Search giant Google has an official “in-house philosopher,” Stanford Philosophy Ph.D Damon Horowitz :

To illustrate how ethics are getting short-shrift in the tech world, Horowitz asked attendees whether they prefer the iPhone or Android. (When the majority voted for the iPhone, he joked that they were “suckers” who just chose the prettier device.) Then he asked whether it was a good idea to take data from an audience member’s phone in order to provide various (and mostly beneficial) services, or whether he should be left alone, and the majority of audience voted to leave him alone. Finally, Horowitz wanted to know whether audience members would use the ideas proposed by John Stuart Mill or by Immanuel Kant to make that decision. Not surprisingly, barely anyone knew what he was talking about.

“That’s a terrifying result,” Horowitz said. “We have stronger opinions about our handheld devices than about the moral framework we should use to guide our decisions.” [ . . . ]

Then Horowitz launched into a whirlwind tour of how different philosophers have tried to evaluate morality. At one point, he contrasted Mill, who argued that actions should be judged on the basis of whether they maximized pleasure and minimized pain, with Kant, who argued that there are actions that are intrinsically wrong, regardless of their results.


Ethics panels at hospitals sometimes have the authority to allow or disallow certain procedures. Horowitz does not, so far as I can tell, have any similar authority in judging how well Google is fulfilling its “Don’t Be Evil” motto.

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