We live in a society where digitization causes major changes. The smart phone in everyone’s hand, algorithms suggesting or sometimes making smarter decisions, robots supporting people or replacing part of their work. Many of these developments raise ethical questions. Are they good developments? Do they fit in with
our values? Can we give them a responsible direction?
These are urgent questions. The development of digital technology involves not only major social, but also economic interests. Companies want to keep up with developments, Europe cannot stay further behind China and America. People ask for new solutions, but there are also concerns about the impact of rapid digitization. How can we connect ethics and innovation in a fruitful way? A joint venture has been established around this question between ECP | Platform for the Information Society and philosopher of technology Peter-Paul Verbeek. Professor Verbeek is a leading thinker in the (inter)national discussion on ethics and technology. He has introduced insights from the philosophy of technology into the ethical discussion. The basis of his ideas, supported by a great deal of research, is that it is better to consider people and technology as intrinsically connected rather than opposed to each other. Technologies, after all, have always helped to shape how we are humans: from pencil to the printing press, and from the steam engine to artificial intelligence. They are not alien to human existence, but rather mediate the way in which we live our lives and organize our societies. This approach to technology, often indicated as ‘mediation theory’, has far-reaching consequences for ethics. Ethical questions are often framed as dilemmas: should we or should we not accept this technology? But from the perspective of technological mediation, the main question becomes: how can we deal in a responsible way with our connections to technology? Verbeek calls this alternative to classical ethics: guidance ethics. Technology is guided in its roles in society and, conversely, society is guided in its dealing with technology.