PHIL 222.3 — Philosophy in the Digital World

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2018 Q2 Section

Is the 'Hacker Ideal' Crumbling Too? (06.19.18)

"Now That Tech Runs the World, Let's Retire the Hacker Ideal," Virginia Heffernan, Wired, Jan. 31.2018

A Virtual World in Ruins (06.15.18)

In 2018 "Second Life resembles a city swiftly evacuated following a radioactive threat."

"Exploring The Digital Ruins Of 'Second Life ," Joe Veix,, Jun. 5, 2018


A Step in the Right Direction? Way Too Little, Way too Late? (06.06.18)

I leave it for you to judge:

"Apple announces slew of controls to help with smartphone addiction," Tamsin McMahon, Globe and Mail, 06. 06.18.


The Herzog Film (06.04.18)

Today in class I mentioned Werner Herzog's 2016 film Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. As I mentioned, the film is available on Netflix Canada. I noticed this evening that it is also available on YouTube as paid content. However, if you don't mind (or maybe positively enjoy) Spanish subtitles, it turns out that it also available on YouTube for free (though I predict that this version will almost certainly be taken down relatively soon as a copyright violation):

Enjoy (while it lasts)!



2017 T1 Section

"Universal Paperclips" (12.1.17)

In his discussion of the ethics of AI, Nick Bostrom's points out that we need to be very careful in specifying the goals of a superintelligence. Even a seemingly benign goal like "become efficient at making paperclips" could turn out to have disastrous consequences.

As it happens, game designer Frank Lantz has developed a browser game that models this: You play from the (monomaniacal) perspective of the paperclip maker, as game unfolds things get, well, rather out of hand.

Here's a description of the game:

"The Way the World Ends: Not with a Bang But a Paperclip," Adam Rogers, Wired, 10.21.17

Here's another (with some spoilers):

"Get Sucked Into The Black Hole Of 'Paperclips'," Paul Tassi, Forbes, 10.19.17

And here's the game itself.

I should warn you though that, once you get it into it, the game can be highly addictive and a tremendous time-sink. [In my experience it seems to run better in Chrome than in Firefox. Try to resist the urge to cheat by, say, modifying the JavaScript in your console. Or don't.]


"Weapons of Math Destruction" (11.24.17)

After class today a student mentioned to me Cathy O'Neil's book Weapons of Math Destruction (2016). I'd heard it mentioned in online discussions, but I hadn't read it. On the basis of the following discussion, though, I think I'm going to make a point of doing so:

"Weapons of Math Destruction: Cathy O'Neil adds up the damage of algorithms," Mona Chalabi, The Guardian, Oct. 27, 2016.

I rather like O'Neil's profane attitude (though I'm not always an uncritical fan of Chalabi, who rather frequently veers into the twee and trite.). Recommended in connection with topics we've been discussing in class recently.


Google: The Accommodating Oracle (11.19.17)

"Google Has Picked an Answer for You—Too Bad It's Often Wrong," Jack Nicas, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 16, 2017.

<Medium X> Is Making Us Stupid (Part of a [BIgNum] Ongoing Series)

Derakhshan's claims strike me as a bit panicky and, somewhat ironically, short on actual data and analysis. Still, his arguments reflect a by now rather long lineage of worries about new media and, for that reason alone, are at least worth considering. If nothing else, you can think of the piece as an advanced introduction to figures like Debord who will put in an appearance later on in the course.

"Wikipedia's Fate Shows How Social Media Endangers Knowledge," Hossein Derakhshan, Wired, Oct. 17, 2017

Hat tip: @internetethics


Encryption: Not Everyone Quite Gets It (09.26.17)

"Prime Minister claims laws of mathematics 'do not apply' in Australia," (The Independent UK, July 15, 2017)

Though, to be sure, the intelligence community is really quite concerned (PDF, via Public Safety Canada. Scroll down to the section on 'Encryption')

Data, Power, and Freedom (09.18.17)

À propos of our upcoming discussion on privacy and autonomy: Philosopher Philip Pettit on The Big Brotherhood (iai News, Sep. 13, 2017)


ICT and the Amish (09.18.17)

Mainly just for interest, but consider this remarkable speech:

“People are treating those phones like they are gods,” she said. “They’re
bowing down to it at the table, bowing down to it when they’re walking. Here we
say we don’t bow down to idols, and that’s getting dangerously close, I think.”

"In Amish Country, The Future is Calling," Kevin Granville and Ashley Gilbertson, New York Times, Sep. 15, 2017.



2017 T2 Section

Ripped from Today's Headlines (Literally): The Latest from WikiLeaks (30.07.17)

"WikiLeaks Releases Trove of Alleged C.I.A. Hacking Documents," New York Times (Mar. 7,2017)

If you're interested in the details, here's the WikiLeaks press release, together with a detailed overview of their "Vault 7" operation.


The Latest News in 'Cryptocurrency' (01.27.17)

In class today we'll be discussing how public key encryption could be used to facilitate anonymous digital cash. Bitcoin is probably the best-known name in this area, though it is not truly/fully anonymous. Here's some of the latest developments:

"Monero, the Drug Dealer’s Cryptocurrency of Choice, Is on Fire," Andy Greenberg, Wired, 01.25.17

Email Etiquette

To date, we haven't really discussed Virginia Shea's "Netiquette" in class (except to note how quaint the very idea of a guide to netiquette seems in 2017). Here, however, is what purports to be an update:

"How to Email -- An etiquette update: Brevity is the highest virtue." James Hamblin, The Atlantic, Sep. 29, 2016.

I leave it to you to judge whether Hamblin's suggestions are simply concessions to efficiency and effective time-managment or symptoms of some sort of Asperger's-like syndrome.




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Last Updated: 10.07.2018