Journal article on a Deweyan take on the digital crisis of democracy

A new German language journal article has been published open access in Zeitschrift für Praktische Philosophie 9 (1). It presents a Deweyan take on digital democracy in the light of the recent debate on a crisis of democracy due to dis- and misinformation online. This is the Englisch abstract:

Based on the digital mechanisms “filter bubble” and “echo chamber” in digital media, this article investigates to what extent Dewey’s functional conception of the public can offer productive perspectives for dealing with the current crisis in democracy. Through a reconstruction of the Deweyan concepts of the public and of shared experience, it is shown that the (Dewey inspired) debate on “digital publics” does not adequately reflect the aspect of situated and embodied experience. In contrast to some findings in the debate, it is shown that digital media offerings must be rooted in local contexts of experience in order to answer the challenge of those problematic mechanisms.

Weydner-Volkmann, Sebastian. 2022. “Digitally Shared Experience? Deweys Demokratieverständnis im digitalen Zeitalter.” Zeitschrift für Praktische Philosophie 9 (1): 115–40. DOI: 10.22613/zfpp/9.1.4 (open access).

Article on self-tracking and habitualization

A new article – co-authored with Selin Gerlek – was published open-access as part of the edited volume Von Menschen und Maschinen: Mensch-Maschine-Interaktionen in digitalen Kulturen. The article reflects on how self-tracking practices can be used as a way to transform habits. The empirical starting point for this was based on interviews, in which self-trackers professed to have developed capabilities that were interpreted as changed attentive practices and tacit knowledge: they reported that, after a certain period of using the ST devices, they were surprised to experience something akin to a “new sense”.

Using conceptions from phenomenology and postphenomenology, the surprising emergence of this “new sense” could be explicated as resulting from a digital embodied practice. They were shown to have the potential to transform the user’s self-relationship by forming a habit of attention to certain feelings and experiences of our body. These attentive practices were habitualized so that, in the end, the original self-tracking devices were no longer needed. By revisiting the Deweyan roots of postphenomenology, we were able to offer an interpretation of this as overcoming (unreflected or bad) routine by establishing deliberately chosen alternatives, intelligent habits, over time. For this, a deliberate and controlled attention to routine is a necessary prerequisite. Through self-tracking practices, a habitualization of attention to existing habits can take place and this, in turn, may form the basis for deliberate change of these habits as part of a transformation towards reflective or intelligent habit.

Gerlek, Selin, and Sebastian Weydner-Volkmann. 2022. “Self-Tracking and Habitualization. (Post)-Phenomenological and Pragmatist Perspectives on Reflecting Habits with the Help of Digital Technologies.” In: Selin Gerlek, Sarah Kissler, Thorben Mämecke, and Dennis Möbus (eds.): Von Menschen und Maschinen: Mensch-Maschine-Interaktionen in digitalen Kulturen, 136–149. DOI: 10.57813/20220623-152405-0 (open access).

New research project on Ethics of AI in Higher Education

I am happy to announce that a grant application that I was part of has succeded. Starting November 2021, the research project “AIStudyBuddy: KI-basierte Unterstützung zur Studienplanung” has started. The project consortium is lead by RWTH Aachen and includes partners from the Ruhr University Bochum and the University of Wuppertal. In the project, it is researched how AI-based technologies my be used to support planning and reflecting student’s individual study progress. The project’s focus is on the perspectives of students as well as on the designers of curricula. The main research contribution of the Chair of Ethics of Digital Methods and Technologies will consist a critical reflection of diversity aspects, student autonomy and the protection of privacy, including ways to minimize potential negative impact.

The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Lead researcher for the ethical contribution is Dominik Bär. The results are part of a doctoral thesis supervised by me.

