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Course description.

Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, winter 2024/25
Prof. Dr. Oliver Zöllner

Course title:
Living in virtual worlds:
The ethics of digitality and artificial intelligence

Language of instruction: English
Dates: Fridays, 8:30 to 12:00 (fortnightly)
Start: t.b.d.
Venue: subject to change - please consult HIS-LSF
Link to ILIAS page: t.b.d.

About this course:

Digitalisation and the use of social networking sites in particular have changed the lifestyles and daily routines of a great number of people. The arrival of ever more sophisticated applications of generative artificial intelligence (AI) that are, inter alia, capable of rendering texts, images, videos and music is questioning human creativity, disrupting many a profession, and perhaps even insulting traditional reassurences of what is the essence of being human. However, it is equally opening up spaces for new ideas and concepts. Digitality and the workings of AI and its algorithms are reconfiguring how we live, in what kinds of virtual spaces, what kinds of togetherness we create there, and for whose benefit.

How do humans cope with these virtual worlds, its concepts, applications and paradoxes? What kinds of new values are being negotiated for living in digitising societies? How do we tackle challenges like permanent data exploitation (a.k.a. "people-farming"), the increasing struggle for privacy, the utopian promises and dystopian threats of AI, or a far-reaching surveillance capitalism? Quite simply put: what does it mean to be human in the digital age? What do we do with, and in, those digital we create? In what ways does the digital infrastructure form our worldview? Are we happy about our new kind of existence (if it is new at all)? Or just too lazy to care?

We will explore the classic idea of ethics, will apply concepts from the recently emerged sub-disciplines of digital ethics and AI ethics, and will try to develop concepts for living a flourishing life under the conditions set by digitisation and AI. It will be helpful to approach the matter by diving right into it: What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, philosopher Thomas Nagel famously asked in 1974, calling for positioning oneself right inside the situation. This cue is in urgent need of being readopted in the context of AI. We'll need to think about and reflect on these processes.

#digitality #ethics # ArtificialIntelligence #DigitalEthics #AI ethics

Requirements for certificates:
  • For a "Beteiligungsnachweis" (2 ECTS): regular attendance + 1 presentation (ca. 10 minutes)
  • For an "Abschlussprüfung" (additional 6 ECTS): the above + 1 term paper (ca. 12-15 pages). Note: There will be no opportunity to take a "mündliche Abschlussprüfung".

Introductory reading:

Beever, Jonathan / McDaniel, Rudy / Stanlick, Nancy A. (2020): Understanding digital ethics: Cases and contexts. London, New York: Routledge [Full ebook available at ULB].
Böhm, Christoph (2024): Verantwortungsvolle Digitalität. Warum wir den digitalen Wandel gestalten sollten. Berlin: Metzler [Full ebook available at ULB].
Chalmers, David J. (2022): Reality +: Virtual worlds and the problems of philosophy. London: Allen Lane | Penguin.
Coeckelbergh, Mark (2020): AI ethics. Cambridge, London: MIT Press [Full ebook available at ULB].
Dubber, Markus D. / Pasquale, Frank / Das, Sunit (eds.) (2024): The Oxford handbook of ethics of AI. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press [see].
Ess, Charles (2020): Digital media ethics. 3rd ed. Cambridge, Medford: Polity Press.
Gertz, Nolen (2018): Nihilism and technology. London, New York: Rowman and Littlefield.
Grimm, Petra / Keber, Tobias O. / Zöllner, Oliver (2019): Digitale Ethik: Positionsbestimmung und Perspektiven. In: Grimm, Petra / Keber, Tobias O. / Zöllner, Oliver (eds.): Digitale Ethik. Leben in vernetzten Welten. Ditzingen: Reclam, 9-26 [Download sample chapter here, full ebook available at ULB].
Grimm, Petra / Trost, Kai Erik / Zöllner, Oliver (eds.) (2024): Handbuch Digitale Ethik. Baden-Baden: Nomos [see].
Gunkel, David J. (2016): Paradigm shift: Media ethics in the age of intelligent machines. In: Paul Booth / Amber Davisson (eds.): Controversies in digital ethics. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 233-247.
Gunkel, David J. (ed.) (2024): Handbook on the ethics of artificial intelligence. Cheltenham, Northampton MA: Elgar [see].
Hauck-Thum, Uta / Noller, Jörg (eds.) (2021): Was ist Digitalität? Philosophische und pädagogische Perspektiven. Berlin: Metzler.
Krämer, Sybille / Noller, Jörg (eds.) (2024): Was ist digitale Philosophie? Phänomene, Formen und Methoden (= Philosophia Digitalis, Vol. 1). Paderborn: Brill | mentis [Full ebook available at].
Misselhorn, Catrin (2018): Grundfragen der Maschinenethik. Ditzingen: Reclam [Download sample chapter here].
Nagel, Thomas (1974): What is it like to be a bat? In: The Philosophical Review, Vol. 83, No. 4, 435-450 [Full article available at].
Nida-Rümelin, Julian / Weidenfeld, Nathalie (2018): Digitaler Humanismus. Eine Ethik für das Zeitalter der Künstlichen Intelligenz. München: Piper.
Spiekermann, Sarah (2019): Digitale Ethik. Ein Wertesystem für das 21. Jahrhundert. München: Droemer.
Véliz, Carissa (ed.) (2024): The Oxford handbook of digital ethics. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Zuboff, Shoshana (2019): The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for the future at the new frontier of power. London: Profile Books.
Zweig, Katharina (2019): Ein Algorithmus hat kein Taktgefühl. Wo künstliche Intelligenz sich irrt, warum uns das betrifft und was wir dagegen tun können. München: Heyne.

