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Google Hired an Oxford Philosopher to Help Them Think Outside the Box

Google Hired an Oxford Philosopher to Help Them Think Outside the Box

by Clay Michael GillespieJanuary 8, 2015

Earlier this year, the European Union put Google in a tight spot by passing legislation in accordance with their “right to be forgotten.”

The legislation allowed any European citizen the right to wipe their mark off the face of the Internet if they wished. The cog in their right to be forgotten it that the internet isn’t a place known to forget. It’s a database of information that stores every tweet, video and embarrassing picture as long as the services hosting it keeps running.

Regardless to criticism the EU received from figures even as famous as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Google was still left with the ruling to field, evaluate and adjudicate query requests coming from European citizens looking to be forgotten.

In response, Google held a meeting of the minds in Madrid, trying to come up with a tool or thought process behind their next steps. According to reports by Pacific Standard Magazine (PS Mag), attendees were scholars and human rights advocates alongside Wikipedia’s Wales and Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond.

Google, normally known for seeing the world in a different light and allowing most ideas to flourish, decided to bring in an extra set of eyes into the mind. Google brought in Oxford Internet Institute professor and director of research, Luciano Floridi. While he could easily have been in attendance for academic matters, he was fit to help Google with his extensive background in philosophy.

Inside the Mind of a Philosopher for Google

Google FloridiFloridi was there to help Google think outside the box the EU placed them inside. By all definitions of the word, Floridi is a modern day philosopher. He’s best known for his research into philosophy of Information along with the Ethics of Information. He also researches epistemology, logic and the history and philosophy of skepticism.

Floridi is published in more than 150 publications and has given approximately 300 speeches on his research. He’s given keynote speeches at the Seoul Digital Forum, the Beijing Forum, TED, the World Science Festival and many more to a slew of different audiences.

At the of Google’s predicament, Floridi was busy working on a project titled “Ethics of Biomedical Big Data.” According to the report, the research seeks to “investigate the ethical aspects and requirements of Big Data in preparation to develop a European framework for the ethical use of Big Data in biomedical research.”

According to Floridi, people are their information. Their information comprises of their particles, their history, genetics, beliefs and so much more.

It’s an incredibly complex theory to wrap one’s head around at first glance, but it seems as though Floridi thinks that, in regards to information, everything about a person is their information. If a company owns someone’s information, they own a piece of the person themselves.

To draw a parallel, Floridi points out that he can sell his hair but can’t sell his liver. He explained to PS Mag in an interview:

“There is some data of mine that is so personal, that not only should nobody have it, but I should not be allowed to share it… But at the same time, there is plenty of data about me that doesn’t constitute me.”

Floridi is digging deeper into the idea of information and what it truly means and is helping guide Google in their decisions. He’s also challenging everyone to think deeper into what they constitute to be morally and ethically correct in regards to information; from companies to the individual.

It seems that in an age of redefining everything, society can’t keep thinking in terms of the past. The Internet brought new challenges, definitions and concepts that shook all past notions from their stagnant resting places. Now the world needs guidance not only from ourselves, but from philosophers studying these new realms.

Images from from Wikimedia Commons and Shutterstock.

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