Some Ethical Consequences of Global Information Departmental Seminar – OUCL – University of Oxford Oxford 24 February, 2006 email@example.com/~floridi/ Luciano Floridi Dipartimento di Scienze Filosofiche Università degli Studi di Bari Faculty of Philosophy & IEG – Computing LaboratoryUniversity of Oxford
Summary • Modelling Moral Interactions with Information • Good Will, Power and Information • Moral Action and the Nature of the Tragic • The Tragic and the Scandalous • Cassandra’s Predicament • The IT-heodicean Problem and Oedipus’ Predicament • Augmented Responsibility • Escaping the Tragic Condition • The Wrong Approach: Super Ethics • The Right Approach: Augmented Ethics
The Growth of Information N. Wiener, “Some moral and technical consequences of automation”, Science, 131, 1960. Arthur L. Samuel, “Some moral and technical consequences of automation – A refutation”, Science, 132, 1960. The information revolution has been changing the world profoundly, irreversibly and problematically for some time now, at a breathtaking pace and with an unprecedented scope. Every year, the world produces between 1 and 2 exabytes of data, that is, roughly 250 megabytes for every human being on earth. An exabyte is approximately 20 billion volumes. It has taken the entire history of humanity to accumulate 12 exabytes of data. Stored on floppy disks, 12 exabytes of data would form a stack 24 million miles high. At the rate of growth measured in 1999, humanity will already have created the next 12 exabytes by 2005.
The Flow of Information To cope with exabytes of data, hundreds of millions of computing machines are employed every day. In 2001, the number of PCs in use worldwide reached 600M units (source: Computer Industry Almanac Inc. http://www.c-i-a.com/pr0302.htm, see Table 2). By the end of 2007, this number will have nearly doubled to over 1.15B PCs, at a compound annual growth of 11.4%. Of course, PCs are among the greatest sources of further exabytes.
Example: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) • The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) - CERN • a circular structure 17 miles in circumference • will produce about 1.5GB data/sec • 10 petabytes of data annually, 1,000 times bigger than the Library of Congress' print collection • the data flows will likely begin in 2008 • a grid using 100,000 CPUs
The informational analysis of moral dynamics Any action, whether morally loaded or not, has the logical structure of a variably interactive process relating one or more sources, the agent A, with one or more destinations, the patient P. The agent initiates the process and the patient reacts more or less interactively to it. Once A and B are interpreted, their analysis depends on the level of abstraction (LoA) adopted and the corresponding set of observables available at that level. A moral action as a dynamic system arises out of the interaction of seven principal components: 1) the agent, 2) the patient, 3) their interactions, 4) the agent’s general frame of information, 5) the factual information concerning the situation that is at least partly available to the agent, 6) the specific situation in which the interaction occurs, and finally 7) the general environment in which the agent and the patient are located.
The informational model of moral dynamics (Set of) 1./2. Objects (Agent - Patient) 4. Shell (Subjective Info-frame encapsulation) • An agent’s moral action depends on • Good Will + • Power + • Information • How are these three variables related? • What effects has changing one variable? 4 activates affects information process A P 1 2 5 5 3 6 7 5. Factual information 7. Infosphere 3. Message 6. Envelope (Moral Situation)
Ethics and the Lack of Pragmatic Omnipotence Ethics: moral action cannot presuppose pragmatic omnipotence, so: Good Will = assumed constant, i.e. good intention (Eudokia, Luke 2:14), bears the moral value. It is the attitude/readiness to implement whatever course is morally best. Problem (not discussed) weakness of the will. We shall assume the absence of Akrasia. Power = variable but usually limited. The skills/resources/means to implement a Good Will. Information = variable but usually more extended than Power. Hypothesis: when there is a lack of balance between Power and Information in the presence of Good Will to act morally, we have the tragic. That is: Good Will + [Power & Information unbalanced] = tragic
The Tragic • Is the Tragic avoidable? • Recall: Good Will + [Power & Information unbalanced] = the tragic. • Eliminate the Good Will • The lack of any good will and the amoral agent • The value of the good will and Christianity • Modify Power until it balances Good Will and Information • Sharing good will and information increases power • Modify Information until it balances Good Will and Power • Paradox: the will/desire not to know. It is only the Good Will that wishes not to be informed. • Problem: information increase is inevitable • Meta-information: • Nothing can be done, the tragic is unavoidable.
