IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - March 2017 - 86

commentary

Michael Arnold

The story so far...
n Part One of the series
it was suggested that
technologies are not
innocent, and should
be held to moral ac-
count. In most interpretations of
Western moral philosophy, moral
judgement does not extend to non-
humans, and for non-humans to be
included, a number of objections
need to be overcome. The objections
include: the arguments that morality
is the exclusivity domain of humans
(considered in Part Two), the argu-
ment that non-humans don't really
act (considered in Part Three), the
argument that technologies are just
dumb instrument (considered in Part
Four), the free will argument (consid-
ered in Part Five) and the dilution of
responsibility argument (considered
here in Part Six).

I

The Dilution of Responsibility
Argument
The fifth problem to overcome is es-
tablishing the identity of the being
that is to be held to moral account.
Where the being is human, the prob-
lem of allocating responsibility to an
individual may be difficult, but the dif-
ficulty of establishing which individu-
al is accountable does not extend to
determining what an individual is. A
human can be identified and held to
account in ways that are well estab-
lished, and where more than one
human is involved, culpability can be
distributed among a finite number of
those involved in ways that are also
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MTS.2017.2670226
Date of publication: 6 March 2017

86

Christopher Pearce

Are Technologies
Innocent?
Part Six: The Dilution of
Responsibility Argument
well established. Much more difficult
is establishing the identity of a tech-
nology, particularly in the contempo-
rary era of distributed technologies,
though the problem also applies in
the case of discrete technologies like
the stone axe.
If a technology is to be held to
account on any grounds - instrumen-
tal, legal, moral, or otherwise - we
must consider ust what the technol-
ogy is, that is, where it begins and
ends, what is part of the technology
and what is not. This problem is a
real one and not just semantic, for
all technologies are extensive in
time and space. The stone axe and
the computer system are artefacts
that "fold up" millions of years of
geological activity and thousands
of years of human practice, pulled
together from places as diverse as
Korean factories, Californian software
houses, flint mines, and forests.
So for example, one might reason-
ably argue that the medical Doc-
tor's system comprises not just the
Doctor and all the particular hard-
ware and software that resides in
the Doctor's consulting room, but
also the global communications
hardware and software it depends
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

upon, and all the people and com-
panies and organizations respon-
sible for its construction, operation,
and maintenance, now, and back
through time; the specific-purpose
applications- software that the
Doctor uses, and the system soft-
ware and data-bases that the appli-
cation software uses, and all of
the people, companies, organi-
zations, tools, code libraries, and
testing regimes responsible for their
construction, operation, and main-
tenance, now, and back through
time; the educational systems res -
ponsible for training all of the
above people; the manufacturing
systems responsible for designing,
constructing, testing, and using all
of the technologies that are part of
the system, now, and back through
time, and so on. Similar chains
may be drawn through time and
space in the case of the manufac-
ture of a stone axe. If we are to say
that accountability is distributed
among all humans and all technolo-
gies whose actions are implicated
in a causal chain that has led to a
bad outcome, the cast is so huge,
the guilt spread so thin, that there
is scarcely any point in attributing
‚ąē

march 2017



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