spacer.png, 0 kB
Volg Cursor via Twitter Volg Cursor via Facebook Cursor RSS feed
spacer.png, 0 kB

spacer.png, 0 kB
Cursor in PDF formaatCursor als PDF
Special Cursor 50 jaarSpecial Cursor 50 jaar
PrintE-mail Tweet dit artikel Deel dit artikel op Facebook
Assistant Professor Philip Nickel: Trusting technology
19 februari 2009 - Dr. Philip Nickel started last December as Assistant Professor at the School of IE&IS. He teaches Ethics and Technology. His former post was at the University of California, Irvine in Southern California. What does he work on here, what are his first impressions of TU/e?
Philip Nickel. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

“I participate in classes for Master students in the School of IE&IS, and along with my colleagues Felicitas Kraemer and Andreas Spahn, I’m helping to lead a PhD seminar on Ethics and Technology offered by our Department at the ‘Nederlandse Onderzoek-school Ethiek’. I also give introductory classes that are offered by the Department of Philosophy for various Departments on the campus, like Chemical Engineering”, Nickel explains. The aim of this Bachelor class is to make students aware of ethical implications of design decisions and the influence of engineers on them, so that ethical issues become a constitutive part of the technological design process.

“The class ‘Ethics and Technology’ is organized round case discussions”, says Nickel. “We look at cases from engineering and some specifically from Chemical Engineering. The goal is to connect ethics and safety issues, and their lives as students at TU/e and their future lives as professionals. That’s why we have a pretty practical focus with cases on safety, sustainability and ethical decisions on how to inform the public and how to deal with colleagues.”

Hard work
According to Nickel the Chemical Engineering students he teaches have a specialized focus and their curriculum is rather determined. That’s why they all know each other. This gives the group a strong cohesiveness. “I like to take an open view on how Dutch students are and learn from my experiences. As I am a philosopher, I think it’s too early to draw conclusions on what the students are like. Overall, they seem very spirited and have a lot of energy and it seems a lot of hard work goes into that. They like what they do and they are really practical.”

Placing a bet
Nickel’s main research area is on ‘trust’. “I like to see ‘trust’ as placing a bet on people or organizations and having certain expectations of responsibility towards them. You rely on them in the sense that you are betting on them that they are doing well, and also in the sense that you morally expect them to do well. That may sound obvious, but no one has proposed that particular definition in the philosophical and social scientific literature.”

Nickel gives the following small example: “You rely on a coffee machine that it supplies you with some-thing that is drinkable and won’t poison you. But now think of a machine which is worth a million euros. You really are counting on it to work. The people who build it, rely on it, you rely on it, the public relies on the machine. And that’s the place where I look when people are deciding on trust. It seems there are a lot of places where trust enters the picture. Anytime when you are not totally in control and you don’t have all the information, then you are put in a position of needing to trust others.”

Another example is the melamine-milk-affair in China. “It shows how hard it is to rebuild trust after it is broken.” In Holland there is a saying: Trust comes on foot, and flees on horseback. Nickel adds: “Or with a Dutch means of transportation: by bike.” Another question Nickel addresses is ‘what information do people use to establish trust’. What is most accurate and mana-geable? People don’t have time to know the entire track record. They can’t rely on rough stereotypes either.

When asked how it is to be a philosopher among engineers, Nickel replies: “I like the practicality of Dutch engineers. ‘If you’re interested in doing some-thing, talk to me, and we’ll do it.’ A willingness to get started, to do something, which I appreciate.”/.