Written By Shalom Chalson, Artwork by Ngiam Li Yi
We’ve all had to make difficult decisions, particularly when the implications of our would-be actions reach beyond just us to the people around us. Ethical frameworks and theories can help order our thoughts so we can make informed decisions which sufficiently take those implications into consideration. Who we should care for, and why, are important questions, the kinds we should rightly consider often. Established wisdom, found in the works of the ancient philosophers, can help guide us. The adages to which we may look can provide useful insight as to how to navigate an increasingly complex technologically-driven society, for example.
Beyond the personal, however, ethics can bear greatly on the practical, too. Take, for instance, the moral frameworks implemented in the artificial intelligences of autonomous vehicles. Autonomous cars have to be able to swerve out of the way to protect its passengers, but they also have to avoid colliding into innocent bystanders. The decisions we program these technological artefacts to hopefully reflect our considered moral judgements about what is best in a situation. Though it still seems tricky – what is to happen when a choice must be made between saving passengers or the innocent bystanders?
If you are interested in determining your own moral leanings in a hypothetical situation like this one, visit: http://moralmachine.mit.edu/.
The practical and the personal can also meet, and here, ethics also plays an important role. Social media and phone applications play an important role in our lives, since a lot of how we see the world involves looking through their lens. Yet, according to Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google, app developers and social media platforms profit exploit users by engaging them in endless cycles of variable reinforcement. By innovating ways to capture one’s attention, these companies have made the experience of using apps analogous to the feeling one gets at a slot machine.
Harris started TimeWellSpent to reorganise the way that our attention is paid to apps and social media.
Developers who are keenly aware of our flaws and nevertheless exploit them should make more ethically sensitive product choices. The right ethical frameworks can make the difference between a platform which exploits our weaknesses and a platform which brings out the best in what human kind has to offer.
In our Summer Series to come, we’ll take a look at various ethical perspectives on a variety of topics. We’ll see how video games might enable us to make better moral decisions in our every day lives. Beyond this, we’re featuring an article which attempts to challenge our existing moral theories and another which attempts to find the middle ground between the existentialist ethical thought and the ethical thought of Zhuangzi, the Chinese philosopher. We hope these pieces offer some insight.
If you are interested in other novel takes on ethics, have a look at the following resources:
Cheeseburger Ethics, Aeon – Are professional ethicists good people? According to our research, not especially. So what is the point of learning ethics?
Your Right to Die Isn’t Enough, NewRepublic – On July 7, a California bill to legalize assisted suicide died in committee before it could advance to a vote in the State Assembly. The bill’s supporters could not overcome politicians’ concerns that legal assisted suicide would enable unscrupulous agents to coerce the poor into ending their lives prematurely. In its failure, the bill joins similar measures in other states, including Maine, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, and Nevada…