The Cyborg and the Noble Savage: Ethics in the War on Information Poverty

The Cyborg and the Noble Savage: Ethics in the War on Information Poverty

Martin Ryder (University of Colorado at Denver, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-022-6.ch016
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This chapter provides a brief summary of the technical and social hurdles that define the so-called ‘digital divide’ and it considers the celebrated ‘One Laptop Per Child’ project as one response to the problem of digital poverty. The chapter reviews the design of the XO laptop with particular interest on the ethical territory that is traversed in the implementation of a low-cost computer intended for millions of children in underdeveloped nations. The chapter reviews how XO designers negotiated between ethics and feasibility as they confronted numerous problems including infrastructure, power consumption, hazardous materials, free vs. proprietary software, security, and the cost of labor. Apart from technical considerations, this review of the XO evaluates the notion of cultural hegemony and how the imposition of such technology as an educational tool might be balanced by considerations of local control and user agency.
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The digital divide is the white man’s burden of the present era. As technically advanced people become enriched by the knowledge they create, there is a consciousness that millions of disconnected people lack the ‘freedoms’ associated with modern civilization. In this digital age, the billions who survive without computer technology are seen as languishing on a globe that can no longer sustain hunter-gatherers or subsistence farmers. The technical world of automation, manufacturing and mass consumption is increasingly hostile to the simple folk who live directly from the land. Modern humanity’s ability to dominate nature has imposed serious consequences on pre-modern societies that depend completely upon nature for their sustenance.

Kipling’s White Man’s Burden captured the prevailing ethic of a colonialist society that justified conquest of non-Western cultures in the name of ‘civilization’. It was a noble enterprise to lift savage populations from their ‘simplicity’ and hopeless poverty. This transformation began with skills of reading and writing. Literacy came first in the form of religion, then it flourished under the tutelage of commercialism. Today, the medium of literacy has migrated from parchment to silicon and the electronic well of knowledge is deep and boundless. Those who draw from the well continue to enrich it as they are enriched by it. But most of the world’s people remain disconnected from this knowledge source. They do not speak its language, they are unaware of its powers, and they are completely consumed by the more urgent necessities of daily living.

The focal point of this chapter is the celebrated OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project founded in 2005 by Nicholas Negroponte and a core team of the M.I.T. Media Lab. OLPC is an aggressive project that addresses the core issues of information poverty head on. The stated goal of OLPC is “to develop a $100 laptop – a technology that could revolutionize the way we educate the world’s children.”1 In working toward this goal, the designers have grappled with problems of technical feasibility, organizational pragmatics, social and political considerations, and the overarching problem of cultural hegemony. Negroponte’s non-profit team has wrestled between government ministries (as customers) and corporate interests (as suppliers) over questions of content, connectivity, power sources, the user interface, privacy, licensing, component sources, manufacturing, distribution and scores of related issues. What has emerged is a very novel technology at a very low cost with the potential for wide distribution in equally novel markets.

The ethical issues that we confront in this chapter are as numerous, complex, and varied as the science of ethics itself. They traverse several major traditions of ethical theory including natural law, utilitarian theory, and deontology and the applied fields of environmental ethics, engineering ethics and computer ethics. The very fact that we are addressing this issue - the digital divide - places us immediately into a state of anguish associated with Sartre’s existential ethics. While embracing the new powers that we inherit from information technology, we accept responsibility for ourselves in the use of these powers. And yet, as a free people, we also accept responsibility for the impact of our choices upon those who do not possess such power. Can a moral person ignore the growing knowledge gulf between our present-day civilizations? Who of us is justified in raising the question of digital poverty? Can the Western mind presume to understand a life of survival without technology and then dare to suggest a technical solution? In advancing our technologies to the farthest reaches of humanity, what are the unintended consequences of our actions? Do we, as Albert Borgmann (1999) suggests, risk the possibility of forever losing touch with nature?