Journal article on trustworthy surveillance

As announced in a recent post, another article of mine is about to appear in the Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society (JICES). It is titled “Trust in technology: interlocking trust concepts for privacy respecting video surveillance” and has just been published ahead of print on Emerald Insight. It is co-authored with Linus Feiten (University of Freiburg) and discusses the need for a socio-technical conception of trust as part of a technical solution for privacy respecting video surveillance. It is a trans-disciplinary, application focused contribution. While working on it, I realized that there is a need to clarify the philosophical conception of “trust in technology” on a more fundamental level and to discuss it in contrast to already established concepts for evaluation. This resulted in the recent TATuP article, which can be seen (and read) in close connection to this article. Here’s the preliminary citation information and the structured abstract:

Weydner-Volkmann, Sebastian; Linus Feiten (2021, in print): “Trust in technology: interlocking trust concepts for privacy respecting video surveillance”. In: Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society.
DOI: 10.1108/JICES-12-2020-0128

The purpose of this paper is to defend the notion of “trust in technology” against the philosophical view that this concept is misled and unsuitable for ethical evaluation. In contrast, it is shown that “trustworthy technology” addresses a critical societal need in the digital age as it is inclusive of IT-security risks not only from a technical but also from a public layperson perspective.
From an interdisciplinary perspective between philosophy andIT-security, the authors discuss a potential instantiation of a “trustworthy information and communication technology (ICT)”: a solution for privacy respecting video surveillance. Here, strong data protection measures address grave concerns such as the threat of bulk biometric tracking of citizens. In a logical argument, however, the authors show that this technical notion of “trust” needs to be complemented by interlocking trust relations to justify public trust.
Based on this argument, the authors demonstrate that the philosophical position considering “trust in technology” to denote either “reliability” or “interpersonal trust” is too limited as it fails to address critical aspects of IT-security. In a broader, socio-technical sense, however, it is shown that several distinct accounts of trust – technical, interpersonal and institutional – should meaningfully interlock, to address concerns with ICTs.
This conceptual study demonstrates the potential of “trust in technology” for a more comprehensive evaluation of ICTs within the context of operation. Furthermore, it adds to the discussion of trust in IT-security by highlighting the layperson’s challenge of judging a technology’s trustworthiness. Vice versa, it contributes to Ethics of Technology by highlighting crucial IT-security needs.

Updated rubrics for oral exams

I have updated the evaluation criteria for oral exams (rubric, Bewertungsschema). While it now only consists of 6 categories (losing some detail from the 7 categories before), this results in the same grading scheme that I use for my term papers: In order to get the best score overall (1.0), you need to achieve the best score (very good) in each category.

The rubrics are currently only available in German:

Journal article on trust in technology

A new open access article of mine, titled “Trust in technology. Ethical contributions to technology assessment beyond acceptance and acceptability?” has been published in TATuP 30 (2). It is a discussion on the potential of “trust in technology” and “trustworthy technology” as part of a ethics contribution to technology assessment. Its genesis is quite closely connected with a recent collaboration with Linus Feiten (University of Freiburg) on privacy respecting video surveillance and the need for a socio-technical conception of trust. The collaboration resulted in another journal article (accepted by JICES, scheduled to appear in October 2021), which is a trans-disciplinary, application focused contribution. In contrast to this, the TATuP article is a more general philosophical discussion in the context of technology assessment. Here’s the citation information and the English abstract

Weydner-Volkmann, Sebastian (2021): “Technikvertrauen: Beiträge zur Technikfolgenabschätzung jenseits von Akzeptanz und Akzeptabilität?” TATuP – Zeitschrift für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie und Praxis 30 (2): 53–59. DOI: 10.14512/tatup.30.2.53.
Open access

This article explores the potential for “trust in technology” to make a productive conceptual contribution to the ethical evaluation of technology, complementing the concepts of “acceptance” and “acceptability” already established in technology assessment. It shows that for digital technologies in particular, “trust” can better address aspects of security against attacks as it allows to integrate concepts of IT security. Furthermore, “trustworthy technology” allows for a better inclusion of lay perspectives, since rationally justified trust in the sense of risk expectations can be mediated interpersonally by experts. Especially for the evaluation of digital technologies, “trust in technology” can thus bridge a conceptual gap between acceptance and acceptability.