Episode #51 – Moen on the Unabomber’s Ethics

ole martin moen

In this episode I talk to Ole Martin Moen. Ole Martin is a Research Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Oslo. He works on how to think straight about thorny issues in applied ethics. He is the Principal Investigator of “What should not be bought and sold?”, a $1 million research project funded by the Research Council of Norway. In the past, he has written articles about the ethics of prostitution, the desirability of cryonics, the problem of wild animal suffering and the case for philosophical hedonism. Along with his collaborator, Aksel Braanen Sterri, he runs a podcast, Moralistene (in Norwegian), and he regularly discusses moral issues behind the news on Norwegian national radio. We talk about a potentially controversial topic: the anti-tech philosophy of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczysnki, and what's wrong with it.

You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher (the RSS feed is here).

Show Notes

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 2:05 - Should we even be talking about Ted Kaczynski's ethics? Does it not lend legitimacy to his views?
  • 6:32 - Are we unnecessarily anti-rational when it comes to discussing dangerous ideas?
  • 8:32 - The Evolutionary Mismatch Argument
  • 12:43 - The Surrogate Activities Argument
  • 20:20 - The Helplessness/Complexity Argument
  • 23:08 - The Unstoppability Argument
  • 26:45 - The Domesticated Animals Argument
  • 30:45 - Why does Ole Martin overlook Kaczynski's criticisms of 'leftists' in his analysis?
  • 34:03 - What's original in Kaczynski's arguments?
  • 36:31 - Are philosophers who write about Kaczynski engaging in a motte and bailey fallacy?
  • 38:36 - Ole Martin's main critique of Kaczynski: the evaluative double standard
  • 42:20 - How this double standard works in practice
  • 47:27 - Why not just drop out of industrial society instead of trying to overthrow it?
  • 55:04 - Is Kaczynski a revolutionary nihilist?
  • 58:59 - Similarities and differences between Kaczynski's argument and the work of Nick Bostrom, Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu
  • 1:04:21 - Where should we go from here? Should there be more papers on this topic?


Relevant Links

  • "The Unabomber's Penpal" - article about the philosopher David Skrbina who has corresponded with Kaczynski for some time


Episode #50 – Loi on Facebook, Justice and Data as the New Oil


In this episode I talk to Michele Loi. Michele is a political philosopher turned bioethicist turned digital ethicist. He is currently (2017-2020) working on two interdisciplinary projects, one of which is about the ethical implications of big data at the University of Zurich. In the past, he developed an ethical framework of governance for the Swiss MIDATA cooperative (2016). He is interested in bringing insights from ethics and political philosophy to bear on big data, proposing more ethical forms of institutional organization, firm behavior, and legal-political arrangements concerning data. We talk about how you can use Rawls's theory of justice to evaluate the role of dominant tech platforms (particularly Facebook) in modern life.

You download the show here or listen below. You can also subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher (the RSS feed is here).

Show Notes

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 1:29 - Why use Rawls to assess data platforms?
  • 2:58 - Does the analogy between data and oil hold up to scrutiny?
  • 7:04 - The First Key Idea: Rawls's Basic Social Structures
  • 11:20 - The Second Key Idea: Dominant Tech Platforms as Basic Social Structures
  • 15:02 - Is Facebook a Dominant Tech Platform?
  • 19:58 - How Zuckerberg's recent memo highlights Facebook's status as a basic social structure
  • 23:10 - A brief primer on Rawls's two principles of justice
  • 29:18 - Dominant tech platforms and respect for the basic liberties (particularly free speech)
  • 36:48 - Facebook: Media Company or Nudging Platform? Does it matter from the perspective of justice?
  • 41:43 - Why Facebook might have a duty to ensure that we don't get trapped in a filter bubble
  • 44:32 - Is it fair to impose such a duty on Facebook as a private enterprise?
  • 51:18 - Would it be practically difficult for Facebook to fulfil this duty?
  • 53:02 - Is data-mining and monetisation exploitative?
  • 56:14 - Is it possible to explore other economic models for the data economy?
  • 59:44 - Can regulatory frameworks (e.g. the GDPR) incentivise alternative business models?
  • 1:01:50 - Is there hope for the future?

