What is anticipatory ethics about?

It was at ESDiT22 where I first encountered the term anticipatory ethics. This got my hopes up that there might be a new approach to the problem of unintended consequences in philosophy of technology.

The problem of unintended consequences:
The most troubling ethical problems in technology arise from unintended consequences. Unintended consequences can be known in advance, but most often they are unknown.

If they are known in advance then one can speculate about their ethical impacts. If they are unknown then one has to first come up with possibilities of unintended consequences, which are then speculated about. This means double forecasting: first one needs to forecast the unintended consequences, then one has to forecast the effects of those. This process is inherently more risky than a single layered forecast.

Phillip Brey who came up with the term anticipatory ethics thought that this problem could overcome by methodologically sound forecasting and futures studies. Remarkably neither Brey nor follow up reviews evaluate the performance of any forecasting method. They seem to think that they work better than random guessing. I think they do not. Technology assessment has huge problems giving single layered predictions, the track record of any scenario based method is just bad. Some authors even think that speculating about future ethical impacts can be outright harmful (e.g. Lee Vinsel). Anticipatory ethics needs to explain why relying on inherently risky forecasts is better than focusing on obvious and known unintended consequences.

So that leaves us with the questions of the function of anticipatory ethics. If it cannot anticipate the future better than the forecasting methods it is based on – which I claim are not better than chance – than it cannot actually anticipate anything. It also cannot fulfill my initial hope of offering a new approach to the problem of unintended consequences.
I think that means anticipatory ethics must have a different function than predicting and normatively evaluating future scenarios. But what could it be?

Categorized as ethics

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