Information without Power or Good Will Lucretius – De Rerum Natura, Book II, Proem 'Tis sweet, when, down the mighty main, the winds Roll up its waste of waters, from the land To watch another's labouring anguish far, Not that we joyously delight that man Should thus be smitten, but because 'tis sweet To mark what evils we ourselves be spared; 'Tis sweet, again, to view the mighty strife Of armies embattled yonder o'er the plains, Ourselves no sharers in the peril; but naught There is more goodly than to hold the high Serene plateaus, well fortressed by the wise, Whence thou may'st look below on other men And see them ev'rywhere wand'ring, all dispersed In their lone seeking for the road of life; Rivals in genius, or emulous in rank, Pressing through days and nights with hugest toil For summits of power and mastery of the world. Lucretius – De Rerum Natura, Libro II, Proemio Suave, mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis e terra magnum alterius spectare laborem; non quia vexari quemquamst iucunda voluptas, sed quibus ipse malis careas quia cernere suavest. suave etiam belli certamina magna tueri per campos instructa tua sine parte pericli; sed nihil dulcius est, bene quam munita tenere edita doctrina sapientum templa serena, despicere unde queas alios passimque videre errare atque viam palantis quaerere vitae, certare ingenio, contendere nobilitate, noctes atque dies niti praestante labore ad summas emergere opes rerumque potiri.
Good Will without Sufficient Power or Information Shaekespeare, The Tempest, Act I, Scene II Miranda: “If by your art, my dearest father, you have Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them. The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch, But that the sea, mounting to the welkin's cheek, Dashes the fire out. O, I have suffered With those that I saw suffer: a brave vessel, Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her, Dash'd all to pieces. O, the cry did knock Against my very heart. Poor souls, they perish'd. Had I been any god of power, I would Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere It should the good ship so have swallow'd and The fraughting souls within her.”
The Risk of the Tragic and the Scandalous The tragic emerges from a lack of balance between good will, power and information. The risk of the tragic is constantly present. It is a twofold risk: Oedipus: Good Will + Sufficient Power + Insufficient information Cassandra: Good Will + Insufficient Power + Sufficient information Oedipus’ actions (killing his father and marrying his mother) are the most scandalous to the observers, why? The scandalous is how the tragic is perceived by the observers of the tragic. The scandalous sets a bad example, not in the sense that anyone will necessarily follow it, but in the sense that it shows to the observers the ultimate failure of goodness (the good will). Lack of action may be as scandalous as positive action.
Cassandra’s Predicament and the Scandalous The ICT revolution has brought a new lack of balance between Power and Information. Our power does not match our information, so our current situation is increasingly tragic: Good Will + [Insufficient Power & Sufficient Information] We are giving scandal by our incapacity to implement our well-informed Good Will, this is our Cassandra’s predicament.
“I have suffered with those that I saw suffer” From The Economist, “The next big wave”, Aug 14th 2003: “[in the western Pacific] […]. Since 1990, ten big tsunamis have claimed more than 4,000 lives. So it would be nice to be able to detect such tsunamis far enough in advance for people to be evacuated. […] What is needed are specific detectors that take advantage of the fact that tsunamis are felt throughout the ocean's depths, unlike wind-generated waves, which affect only its surface.” The article continued discussing several technologies and techniques to detect, analyse, classify and predict tsunamis. It concluded: “Technology, though, can do only so much. […]. As with any hazard, the more informed the public are, the better their chances of survival. December 26, 2004 a tsunamis kills approximately 275,000 people
The IT-heodicean Problem Pompey AD 79 Theodicean Problem = The Presence of Natural Evil Who (God?) is God responsible for whatever evil human beings do not initiate and cannot prevent, defuse or control? IT-heodicean Problem = The Erosion of Natural Evil Science and ICT gradually transform Natural evil into Moral evil, making humanity increasingly accountable, morally speaking, for the way the world is. Who is responsible for natural evil? Witchcraft in theory and sci-tech in practice share the responsibility of transforming natural into moral evil. This is why their masters often look morally suspicious. Through history, evil becomes an internal problem. This is our Oedipus’ predicament: had we had more or better information, evil might have been prevented.
Augmented Responsibility CP) Cassandra’s predicament: information about actual evil puts pressure on the Good Will and its insufficient Power to deal with it successfully. We see evil but we cannot do anything about it. Like Miranda, we wish we were omnipotent. OP) Oedipus’ predicament (the IT-heodicaean problem): increasing ways to prevent, defuse or control future evil put pressure on the Good Will and its insufficient information. We could do something about evil, but we do not see it. Like Oedipus, when evil occurs, we can only blame ourselves, for had we been better informed, evil might have been avoidable. [(CP) + (OP) = Tragic] → Augmented Responsibility “Look you now, how ready mortals are to blame the gods. It is from us, they say, that evils come, but they even of themselves, through their own blind folly, have sorrows beyond that which is ordained.” Homer, Odyssey, I.30-35 “Man's responsibility increases as that of the gods decreases.” André Gide
Escaping the Tragic Condition • Problem: Are the Tragic and hence the Scandalous avoidable? • Recall: Good Will + [Power & Information unbalanced] = the tragic. • How can we escape the twofold predicament? • Four (mutually compatible) answers: • The gap information/power will decrease as information has already reached its peak, whereas power is catching up. • From quantity to quality of information: agents better informed can act and exercise their augmented power better. • From powerless observation of the agent to empowered interaction of multiagent systems: global problems require global agents. • The ontological side of information: the need for an augmented ethics.
