I focus on ways that technology changes and mediates human relationships, and on how humans rely on technology for both knowledge and action.

Philip Nickel, employee

My interests focus on human dependence: we rely on each other, on institutions, and on technology to do almost everything in life.

Philosophically, my interests focus on human dependence: we rely on each other, on institutions, and on technology to do almost everything in life. In the history of philosophy persons have often been treated as self-sustaining, autonomous and independently rational.  This is a deeply mistaken view of human knowledge and agency. 

In my research and teaching at TU Eindhoven, I focus on ways that technology changes and mediates human relationships, and on how humans rely on technology for both knowledge and action.

Outside of work, I have many interests including travel, reading, writing and cooking.  My Texas chili is famous!  Since I moved here from the United States, I have spent a lot of time learning about Dutch language and culture.  I’m convinced that stroopwafels would be the perfect food, if only they contained vitamins and minerals.

Projects

My recent research focuses on trust in technology.  Specifically, I develop an ethics of technology based on trust, and I use our reliance on technology to challenge prevalent ideas in philosophy.  Three recent topics I’ve been working on are:

Trust in technology.  Most philosophers have held that trust in technology is not “real” trust.  I argue that they are wrong.  This is indicated by the emotions we have toward technology, and by the things we expect artifacts to do in virtue of their functions. 

Artificial testimony. Artificial intelligence and speech-generation technology have evolved to the point that computers can now say interesting and useful things.  (Consider a TomTom, for example.)  However, most accounts of the knowledge we acquire on the basis of testimony (statements or assertions) are based on the idea that the speaker is a person who has beliefs or intentions.  These accounts are inconsistent with “artificial” testimony, testimony delivered by speaking computers.

Persuasive technology.  Technology is sometimes designed to influence human attitudes and behavior, by exerting social pressure or delivering targeted messages.  This is called persuasive technology.  For example, a smartphone app can be designed to give health and fitness advice.  Many have worried that this type of technology raises ethical problems.  I argue that an ethics of persuasive technology should start with trust.  What gives users of this technology justified trust?