Meatspace Navigation: Are you in control?
Are you in control of your computer? An important and ethical question, because with this question comes the second question: When is it appopriate for the computer to be in control? When is there the danger of inconvenience or even harm to ourselves, or others, when we use computers? Currently I am in the orientation phase of my MA thesis, but I found that these question are very important for my research, which I will explain further below.
My starting point and case study focusses on route navigation and the consequences for both the driver, as well as his surrounding, in using a navigation system. Firstly drivers put trust in their route navigation systems but when it fails they find themselves in complex (and sometimes even dangerous) situations. Secondly using route navigation, letting the computer lead you through your surroundings, can have serious consequences for the meatspace (reallife) you are navigating, and with that of course the people who inhabit it.
In the Netherlands some villages are having problems with cars and truckdrivers going through their villages, causing damage to roads, air pollution and unsafe situations for children. In some of the cases the drivers want to take ‘short’ or ‘alternative’ routes to avoid traffic jams. Examples from the news can be found on my del.icio.us.
Digital consumer devices like the route navigation are raising ethical remarks. For example from TomTom spokesman Van Kruisselberge in Telegraaf, who called upon the responsibility of the user when navigating through the smaller villages, and thus going away from the main routes. An almost identical remark was made by an audience member of Dutch television program Radar. But how can we be responsible, if we can’t really see the consequences beforehand?
Arthur Kuflik has written an important paper in the field of information ethics called: “Computers in Control: Rational Transfer of Authority or Irresponsible Abdication of Autonomy” (Journal of Ethics and Information Technology, 1999) in which he “[identifies] the conditions under which it makes moral sense to assign a limited “decision-making” role to computers but also go on to argue for the moral necessity of retaining ultimate human control over even the most reliable of computing devices.”
In Computers in Control Kuflik talks about types of responsibility which the large variety of digital devices give us. And: “If we do decide to give computers measures of “control”, on what terms should we do so?” […] “When life and limb are at potentially at stake, how can we know that complex software is fit for human consumption?” These are only some of the questions Kuflik asks and tries to answer in his paper. The paper is available from Springerlink.
All my MA research logs are part of a work in progress and can not be distributed, copied, displayed or performed.