A very helpful resource is the glossary compiled by AG Theorie des Verbandes Digital Humanities im deutschsprachigen Raum e. V.: Begriffe der Digital Humanities. Ein diskursives Glossar. DOI: 10.17175/wp_2023.

In addition I have, over the years, collected a few student project reports dealing with digital ethics (and, more generally, the culture of digitality) in a couple of ebooks that are available for free:

Zöllner, Oliver (ed.) (2015): #Neuland #Individuum #Gesell­schaft. Ethik in einer digitali­sierten Welt. Sechs Fall­studien. Stutt­gart: Hoch­schule der Medien [Download ebook here].
Zöllner, Oliver (ed.) (2016): Das digitale Ich. Zwischen Gemeinschaft und Abgrenzung - drei Fall­studien. Stuttgart: Hoch­schule der Medien [Download ebook here].
Zöllner, Oliver (ed.) (2019): Liebe in Profilen: Dating im Internet. Motive und Reflexion der Nutzung von Platt­formen zur Partner­schafts­anbahnung. Sechs Fall­studien. Stuttgart: Hoch­schule der Medien [Download ebook here].
Zöllner, Oliver (ed.) (2020): Zeit für sich selbst. Muße, Langeweile und die Nutzung digitaler Medien im Alltag. Zwei Forschungs­berichte. Stuttgart: Hoch­schule der Medien [Download ebook here].
Beiter, Rebecca et al. (2020): Fühlt sich das noch gut an? Ein quanti­tativ-qualita­tives Forschungs­projekt zur Akzep­tanz der Künst­lichen Intelli­genz im Alltag. Stuttgart: Hochschule der Medien [Download ebook here].
Zöllner, Oliver (ed.) (2021): Vermessen, verzweifelt, verliebt? Das un/glückliche Selbst im Spannungsfeld digitaler Technologien. Drei Fall­studien. Stuttgart: Hoch­schule der Medien [Download ebook here].
Zöllner, Oliver (ed.) (2022): Die Streaming-Welle: Spotify, Netflix & Co. in der digitalen Medien­gesellschaft. Motive und Reflexion der Nutzung von Audio- und Video­streaming­diensten. Fünf empirische Fallstudien. Stuttgart: Hoch­schule der Medien [Download ebook here].
Bendel, Lara et al. (2022): Wenn Spotify den Ton angibt. Audiostreaming-Dienste und die Frage nach der persönlichen Autonomie. Stuttgart: Hoch­schule der Medien [Download ebook here].

» Send the prof an email: oliver.zoellner @ hhu . de

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