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Responsibility & legitimate debate

posted Feb 3, 2015, 11:21 AM by Kevin Esvelt   [ updated Oct 25, 2016, 9:30 AM ]
Responsible innovation involves ensuring that we have transparent, broadly inclusive, well-informed discussions on whether to move forwards with a given technology, and if so, how. For that to happen, we need science to build accurate models of the world to tell us what the likely outcomes are, what might go wrong, and whether our safeguards will be effective. Based on those models, we can collectively choose the future we want to live in – which may not involve our technology.

But it's hard to even have that discussion if we hit trigger words that force people to choose a position based on their sense of who they are. Is it wrong to deliberately avoid those words? Is that “selling” our technology, or is it simply trying to have an open discussion on the empirical merits of the proposal? As a scientist, it's hard to engage the concerns of people who refuse to vaccinate their children due to concerns that it might cause autism, simply because their model of the world isn't supported by science. Is it fair for us to initiate the terms of the debate, making sure that “no” is a legitimate answer and inviting suggestions for what experiments should be done to better analyze the risks and improve our models, yet deliberately attempt to ground the decision-making process in empirical reality?

Tags: responsibility, innovation, collective technologies, philosophy, empiricism, engagement