This chapter will address some of the salient ethical issues associated with the digital divide and the moral implications of one specific intervention: the OLPC project. We will briefly consider some of the engineering ethics associated with the design and world-wide distribution of a child’s laptop computer. We will also consider the issue of cultural hegemony that is unavoidably associated with this project and observe the manner in which the designers have consciously addressed this concern.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Constructivism: Constructivism is a philosophical position that views knowledge as the outcome of experience mediated by one’s own prior knowledge and the experience of others. In contrast to objectivism (e.g. Ayn Rand, 1957 ) which embraces a static reality that is independent of human cognition, constructivism (e.g. Immanuel Kant, 1781/1787 AU34: The in-text citation "Immanuel Kant, 1781/1787" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ) holds that the only reality we can know is that which is represented by human thought. Each new conception of the world is mediated by prior-constructed realities that we take for granted. Human cognitive development is a continually adaptive process of assimilation, accommodation, and correction ( Piaget, 1968 ). Social constructivists (e.g. Berger and Luckmann, 1966 AU35: The in-text citation "Berger and Luckmann, 1966" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ) suggest that it is through the social process that reality takes on meaning and that our lives are formed and reformed through the dialectical process of socialization. A similar dialectical relationship informs our understanding of science (e.g. Bloor, 1976 ), and it shapes the technical artifacts that we invent and continually adapt to our changing realities (e.g. Bijker, 1995 ). Humans are shaped by their interactions with machines just as machines evolve and change in response to their use by humans. ( Lemke, 1993 ).

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS): This is software that is available to the general public not only to be used, but to be changed and adapted as local usage patterns may dictate. Sometimes referred to as ‘freeware’, the design documentation and human-readable source code are openly published and not constrained by intellectual property restrictions that would limit how and where the software will be used or how it might be improved or adapted to a particular need. Recognizing the social nature of knowledge and the constructivist nature of technology, participants in the free and open software movement routinely collaborate and share information with peers and they assert no exclusive claims to the software designs and code implementations that result from this wide collaborative praxis.

Cyborg: A compound word formed from the words: ‘cybernetic organism’. The term was coined by two medical researchers ( Clynes and Kline, 1960 ) to describe a cybernetic augmentation of machines with the human body toward the goal of achieving super-human capabilities of survival. The term has been adopted in popular literature to describe a synthesis of organic and synthetic parts, and is widely used to convey the melding of the human mind with computer technology to achieve super-human cognitive powers. Dona Haraway frames the expression in context of techno-political supremacy as “the awful apocalyptic telos of the West’s dominations,” (1991, p. 150).

Digital Divide: This expression arose in the digital age to describe the information gulf that exists between peoples and societies. The perceived gulf is the result of the dramatic rise of information technologies that evolved exponentially in the developed countries during the latter half of the Twentieth Century. The expression connotes the idea that information is a potent source of power, and those who enjoy access to information technologies have the potential to wield significant power over those who have no such access.

Subversive Rationalization: Coined by Andrew Feenberg (1992) , subversive rationalization describes the constructivist nature of technology. In particular, it denotes the manner that technologies undergo a metamorphosis through the process of adoption and use over time. While such changes may undermine a designer’s intentions, the transformations result in a democratizing trend that may convert a given technology from an instrument of social control to one that is guided by democratic social forces and human values. The final shape of an instrument is determined, not by the designer, but by the cultural logic of the human actors who adopt and use the technology.