1. The information/power gap The proportion of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1 a day) in developing countries dropped by almost half between 1981 and 2001, from 40 to 21 percent of global population (source: World Bank April 23, 2004). The Bank's annual statistical report, World Development Indicators 2004 (WDI), shows a drop in the absolute number of people living on less than $1 a day in all developing countries from 1.5 billion in 1981, to 1.1 billion in 2001, with much of the progress occurring in the 1980s. Between 1990 and 2001, the global decline in the number of extremely poor people slowed somewhat, falling by about 120 million—from 1.2 billion to 1.1 billion people—while the proportion of poor people dropped from 28 percent to 21 percent of the total population.
2. Better information More power requires more or less information? More information? yes → more control → more competition → more choice (no censorship) Less information? yes → more fairness (no bias) → more privacy → more secrecy/security Problems: unqualified (what information?), not circumstantiated (for whom? Under which conditions? For what purpose?) More quality information - more feedback: how the agent’ efforts and resources are affecting reality. - more transparency: information constrains misbehaviour - more forecasting: information is prevention - more engineering: information as building
3. Global Agents • The need for an ethics of artificial agents: non-human (built) and social (e.g. groups, organizations, institutions) agents. • Problem of Good Will and Levels of Agenthood: Good Will is a property of single agents that is not necessarily inherited by their Set. • Four pressing issues: • Conceptual analysis to understand artificial agents better. • How moral artificial agents may be built. • How artificial agents may be morally “educated”. • How artificial agents may be controlled.
4. Augmented Ethics: Super Ethics? ICT is a matter of DUMB strategies: Doing & Understanding More & Better. DUMB strategies transform man into superman. Superman has super-responsibilities. So ICT requires a super-ethics. Problem: SE is supererogatory as it requires super-heroes. Mistake: ICT is not just a matter of DUMB strategies but it also has an essentially ontic impact. It radically transforms old realities and creates entirely new ones. Because of its ontic impact, ICT requires an Augmented Ethics for the whole of humanity not for individual super-heroes.
4. Augmented Ethics: Achievable Goals What would be the best ways to spend additional resources on helping the developing countries? Resources are scarce and difficult choices among good ideas therefore have to be made. How should a limited amount of new money for development initiatives, say an extra $50 billion, be spent? Would it be possible to reach agreement on what should be done first? In 2004, the Copenhagen Consensus project attempted to set priorities among a range of ideas for improving the lives of people living in developing countries on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis. Ten global challenges were chosen: Civil conflicts, Climate change, Communicable diseases, Education, Financial stability, Governance, Hunger and malnutrition, Migration, Trade reform, Water and sanitation.
4. Augmented Ethics: Achievable Goals “The panel rated all four top proposals “very good”, as measured by the ratio of social benefit to cost. In fact, by the ordinary standards of project appraisal, they are not just very good but extraordinarily good, with benefits exceeding costs by a factor of ten or more, and sometimes much more. That proposals this good should fail to be adopted for lack of finance is a scandal, especially when you reflect on some of the projects that governments are currently financing. The bottom of the list, however, aroused more in the way of hostile comment. Rated “bad”, meaning that costs were thought to exceed benefits, were all three of the schemes put before the panel for mitigating climate change, including the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse-gas emissions. With something close to unanimity, the panel put measures to restrict the spread of HIV/AIDS at the top of the ranking.”
4. The Right Approach: Augmented Ethics Augmented Ethics = the ethics of a Demiurge (Plato, Thimaeus) The augmented ethics required by our augmented information is the ethics of creators and not mere end-users of reality. Humanity is increasingly morally responsible for designing and implementing the world the way it is. The moral question concerning human responsibility is: how can we as humanity act as good demiurges? Human Augmented Responsibility requires an ecological approach to the whole reality, an Augmented Ethics.
Some Ethical Consequences of Global Information Departmental Seminar - OUCL Oxford 24 February, 2006 firstname.lastname@example.org/~floridi/ Luciano Floridi Dipartimento di Scienze Filosofiche Università degli Studi di Bari Faculty of Philosophy & IEG – Computing LaboratoryUniversity of Oxford