- Technology Is Not Neutral: A Short Guide To Technology Ethics, Stephanie Hare, London Publishing Partnership, Feb 2022
- The Political Philosophy of AI: Mark Coeckelbergh, Polity Press, Feb 2022
New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) raise formidable political and ethical challenges, and these two books each provide a different kind of practical toolkit for examining and analysing these challenges. Through investigating a range of viewpoints and examples they thoroughly disprove the claim that ‘technology is neutral’, often used as a cop-out by those who refuse to take responsibility for the technologies they have developed or promoted.
Mark Coeckelbergh is Professor of Philosophy of Media and Technology at the University of Vienna, and his book ‘The Political Philosophy of AI’ encourages us to reflect on what advanced technologies such as AI are already doing to us, in order to prevent us from becoming their helpless victims. In many ways the book is more about political philosophy than about AI, and is none the worse for that. Coeckelbergh points out that although a great deal has been written about the technology and the ethics of AI, there has been little thought on the impacts of AI from the perspective of political philosophy, and he sets out to correct this omission.
Political theorist Langdon Winner has argued that technology is political and observes that instead of bringing greater democratisation and equality, new technologies may well give even more power to those who already have a great deal of it. Coeckelbergh’s book exposes the political power that AI wields alongside its technical power and shows how new technologies such as AI are fundamentally entangled with changes in society. He explains how the political issues we care about in society are changed and take on new meanings and urgency in the light of technological developments such as advances in robotics, AI, and biotechnology, arguing that to understand the rights and wrongs of new technologies we need to consider them from the perspective of political philosophy as well as ethics, and that this will help us to clarify the questions and issues which the technologies raise.
‘The Political Philosophy of AI’ sets out the theories of political philosophy chapter-by-chapter as they relate to the major elements of politics today – freedom, justice, equality, democracy, power, and the environment – and for each element explores the consequences that we can expect as AI becomes established in society. This serves to frame the challenges that the technology will bring and act as an evaluative framework to assess its impacts. Coeckelbergh also uses the analysis to develop a political philosophy for AI itself, which helps us to not only understand and question our political values but also gain a deeper insight into the nature of politics and humanity.
Coeckelbergh’s book asks questions rather than gives answers, and this may disappoint some readers. But this approach is in line with the philosophical approach that politics should be publicly discussed in a participative and inclusive way, rather than subject to autocratic decisions made by a powerful minority. That there is virtually no public debate about the wishes of the UK government and others to use AI to transform society says as much about our political system as it does about AI.