Individual freedom versus the hidden persuaders
Many policy experts support socially engineered nudging, that is, have governments use a set subtle behavior reward algorithms to control people’s behavior for socially desirable outcomes. Yet the utilitarian attractiveness of such an undertaking obscures the implications for individual freedom and human choice. Cultivated among others by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, the idea of nudging is often seen as a way to produce positive social outcomes without the reliance on formal regulations and policing. Yet the fact that the process is often below the level of clear observability by the people being nudged raises important questions about the role of manipulation and, even more, potentially morally compromised governmental authority. Beyond the immediate philosophical and free will implications are the questions concerning what would happen when these techniques are taken to an extreme. There are many questions about the cost of dissent in today’s society as measured in ruined lives of those who fell out with social media activists. We must ask what it means to allow oneself to be “nudged” “for one’s own good”, i.e., how one is allowing oneself to be shaped by “soft” governmental and other programs. The implications for democratic practices, not to mention individual choices, are obvious.
Human Community and Perpetual Contact
This Invitational Expert Panel on April 10th investigates the future of perpetual contact from a humanities, philosophical and social scientific perspective. Questions include: How does the increased prevalence of algorithmically-informed communication technologies influence us as humans? How do we share and receive information in the smart home? What are the implications for social and domestic relationships? What role should philosophy and other humanistic disciplines play in understanding these phenomena? Expert scholars will contribute to a lively discussion, interrogating implications of our current algorithmic culture.
Should Robots Be Our Friends
Robots and other artificial intelligence (AI) entities have long tempted people to treat them as if they were alive, human-like, or even had souls (Katz, 2003). This topic is now front and center as people increasingly welcome AI and robots into their lives as conversational partners, servants, and companions. More, the concept of artificial intelligence has served as a catalyst for artists, philosophers, mathematicians, and psychologists to examine the defining characteristics of consciousness and what it means to be human, such as Hobbes (1651), Turing (1950), and Searle (1980).
As facial recognition technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, and the presence of such devices proves ubiquitous in both public and private spheres, it is critical for researchers to examine the potential effects on both individuals and society as a whole. To this end, the Division of Emerging Media Studies of Boston University’s College of Communication is holding an international symposium to bring together diverse perspectives from social scientists, philosophers, policy-makers, and computer scientists to explore the social, behavioral, and psychological dimensions of this new technological terrain. This unique collection of voices intends to illuminate the various and often competing dimensions of a challenging, complex area of research. Ultimately, it hopes to trace out the implications for society, and the choices that we must collectively and individually make.
Hosted by the College of Communication’s Divison of Emerging Media, the conference, “Journalism and the Search for Truth in the Age of Social Media“, took place on April 24-25, 2017, at Boston University.
Television has been transformed. It is not a just fixed, flickering screen in living rooms and public spaces around the world anymore. In the contemporary sense, television has literally cut the cord to become a mobile, always-on, and personalized experience that is informed by recommendations and algorithms. Seeing “what’s on” TV from a hierarchical schedule provided by a handful of dominant media producers and distribution systems is fading into memory or no longer exists for billions of television viewers around the world.
Armed with just internet connections, social-media accounts and passionate beliefs, millions of ordinary people now shape the debate on such complex-and-controversial scientific questions as personal genetic testing, genetically modified foods (GMOs) and antibiotic treatments. This social-media activism not only can distort public understanding of these critical issues but it can disrupt governmental support and regulations.
Social media and the prospects for expanded democratic participation in national policy-setting
Expert Workshop April 9th, 2015
Although social media have demonstrated their critical role in electoral politics and many other domains including disseminating political news and information, they have not yet been effectively deployed in helping set national policy. New social media platforms could potentially expand the quality and level of public support in areas such as law enforcement, health, education, and public diplomacy.
April 8, 2015 – Social media and the prospects for expanded democratic participation in national policy-setting
The power of social media appears at times almost limitless. Indeed, when explaining the reasons for ISIL’s surprising success, President Obama included in the list that they had been “savvy in terms of their social media” (CBS 60 Minutes, 9/28/14). Social media have been credited at least in part with not only a catastrophe in Iraq and Syria, but in catalyzing the overthrow of Middle Eastern dictators and helping elect America’s first African-American president. While there is no arguing that social media have affected daily life, their impact on the conduct governance, widely considered, seems slight. This is perhaps surprising since social media offers the promise of expanded participation and more inclusive participation opportunities in governance. That is, not only in creating more responsive policies, but better ones as well. Yet although social media have demonstrated their critical role in electoral politics and many other domains including disseminating political news and information, they have not yet been effectively deployed in helping set national policy. New social media platforms could potentially expand the quality and level of public support in areas such as law enforcement, health, education, and public diplomacy.
What will social life be like when each of us has instant personal information about those around us? It is easy to conjure utopian and dystopian visions of this future. By contrast, the purpose of this workshop is to draw upon empirical evidence we already have to construct frameworks for rigorous understandings of these likely changes. Emerging technologies are increasingly offering mobile people convenient heads-up displays of situationally relevant data on an individualized basis. Such data could be based on cues such as eye-tracking or physical location in an environment. Data streams could include co-location of friends, commercial offers, tourist information, news and sports updates, and even running scans of personal characteristics of passers-by on the street. When chatting with friends, voice stress analysis and other psychological state indications could be detected and displayed to users. A host of issues will arise as people begin interacting with these technologies which will likely engage a gamut of utopian and dystopian possibilities. Google offers a point-of-view video characterizing what life might be like.