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Ethics, law and the politics of information : a guide to the philosophy of Luciano Floridi
Durante M., Springer International Publishing, New York, NY, 2017. 224 pp.  Type: Book (978-9-402411-48-5)
Date Reviewed: Feb 9 2018

The premise of this book is that information and communication technologies (ICT) are “altering our representation and understanding of reality and of ourselves.” A typical assertion, giving a flavor of the text: “The idea that technology re-ontologizes the world is epistemic (... it affects the way in which we experience the world at a determined level of abstraction) and not deterministic.” A simplified sampling of the conclusions follows. Data is only meaningful in terms of the pertinent level of abstraction, and data acts as a constraining affordance.

We live in an information space, the infosphere, and have an ethical responsibility to promote informational entities. Informational ethics is two dimensional. The vertical dimension measures the ethical value of an action. The horizontal dimension measures the development of the agent’s ethical understanding. Not only humans but artificial information entities should be treated ethically. An agent’s ethical status on the horizontal dimension is measured by the growth in realizing the range of pertinent entities. Artificial agents can do harm, and the book discusses guidelines for determining the morality of a particular nonhuman agent.

A personal identity is not fixed, but is the sum of information received by a person; personhood is a growing entity. Information is valuable when, among other qualities, it is different from what is already known. Thus, destroying pieces of information that are inconsistent with other pieces is morally wrong; pluralism is to be applauded. Because a person is the summation of the information received and processed, intrusion into that summation, especially if the summation would be manipulated, is wrong; privacy should be protected. The social contract has traditionally been regarded as being only between humans, but it should also address the well being of the infosphere. Similarly, the social contract should also address the well being of the environment.

Information technologies, by making information generally available, will change the political process into building mechanisms to coordinate complex problems. Similarly, the legal system will change. For one thing, traditional legal systems have typically applied to particular geographical spaces, but communications these days are less and less confined to one state. The law will also have to evolve to take into account the life cycle of information.

These short statements of insights do not give justice to the richness of the ideas. Of course, some ideas will take time to be realized and the realization may be different than expected. One does not have to agree with everything. The book was difficult for me, perhaps because much of the vocabulary was unfamiliar. It does appear that more thought is now being given to the implications of ICT, and this book would be useful in that discussion.

Reviewer:  B. Hazeltine Review #: CR145845 (1805-0221)
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