Hegemony: Hegemony describes the political, economic, and cultural domination of one class of people over other classes. Hegemony comes about, not by means of forceful repression over those who might resist domination, but through the passive consent of subordinate classes who eventually accept the social order as a natural state of affairs as it is manifested in virtually every social institution. Hegemony is most pronounced in societies where the dominant class controls the information sector including mass media, education, and the market supply chain.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Rocci Luppicini, Rebecca Adell
Rocci Luppicini, Rebecca Adell
Chapter 1
Rocci Luppicini
Over the last 30 years, an amassing body of work has focused on ethical dimensions of technology in a variety of contexts impacting society. This... Sample PDF
The Emerging Field of Technoethics
Chapter 2
Marc J. de Vries
In this chapter it is argued that a multidisciplinary approach to technoethics is necessary to do justice to the complexity of technology.... Sample PDF
A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Technoethics
Chapter 3
Daniela Cerqui, Kevin Warwick
Common ethical issues related to technology are formulated in terms of impact. With an anthropological approach, every technological device is... Sample PDF
Technoethics: An Anthropological Approach
Chapter 4
Michael S. Billinger
Despite the fact that analyses of biological populations within species have become increasing sophisticated in recent years, the language used to... Sample PDF
A Technoethical Approach to the Race Problem in Anthropology
Chapter 5
Andy Miah
This chapter outlines a technoethics for sport by addressing the relationship between sport ethics and bioethics. The purpose of this chapter is to... Sample PDF
The Ethics of Human Enhancement in Sport
Chapter 6
Darryl Macer
This chapter examines some of the cultural variation in the ethical factors associated with the use of science and technology. The issues discussed... Sample PDF
Education of Ethics of Science and Technology Across Cultures
Chapter 7
Seppo Visala
Within the organisational development people’s arguments rise from their personal or group interests, which in turn are based on the systemic... Sample PDF
Planning, Interests, and Argumentation
Chapter 8
Alireza Bagheri
This chapter elaborates on some of the existing concerns and ethical issues that may arise when biomedical research protocols are proposed or funded... Sample PDF
Ethics Review on Externally- Sponsored Research in Developing Countries
Chapter 9
Gerrhard Fortwengel
At the beginning of this section the authors provide a definition of biomedical research and an interpretation of the meaning of ethics and social... Sample PDF
Social and Ethical Aspects of Biomedical Research
Chapter 10
Stefano Fait
In assessing the ethical implications of genomics and biotechnology, it is important to acknowledge that science, technology, and bioethics do not... Sample PDF
Ethical Aspects of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology
Chapter 11
Timothy F. Murphy
Military researchers are working to exploit advances in nanoscale research for military uniforms, medical diagnosis and treatment, enhanced soldier... Sample PDF
Nanoscale Research, Ethics, and the Military
Chapter 12
Keith Bauer
This chapter reviews key debates about the meaning of telehealth and also considers how new and emerging systems in telehealth work to protect... Sample PDF
Healthcare Ethics in the Information Age
Chapter 13
Matthew Charlesworth, David Sewry
The development of cybernetics and digital computers prompted the need for a greater exploration of computer ethics. Information ethics, as... Sample PDF
Ethical Theories and Computer Ethics
Chapter 14
John P. Sullins
This chapter will argue that artificial agents created or synthesized by technologies such as artificial life (ALife), artificial intelligence (AI)... Sample PDF
Artificial Moral Agency in Technoethics
Chapter 15
Pilar Alejandra Cortés Pascual
‘What positive and negative aspects are perceived of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT)?’ and ‘What dilemmas arise regarding these... Sample PDF
Ethical Controversy over Information and Communication Technology
Chapter 16
Martin Ryder
This chapter provides a brief summary of the technical and social hurdles that define the so-called ‘digital divide’ and it considers the celebrated... Sample PDF
The Cyborg and the Noble Savage: Ethics in the War on Information Poverty
Chapter 17
Mike Ribble
In todays changing global society, digital technology users need to be prepared to interact and work with users from around the world. Digital... Sample PDF
Becoming a Digital Citizen in a Technological World
