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 and 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 live 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


Episode #43 – Elder on Friendship, Robots and Social Media

AlexisElder01222018-2 web.jpg

 In this episode I talk to Alexis Elder. Alexis is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Her research focuses on ethics, emerging technologies, social philosophy, metaphysics (especially social ontology), and philosophy of mind. She draws on ancient philosophy - primarily Chinese and Greek - in order to think about current problems. She is the author of a number of articles on the philosophy of friendship, and her book Friendship, Robots, and Social Media: False Friends and Second Selves, came out in January 2018. We talk about all things to do with friendship, social media and social robots.

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
  • 1:37 - Aristotle's theory of friendship
  • 5:00 - The idea of virtue/character friendship
  • 10:14 - The enduring appeal of Aristotle's account of friendship
  • 12: 30 - Does social media corrode friendship?
  • 16:35 - The Publicity Objection to online friendships
  • 20:40 - The Superficiality Objection to online friendships
  • 25:23 - The Commercialisation/Contamination Objection to online friendships
  • 30:34 - Deception in online friendships
  • 35:18 - Must we physically interact with our friends?
  • 39:25 - Social robots as friends (with a specific focus on elderly populations and those on the autism spectrum)
  • 46:50 - Can you be friends with a robot? The counterfeit currency analogy
  • 50:55 - Does the analogy hold up?
  • 56:13 - Why are robotic friends assumed to be fake?
  • 1:03:50 - Does the 'falseness' of robotic friends depend on the type of friendship we are interested in?
  • 1:06:38 - What about companion animals?
  • 1:08:35 - Where is this debate going?

Relevant Links

Episode #42 – Earp on Psychedelics and Moral Enhancement

Brian Earp.jpg

 In this episode I talk to Brian Earp. Brian is Associate Director of the Yale-Hastings Program in Ethics and Health Policy at Yale University and The Hastings Center, and a Research Fellow in the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. Brian has diverse research interests in ethics, psychology, and the philosophy of science. His research has been covered in Nature, Popular Science, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Atlantic, New Scientist, and other major outlets. We talk about moral enhancement and the potential use of psychedelics as a form of moral enhancement.

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

Show Notes

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 1:53 - Why psychedelics and moral enhancement?
  • 5:07 - What is moral enhancement anyway? Why are people excited about it?
  • 7:12 - What are the methods of moral enhancement?
  • 10:18 - Why is Brian sceptical about the possibility of moral enhancement?
  • 14:16 - So is it an empty idea?
  • 17:58 - What if we adopt an 'extended' concept of enhancement, i.e. beyond the biomedical?
  • 26:12 - Can we use psychedelics to overcome the dilemma facing the proponent of moral enhancement?
  • 29:07 - What are psychedelic drugs? How do they work on the brain?
  • 34:26 - Are your experiences whilst on psychedelic drugs conditional on your cultural background?
  • 37:39 - Dissolving the ego and the feeling of oneness
  • 41:36 - Are psychedelics the new productivity hack?
  • 43:48 - How can psychedelics enhance moral behaviour?
  • 47:36 - How can a moral philosopher make sense of these effects?
  • 51:12 - The MDMA case study
  • 58:38 - How about MDMA assisted political negotiations?
  • 1:02:11 - Could we achieve the same outcomes without drugs?
  • 1:06:52 - Where should the research go from here?

Relevant Links

Episode #41 – Binns on Fairness in Algorithmic Decision-Making

Reuben Binns.jpg

In this episode I talk to Reuben Binns. Reuben is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Computer Science in Oxford University. His research focuses on both the technical, ethical and legal aspects of privacy, machine learning and algorithmic decision-making. We have a detailed and informative discussion (for me at any rate!) about recent debates about algorithmic bias and discrimination, and how they could be informed by the philosophy of egalitarianism.

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


Show notes

  • 0:00 - Introduction
  • 1:46 - What is algorithmic decision-making?
  • 4:20 - Isn't all decision-making algorithmic?
  • 6:10 - Examples of unfairness in algorithmic decision-making: The COMPAS debate
  • 12:02 - Limitations of the COMPAS debate
  • 15:22 - Other examples of unfairness in algorithmic decision-making
  • 17:00 - What is discrimination in decision-making?
  • 19:45 - The mental state theory of discrimination
  • 25:20 - Statistical discrimination and the problem of generalisation
  • 29:10 - Defending algorithmic decision-making from the charge of statistical discrimination
  • 34:40 - Algorithmic typecasting: Could we all end up like William Shatner?
  • 39:02 - Egalitarianism and algorithmic decision-making
  • 43:07 - The role that luck and desert play in our understanding of fairness
  • 49:38 - Deontic justice and historical discrimination in algorithmic decision-making
  • 53:36 - Fair distribution vs Fair recognition
  • 59:03 - Should we be enthusiastic about the fairness of future algorithmic decision-making?


    Relevant Links

    • 'Machine Bias' - the ProPublica story on unfairness in the COMPAS recidivism algorithm
    • 'Inherent Tradeoffs in the Fair Determination of Risk Scores' by Kleinberg et al -- an impossibility proof showing that you cannot minimise false positive rates and equalise accuracy rates across two populations at the same time (except in the rare case that the base rate for both populations is the same)

      Episode #40: Nyholm on Accident Algorithms and the Ethics of Self-Driving Cars


      In this episode I talk to Sven Nyholm about self-driving cars. Sven is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at TU Eindhoven with an interest in moral philosophy and the ethics of technology. Recently, Sven has been working on the ethics of self-driving cars, focusing in particular on the ethical rules such cars should follow and who should be held responsible for them if something goes wrong. We chat about these issues and more. You can download the podcast here or listen below. You can also subscribe on iTunes and Stitcher (the RSS feed is here).

      Show Notes:

      • 0:00 - Introduction
      • 1:22 - What is a self-driving car?
      • 3:00 - Fatal crashes involving self-driving cars
      • 5:10 - Could self-driving cars ever be completely safe?
      • 8:14 - Limitations of the Trolley Problem
      • 11:22 - What kinds of accident scenarios do we need to plan for?
      • 17:18 - Who should decide which ethical rules a self-driving car follows?
      • 23:47 - Why not randomise the ethical rules?
      • 25:18 - Experimental findings on people's preferences with self-driving cars
      • 29:16 - Is this just another typical applied ethical debate?
      • 31:27 - What would a utilitarian self-driving car do?
      • 36:30 - What would a Kantian self-driving car do?
      • 39:33 - A contractualist approach to the ethics of self-driving cars
      • 43:54 - The responsibility gap problem
      • 46:12 - Scepticism of the responsibility gap: can self-driving cars be agents?
      • 53:17 - A collaborative agency approach to self-driving cars
      • 58:18 - So who should we blame if something goes wrong?
      • 1:03:40 - Is there a duty to hand over driving to machines?
      • 1:07:30 - Must self-driving cars be programmed to kill?

        Relevant Links

          What a Day! Day 3 of the APHL Annual Meeting

          What a Day! Day 3 of the APHL Annual Meeting | www.APHLblog.org

          Day 3 of the APHL Annual Meeting was a big one! We had several captivating sessions including this year’s Katherine Kelley Distinguished Lecturer, Maryn McKenna, renowned journalist and author. Listen to today’s episode to hear a few attendees share what they took away from the day.

          You can listen to our show via the player embedded below or on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Please be sure to subscribe to Lab Culture so you never miss an episode.

          The post What a Day! Day 3 of the APHL Annual Meeting appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.