Tuesday 11th of April 2017

Posted by Honours Platform



Wednesday evening April 5th: at Prinsenkwartier in Delft: bachelor honours students grasped moral dilemmas in a short movie. These are the end presentations of the interdisciplinary honours course ‘Shooting a Moral Quandary’ taught by Bauke Steenhuisen and Shannon Spruit, teachers at the TU Delft.

Bauke Steenhuisen (teacher) looks back at the course and presentations:

Students in the Honours Programme hosted an evening with short movies about ‘the dark side of technology’. Future technology raises many moral questions. And there is undeniably darkness in technology, as it may cause, or fail to prevent, suffering on large scale, in many ways. Who needs examples? There is also darkness in the sense that we often simply do not know the answer to many moral questions future technology raises.

Could future engineers be able to ‘engineer’ a good public debate on moral issues that worry them? In a new course called ‘Shooting a moral quandary’, we challenged students to do so. The assignment was to use storytelling and moviemaking to grasp/shoot/display a moral issue related to technology. Shannon Spruit and Bauke Steenhuisen, showed the students how they could use a good story to trigger a good discussion about a moral issue. A diverse group of experts on storytelling, moviemaking and engineering helped the students with their personal endeavour along the way.

The students came up with a rich soup of moral issues. What if a self-driving car makes a choice who stays alive and who dies? When do you stand up against your boss and risk to lose your job if you feel that the system kills progress for commercial reasons? If our loved ones are subject to discrimination, we tend to change our mind about how bad discriminating algorithms are. Is that immoral? What if a smart coffee machine collects data on our daily coffee intake and uses the data? Is it a moral question whether we should replace humans with robots or is it just progress? Is there a thin moral line between being inspired by and stealing someone else’s idea? Why do we throw away so many products?

The movie is not our end result. Contributing to a good public debate has been our ultimate goal. But how to measure that? What if the movie shocks us, divides us or makes us laugh about something horrible? What if the movie unites us and we seem to agree, is that a better result than when our response to a movie shows us that we do not agree? What if people are silent? We, all the movie makers, do not exactly agree on how our story should help public debate.

The short movies happened to ‘grab the throat’ of people in the audience, as it was said. Using a story in the form of a short movie indeed seems to be a great tool to trigger and start off a good debate. And that is what the evening was all about: showing the short movies and having a good debate.

Looking forward to the new students next year!