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The Project for a Progressive Ethics is now a thing. At least, it’s a Meetup, we’ve had an exciting first meeting, and we have a supportive home.

The prospect we have in mind is this. A well-respected, public place (OK a website), which you can use as a sounding board for ethical considerations of any sort – from a personal dilemma, to something in the news, to a debate in the pub, to a Phd thesis. A place where you will find a richly interconnected network of ethical propositions, easy to navigate, designed so that you can easily home in on the issues that concern you, or zoom out to get a wider view – where you can ask simple, quick questions and get simple, straightforward answers – but where you can also dive deep and wide to explore things to your satisfaction. Somewhere you can engage with – where, if you get an answer you think is wrong, or misguided, you can understand where that answer came from, and challenge it – knowing that there is a community of humans who will respond – that the underlying wish of the framework is to be deeply congruent with a reasoned, progressive viewpoint.

simpleNetwork

I had no idea what to expect from the first public discussion of this possibly insanely over-ambitious project. As I’ve written before, this is something I didn’t plan to start, which somehow came upon me, from a short forum comment after a London Futurists event.

I had no way of knowing what the people who would actually turn up might be expecting, or whether there would be much overlap between a group of strangers’ views on ethics. Truthfully, it could easily have been something of a trainwreck…

… but I think it’s safe to say that I was somewhat overwhelmed by the qualities of the wonderful people who turned up, and hugely reassured by the degree of shared ideas and concerns. On the basis of this consensus (albeit broad and shallow at this point), we have something in hand that is at the same time interesting to a wide variety of people and deep in its implications. When these conditions are both true, debate often generates more heat than light, but it seems that we have a handle on a genuinely new approach that could enable a step-change in social expectations of  debate in this area. This is worth working at.

And in fact, even if the glimpse I have of an opportunity to leverage digital technologies and tools like Kumu and Grakn to give public engagement with complex knots of concerns a more rational grounding, and new tools for progress – even if this turns out to have been a false hope – it’s still worth it.

Because public engagement in ethical discussion – particularly when it is concerned with developing shared understanding – is never a waste of time.

OK, grand vision stuff aside, what do we have, what do we want to achieve, what are we doing about it, and what do we need? And keep it snappy please!

What do we have?

  • A statement of intent that seems to engage people’s interest (click the ‘about us…’ link on the left).
  • Evidence that the sort of people who respond to this have broadly shared aspirations for what the project should aspire to, and of its value.
  • An emerging conception of how to represent an ethical framework in a useful way –
    • which maps well onto our personal experience of ethical consideration,
    • which is amenable to engaging online representation and navigation,
    • which offers rich possibilities for practical application and development,
    • which allows for maximum simplicity without reductive distortion
  • A viable idea of working with groups of all sorts in distributed, asynchronous ways to generate ethical propositions, frameworks and reasoned discussions that can be brought together to grow and build the framework.
  • A home-base at Newspeak House – an emerging centre for work that engages important public issues at the intersection of tech and governance.

What do we want to achieve?

  • To transcend the individualisation of ethics that Modernism brought with it, by providing a public ethical framework that embodies shared concerns on the basis of reasoned consideration, while encouraging and supporting individual freedom of conscience.
  • To encourage, support and respond to greater public debate on the basis of a public framework of reasoned ethical propositions.
  • To enable and empower more fruitful and confident public engagement with novel issues – whether these result from technological change or from the wider context.
  • To consider our work as the design and continuous refinement of a permanent public process of reasoned consideration.

What we’re doing about it

  • Starting a regular series of meetings of two kinds:
    • Events, with a guest speaker with an interesting angle on ethics, plus updates on the project’s work, followed by open debate. We aspire to record and document these as material for the project.
    • Working Party events, where we
      • get our hands dirty and start building the Ethical Framework –
        • raising Ethical Issues, discussing them, and proposing all sorts of Ethical Propositions that relate
        • looking at previously worked-on Ethical Issues and the Propositions that relate; looking for patterns, discussing relationships, debating causal and other linkages, making connections to other issues.
        • working on the representation of the network – using tools like kumu and grakn
      • Work on public engagement with the project – outreach, discussion forums, networking with the ethics and tech communities, enabling working parties in more diverse settings and locations.

What we need

This is easy. We need you. If you’ve read this far, we want you to engage. You don’t need to come to meetups, you don’t need to do much at all, but we need you. After all, you’re a human, you make ethical decisions all the time, every day, and you’re reading this – so this project is for you – but in order to be useful to you, it needs your input. And at the moment, despite what is said above, the Project is as fluid as it ever will be – so tell us what you think it ought to do, ought to address, your ideas for how it might work. Please.

How to do this? Well, it might be simplest to comment on this blog (please do!) – but we’d love it if you could visit Meetup and become a member (free and easy). Then go to the discussion forum and have your say.

Also, we need things like;

  • a website
  • a domain name, hosting etc
  • people who are good at digital outreach
  • contacts with anyone you think we ought to know about – particularly if they might be interested in being a speaker or contributor
  • people with expertise in things like Kumu and grakn
  • people with expertise in the techniques and workings of all sorts of ethical committees and bodies – we need to consider congruency with this community.

But mostly, again, we need you.