Networks, Crowdsourcing, and the Rise of Social Machines

Networks, Crowdsourcing, and the Rise of Social Machines

Chair: Claudia Pagliari



Networked digital technologies are now ubiquitous in many societies, allowing communication between distributed groups of people at scale and often in real- or near- real time. These ubiquitous digital networks have given rise to new sociotechnical systems, characterized by the synergistic and purposive engagement of humans and computational technologies, from which work, problem-solving, societal activism, or other forms of collective action may emerge. For example, Ushahidi combines local reports of political incidents or natural disasters to be collected and aggregated through technical devices to produce crowdsourced maps, Galaxy zoo combines the observations of thousands of citizen scientists to create new crowd-powered scientific discoveries. We might call these new formations ‘social machines’. The term ‘social machine’ was originally coined by Tim Berners-Lee to describe the potential of web-linked computers to enable humans to be released from mundane administrative tasks in order to concentrate on more creative ones, and has also been associated with ‘pro-human’ forms of collaborative action, as in the examples above. However, the evolution of social machines has not always followed this model and new social machines are emerging with increasing frequency that raise new ethical questions for society. The ‘Ethics of Social Machines’ track will provide a forum for discussing and debating these issues, with reference to existing, evolving and possible future social machines. 

The sorts of questions we are interested in hearing about include: How often does crowdsourcing produce a social machine in which the people do the administration and the machine (or those controlling the machine) is creative? Are social machines liberating and empowering, or are they another technological route to social control? Can social machines enable people and communities to identify and address their own problems, or do they require top- down design to function efficiently? To what extent are social machines shaped by their users or their users shaped by the social machines? What ethical issues arise when people act as social machine co-creators, workers, ‘users’ or controllers? What happens to issues like ownership, risk, rights and agency when social machines flip from one model to another? We invite papers that address ethical issues for social machines from a range of disciplinary perspectives (e.g. philosophical, psychological, sociological, legal, computational) or that consider new or evolving social machines that present particular ethical challenges. 

Possible topics include, but are not limited to: 

  • Factors engendering trust to distrust in social machines 
  • Ethical challenges presented by the use of data generated by social machines? 
  • Control of power in social machines. 
  • Social machines as empowering or exploitative innovations 
  • Morality in the context of social machines 
  • Inclusion, exclusion and equity 
  • Responsible research and innovation 
The meaning of identity in the context of social machines 
  • Social machines, terrorism and cybercrime