What do we understand by technoetics?
Can technology taking our agency to spend our attention, live our lives and change democracy?
Is technology morally transforming society?
Are we too vulnerable to technology?
Should governments step in and regulate?
Karen Joisten is a leading German philosopher and the co-creator and scientific director of the Kaiserslautern University Techno Ethics program, one of the first of its kind in Europe.
"With my work I seek to make the greatest possible contribution to the world and to our society. The more people who can develop their intellectual capacities, the more humane the society will be", explains Joisten. And for this, she warns, technology must be imbued with ethics.
What do we understand by technoetics and why do we need to talk about it?
In my case, techno ethics is a new specialization from the Technical University of Kaiserslautern that my colleague Professor Neuser and I have created.
Basically it is about analyzing both technique and technology from an ethical perspective according to which the objective should not be for men to be at the service of technology, but the other way around. When this is not the case, we need to say “NO!” loud and clear.
Following Tristan Harris, the founder of the Center for Humane Technology, a handful of tech companies steer the thoughts of billions of people everyday, taking our agency to spend our attention and live the lives that we want, as well as changing democracy. Do you agree on that?
The emergence of monopolies is extremely problematic in all fields of society, be it politics, economics or technology. In general, it leads to an abuse of power that is only intended to prioritize the interests of those in power and that is beyond any control. We must act to face it!
And yes, ultimately it can lead to the dissolution of democracy, because the latter needs people able to build their own opinions in a critical way and based on facts and who are willing to always rethink their points of view. For all these reasons, we must be clear that we all have to work throughout our lives to develop and maintain our autonomy.
James Moor points out that developing the appropriate habits of character such as kindness, truthfulness, honesty, trustworthiness, helpfulness, generosity, and justice is an important prerequisite in moral behavior. How does technology impact the development of this habits in young people? Is technology morally transforming society?
All these qualities are human virtues that are achieved thanks to constant exercise and internalisation. At birth, the person is integrated into a specific context and it is the closest people who influence the development of these virtues. As we grow, other influential environments come into play, such as kindergarten, school, training, etc. These institutions are also responsible for building these virtues.
But in the case of young people and from the point of view of the history of their development, if the relationship with technology replaces the relationship with people and they end up trapped in it, then human relationships are left in the background.
The debates and discussions that are so important and necessary in interpersonal relationships and in order to mature internally and create our own character are left behind. This leads to a de-humanization of people and de-moralization of society.
Therefore, people should not shirk their responsibility and turn themselves over to machines. We are responsible for ourselves, other people, animals and nature, while our technological products are not imbued with this responsibility. Thus, if we recognize that technology transforms society in an unhealthy way, we must position ourselves against it as well as against other wrong paths.
Are we too vulnerable to technology and too unprepared to deal with it?How can we fix this?
Technique and technology have been with us for a long time. Even so, it is true that today’s challenges are enormous, given that digital transformation is a spiral in which the entire society is immersed. We need ethical discourses at the micro, meso and macro levels and a truly ethical education. We need the best possible answers at all levels for an optimal life for people in harmony with nature and technique.
But we can only do this when these responses are binding and politically appropriate. It is not acceptable that a few get rich at the expense of all the rest, or that technology oppresses us and we become their servants.
In a technical world devoid of ethics nor social responsibility, should governments step in and regulate?
Ethics, people and social responsibility should come first, and technical applications of products second.