Philosophy from the Zettabyte
Fashionable ideas, such as ‘singularity’, ‘posthumanism’, ‘cyberculture’, are at worst philosophical snake oil, at best evidence of growing pains: we are confused, in search of new certainties, in need of meaningful frameworks, and so we resort to the ageless practice of telling stories, some reassuring, some scary, all fanciful. What we need to do is to develop a robust, controlled and rich philosophy. This should not be left to bizarre speculations. But it cannot be delegated to “scientists and IT boffins” either. This because they usually do not deal with open problems and with the design of the ideas necessary to answer them, with the ultimate goal of making sense and shaping the world. When they do, they are simply stepping into a philosophical debate, often rather naively.
Privacy and freedom of speech are fundamental principles of any liberal and democratic society. However, if people are confused about the level of abstraction – if they use only a single agent model, for example, and apply “being fundamental” as the only criterion to evaluate the two principles – then they conclude that they must be compatible. Alice has a fundamental right to her privacy and a fundamental right to her freedom of speech and there is nothing that indicates a potential conflict. However, once we include the possibility that different agents may appeal to each principle with respect to the same contents, then Alice’s privacy can easily conflict with Bob’s freedom of speech. This is what happens with the so-called right to be forgotten, which needs to be modelled in terms of different agents’ conflicting interests in implementing two fundamental principles.
See (hear) also the Intelligence Squared debate on the “right to be forgotten”.