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Event details of PEPTalk #20: Techno-Political Futures
Date
19 October 2023
Time
12:00 -13:00
Location
Online

For the Zoom link, please send an email to pept@uva.nl.

In April 2020, in the midst of its first pandemic lockdown, the Dutch government announced plans to develop a contact tracing app to help contain the spread of the coronavirus – the Coronamelder. Originally intended to address the problem of the overburdening of manual contract tracers, by the time the app was released six months later the problem it sought to solve had drastically changed, without the solution undergoing any modification, making it a prime example of technosolutionism. While numerous critics have mobilised the concept of technosolutionism, the questions of how technosolutionism works in practice and which specific harms it can provoke have been understudied. 

In their paper, Lotje Siffels and Tamar Sharon advance a concept of technosolutionism which, drawing on Evgeny Morozov, distinguishes it from the notion of technological fix, and, drawing on Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar’s work on the construction of scientific facts, emphasizes its constructivist dimension. Using this concept, they closely follow the problem that the Coronamelder aimed to solve and how it shifted over time to fit the Coronamelder solution, rather than the other way around. They argue that, although problems are always constructed, technosolutionist problems are neither constructed well nor are they robust, as one might hope problem construction in public policy making to be. This introduces three harms: a subversion of democratic decision-making; the presence of powerful new actors in the public policy context – here Big Tech; and the creation of “orphan problems”, whereby the actual problems that triggered the need to develop a (techno)solution are left behind.

Speakers

Lotje Siffels is a PhD candidate in ethics and political philosophy at the Radboud Interdisciplinary Research Hub on Digitalization and Society (iHub). On the project 'Digital Good' she investigates the growing influence of Big Tech companies in health and medicine using an empirical philosophical method.

Beate Roessler is Professor of Ethics at the University of Amsterdam. Her most recent book is Autonomie: ein Versuch über das gelungene Leben, 2017, Suhrkamp (Dutch translation 2018, with Boom, English translation 2021, with Polity).  She has published widely on the value of privacy and other topics in ethics, social, and political philosophy. She is a co-editor of the European Journal of Philosophy and a member of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt/Main. Recently, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.