of this society, losing neuromedia is an immensely unsettling experience; it’s like a normally sighted person going blind. They have lost a way of accessing information on which they’ve come to rely. Continue reading

Event Summary: Morality and Personality

by Roger Crisp

On 2 November 2023, at one of the most well-attended (in-person and remotely) New St Cross Ethics seminars to date, Professor Predrag Cicovacki, Professor Emeritus in Philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA, USA presented a fascinating lecture on ‘Morality and Personality’.

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Event Summary: New St Cross Special Ethics Seminar: Should people have indefinite lifespans? Ethical and social considerations in life-extension, Professor João Pedro de Magalhães

Written by: Dr Amna Whiston

 

On Thursday, 16th November 2023, Professor João Pedro de Magalhães, a prominent microbiologist specialising in ageing and longevity research, gave an engaging and personable New St Cross Ethics Seminar entitled: ‘Should people have indefinite lifespans? Ethical and social considerations in life-extension?’

Following a brief introduction to the biology of ageing, de Magalhães explained the potential intervening with the ageing process, in advance of discussing the ethical and social implications of extending life span. De Magalhães humbly noted at the beginning of his talk that the importance of ethical and social considerations of biomedical research is sometimes underappreciated by the scientists working in this area. However, he argued that the scientific effort to counter ageing is ethical since it aims to enable people to have long and healthy lives for as long as possible. Continue reading

On Grief and Griefbots

Written by Cristina Voinea 

 This blogpost is a prepublication draft of an article forthcoming in THINK 

 

Large Language Models are all the hype right now. Amongst the things we can use them for, is the creation of digital personas, known as ‘griefbots’, that imitate the way people who passed away spoke and wrote. This can be achieved by inputting a person’s data, including their written works, blog posts, social media content, photos, videos, and more, into a Large Language Model such as ChatGPT. Unlike deepfakes, griefbots are dynamic digital entities that continuously learn and adapt. They can process new information, provide responses to questions, offer guidance, and even engage in discussions on current events or personal topics, all while echoing the unique voice and language patterns of the individuals they mimic. 

Numerous startups are already anticipating the growing demand for digital personas. Replika is one of the first companies to offer griefbots, although now they focus on providing more general AI companions, “always there to listen and talk, always on your side”. HereAfter AI offers the opportunity to capture one’s life story by engaging in dialogue with either a chatbot or a human biographer. This data is then harnessed and compiled with other data points to construct a lifelike replica of oneself that can then be offered to loved ones “for the holidays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, retirements, and more.” Also, You, Only Virtual, is “pioneering advanced digital communications so that we Never Have to Say Goodbye to those we love.”   

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Is Animal Liberation Speciesist?

Written by Joseph Moore

This year, Peter Singer published Animal Liberation Now, a significantly updated version of his 1975 animal rights classic. Both the original and revised text argue that humans should refrain from inflicting unnecessary suffering on non-human animals, especially the cruel practices still commonly employed in factory farming and animal experimentation. And as a step towards this collective action, Singer urges his readers to modify their individual purchasing practices by preferring cruelty-free products or, even better, committing to vegetarianism or veganism.

The bulk of the revisions in the new edition concern the empirical facts on the ground, both the positive changes in the treatment of non-human animals since the original printing as well as ongoing, legally sanctioned cruel practices. Unfortunately, the philosophically weakest part of Singer’s influential argument, which occurs in the first chapter, has received no additional support in this edition. This is his claim that ‘the capacity for suffering and enjoyment is a prerequisite for having interests, a condition that must be satisfied before we can properly speak of interests at all’. The supposed necessity of sentience for having interests is why Singer limits his ‘principle of equal consideration of interests’ to (some) animals and does not extend it to living things in other kingdoms—plants, fungi, bacteria, etc.—or other kinds of subjects. But this relatively undefended assertion was dubious in 1975 and is even more dubious now. Singer’s restriction of interests to sentient beings is just as arbitrary as the speciesism he decries. Continue reading

Cross-post: Fairness and Freedom in Public Health Policy – On the need for a Humanities-based approach to public health policy

by Alberto Giubilini

Originally posted on the Oxford Medical Humanities website

 

This conference explored two distinct but related issues in public health. One is the extent to which individual freedom could be restricted in the pursuit of public health goals. The other is whose freedom could be restricted. That is, freedom and fairness in public health policy.

The tension between freedom and public goods pervades our lives. Public goods such as functioning healthcare systems or environmental resources depend on actions we collectively take. Collective actions raise issues about whether and how each of us ought to contribute to them by giving up some of our own personal interests. Pandemic policies simply made that tension more salient. However, our living together is a constant negotiation of the boundaries between us as individuals and us as members of communities, often (but not necessarily) through the mediation of Governmental restrictions.

Public goods cost freedom or, if you prefer, freedoms can erode public goods. Continue reading

Playing the Game of Faces with AI

Written by Edmond Awad

 

In the popular series “Game of Thrones” (and the corresponding “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels), the “Game of Faces” is a training method used by the Faceless Men, an enigmatic guild of assassins. This method teaches trainees to convincingly adopt the face of others for their covert missions.

The Game of Faces can be seen as a metaphor for the way we interact with others in the real world, as well as the way we present ourselves online. In the Game of Thrones TV series, the Faceless Men are able to change their appearance at will, which allows them to deceive others and get close to their targets. This ability can be seen as a symbol of the power of deception and manipulation. Continue reading

Guest Post: Oppenheimer – Not The Morality Of The bomb

Written by Martin Sand & Karin Jongsma

The recently released Christopher Nolan movie “Oppenheimer” proves to be a phenomenal movie that deserves being watched on screen. Despite its 3 hours length, “Oppenheimer” is an intriguing portrayal of a genius, albeit somewhat narcissistic character, who – in the second half of the movie – seemingly regrets being involved in the development and deployment of the atomic bomb. “Oppenheimer” is much more than a biography of a memorable scientist; it’s a tale of the complex relation between science and politics, and the complexity of moral decision-making in an uncertain world faced with unprecedented suffering and cruelty. It provides insights into how the political climate in the “era of ideologies” (Karl Dietrich Bracher) could make it difficult for scientists to have left-leaning views, while pursuing successful scientific careers in the US. Those times and experiences are worth recollecting, also for ongoing discussions about censorship and academic freedom. Continue reading

The Language of Freedom in Public Health: the Case of the Smoking Ban

Alberto Giubilini

 

Enough manipulation of the definition of man, and freedom can be made to mean whatever the manipulator wishes

(Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty, 1958)

 

The UK Prime Minister has announced his plan to ban the sale of tobacco products to young generations in England. Smoking will be phased out by progressively increasing the legal age for buying tobacco every year. Assuming the plan is effective and does not simply open the door to a black market, young generations in England will be prevented from starting to smoke. According to the Prime Minister, “this measure will be the single biggest intervention in public health in a generation.”

It is hardly necessary to provide figures about the risks of smoking. Lighting up that first cigarette is one of the most unhealthy choices one could ever make. In fact, it is a decision many regret later in life. The question is: to what extent is a government justified in preventing competent individuals from making unhealthy decisions for themselves?

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