Past projects

Medical trust beyond clinical walls (2013-2014, NWO-MVI)

Trust is identified by medical ethicists as a fundamental value in medicine. Telecare, the practice of medicine using information and communication technology to monitor and treat patients at home, redefines the relationship between patient and clinician and moves health care to a new context. This study aims to find out how chronically ill patients establish trust in telecare, and when this trust is well-grounded. Patients, clinicians and designers associated with two private companies will be interviewed, and an extensive database of existing patient survey data will be analyzed. An ethical framework will be used to evaluate the expectations and reasons grounding trust attitudes among chronically ill telecare patients.

Project coordinator: Dr. P.J. Nickel (P&E)

Project team members: Dr. F. Kramer (P&E), dr. S. Voerman (P&E)

See also here.

Wise Choices and Smart Savings: Effectiveness and Acceptability of Persuasive Technology for Household Energy Saving (2013 - 2014, NWO-MVI)

One third of all energy consumption takes place within the build environment, and reducing that consumption is crucial for a sustainable society. However, technological innovations alone are not enough: people also have to change their energy consumption behavior. Persuasive Technology (PT) can motivate people to realize sustainable energy consumption by using less household energy. PT aims at persuading human agents to behave in socially valued ways, by giving information, providing feedback, and taking over actions. The success of PT that serves the public interest depends on the integration of sound technology, effective persuasive principles and careful attention to ethical considerations.

The current research brings together psychological and ethical expertise to investigate under which conditions PT can be used to reduce household energy consumption in a way that is both, psychologically effective and ethically acceptable. In order to address this question the research will provide guidelines for designing PT to influence household energy consumption behavior in a way that this PT are (1) morally acceptable (focusing on user-autonomy, and the discrepancies between PT goals and user goals), and (2) psychologically effective (focusing on effectiveness of persuasive strategies PT can employ). These two sets of guidelines'on the moral acceptability and the psychological effectiveness' will be combined in a joint case study in the 'Smart Home' in order to investigate whether the adherence to moral principles in the design of PT will have a positive or negative impact on their (psychological) effectiveness.

Project Coordinator: Dr. A. Spahn (P&E)

Project Team Members: Dr. J.R.C. Ham (HTI), dr. R. Broeders (HTI)

See also here.

Biofuels: sustainable innovation or gold rush? (2011-2015, NWO-MVI)

Biofuels are controversial. Policy makers and other stakeholders are struggling to find answers to how, and under which conditions sustainability could be realised, and how to encourage sustainable practices through guidelines and norms (e.g., derived from the Cramer Criteria). This project aims to address these strategic questions by investigating conceptual, ethical and political aspects of sustainability of biofuels. First, different organizational models for production and use will be studied, their institutional and policy governance; value- and resource trade-offs arising between economic, social and environmental sustainability dimensions generated by these different models; and their relation to societal controversies. It will then be analysed how contestations influence future development of biofuel technologies, and what policy lessons can be drawn from that.

The main research question is: What organisational models of innovation, production and use of biofuels can be sustainable in social, economic and environmental terms if appropriately governed, and how can, or should, sustainability be understood in this context?

Project coordinator: Dr. H.A. Romijn (TIS)

Project team members (selection): Dr. A. Spahn (P&E), dr. A.J.K. Pols (P&E)

See also here.

Moral fitness of military personnel in a networked operational environment (2009-2014, NWO-MVI)

Military operational personnel are increasingly confronted with unprecedented complexities in their expeditionary missions. Collaboration between diverse partners is an essential requirement in these operations. Military organisations increasingly make use of network technology to foster information sharing and interactions between the parties in the network. We use the phrase Network Enabled Operations (NEO) to describe the added value of a well-networked operational environment. Mission success is increasingly determined by the soldier’s capabilities to evaluate high-stake situations, to make balanced decisions, and to collaborate in ad hoc alliances. Ethics and morality play a crucial role in dealing with diversity of perspectives and balancing multiple interests of collaborating parties and own interests. This research program will investigate the critical competencies of military personnel needed for moral decision making in network enabled operations. This central question is subdivided into three subquestions: What characterizes moral fitness in a networked operational environment; which are the psychological and social conditions that enable morally responsible decision making in a networked operational environment; and, in what ways does a networked operational environment affect military behaviour? The analyses address three issues in NEO: information sharing, collaboration, and delegation of authority. The aim of this research program is to theoretically analyse and empirically assess the drivers of moral fitness for adequate decision making and collaboration. This should contribute to the strengthening and insurance of morally responsible actions and decisions of military personnel in a networked operational environment, resulting in changes in education, training and mission preparation for military personnel.

