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Ethics and future technology

  1. Jun 26, 2012 #1
    Hello all,

    Thanks in advance for any thoughts and opinions on this. In short, I'm wondering if classes or a masters in applied ethics and future tech would be an asset for me.

    I took a 400 lvl class in a previous semester about applied ethics and future technologies. I was very interested in the topics we'd discussed and in the papers and term paper for the class the prof had commented that I had many good ideas and he liked my approach to some of the complex issues (he said some other kind words as well). I'm working on my undergrad in physics and minor in computational math but I'm considering meeting with that professor before the fall semester starts to ask about taking the second part to that class. Even though that is a graduate level class, Ive heard that the school will let undergrads enroll in them with the instructors permission. I also want to ask him what kind of research he does.. I know he does some consulting with darpa and other govt agencies, as well as research at the university. The man is essentially a think tank, Id love the opportunity to work more closely with him.

    If I'm planning on going to grad school for physics after my undergrad, is there any added benefit to supplementing my current course load with these classes? Other than the fact that I'm interested in it. I've googled about what people with degrees in applied ethics do and haven't found much that was helpful. There also wasn't an abundance of other programs similar to the applied ethics and future tech that could make comparisons too; thats potentially good and bad imo.

    Again, any thoughts or insight is appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2012 #2


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    Hey Sammy600 and welcome to the forums.

    I don't think doing a masters in ethics is really even the best way to understand ethics. It sounds like the best situation to learn about this is to actually see for yourself the multitude of situations that are controversial and learn on the basis of that.

    The thing about ethics, especially in public perception is that in many cases, a lot of people don't really understand the depth and context of an issue and that as a result will default to any situation that they can relate to in any small way.

    Some brief examples.

    Consider the definition of radiation and nuclear: most people know about this but what many people think about are atomic bombs. So just even sprouting these two words without anything else conjurs up automatic pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and people can get into an ethical debate without really understanding the issue in any non-superficial manner.

    Also consider the global warming debate. A lot of people think that the earth hasn't dealt with situations of this sort, but we've had volcanoes and other phenomena that have produced these kinds of emissions in the past. Again trying to make an ethical situation on this is pointless because the situation is superficially understood. Usually though, when you find ways that are emotional blackspots like the future of the children, then this is something that is an over-riding issue with regards to how people behave.

    Then you get into stem-cell research, and all the other stuff and again, the typical emotional response comes in, regardless of how deeply the issue is understood or not.

    Understanding ethics means being able to the situation for what it really is and this means experiencing first hand the subject in its depth and complexity. People that don't know the depth or are unwilling to see the whole picture are not good for any kind of discussion on ethics because they are just trying to force their world view and bury their head in the sand when it comes to things they don't want to know or accept, even as mere possibilities let alone with regard to full acceptance.

    If you want to becoming acquainted with ethics in some field, speak to a person who has worked in that field for 20+ years and ask them what they think are unethical or immoral things that they consider significant and then ask them for any reasons and caveats that might pop up to support such a situation: this is how you understand ethics. You don't understand ethics without context or with some general course.
  4. Jun 27, 2012 #3
    Chiro, the OP is (planning on) going for a masters in physics. The OP only wants to know if taking classes in applied ethics and future tech would be beneficial.

    My response is yes. I mean, a higher level math class or something would probably make you better at physics, but ehtics in the workplace is important (definitely within the academic community), and, well future tech just sounds interesting. Sometimes it helps to have stimulating classes alongside the core ones.
  5. Jun 27, 2012 #4


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    I think that depends what your future ambitions are.

    Do you want to make a career doing physics, or writing / talking about what other people are doing? (I'm not making a value judgement between those options). It should be fairly obvious these courses are more useful for one choice than the other.
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