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"Man makes a clever face and talks about being lord on Earth. And at the same time he doesn’t even know where to begin with his own body: he watches sports on television and defends himself saying that everyone else does it too."

- Homeless Kodo


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A chat about ethics and technology, with Mr. Sebastian Müeller

On 12 December 2019, during the afternoon, Sebastian and I met at the Singapore office of Minglabs, an organisation in which Sebastian is Co-founder and COO. Let me briefly recall the approximately one-hour-long chat, using a format of Question-and-Answer (Q&A) below - I asked most of the questions, as I recall.

Q: “Why are you interested in ethics?”

A: “I do not have [an academic] background in ethics or philosophy. I studied Computer Science in Germany. My thinking changed after I had a son - he is three years old now - and I have done much more reading since.”

Q: “I don’t mean to offend you personally, but if we talk about ethics, there is the danger of being a hypocrite, that is, saying one thing and doing another. How do you ensure you are not a hypocrite?”

A: “Humans are fallible. If someone says something, and does what he says - if he walks the talk - he is an angel. [Having said that,] I try to be better today than I was yesterday.”

Q: “About Andrew Yang… [in the U.S., who proposed a Department of the Attention Economy]”

A: “Algorithm Oversight. Right now, there is a gap: the regulation-authorities have to figure out what is happening in these algorithms. It takes time to come up with regulations, and meanwhile, technology keeps moving on and on and on. They have to be paid well, because they are the best of the best of the best [that is, those who are, or might be, recruited, into The Government, to regulate algorithms that are used in software]. This is one area that I think Singapore does well in: the ministers are well-paid. In the U.S. or in Europe, working in The Government means taking a pay-cut.”

Q: “You mentioned reading. What are some of those books?”

A: “I’ll email you after our chat.” [Later, Sebastian emails hyperlinks:]

  1. Cathy O’Neil. (2016). “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data increases inequality and threatens democracy”. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28186015-weapons-of-math-destruction
  2. Brad Smith. (2019). “Tools and weapons: The promise and the peril of the Digital Age”. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44334073-tools-and-weapons
  3. Yancey Strickler. (2019). “This could be our future: A manifesto for a more generous world”. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44525559-this-could-be-our-future
  4. Tim O’Reilly. (2017). “WTF?: What’s The Future and why it’s up to us” . https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34017076-wtf

The Q&A above represents only a portion of the entirety of my chat with Sebastian, which concluded with agreeing that (the application of) ethics in technology meant co-operation/collaboration of (highly skilled) people across various fields of expertise, or disciplines. As Sebastian puts it, “I observe; I act within my sphere of influence… [but] I cannot solve the problem on my own.”

However, Sebastian seems optimistic, if not hopeful: “[if I] keep repeating a message [about ethics, to the audience of my various talks], maybe the message will get in.”