Project coordinator: Dr. L.M.M. Royakkers (P&E)

Project team members: dr. P. Essens (TNO), prof.dr. D. Verweij (NLDA), Dr. A. Topolski (P&E), drs. ir. C. van Burken (P&E), dr. B. van Bezooijen (P&E), prof.dr. M.J. de Vries (P&E)

See also here.

Persuasive Technology, Allocation of Control, and Social Values (NWO MVI 2009-2013)

Social values can be in conflict with the interests or preferences of individual persons. Sustainability, for example, is widely viewed as crucial for our future. At the same time it is recognized that technology alone cannot bring about a sustainable society. Individual agents need to change their behavior as well. How do we motivate agents such that they realize our social values, even when these values conflict with their own private interests? This is where persuasive technology comes into the picture. It aims at persuading human agents to behave in socially-valued ways, by giving information, providing feedback, and taking over actions. The success of a persuasive technology that serves the public interest depends on the integration of sound technology, effective persuasive principles and careful attention to ethical considerations.

Persuasive technologies raise various ethical questions, many of which have to do with a conflict between the individual values of human agents and the social values that these technologies aim to promote. For example, a conflict between autonomy, privacy and control on the one hand and sustainability and safety on the other. Is a persuasive strategy morally justified if it leads to socially desired behavior, even if it interferes with or even sacrifices to some extent the user's auto­nomy? How can persuasion be distinguished from manipulation or coercion? How does persuasive technology affect the user’s responsibility? The distribution of respons­ibility between the designer and user seems to be of a different kind here: if a PT fails to persuade its user, who is responsible then for a possible negative conse­quence?

This philosophical project will study the ethical issues of technological 'persuasion'. It will more specifically look at the issue of control. The main research question is: What are morally acceptable ways of techno­logical ‘persuasion’?

The case of energy management and vehicle safety will be used to explore bottom up the various ethical issues involved. This will be combined with first attempts in the literature to sketch an ethical framework for persuasive techno­logies. No compelling guidelines that stem from a sound ethical analysis of the complex phenomenon of persuasion have been established so far. This is not surprising, given the little work that has been done on the topic. The project will probably profit from the philosophical analysis of the ways technology mediates our perceptions and actions, and from the work done in the context of value-sensitive design. It seems promising to apply both approaches to persuasive technologies and to elaborate on the specific ethical issues that arise once a technology becomes explicitly ‘persuasive’, that is intends a behavior change of the user. Also work done on ethical issues of persuasion in fields previously not linked to technology might serve as a valuable source of insights, as in rhetoric, advertisement ethics, and metaethics.

Project coordinator: Prof. dr. ir. A.W.M. Meijers (P&E)

Project team members: Dr. A. Spahn (P&E), drs. J. Smids (P&E), prof.dr. C.J.H. Midden (HTI), prof. M. Steinbuch (Mechanical Engineering)

See also here.

Darwinism in the man-made world (2008-2012, NWO Vidi)

Evolutionary models and techniques are increasingly, but controversially, applied to explain or even bring about technological change. We examine how these models are fine-tuned and validated in different disciplines: anthropology, archaeology, economics and engineering. In particular, we study to what extent they support claims of a ‘universal’ Darwinism, and to what extent the fine-tuning does and should reflect conceptions of technology as (the product of) intentional human actions.

Project coordinator: Dr. W.N. Houkes (P&E)

Project team members: Drs. S. Mendritzki (P&E)

See also here.