Relevant Links


Lab Culture: Introducing PKU Life Podcast with Kevin Alexander

Introducing: PKU Life Podcast with Kevin Alexander | www.APHLblog.org

Fifty-five years ago, newborn screening was born. At the time, though, that little heel prick was performed to screen for only one condition: phenylketonuria (PKU). Without early intervention, babies born with PKU faced severe cognitive, behavioral and other neurological disorders. The advent of PKU newborn screening allowed health care providers and families to make critical changes to a baby’s diet to prevent those consequences.

TIntroducing: PKU Life Podcast with Kevin Alexander | www.APHLblog.orgoday, December 3, is PKU Awareness Day. It’s hard to say where newborn screening would be without that first PKU test. And 55 years later, it’s hard to say where newborn screening would be without the families and individuals living with PKU who have shared their stories to convey the value of this simple test. One of those individuals is Kevin Alexander.

Kevin has been a leader in the PKU community simply by sharing his story and his experiences living with PKU. He has spoken at conferences and events around the world, created a video documentary about his life, served as a leader and friend to others living with PKU, and now he shares his voice in a new podcast.

For this PKU Awareness Day, we are sharing Kevin’s podcast, PKU Life Podcast with Kevin Alexander. We are so appreciative of Kevin’s willingness to both share with and listen to those in the newborn screening community. Kevin, thank you for your leadership, friendship and generosity!

Listen here or subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts:


PKU Life Podcast with Kevin Alexander – Facebook

PKU Life Podcast with Kevin Alexander – Instagram

PKU Life Podcast with Kevin Alexander – Twitter

APHL’s Newborn Screening Program

APHL blog posts about PKU

PKU Awareness Day

The post Lab Culture: Introducing PKU Life Podcast with Kevin Alexander appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

Episode #49 – Maas on AI and the Future of International Law

In this episode I talk to Matthijs Maas. Matthijs is a doctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen's 'AI and Legal Disruption' research unit, and a research affiliate with the Governance of AI Program at Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute. His research focuses on safe and beneficial global governance strategies for emerging, transformative AI systems. This involves, in part, a study of the requirements and pitfalls of international regimes for technology arms control, non-proliferation and the conditions under which these are legitimate and effective. We talk about the phenomenon of 'globally disruptive AI' and the effect it will have on the international legal order.

You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe via iTunes or Stitcher (the RSS feed is here).


Show Notes

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 2:11 - International Law 101
  • 6:38 - How technology has repeatedly shaped the content of international law
  • 10:43 - The phenomenon of 'globally disruptive artificial intelligence' (GDAI)
  • 15:20 - GDAI and the development of international law
  • 18:05 - Will we need new laws?
  • 19:50 - Will GDAI result in lots of legal uncertainty?
  • 21:57 - Will the law be under/over-inclusive of GDAI?
  • 25:21 - Will GDAI render international law obsolete?
  • 31:00 - Could we have a tech-neutral international law?
  • 34:10 - Could we automate the monitoring and enforcement of international law?
  • 44:35 - Could we replace international legal institutions with technological systems of management?
  • 47:35 - Could GDAI lead to the end of the international legal order?
  • 57:23 - Could GDAI result in more isolationism and less multi-lateralism
  • 1:00:40 - So what will the future be?

Relevant Links

Episode #48 – Gunkel on Robot Rights

In this episode I talk to David Gunkel. David is a repeat guest, having first appeared on the show in Episode 10. David a Professor of Communication Studies at Northern Illinois University. He is a leading scholar in the philosophy of technology, having written extensively about cyborgification, robot rights and responsibilities, remix cultures, new political structures in the information age and much much more. He is the author of several books, including Hacking Cyberspace, The Machine Question, Of Remixology, Gaming the System and, most recently, Robot Rights. We have a long debate/conversation about whether or not robots should/could have rights.

You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe to the show on iTunes or Stitcher (the RSS feed is here).

