Today I engaged in a talk Tom Moynahan as part of a series of talks at Trasmediale.
Apparently my audio totally dropped out, but it was a good dialogue on hypothetical ethics – and I think I’m going to explore the topic more.
The title of the talk was hypothetical ethics.
What is hypothetical ethics? We have a lot of information generated by predictive systems – ie simulations. What is the epistemological status of this information? Are they facts? Are they opinions? Are they empirical data? What are they? But more important what ought we to do with this data. How should we use this information to act ethically.
So this is a new issue. Because of our ability to run large simulations on computers we can run scenario analyses and predict with some probability whether or not a certain event will happen. I look at this form of prediction and the latest is prediction technology, this exists in a continuum beginning with fortune tellers and augers.
How is prediction different from traditional ethical reasoning. If we look at deontological ethics, rules for how to live, predictive ethics turns it on its head. Instead of looking at universal rules we are looking at particular instances. And perhaps our rule base – our deontology – moves to the simulation rule set. We perhaps need a meta-denotology to govern how to build simulations.
My thesis is that we need a new framework to think about this. This is through an archaeology of prediction. in this way we begin to think of ethics as a collection of tools, as techne, this is contrary to the traditional distinction between ethics (action) and techne (material). Ethics is about action where as techne is about things. But today we are experiencine a dematerialization of everything (and we see this in art) – and material objects create a performative activity (code actually does something). The old distinctions do not hold – everything is action and everything is craft.