Category Archives: Research

What the ‘right to die’ debate tells us about sovereignty

Many readers will be familiar with the ongoing debate in the UK around the ‘right to die’. The campaign group Dignity in Dying is calling for a change in the law with a new assisted dying bill to give terminally ill people choice in how and when they die.

However, things aren’t as simple as they may first seem. While many people may well argue that developed nations should not treat their citizens worse than animals, there have been many dissenting voices who suggest that an assisted dying bill may put pressure on people to take their own lives; it may even be a ‘slippery slope’ of legislation that discriminates against the most vulnerable people.

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The politics of knowledge

This is an extended version of an article published in The Conversation on 9th January 2024.

In January 1948, Life magazine published a feature showcasing the ‘102 Great Ideas’ of Western civilization, arrayed in index boxes covering topics from #1: Angel to #102: World. The project was the brainchild of Robert M. Hutchins, then chancellor of the University of Chicago and director of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Hutchins and his team had identified what they believed were the 432 ‘basic great books’, which the Encyclopedia planned to publish in a 54-volume set. To go alongside this collection, Hutchins commissioned a team of researchers to prepare an index so that readers could navigate the complex body of work. The result was displayed as part of an extended article in Life magazine, featuring a large double-page spread in which more than a dozen tired looking indexers posed alongside the output of five years’ work and nearly a million dollars of investment.

While the index was certainly an impressive achievement, at a time before computers were widely available, the results pose more questions than answers. Who exactly decides what counts as knowledge? Who decides which books should be included and which books left out? In this case, all 432 of the ‘great books’ were written by men. Indeed, the subject of ‘Man’ was even given its own chapter in the index, while ‘Woman’ only featured as a sub-category of ‘Family’, ‘Man’ and ‘Love’.

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Can Chat-GPT coach the business leaders of tomorrow?

Business coaching: two women having a meeting, sat at a large wooden desk.

AI-powered content creation is the new ‘big thing’ in the world of business and marketing. Many readers will be familiar with Chat-GPT – a large language model that uses advanced algorithms to generate ‘natural’ language responses to questions.

But while the answers may often appear intelligent, Chat-GPT isn’t ‘thinking’ about the questions we ask it in the way that a trained researcher might. Rather, it produces answers based on what it thinks a good answer should look like.

This is a subtle yet important difference.

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San Francisco U-turn on ‘killer robots’: Are we any safer as a result?

In December 2022, San Francisco lawmakers voted to overturn a decision to allow police robots to wield deadly force.

In a controversial policy proposal, the 17 robots currently used by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) could have been equipped with explosive charges to take out active shooters or suicide bombers in ‘emergency’ situations.

While the policy was initially approved by lawmakers, officials have since overturned the policy in response to pressure from civil rights groups.

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