Category Archives: Research

Ethics, killing, and the Moral Machine

Just over a year ago now, I published the results of a small survey I shared with my followers on Facebook. The idea was to test a few theories I had been working on around ethics and the relative value we assign different forms of life. In this case, I was specifically interested in how we think about animal life, and how we respond to different species when it comes to decisions around life and death.

Even though my survey was relatively small, the results were quite remarkable, and show a clear trend in responses that favour saving larger and more ‘noble’ animals, over smaller, ‘less intelligent’ animals that may be perceived to be in some way less worthy. While a utilitarian perspective should in theory show that the save/kill decisions made by respondents should be weighted equally across five different species of farmyard animal (each life is, after all, of equal ‘value’), respondents very clearly favoured saving a single horse over a single chicken. This trend continued when participants were asked to choose between saving a single horse or five chickens, with many respondents still opting to save the horse, while many respondents would much prefer to kill five chickens, instead of a single horse.

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Stranger than fiction

Camp Concentration book coverIf there’s one thing I’ve learnt during my PhD it’s that truth is very often stranger than fiction.

I’ve just recently finished reading Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration (1968), in which prisoners in the United States are injected with a form of syphilis in order to boost their intelligence. Strange as this may sound, it’s nothing compared with real life.

In 1972, whistle-blower Peter Buxtun revealed the that the US Public Health Service had been conducting secret studies on African-Americans, in the now infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment. The study started in 1932 and ran for over 40 years without the participants knowing they had the disease, and without them ever being treated with penicillin.

Of course, Disch couldn’t have known about the Tuskegee experiments when he was writing in the 1960s, but this revelation sure does make you think. Continue reading »

Images of the Vietnam War: James C. Farley and YP13

If I were to ask you to think of an image relating to the Vietnam War, I am sure most people will conjure the famous image of the young girl running naked towards the camera; or perhaps the Saigon execution, or even the photo of the burning monk. But there’s another photo from Vietnam that deserves our attention – one that I can’t believe I hadn’t seen until just recently. Continue reading »

Oliver the Justice Dog and what it means to be human

I was somewhat surprised this week to see a post on social media announcing that a dog has received a staff ID card at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU).

While I have no problem with dogs on campus, or indeed the work of Justice Support Dogs International (JSDI), I do find the fact that a dog should receive a human staff ID card somewhat unsettling. This is because it serves to further enshrine a biopolitical discourse surrounding the human and the animal, and goes to show the power of major institutions to dictate the terms on which we define what constitutes the human and the animal.

While some readers may find the news about Oliver fairly innocuous, or even quite fun, the problem is not the card itself, but what the card represents, and the border for inclusion that places a dog above those not included within the formalised university group. In this case, Oliver the dog has more rights than many human employees at the same institution, even though he is incapable of exercising the same human responsibilities that form a part of the membership contract.

In this way, Oliver the Justice Dog reveals something of the operation of power within the biopolitical state through the very act of his exclusory-inclusion within the category of the human. Continue reading »

Cars, guns and inevitable automation

I was struck recently by an advertising campaign from German car manufacturer Audi for its new Q5. In the video, posted on YouTube and appearing in cinemas here in the UK, we see an Audi Q5 driving through the rain with a series of overlays highlighting technological innovations such as sign recognition, adaptive suspension and ‘Audi Pre-Sense’ for anticipating dangers before they occur. The advert closes with the claim that ‘It doesn’t just drive. It thinks.’ Continue reading »