Things that make us smart: cognitive artefacts and extended minds (2008-2012, NWO Open Competition Humanities)

The hypothesis of the extended mind (HEM) proposes that objects of the external environment are used by the human mind in such a way that it is useful to treat them as extensions of the mind itself. Of special interest are cognitive artifacts, i.e. external objects that aid, enhance, replace or improve the brain’s cognitive performance (such as electronic agenda’s, calculators, GPS?s, scientific instruments, computers, search engines on the internet). HEM-theorists propose that, in order to understand human cognition, we should not study the brain alone, but attend to brain-artifact systems instead. Such hybrid systems contain both internal ánd external processes that together do the cognitive work.

Despite HEM’s consideration of external cognitive objects, most scholars using the framework (e.g. cognitive psychologists, archaeologists and philosophers) are exclusively interested in improving our understanding of human behavior. This is understandable, since the framework was developed as an alternative to traditional approaches to human cognition. Yet it also means that much potential for employing and testing the hypothesis of the extended mind remains unexplored. The current project aims to remedy this situation: we examine the merits of HEM with respect to understanding the other component in the brain-artifact system, namely the cognitive artifact.

Specifically, we address two issues. First, we analyze the different cognitive (alleged mind-extending) roles that cognitive artifacts can play, and assess how their contribution affects the epistemic status of brain-artifact systems. Secondly, we investigate whether the hypothesis of the extended mind, in at least one of its guises, can be used to repair evolutionary accounts of the history and function of cognitive artifacts.

Project coordinator: Prof. dr. ir. A.W.M. Meijers (P&E)

Project team members: Dr. W.N. Houkes (P&E), dr. ir. K. Vaesen (P&E), drs. M. van Holland (P&E)

See also here.

Moral responsibility in R&D networks (2006-2012, NWO Open Competition Humanities)

Technological research projects increasingly take place in networks, which involve different kinds of actors. These networks often lack a strict hierarchy and a clear task division, and in these networks decisions are subject to negotiation. This increases the likelihood of the problem of many hands, which is the difficulty to identify, even in principle, the person responsible for some outcome, if a large number of people is involved in an activity. The occurrence of this problem in R&D is especially undesirable because technological developments may have significant negative societal impacts, as is witnessed by such examples as the use of asbestos, CFCs, DDT, nuclear waste and the greenhouse effect. We therefore propose to study the problem of many hands in R&D networks. We conceive of this problem as the moral problem of the tension between two requirements for a desirable distribution of responsibilities in R&D networks. One is that the distribution ought to be complete in the sense that for each moral issue someone is responsible. The other is that the distribution ought to be fair. The goal of the research is to contribute to the solution of the problem of many hands in R&D networks by gaining insight in how to reconcile the requirements of completeness and fairness in the distribution of responsibilities in R&D networks. Three projects will be carried out to attain this goal. The first project develops a notion of moral responsibility that offers good chances for achieving a fair and complete distribution of responsibilities in R&D networks. The second project will apply the theory of an existing formal model for responsibility to investigate the influence of the organizational structure of an R&D network on the achieving of a complete and fair distribution of responsibilities. Using case studies of R&D networks, the third project investigates whether Rawls? notion of wide reflective equilibrium is a good starting point for achieving a complete and fair distribution of responsibilities. The research will result in a notion of moral responsibility and in designs for network structures that may help to overcome the problem of many hands in R&D networks.

Project coordinator: Prof. dr. I. Van de Poel (TUDelft)

Project team members: Dr. L.M.M. Royakkers (P&E), dr. S.D. Zwart (P&E/TUDelft)

See also here.

Norms in knowledge (2002-2009, NWO Open Competition Humanities)

The aim of the research programme is to bring out the normative elements in knowledge by analyzing and conceptualizing the normative dimension of two forms of knowledge: prescriptive knowledge and function­al knowledge.

Project coordinator: Prof. dr. ir. A.W.M. Meijers (P&E)

Project team members: Prof. dr. M. de Vries (P&E), dr. W.N. Houkes (P&E), dr. J. Hughes (P&E), ir. K. Vaesen (P&E)