Chapter 18
Deb Gearhart
Are we developing a (global) society where our youth think it is ok to copy and paste whatever they see on the Internet and turn it in for homework;... Sample PDF
Technoethics in Education for the Twenty-First Century
Chapter 19
May Thorseth
The purpose of this chapter is to discuss important ethical aspects of online communication of global scope. We focus particularly on procedural... Sample PDF
The Ethics of Global Communication Online
Chapter 20
Cameron Norman, Adrian Guta, Sarah Flicker
New information technologies are creating virtual spaces that allow youth to network and express themselves with unprecedented freedom and... Sample PDF
Engaging Youth in Health Promotion Using Multimedia Technologies: Reflecting on 10 Years of TeenNet Research Ethics and Practice
Chapter 21
Samantha Mei-che Pang
In Hong Kong, end-of-life practice ideally adheres to values that include respect for the patient’s selfdetermination and an understanding shared by... Sample PDF
Ethical Challenges of Engaging Chinese in End-of-Life Talk
Chapter 22
Busi Nkala
An estimated 39.5 million people are living with HIV worldwide. There were 4.3 million new infections in 2006 with 2.8 million (65%) of these... Sample PDF
Community Education in New HIV Prevention Technologies Research
Chapter 23
Makoto Nakada, Rafael Capurro
In this article we give an overview of the range and characteristics of intercultural information ethics (IIE) focusing on the public/private debate... Sample PDF
The Public / Private Debate: A Contribution to Intercultural Information Ethics
Chapter 24
Arsalan Butt
Consumer software piracy is widespread in many parts of the world. P2P based websites have made it easier to access pirated software, which has... Sample PDF
Ethical, Cultural and Socio- Economic Factors of Software Piracy Determinants in a Developing Country: Comparative Analysis of Pakistani and Canadian University Students
Chapter 25
A. Anderson, S. Allan, A. Petersen, C. Wilkinson
Recent evidence on genetically modified crops, cloning and stem cell research suggests that the news media play a significant role in shaping wider... Sample PDF
Nanoethics: The Role of News Media in Shaping Debate
Chapter 26
Russell W. Robbins, Kenneth R. Fleischmann, William A. Wallace
This chapter explains and integrates new approaches to teaching computing and information ethics (CIE) and researching CIE education. We first... Sample PDF
Computing and Information Ethics Education Research
Chapter 27
Jennifer Candor
The allocation of resources for assistive technology does not have to result in a gap between general and special education. This case study... Sample PDF
The Ethical Dilemma over Money in Special Education
Chapter 28
Pilar Alejandra Cortés Pascual
Educational orientation should be set within a specific socio-historical context, which is nowadays characterized by the Society of Information.... Sample PDF
Educational Technoethics Applied to Career Guidance
Chapter 29
A.K. Haghi
In this book chapter, the authors summarize their retrospections as an engineering educator for more than 20 years. Consideration is given to a... Sample PDF
The Scholarship of Teaching Engineering: Some Fundamental Issues
Chapter 30
Antoinette Rouvroy
The aim of the present chapter is to elucidate the paradoxical position of the individual legal subject in the context of human genetics. It first... Sample PDF
Which Rights for Which Subjects? Genetic Confidentiality and Privacy in the Post-Genomic Era
Chapter 31
Eduardo A. Rueda
This chapter focuses on showing legitimate ways for coping with uncertainties within the informed consent process of predictive genetic testing. It... Sample PDF
Predictive Genetic Testing,Uncertainty, and Informed Consent
Chapter 32
Soraj Hongladarom
The chapter argues that there is a way to justify privacy without relying on the metaphysical assumption of an independently existing self or... Sample PDF
Privacy, Contingency, Identity, and the Group
Chapter 33
Y. Ibrahim
This chapter situates the current debates on pornography in the virtual realm and its ethical and legal implications for users and researchers. It... Sample PDF
The Ethics of Gazing: The Politics of Online Pornography
Chapter 34
Neil C. Rowe
We examine the main ethical issues concerning deception in cyberspace. We first discuss the concept of deception and survey ethical theories... Sample PDF
The Ethics of Deception in Cyberspace
Chapter 35
Cyber Identity Theft  (pages 542-557)
Lynne D. Roberts
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) provide substantial benefits to governments, organizations and individuals through providing low... Sample PDF
Cyber Identity Theft
Chapter 36
A. Pablo Iannone
