Aimee van Wynsberghe and the virtues of care, self-control and justice

Inspired by Shannon Vallor’s book “Technology and the virtues: A philosophical guide to a future worth wanting“, in which she discusses a range of technomoral virtues that we need to cultivate in order to flourish (2016, p. 118-155), I am writing a series of portraits of exemplars–people who embody these virtues.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Aimee) van Wynsberghe

From: https://www.itweb.co.za/content/KWEBb7yalR17mRjO

Aimee van Wynsberghe has been working in ICT and robotics since 2004. She began her career as part of a research team investigating the network variables related to surgical robots. She works as Assistant Professor in Ethics and Technology at Delft University of Technology. She is co-founder president of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics. The Foundation’s mission “is to shape a future of responsible robotics design, development, use, regulation, and implementation”.

She was recently (June 2018) appointed as one of 52 experts for the European Commission’s High Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence.

Aimee van Wynsberghe promotes the technomoral virtues of care, self-control and justice.

Van Wynsberghe promotes the virtue of care–which Vallor defines asa skillful, attentive, responsible, and emotionally responsive disposition to personally meet the needs of those with whom we share our technosocial environment” (2016, p. 138)–on multiple levels: on the application level, she focuses on the deployment of robots in health care contexts; on the design level, she advocates carefully considering ethical issues in the designing of robots; and on the level of (meta) ethics, she proposes ethics of care, an approach in ethics that starts with relationships and interdependencies between people.

Furthermore, Van Wynsberghe promotes the virtue of self-control–which Vallor defines asan exemplary ability … to choose, and ideally to desire for their own sakes, those goods and experiences that most contribute to contemporary and future human flourishing” (2016, p. 124)–e.g. in her work in the Foundation, where she argues that: “Robots are tools with no moral intelligence, which means it’s up to us – the humans behind the robots – to be accountable for the ethical developments that necessarily come with technological innovation.” So we, designers and developers, need to cultivate self-control.

Moreover, Van Wynsberghe promotes the virtue of justice, which Vallor defines as a “characteristic concern for how emerging technologies impact the basic rights, dignity, or welfare of individuals and groups” (2016, p. 128)–e.g., when she argues that: “Addressing ethical issues in robotics means proactively taking stock of the impact these innovations will have on societal values like safety, security, privacy, and well-being, rather than trying to contain the effects of robots after their introduction into society.” She advocates proactively upholding and defending values that are needed in a just society.


Possibly, you find that Aimee van Wynsberghe embodies other virtues as well. Or you may have other ideas about the virtues discussed above. Please post them below or contact me at: marc.steen-at-tno.nl

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Sherry Turkle and the virtues of empathy, courage, civility and care

Inspired by Shannon Vallor’s book “Technology and the virtues: A philosophical guide to a future worth wanting“, in which she discusses a range of technomoral virtues that we need to cultivate in order to flourish (2016, p. 118-155), I am writing a series of portraits of exemplars–people who embody these virtues.

Sherry Turkle headshotFrom: https://sherryturkle.com/

Sherry Turkle embodies the technomoral virtues of empathy, courage, civility and care.

“Sherry Turkle has spent the last 30 years exploring the relationship between people and technology. It’s complex. It’s ever-changing. And it affects everything – how we work and learn, how we parent and govern, and even how we love.”

Sherry Turkle obtained a BA in Social Studies and a Ph.D. in Sociology and Personality Psychology at Harvard University, and joined MIT in 1976, where she works as a Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology. For over 30 years, she has studied people’s relationships to computers. She wrote a series of best-selling books: “The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit” (1984), about how computers affect the ways in which we look at ourselves and the way we think and act, “Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet” (1995), about how people can go into virtual worlds, interact with others, and explore multiple identities, and “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” (2011), about how our obsession with devices and connectivity corrodes natural, organic, genuine communication.

In her most recent book, “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age” (2015), she offers a diagnosis of the problem: our obsession with devices and being always ‘on’ and connected made us forget the benefits of solitude (we’re so afraid for boredom that we fill every minute of free time staring at devices), we forgot how to connect to others (we’ve lost basic skills for making conversations, we’re avoiding ‘awkward’ conversations and thus have lost basic skills for empathy), and we forgot how to organize conversations in groups (most people are staring at their screens, in schools, in work places, etc.). In addition, she gives some practical ‘self help’ advice: to make an effort, to put your phone away, to learn to be alone, to learn to connect to others, and to learn how to foster genuine conversations. The key problem, i.e. a lack of conversations, can be solved by exactly that what’s lacking, by having better conversations.

The chairs on the book’s cover are a visual reference to a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “I had three chairs in my house: one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society“.

Turkle has conducted ethnographic studies with thousands of people over more than 30 years, and over the course of those years, these conversations have made her concerned. In the 1980’s computers were exciting; we could use them as tools to explore our identities. But now, in the 2010’s our tools are controlling us. These interactions moved her to want to ameliorate this situation. She is simultaneously worried, about the lack of conversation, and hopeful, about the potential of better conversations as a solution.

In her work, Turkle embodies the technomoral virtues of empathy, which Vallor defines as a “cultivated openness to being morally moved to caring action by the emotions of other members of our technosocial world” (2016, p. 133), and of courage: “a reliable disposition toward intelligent fear and hope with respect to moral and material dangers and opportunities presented by emerging technologies” (2016, p. 131).

Moreover, through her work, she advocates cultivating the technomoral virtues of civility, which Vallor defines as “a sincere disposition … to collectively and wisely deliberate about matters of local, national, and global policy and political action; to communicate, entertain, and defend our distinct conceptions of the good life; and to work cooperatively toward those goods of technosocial life that we seek and expect to share with others” (2016, p. 141), and of care, which Vallor defines as “a skillful, attentive, responsible, and emotionally responsive disposition to personally meet the needs of those with whom we share our technosocial environment” (2016, p. 138). With her analysis and advice, she urges us to reclaim conversation, to cultivate the skills of conversation, for the sake of civility and humanity, as an act of care to our fellow humans. 


Possibly, you find that Sherry Turkle embodies other virtues as well. Or you may have other ideas about the virtues discussed above. Please post them below or contact me at: marc.steen-at-tno.nl