In Conversation with Claire Benn
In this episode of ‘Imperfect World’, I speak with Claire Benn, a philosopher who explores how our growing reliance on digital technologies are impacting our moral landscape, and the ethical challenges that come from a world shaped by machines. Writing in 1969, Paul Goodman observed that, ‘whether or not it draws on new scientific research, technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science.’ This is a powerful reminder that these are not simply technical questions, but connect to basic dilemmas about how our societies are ordered and what values are prioritised. The problem, as David Cayley, who I spoke with in IW01, puts it: ‘moral questions about what is good have been overshadowed by technical questions about what is possible.’ In today’s world, thinking about what values are important, how we want to live, unavoidably means reckoning with the ways that digital technologies are influencing influence our thinking and behaviour. These issues were on my mind when speaking with Claire.
In our conversation, Claire points to the importance of thinking about how humans think, feel and act, and considering whether machines might reason and act in quite different ways. We consider the benefits that come with advances in digital technologies, as well as the costs and compromises that come with them, and the potential value of discomfort. What comes through from this conversation is that ethics and technological development should not be considered separately, rather they are vitally connected.