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Introduction: Big Data – Digital Technology, Loads of Empirical Materials, and a Daring Vision

  • Christian Munthe (a1) and Urban Strandberg (a2)

Abstract

The daring vision of using big data technology to substantially advance the scientific understanding of human nature, individually and socially, and possibly solve age-old challenges of bridging the subjective and objective sides of human nature, rests on substantial assumptions about the concept of a human being. The daring big data vision may at the same time, in itself, serve to change the very concept of a human, regardless of how well the vision’s assumptions and prospects hold up to scrutiny. This issue of the European Review presents an attempt to critically engage with the question of how this complex situation affects the content and prospects of the vision of reconsidering humanity with the help of big data. In this introduction, the landscape of the issue is sketched and some general remarks of where the emerging map might take future research are made. In general, even if the assumptions of the daring big data vision turn out wanting, pragmatic factors may very well transform our own image of ourselves to fit it.

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1.Also belonging to the large-scale production of data is target-oriented fact-finding for intelligence, police and military purposes. This information will, at least not in the initial stage, be available for research – although the methods used for the analysis and formulation of conclusions in these respective areas, may eventually manifest themselves in the form of publicly noticeable consequences for scientists to ponder.
2.See, for instance, the Big Data Surveillance project: http://www.sscqueens.org/projects/big-data-surveillance
3. Kullenberg, C. and Kasperowski, D. (2016) What is citizen science? – A scientometric meta-analysis. PLOS ONE, 11(1), e0147152. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0147152
4.In this way, Figdor’s analysis adds to existing initiatives in philosophical ethics to attribute moral status to non-human entities: expanding the concept of the human agent, person or subject may just as well take us in the opposite ethical direction, notwithstanding the fact that many philosophers would argue that such a development is irrational or implausible.
5.In 2017, Millikan received the Rolf Schock Prize in Logic and Philosophy for her work in this area.
6.Rawls, J. (1971) A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

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