Monday, September 16th, 2019


2PM - 3PM


Redeeming technology: can stuff be morally good?

Dr Mike Brownnutt, Associate Director from the Faith and Science Collaborative Research Forum of The University of Hong Kong, will visit the United Nations University Institute on Computing and Society (UNU-CS)to give a talk on ethics in technology development.

We are used to the idea that people can be good or bad, but it is less obvious to see how an inanimate object –without desire or volition – can be morally good or bad. This talk, therefore, considers what it means to redeem, or even need to redeem, a thing. The things people make, from guns to phones to Coke cans, are designed to be used in particular ways. This inbuilt purpose is not value-free, and predisposes objects – deliberately or inadvertently – to be used in ways which are morally value-laden: you can use a gun as a paperweight, but you are using it wrong. The engineers and scientists who develop new technologies are in a unique position and have a unique responsibility, to be aware of the moral dimension of their work. This awareness can open new vistas for research. It enables us to move beyond the usual puzzles of finding how to make something faster, lighter, or cheaper, and ask how to make something which is, morally speaking, good.

Dr Mike Brownnutt obtained his first Master’s degree (MSci in physics) and his Ph.D. (in experimental quantum mechanics) from Imperial College London. Following this, he moved to Innsbruck, Austria, for eight years, firstly as a post-doctoral researcher and later as an Assistant Professor. He wrote his habilitation based on his research there, which centered on developing scalable architectures for quantum computers. Throughout this work, he held an abiding interest in the relationship between science and religion. He completed his second Master’s degree (MA in theology from the University of Chester) considering how faith is understood by various parties in discourse on the relationship between Christianity and science. Since 2015 he has worked at the University of Hong Kong, where he is Associate Director of the Faith and Science Collaborative Research Forum. His research focuses on the interrelationship between science and religion, particularly in Asian contexts.

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