'Moral' Apps Cut Closer to Humanity
People already outsource their memories to the machine, using smartphone apps that remind them of appointments and driving directions. Why not outsource their moral consciences, too? Two professors of philosophy and ethics, writing for Slate's Future Tense blog, rounded up some new apps that help people with traits usually associated with being a good person: willpower, restraint, complex decision-making, self-awareness and consideration for others.
"Future developments will likely give devices even more ethical decision-making power," Evan Selinger and Thomas Seager write.
Selinger and Seager found research into apps that work not just as memory prompters, but as personal prompters. The apps might sense when users are tired and recommend a break before making an important decision, for example. One app would notice when users talk too much during a meeting and whisper corrections in people's ears. These are skills people would otherwise have to learn by making one too many embarrassing decisions.
The philosophers also found car options in development that limit drivers to the speed limit, or analyze drivers' alcohol levels and mood to see if they're fit to drive. Such functions make it impossible for the driver to make the immoral decision to drive dangerously.
A real morality app is still beyond the ability of computers, they write. Computer programs are better at calculating statistical likelihoods than at figuring out context, which is important for any moral decision.
Apps that get at something close to morality, however, should get people thinking about what makes humans human, they say. People have argued about whether technology takes away from people's ability to memorize facts since writing overtook oral storytelling. Sound decision-making hits a little closer to the heart of humanity than memory, however, Selinger and Seager argue.
If it's hard to imagine a real moral app, it doesn't seem likely people will give up the intermediate apps in the meanwhile. The willpower and advice apps Selinger and Seager found as evidence for the morality app trend just seemed intriguing and helpful, such as apps that nudge users to go to the gym and that scan barcodes to let users know how environmentally friendly a store product is. People must also have a moral obligation to use what tools they can to improve themselves.