This chapter asks: What is information overload? At what levels of existence does it occur? Are there any features common to information overload at... Sample PDF
Walking the Information Overload Tightrope
Chapter 37
Cyber-Victimization  (pages 575-592)
Lynne D. Roberts
Information and communication technologies (ICTs); while providing a range of benefits to individuals, organisations and governments; also provide... Sample PDF
Chapter 38
Spyware  (pages 593-608)
Mathias Klang
It is well known that technology can be use as to effectively monitor the behavior of crows and individuals and in many cases this knowledge may b... Sample PDF
Chapter 39
D. Gareth Jones
The advent of in vitro fertilization (IVF) marked a watershed in the scientific understanding of the human embryo. This, in turn, led to a... Sample PDF
In Vitro Fertilization and the Embryonic Revolution
Chapter 40
Joyce Yi- Hui Lee
In this chapter we argue that even though conflict has been explored at an intra-organizational level, its effect and role at an... Sample PDF
Inter-Organizational Conflicts in Virtual Alliances
Chapter 41
Andreas Matthias
Creation of autonomously acting, learning artifacts has reached a point where humans cannot any more be justly held responsible for the actions of... Sample PDF
From Coder to Creator: Responsibility Issues in Intelligent Artifact Design
Chapter 42
J. José Cortez
Fundamental democratic principles and values that guide our social relationships have been important concerns in the evolution of this nation’s... Sample PDF
Historical Perspective of Technoethics in Education
Chapter 43
Heidi L. Schnackenberg
On the cutting edge of current technologies are portable media, where users can download information and take it with them to digest it anytime... Sample PDF
Podcasting and Vodcasting in Education and Training
Chapter 44
Technoethics in Schools  (pages 680-699)
Darren Pullen
School students are used to digital technology-they blog, create movies for public viewing on the web, create and download music and use instant... Sample PDF
Technoethics in Schools
Chapter 45
Charles R Crowell
This chapter discusses the ways in which moral psychology can inform information ethics. A “Four Component Model” of moral behavior is described... Sample PDF
Moral Psychology and Information Ethics: Psychological Distance and the Components of Moral Behavior in a Digital World
Chapter 46
José-Rodrigo Córdoba
Current developments in information systems (IS) evaluation emphasise stakeholder participation in order to ensure adequate and beneficial IS... Sample PDF
A Critical Systems View of Power-Ethics Interactions in Information Systems Evaluation
Chapter 47
Joan D. McMahon
If you were to survey course syllabi on your campus, you would probably find the standard syllabi to include: • Course title and number •... Sample PDF
Ethical Issues in Web-Based Learning
Chapter 48
Barbara Paterson
Computer ethicists foresee that as information and communication technology (ICT) increasingly pervades more and more aspects of life, ethical... Sample PDF
We Cannot Eat Data: The Need for Computer Ethics to Address the Cultural and Ecological Impacts of Computing
Chapter 49
Bernd Carsten Stahl, Simon Rogerson
The ever-changing face of ICT can render its deployment rather problematic in sensitive areas of applications, such as healthcare. The ethical... Sample PDF
Current and Future State of ICT Deployment and Utilization in Healthcare: An Analysis of Cross-Cultural Ethical Issues
Chapter 50
Sue Conger
With each new technology, new ethical issues emerge that threaten both individual and household privacy. This chapter investigates issues relating... Sample PDF
Emerging Technologies, Emerging Privacy Issues
Chapter 51
Robert N. Barger
This chapter discusses the ethics of a proof-of-concept demonstration of “parasitic computing.” A “parasite” computer attempts to solve a complex... Sample PDF
Ethics of "Parasitic Computing": Fair Use or Abuse of TCP/IP Over the Internet?
Chapter 52
Cecilia Andrews
“Counter-terrorism refers to the practices, tactics and strategies that governments, militaries and other groups adopt in order to fight terrorism.”... Sample PDF
Simulating Complexity-Based Ethics for Crucial Decision Making in Counter Terrorism
Chapter 53
Gundars Kaupins
This article summarizes the legal and ethical implications associated with employee location monitoring. It states that few international laws and... Sample PDF
Legal and Ethical Implications of Employee Location Monitoring
Chapter 54
Fjodor Ruzic
In today’s dynamic e-business environment where fast time to market is imperative, where information and telecommunications technology is costly and... Sample PDF
New Ethics for E-Business Offshore Outsourcing
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