Show Notes

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 1:52 - Isn't the idea of robot rights ridiculous?
  • 3:37 - What is a robot anyway? Is the concept too nebulous/diverse?
  • 7:43 - Has science fiction undermined our ability to think about robots clearly?
  • 11:01 - What would it mean to grant a robot rights? (A precis of Hohfeld's theory of rights)
  • 18:32 - The four positions/modalities one could take on the idea of robot rights
  • 21:32 - The First Modality: Robots Can't Have Rights therefore Shouldn't
  • 23:37 - The EPSRC guidelines on robotics as an example of this modality
  • 26:04 - Criticisms of the EPSRC approach
  • 28:27 - Other problems with the first modality
  • 31:32 - Europe vs Japan: why the Japanese might be more open to robot 'others'
  • 34:00 - The Second Modality: Robots Can Have Rights therefore Should (some day)
  • 39:53 - A debate between myself and David about the second modality (why I'm in favour it and he's against it)
  • 47:17 - The Third Modality: Robots Can Have Rights but Shouldn't (Bryson's view)
  • 53:48 - Can we dehumanise/depersonalise robots?
  • 58:10 - The Robot-Slave Metaphor and its Discontents
  • 1:04:30 - The Fourth Modality: Robots Cannot Have Rights but Should (Darling's view)
  • 1:07:53 - Criticisms of the fourth modality
  • 1:12:05 - The 'Thinking Otherwise' Approach (David's preferred approach)
  • 1:16:23 - When can robots take on a face?
  • 1:19:44 - Is there any possibility of reconciling my view with David's?
  • 1:24:42 - So did David waste his time writing this book?


Relevant Links

Episode #47 – Eubanks on Automating Inequality


 In this episode I talk to Virginia Eubanks. Virginia is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, SUNY. She is the author of several books, including Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor and Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age. Her writing about technology and social justice has appeared in The American Prospect, The Nation, Harper’s and Wired. She has worked for two decades in community technology and economic justice movements. We talk about the history of poverty management in the US and how it is now being infiltrated and affected by tools for algorithmic governance.

 You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe to the show on iTunes or Stitcher (the RSS feed is here).

Show Notes

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 1:39 - The future is unevenly distributed but not in the way you might think
  • 7:05 - Virginia's personal encounter with the tools for automating inequality
  • 12:33 - Automated helplessness?
  • 14:11 - The history of poverty management: denial and moralisation
  • 22:40 - Technology doesn't disrupt our ideology of poverty; it amplifies it
  • 24:16 - The problem of poverty myths: it's not just something that happens to other people
  • 28:23 - The Indiana Case Study: Automating the system for claiming benefits
  • 33:15 - The problem of automated defaults in the Indiana Case
  • 37:32 - What happened in the end?
  • 41:38 - The L.A. Case Study: A "match.com" for the homeless
  • 45:40 - The Allegheny County Case Study: Managing At-Risk Children
  • 52:46 - Doing the right things but still getting it wrong?
  • 58:44 - The need to design an automated system that addresses institutional bias
  • 1:07:45 - The problem of technological solutions in search of a problem
  • 1:10:46 - The key features of the digital poorhouse

Relevant Links


Episode #46 – Minerva on the Ethics of Cryonics


 In this episode I talk to Francesca Minerva. Francesca is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ghent. Her research focuses on applied philosophy, specifically lookism, conscientious objection, abortion, academic freedom, and cryonics. She has published many articles on these topics in some of the leading academic journals in ethics and philosophy, including the Journal of Medical Ethics, Bioethics, Cambridge Quarterly Review of Ethicsand the Hastings Centre Report. We talk about life, death and the wisdom and ethics of cryonics.

You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher (the RSS feed is here).

Show Notes:

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 1:34 - What is cryonics anyway?
  • 6:54 - The tricky logistics of cryonics: you need to die in the right way
  • 10:30 - Is cryonics too weird/absurd to take seriously? Analogies with IVF and frozen embryos
  • 16:04 - The opportunity cost of cryonics
  • 18:18 - Is death bad? Why?
  • 22:51 - Is life worth living at all? Is it better never to have been born?
  • 24:44 - What happens when live is no longer worth living? The attraction of cryothanasia
  • 30:28 - Should we want to live forever? Existential tiredness and existential boredom
  • 37:20 - Is immortality irrelevant to the debate about cryonics?
  • 41:42 - Even if cryonics is good for me might it be the unethical choice?
  • 45:00 (ish) - Egalitarianism and the distribution of life years
  • 49:39 - Would future generations want to revive us?
  • 52:34 - Would we feel out of place in the distant future?

Relevant Links


Episode #45 – Vallor on Virtue Ethics and Technology


 In this episode I talk to Shannon Vallor. Shannon is the Regis and Diane McKenna Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Santa Clara University, where her research addresses the ethical implications of emerging science and technology, especially AI, robotics and new media. Professor Vallor received the 2015 World Technology Award in Ethics from the World Technology Network. She has served as President of the Society for Philosophy and Technology, sits on the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, and is a member of the IEEE Standards Association's Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems. We talk about the problem of techno-social opacity and the value of virtue ethics in an era of rapid technological change.

