Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 2

The main focus of this weeks class was Technology and Politics. The meaning of politics here is that of society, the way we organise and arrange ourselves and how we promote certain values. So, a broad socio-economic arrangement. The question we wanted to answer was is technology politically neutral?

We started by agreeing that technology does not have embedded values, this was indisputable. However, the way technology is arranged may have political value. One such example of an arrangement of technology is the gun. A gun is designed to destroy things. Kerry said she could have a gun on her mantle as use it as a vase, but it was not designed to be a vase.

Another example Kerry gave was of an internet algorithm called a ‘bot’. An example of an internet bot is an algorithm that performs highly repetitive tasks such as create new content and interact with users like any human would. She used this article as an example – Bots without borders: how anonymous accounts hijack political debate – and in the article it reports that approx. 19 million bot accounts were tweeting in support of either Trump or Clinton in the weeks before the US presidential election.

“Pro-Trump bots worked to sway public opinion by secretly taking over pro-Clinton hashtags like #ImWithHer and spreading fake news stories.”

These bots are “polluting political discourse on a grand scale”.

So the question is does the algorithm have embedded political value? We decided that it does, in a similar way to the gun. It has an embedded intrinsic value to do damage. It is politically arranged.

We talked about the printing press and how it is egalitarian in its design. Technologies such as Google and Wikipedia are also egalitarian in their design and nature. One way we know this is because China bans Google, proving its egalitarian nature. Kerry said that at its best the media is egalitarian.


We then talked about the telephone, an unsupervised and fast way to communicate. A telephone can be hacked and tapped, is this embedded within the technology? The fact that a telephone can be hacked does that mean that that was embedded in the arrangement of the technology?

Kerry talked about how the arrangement of a train means it crashing is inevitable.

We then started to talk about Karl Marx and how he talked about what has emerged, how the technology came first and the social arrangement followed. How the technology determined how people were arranged. An important question was who owns the means of production? Who’s interest is it to have a certain arrangement of people? Marx said oppression was built in to technology and was used to create capital, this is early capitalism. Today we consume capitalism, we have a need to consume products but we need to work and earn good wages in order to be able to afford to buy products. We are now locked in to technology, we couldn’t give it up even if we wanted to as we rely on it every day and we would feel left out if we didn’t have the latest device. Technology is meant to be about freedom, not slavery, but sometimes we are slaves to technology.


Eventually we get to Francis Bacon, the father of empiricism and modern science. He was really the first person to marry science with technology – STEM! One of his most famous quotes is …


The quote means that with knowledge comes the power to do something. He was a great believer that science should belong to everyone, not just the rich and the powerful, and that science and knowledge should be shared, given away for free for the greater good.

We finished two thoughts, that power should not be exclusive and that capitalism is a great motivator, incentive driver.

Week 3 to follow shortly…


3 thoughts on “Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 2

  1. This is very interesting! I am going to teach a course “Science and Technology Ethics” to philosophy students from next week and will necessarily touch issues like those described by you here and in the previous post. I have a background in Technology Assessment and Science Ethics and gathered experience in writing a report on “Ethical and social implications of Nanomedicine” for the European Commission as input for their regulatory bodies and nanotechnology governance. Do I get that right from your “about” section that you are in Sydney right now? Is this from a university course? May I ask who is teaching it? It will be interesting to read about a “down under” perspective on Philosophy (and Ethics) of Technology! Thank you for posting it!

    1. Hi there! Thanks for the comment. I am attending a course at the University of Sydney called ‘Human vs Machine: The Limits of the Human and the Evolution of Human Machines’. The course tutor is Kerry Sanders. I will keep posting each week and hope that you find it interesting. Will you be publishing a blog about your course?

      1. I guess so! You can find a transcription of a lecture on Nanoethics on my page, and I will also (probably) make on of that new course. Also, some contents of other posts from my blog will make it into the course.
        I look forward to reading more from you! Thanks for sharing!

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