ELPIC symposium, WHC Liège: programme

Symposium Ethical, Legal and Political Issues of Computing, 7 August 2017
World Humanities Conference, Liège, Belgium
Organizers: Maarten Bullynck, Liesbeth De Mol and Julian Rohrhuber

“Computing has become part of our lives” – today, this statement seems both trivial and empty. It is trivial for most of those who use electronic devices all the time, and also empty because its relation to computing is hidden. This double character of everyday computational practices has created a wide space of highly problematic legal, ethical and political issues which urgently need to be resolved and understood. This, however, requires us to grasp the mutual relation between their openly visible aspects – most prominently those of privacy, property and pervasion – with the more hidden domain of protocols, data analysis and code.
As this symposium sets out to show, the humanities play an indispensable role in rendering this mutual relation more transparent,
1) by looking vertically at specific issues and show in how far they have both technical and social ramifications,
2) by horizontally connecting and unraveling the relations between those issues which are usually kept separate; and
3) by studying diachronically the pasts and genealogies of problems, where they potentially cross the domain boundaries.
A focus on the plurality of legal, ethical and political issues of computing is thereby required, in order to open a discussion that crosses the disciplinary divides involved. Therefore, this symposium wants to bring together a broad range of researchers, such as historians, sociologists, philosophers, and computer scientists, researchers which recognise the urgency of the task at hand.

Programme of the Symposium
Monday August 7th 2017

14h30 – 16h00

Liesbeth De Mol: How to talk with a computer? A continued conversation.
Selmer Bringsjord: The Patent Peril of Facing Future Machines Without the Humanities
Edgar Daylight: Self-Driving Cars are the Zeppelins of the 21st Century: Towards Writing the Next Chapter in the History of Failed Technologies

18h30 – 20h00

Sebastian Giessman: Understanding Net Neutrality
Pablo Abend: Statistic Bodies and Quantified Selves. The Objects, Discourses and Practices of the Software-Sorted Dividual
Maarten Bullynck: Information overflow then and now. For a long-term history of data and algorithms.
Tuesday August 8th 2017

Abstracts of the Talks

Pablo Abend (Universität Köln/ Universität Siegen, pabend@uni-koeln.de)
Statistic Bodies and Quantified Selves. The Objects, Discourses and Practices of the Software-Sorted Dividual

In my talk I want to focus on two interrelated socio-technological developments of recent years which I would like to term the egocentricity of media and the egocentricity of networks. It is thereby my working hypotheses that the datafication of bodies through sensors and apps are the preliminary endpoint of a focusing of technology on the subject. To elaborate on this development I will concentrate on the so called Quantified Self Movement as an emerging field of practice, discourse and market in order to give an idea of how it feels to be software-sorted.

Selmer Bringsjord (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Selmer.Bringsjord@gmail.com)
The Patent Peril of Facing Future Machines Without the Humanities

The great irony of the modern global economy, at least for technologized nations in it, is that good jobs in this economy can be had by those with some technical prowess wholly divorced from mastery of any disciplines in the humanities (e.g., prowess with "deep learning," a shallow and conceptually simple approach to AI) — and yet only mastery of some of these very disciplines will allow the human race to control and truly thrive in this economy, in the future. Here’s why, briefly: Future machines will obviously pose extreme dangers to humanity. The dangers are obvious because of the following simple conditional formula, where a is either type of agent, human or machine: Powerful(a) & Autonomous(a) & Intelligent(a) => Dangerous(a). In words: If an agent is powerful, autonomous, and intelligent, it’s dangerous. (In addition, the degree of danger is a function of the degree of the attributes in the antecedent, as I shall explain.) Three contributions made in the face of this formula that can come only from the humanities are: (1) The humanities take on the task of getting clear about phenomena that utterly flummox humanities-absent science and engineering. The very concept of autonomy as used in humanities-less science and engineering is entirely vague and mysterious. (2) Deep understanding of the history of machines and their capabilities is essential for steering toward the future we want — but such understanding is afforded by the humanities only. (3) The bottom line is that autonomous-and-powerful-and-intelligent machines will need to be ethically correct machines, but of course ethics is in, and only in, the humanities.

Maarten Bullynck (Université de Paris 8, maarten.bullynck@univ-paris8)
Information overflow then and now. For a long-term history of data and algorithms.

Both “data” and “algorithm” have become buzzwords in this age of information overflow and so-called “Big Data”. However, information overflow is hardly a new phenomenon, people have been complaining about it at least since the invention of the printing press, and, similarly, the entanglement between algorithms and data also has a longer history that needs to be told. This talk will present some snapshots in such a long-term history and analyse some important turning-points, such as the birth of the modern state or the development of the stored-program computer.

Liesbeth De Mol (CNRS, UMR STL, liesbeth.demol@univ-lille3.fr)
How to talk with a computer? A continued conversation.

Conversations between human beings and robots or computers have been part of popular fiction for a long time, but mostly, they have been imagined in an anthropomorphic way. This talk wants to break away from this man-centered vision on man-computer conversation. Based upon the history of computing itself, it makes the case for taking the computer seriously as a complex technology which which human beings should interact without the computer becoming anthropomorphized nor the human side reduced to some prefabricated user profile.

Edgar G. Daylight (Independent scholar, egdaylight@yahoo.com)
Self-Driving Cars are the Zeppelins of the 21st Century: Towards Writing the Next Chapter in the History of Failed Technologies

Security experts contemplate the possibility that the Internet of Things (and especially: Moving Things) will become a failed technology, not unlike the Zeppelin 80 years ago. In my talk I will provide arguments why the next chapter in the History of Failed Technologies will be one about the Internet of Moving Things and, specifically, network-connected cars that are designed to roam arbitrary roads. On a positive note, I hope to convey that some less ambitious --- i.e., more incremental --- projects, such as the deployment of podcars on railroads, are far more realistic in actually solving the mobility problems that we face today.

Sebastian Giessman (Universität Siegen, sebastian.giessmann@uni-siegen.de)
Understanding Net Neutrality

My talk is going to pose a simple question: What was net neutrality supposed to be all about and how did it become an invented tradition of the Internet and part of legislation or administrative orders? While changing political agendas tend to turn and twist the controversy time and again, we should ask both about what is missing in the global debates and which kind of infrastructural changes are largely unnoticed in public discourse. Understanding net neutrality means questioning the political claims of all stakeholders, without being trapped by media regulatory governance talk. I therefore propose to tackle net neutrality as a media theoretical problem, in which the bureaucratic-coordinative conditions of networked communication are at stake.