 You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher (the RSS feed is here).

Show Notes

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 1:39 - How students encouraged Shannon to write Technology and the Virtues
  • 6:30 - The problem of acute techno-moral opacity
  • 12:34 - Is this just the problem of morality in a time of accelerating change?
  • 17:16 - Why can't we use abstract moral principles to guide us in a time of rapid technological change? What's wrong with utilitarianism or Kantianism?
  • 23:40 - Making the case for technologically-sensitive virtue ethics
  • 27:27 - The analogy with education: teaching critical thinking skills vs providing students with information
  • 31:19 - Aren't most virtue ethical traditions too antiquated? Aren't they rooted in outdated historical contexts?
  • 37:54 - Doesn't virtue ethics assume a relatively fixed human nature? What if human nature is one of the things that is changed by technology?
  • 42:34 - Case study on Social Media: Defending Mark Zuckerberg
  • 46:54 - The Dark Side of Social Media
  • 52:48 - Are we trapped in an immoral equilibrium? How can we escape?
  • 57:17 - What would the virtuous person do right now? Would he/she delete Facebook?
  • 1:00:23 - Can we use technological to solve problems created by technology? Will this help to cultivate the virtues?
  • 1:05:00 - The virtue of self-regard and the problem of narcissism in a digital age

Relevant Links

  • Shannon's Twitter profile

Lab Culture Ep. 16: Informatics, health equity and bat snuggles

Lab Culture Ep. 16: Informatics, health equity and bat snuggles | www.APHLblog.org

Joanne Bartkus, APHL’s board president and director of the Public Health Laboratory at the Minnesota Department of Health, sat down with Scott Becker, our executive director, and Gynene Sullivan, editor of Lab Matters magazine, to talk about priorities for the year. Their conversation ranged from informatics to health equity to… snuggling with a bat?!

Joanne Bartkus, PhD, D(ABMM)
Director, Public Health Laboratory, Minnesota Department of Health

Scott J. Becker, MS
Executive director, Association Public Health Laboratories​


Lab Matters

Lab Matters — Android app

Lab Matters — iTunes app

APHL Board of Directors

The post Lab Culture Ep. 16: Informatics, health equity and bat snuggles appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

Episode #44 – Fleischman on Evolutionary Psychology and Sex Robots


In this episode I chat to Diana Fleischman. Diana is a senior lecturer in evolutionary psychology at the University of Portsmouth. Her research focuses on hormonal influences on behavior, human sexuality, disgust and, recently, the interface of evolutionary psychology and behaviorism. She is a utilitarian, a promoter of effective altruism, and a bivalvegan. We have a long and detailed chat about the evolved psychology of sex and how it may affect the social acceptance and use of sex robots. Along the way we talk about Mills and Boons novels, the connection between sexual stimulation and the brain, and other, no doubt controversial, topics.

You can download the episode here or listen below. You can also subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher (the RSS feed is here).

Show Notes

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 1:42 - Evolutionary Psychology and the Investment Theory of Sex
  • 5:54 - What's the evidence for the investment theory in humans?
  • 8:40 - Does the evidence for the theory hold up?
  • 11:45 - Studies on the willingness to engage in casual sex: do men and women really differ?
  • 18:33 - The ecological validity of these studies
  • 20:20 - Evolutionary psychology and the replication crisis
  • 23:29 - Are there better alternative explanations for sex differences?
  • 26:25 - Ethical criticisms of evolutionary psychology
  • 28:14 - Sex robots and evolutionary psychology
  • 29:33 - Argument 1: The rising costs of courtship will drive men into the arms of sexbots
  • 34:12 - Not all men...
  • 39:08 - Couldn't something similar be true for women?
  • 46:00 - Aren't the costs of courtship much higher for women?
  • 48:27 - Argument 2: Sex robots could be used as treatment for dangerous men
  • 51:50 - Would this stigmatise other sexbot users?
  • 53:31 - Would this embolden rather than satiate?
  • 55:53 - Could the logic of this argument be flipped, e.g. the Futurama argument?
  • 58:05 - Isn't this an ethically sub-optimal solution to the problem?
  • 1:00:42 - Argument 3: This will also impact on women's sexual behaviour
  • 1:07:01 - Do ethical objectors to sex robots underestimate the constraints of our evolved psychology?

Relevant Links

  • 'Uncanny Vulvas' in Jacobite Magazine - this is the basis for much of our discussion in the podcast