Posts

"Frustration" and "apology": two traps of the (English) language of failure

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Suppose you are involved in designing, developing and deploying an artefact. It could be anything. Let's say, for the sake of simplicity, that someone, call him John, is building a new shower in your house. You need the shower. The shower you want is the right shower for your family. It is also a shower that would work well for everybody in the family (one person needs facilitated access). And in case you change your mind, you can always replace it with a bath or even remove it. It is actually a temporary solution. In short, your project is necessary, proportionate, justified, and time-bound (because reversible when you decide to change your mind). Following these conditions, you have some instructions about where you would like it, the design, the style, the budget, when work could start, when it should end, etc. Call them requirements. Based on all this, you issue your recommendations to John. 
Work starts, but, unfortunately, it does not go well. Things go south, as they say. …

The Future after the Coronavirus in 250 words

I was invited to contribute to this beautiful initiative by El Pais with a short comment (250 words) on the future after the coronavirus, in relation to digital technologies. I was honoured, and delighted to accept. 
You can read the Spanish translation here
The following is the original English version (preferable in terms of logical flow of the reasoning). It introduces the concept of three-dimensional solidarity – social, political, and environmental – and the suggestion that the human project that could sustain it and be sustained by it, may be one based on the marriage between the Green of all our environments (natural and artefactual) and the Blue of our digital technologies (the green and the blue projectsee also here).
In this time of great suffering, there is a strong desire to look beyond the pandemic. Thus, much is being written about the future. There are predictions. They try to guess what the world will be like. The more specific they are, the greater the chance the…

Pandemic lesson: the disappearance of externalities

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Lazy neurons, they fail to see connections even when they are obvious.

I cannot recall when I started hearing people talking about the global village, globalisation, hyperconnectivity, spaceship earth, Gaia, ... I grew up with this holistic language as my conceptual koiné.

But only recently, thanks to the pandemic, I realised that I should have linked it to another phenomenon: the disappearance of externalities. It is so obvious now.
In pseudo-precise literature or pretentious conversations, an externality is a negative effect of a profitable activity, call it a cost, paid by someone else. Like what happens if one runs a profitable business that pollutes someone else's environment.  My externalities may be unintended, possibly avoidable, but it is not my problem whether they occur, and the fact that they may occur is not going to stop me from pursuing my activities, since the cost paid by someone else is not a sufficient disincentive to sacrifice my own benefit. Sometimes, I thin…

The New Morphology of Power in the Infosphere

What is the nature of power today, in mature information societies
In an article available here, I argue that in liberal societies – awash with cheap goods and services as well as free information – the sociopolitical ability to control or influence people’s behaviour (power) is exercised not so much through the control of things (think of the means of productions of goods and services) or information about things (think of the fourth power), but mainly through the control of the questions that determine the answers that give rise to information about things. And since a question without an answer is just another way of describing uncertainty, I suggest that the new morphology of power is the morphology of uncertainty: those who control the questions shape the answers; and those who shape the answers control the world. If this sounds a bit like 1984 it is because it is just a rephrasing of George Orwell's famous quote: "Who controls the past controls the future: who contro…

Mind the app - considerations on the ethical risks of COVID-19 apps

[22 April update: at the Digital Ethics Lab (OII, University of Oxford) we have elaborated a list of 16 questions to check whether an app is ethically justifiable, the full article, open access, is available here]

There is a lot of talk about apps to deal with the pandemic. Some of the best solutions use the Bluetooth connection of mobile phones to determine the contact between people and therefore the probability of contagion.
In theory, it may seem simple. In practice, there are several ethical problems, not only legal and technical ones. To understand them, it is useful to distinguish between the validation and the verification of a system. 
The validation of a system answers the question: "are we building the right system?". The answer is no if the app is illegal,  for example, the use of an app in the EU must comply with the GDPR; mind that this is necessary but not sufficient to make the app also ethically acceptable, see below;is unnecessary, for example, there are better…

Notes wrapped around a bottle with a rubber band

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"And I made some notes on a sheet of yellow paper on the nature and quality of being alone. These notes would in the normal course of events have been lost as notes are always lost, but these particular notes turned up long afterward wrapped around a bottle of ketchup and secured with a rubber band."John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America

After ten years, I decided to re-activate this blog. I started it in 2006 and stopped it in 2010. At the time, it no longer served its purpose, which was to share news and ideas on the philosophy of information. Today, a new need to fix some thoughts in writing, and "secure them with a rubber band" means that it can be revived with a new goal: to make some notes to myself, occasionally, a bit randomly, hopefully unsystematically.

The ethics of WikiLeaks

The Wikileaks phenomenon is intricate, but suppose we reduce its ethical evaluation to two questions: is whistleblowing ethical, even when motivated by resentment and the desire to harm its target? And is Wikileaks’ facilitation of whistleblowing ethical, even if it might put at risk innocent people? A deontologist, convinced that telling the truth and never lying is an absolute must, is likely to appreciate whistleblowing as the right thing to do, independently of the reasons behind it. And a consequentialist may support Wikileaks as a means to maximise the welfare of the largest number of people, especially if risks are minimized by censuring sensitive information. So current answers in the mass media seem to converge: Wikileaks is a good thing. I am not entirely convinced.
Confidential communication is a three-player game – sender, receiver and referent – in which sender and receiver trust each other. The receiver, not the referent, trusts and holds responsible the sender for the tr…