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Issue No. 008

Vol. 8 - December 2007
Ethical Challenges of Ubiquitous Computing

As opposed to the desktop paradigm, in which users directly and consciously engage a single device for a specialized purpose, ubiquitous computing (UbiComp) envisions the engagement of many computational devices and systems simultaneously, in the course of ordinary activities, with users who may not necessarily even be aware of such an engagement. In that case, we have to rethink not only many ethical concepts, but also some very basic philosophical notions like reality and subjectivity. If the traditional reality of things develops into a computed ambience and if decisions taken in a certain situation are more and more dependent of artificial agents we may not even be aware of, then this will fundamentally change our basic understanding, not only of moral responsibility, but also of persons acting in the world itself.

The authors of this issue nonetheless discuss these problems the traditional way: within very interesting articles - ranging from visionary to critical; from more descriptive to more normative.

The guest editors of this issue, David Phillips, Toronto, and Klaus Wiegerling, Stuttgart, have done a wonderful job in setting the agenda with their elaborate call for papers, selecting the articles and organizing their review. We are very happy with the outcome and hope you once again will appreciate this issue of IRIE as a valuable input for your academic and professional work.


the Editors.

Full Journal
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Language: English
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Introduction to IRIE Vol. 8
by David Phillips and Klaus Wiegerling
Language: English
abstract:   Ubiquitous Computing, an idea introduced by Mark Weiser , and often bracketed with slight modifications under the concepts of Pervasive Computing or Ambient Intelligence, imagines in the extreme case the entire mesosphere saturated by information and communication technologies (ICT). All of the essays of this issue probe the practices, ideologies, and power relations of UbiComp development. They note both the successes and the failures of a variety of ethical and theoretical approaches to UbiComp and they offer alternative approaches. Thus they provide a much-needed intervention into the creation of new forms of subjectivity, awareness, and power.
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Ambient Intelligence and Problems with Inferring Desires from Behaviour
by Johnny Hartz Søraker and Philip Brey
Language: English
abstract:   In this paper the authors argue that many of the ethical problems raised by Ambient Intelligence stems from presupposing a behaviourist conception of the relation between human desires and behaviour. Insofar as Ambient Intelligence systems take overt, natural behaviour as input, they are likely to suffer from many of the same problems that have fuelled the widespread criticism of behaviourist explanations of human behaviour. If these limitations of the technology are not sufficiently recognized, the technology is likely to be insufficiently successful in supporting the needs and desires of human users. We will focus on four distinct challenges that result from this behaviourist presupposition, all of which ought to be taken into consideration at the design stage: reciprocal adaptation, bias towards isolated use, culture-specific behaviour, and inability to manually configure the system. By considering these issues, our purpose is to raise awareness of the ethical problems that can arise because of intelligent user interfaces that rely on natural, overt behaviour.
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Being there then: Ubiquitous computing and the anxiety of reference
by Michael R. Curry
Language: English
abstract:   It is common today to see the world as increasingly unpredictable, and to see that unpredictability as a major source of anxiety. Many of the proposed cures for that anxiety, such as systems like Memex and MyLifeBits, have sought solutions in systems that collect and store a thorough record of events, at a scale from the personal to the global. There the solution to anxiety lies in the ability to play back the record, to turn back the clock and be there then. Both this anxiety and its solution are best seen not simply as remedies for an immediate problem-of terrorism, for example-but rather as evidence of a more deep-seated set of cultural changes, which emerged early in the twentieth century. Paradoxically, the technological solutions offered, whatever the scale, embody the very thing, a lack of a connection to a community, that is both the source of the anxiety and a fundamental impediment to its elimination.
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Ethics of Seamless infrastructures: Resources and Future Directions
by Matt Ratto
Language: English
abstract:   The argument of this paper is that the rhetoric of "seamlessness" and its embodiment within certain information infrastructures may be ethically problematic due to the way it articulates a particular kind of passivity and lack of engagement between people and their actions and between people and their social and material environment. The paper describes "seamlessness" as a socio-technical value, details its use in context, and outlines three areas of scholarship that can provide necessary perspectives and methods for research on "seamlessness" and other tropes of ubiquitous computing.
