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Instructor: Devin Lane. This course meets MWF 10:10 – 11:00 a.m. in CW 105.

In this course, we will address a number of ethical and political issues that arise as a result of advancing technologies. We will begin by briefly reviewing some basics of ethics and political philosophy. We will then use what we’ve learned to think through the following topics:

  • The internet, and social media in particular, have created new ways to disseminate information. While this can potentially have very good social consequences, like a better-informed populace, it also raises some concerns. Social media is frequently accused of facilitating the spread of fake news and propaganda. We will take a look at the ethical and political implications of social media, fake news, and propaganda, as well as the ethical and political considerations that come with solutions to these problems.
  • We often lament that human beings are (1) in charge of making so many important decisions and (2) biased. Perhaps, one may think, we can remedy this sad state of affairs by removing the biased human beings from the decision-making process. Instead, we can leave important decisions up to algorithms. The problem is that algorithms can be biased as well, for a variety of reasons. We will think about the threat posed by algorithmic bias, as well as whether there are ethically and politically acceptable solutions to the problem.
  • Data privacy is not an ethical/political issue that previous generations had to concern themselves with. But it is a big issue for us, and it will be even bigger going forward. We will consider the value of (data) privacy, whether there is a right to (data) privacy, and how societies might go about protecting the (data) privacy of individuals.
  • Many are concerned that technology will soon make human labor obsolete. This will have significant social and political consequences. Human beings being left without work to do could be economically disastrous, but this is not all; it could also force us to re-evaluate the meaning of our lives. We will investigate these consequences, as well as what we ought to do to prepare for a post-labor world.

While we will focus primarily on these topics, other issues in the ethics of technology will come up along the way as well. No prior experience with philosophy is assumed; all are welcome.


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