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Ubiquitous Computing - A New Challenge for Media Ethics
by Christoph Hubig
Language: German
abstract:   The authors distinguish three types of media ethics: Applied ethics which focusses situations and raises nor-mative questions depending on a particular situation; application-centered ethics, which supports or warns users, and the classical ethics of autonomy which gives new spheres for actions. For ethical challenges of UbiComp the third type is most important. UbiComp reduces the intentions of the user by decontextualizing the context of action. The actor is confronted with an "informed" reality. It is a problem, when there is no explicit delegation of services to the system and the media "clues" are disappearing and we don't see that reality is augmented. It is the first commandment of media ethics to show the clues of media via which it is possible to reconstruct the spheres which give possibilities for action. Concerning UbiComp, media ethics has to demand compensatory institutions like the concept of parallel communication, which allows for negotiating metacommunicatively on the communication processes delegated to smart systems.
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Locating 'Agency' Within Ubiquitous Computing Systems
by Adam Swift
Language: English
abstract:   The final shape of the "Internet of Things" ubiquitous computing promises relies on a cybernetic system of inputs (in the form of sensory information), computation or decision making (based on the prefiguration of rules, contexts, and user-generated or defined metadata), and outputs (associated action from ubiquitous computing devices). My interest in this paper lies in the computational intelligences that suture these positions together, and how positioning these intelligences as autonomous agents extends the dialogue between human-users and ubiquitous computing technology. Drawing specifically on the scenarios surrounding the employment of ubiquitous computing within aged care, I argue that agency is something that cannot be traded without serious consideration of the associated ethics.
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Ambient Persuasion for the Good Society
by Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Manfred Tscheligi, Robert Bichler, Wolfgang Reitberger
Language: English
abstract:   In this paper the authors argue for a pro-active, technology-driven as well as social problem-driven technology as-sessment (TA) of Ambient Persuasion technologies. Their starting point for assessing ICTs regarding ethical aspects is the vision of a Good Society (Bradley 2006), which is a Global Sustainable Information Society (GSIS). Such a society is on the way to sustainability, strongly supported by Information and Communication Technologies. Using ICTs for persuasion at the same time imply opportunities and risks. The authors identify two contrary persuasive strategies; the first one is mainly based on negotiated persuasion, while the second approach is a more behaviouristic one. To tap the full potential of both approaches the authors propose a dialectic understanding for Ambient Persuasion by presenting promising, already existing examples.
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Opportunities for privacy and trust in the development of ubiquitous computing
by Jessica Heesen and Oliver Siemoneit
Language: English
abstract:   This article deals with the technical genesis of ubiquitous computing and the opportunities for social participation in the development of technology. In this context, the ability of the system to protect the private sphere is identified as one of the most important criteria for a socially acceptable constitution. On the basis of the relationship between privacy and freedom, it is shown that the trust necessary for the social establishment of global IT networks is only developed through the preservation of the freedoms of choice and action.
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The ethical challenges of ubiquitous healthcare
by Ian Brown and Andrew A. Adams
Language: English
abstract:   Ubiquitous healthcare is an emerging area of technology that uses a large number of environmental and patient sensors and actuators to monitor and improve patients' physical and mental condition. Tiny sensors gather data on almost any physiological characteristic that can be used to diagnose health problems. This technology faces some challenging ethical questions, ranging from the small-scale individual issues of trust and efficacy to the societal issues of health and longevity gaps related to economic status. It presents particular problems in combining developing computer/information/media ethics with established medical ethics. This article describes a practice-based ethics approach, considering in particular the areas of privacy, agency, equity and liability. It raises questions that ubiquitous healthcare will force practitioners to face as they develop ubiquitous healthcare systems. Medicine is a controlled profession whose practise is commonly restricted by government-appointed authorities, whereas computer software and hardware development is notoriously lacking in such regimes.
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