Ideas of possible research projects to be pursued in the ISDP
In order to be offered a place as a research student in the ISDP, applicants have to submit a research proposal that outlines their proposed research. The university provides generic guidance on writing these proposals. (). The principle of the ISDP is that students develop their own research projects. However, experience shows that there are many applicants who are interested in doing a PhD in the area of social and ethical aspects of technology but who would appreciate guidance on suitable topics. For these individuals this list contains possible topics. They should be understood as inspirations that will need to be developed in more depth by the potential student, and which can be adapted and interpreted to enable them to fit more closely with the interests and background of the potential student.
Networks of technology ethics
Ethics is often described as a way to see and problematise issues in technology. It is the basis of policy and regulation and an inspiration for personal and professional behaviour. This proposal would take a different and descriptive view of technology ethics. It would explore how the meaning of ethics is negotiated between the different stakeholder groups and what the mechanisms, translations and enrolments are that have taken place to lead to the current position. The project could take an Actor-Network Theory view of ethics and explore, for example, the development of technology ethics in the European Union.
Environmental concern into IT purchasing decisions
As individuals a very large majority of people care about the environment, and are willing to modify their personal behaviour because of it, however, when they get into the workplace, the same people’s actions often are very environmentally destructive. This research therefore would ask whether organisations can be encouraged to bring environmental concern into IT purchasing decisions. What information would be useful, how does it needs be presented, what other enablers can be brought to bear, and how can inhibitors be overcome? One suitable way of researching this would be action research: a possible research sites in the UK has been identified, but students able to gain access to a further or different research site, especially in another country would be particularly welcome.
The media are full of high profile news regarding cyber security threats. Enormous damages are assumed and the threats seem to extend to all citizens of modern societies. This project would undertake a critical discourse analysis of the current cybersecurity discourses. It would investigate how these publications come into being, which evidence is used, how they are financed and how they relate to each other.
Electronic Voting: Can Usability, Security and Privacy be simultaneously achieved?
Electronic Voting: Can Usability, Security and Privacy be simultaneously achieved?
Much research has been conducted into electronic voting, with proposals made for how vote can be cast that enable sufficient simultaneous security and privacy simultaneously, or sufficient simultaneous usability and privacy, but never yet all three simultaneously. This project would investigate those and other requirements on electronic voting systems, and investigate whether usability, security and privacy in principle could be simultaneously achieved, or whether there is a fundamental irreconcilability about them.
Ethics of emerging technologies
The ETICA project has identified a number of emerging technologies that are likely to be socially relevant in the next 10 to 15 years. These technologies are likely to raise ethical issues that are currently developing. (For more detail see the project website). From this research a number of possible PhD projects can arise. Most of the individual technologies are in need of further investigation. A different approach could be a comparative analysis. One suitable way of addressing these issues would be that of disclosive ethics.
Privacy in a world with extensive data mining
The vast expansion of digital data has led to innovative techniques to mine that data for commercial and governmental purposes. This includes technology that uses mobile phone signals to track movement around shopping centres, automatic number plate recognition systems that help combat crime, postcode-based systems to generate insurance quotes, search-engine databases that serve tailored advertisements, and search results up, etc. There is plenty of scope here for researching how the technologies in question may be made in less privacy-intrusive ways, whether people would have the same attitudes to these technologies (and behaviours) if they understood them more fully, how we need to transform our understanding of privacy as these technologies become more prevalent and integrated, and various proposals for re-establishing privacy as a practically respected right.
Religion and approaches to technology
Research on information technology and information systems is based on a number of ontological, epistemological and methodological views. The literature tends to say that researchers need to select the approach most suitable for their specific research question. It is not obvious, however, whether resesarchers are in a position and willing to explore possible alternatives. One reason is that individual researchers have a particular worldview which may imply some views and rule out others. An important part of such a worldview is constituted by religious beliefs. This project could explore to what degree the views of researchers are linked to or even determined by their religious convictions.
Computing and Ethics Education
Much work has been put into developing codes of ethics for computing professionals, which by their nature tend to be lists of injunctions. Virtue theory suggests the promotion of good moral character should be a goal. Educationalists suggest the promotion of good moral character depends on morally desirable behaviour being rewarded, more than morally undesirable behaviour being punished. How can the ethics education of computing professionals and prospective computing professionals (and computer users) be brought better in line with such an insight? Can existing software tools for ethics education and to ethically sensitise professionals be adapted to fit better with rewarding morally desirable behaviour, or can a new tool be developed?
Current ethical approaches and their application to technology
Much work on computer and information ethics concentrates on a relatively limited number of ethical theories (i.e. utilitarianism, (Kantian) deontology and virtue ethics). While there are numerous scholars in the area who employ other ethical approaches or develop specific new ones (e.g. information ethics, disclosive ethics), there is scope for a further broadening of the field. Possible PhD projects in this area would look at neighbouring fields, such as medical ethics, bioethics or business ethics and explore to which extent they could inform debate in computer and information ethics.
Globalisation, language dominance, and media audience fragmentation
Fairweather and Rogerson in two papers discuss how through promoting globalisation, ICT may be leading to increased dominance for a small number of languages, while at the same time Internet trends are leading to media audience fragmentation, which may pull in the opposite direction. What evidence is there for the overall effect? What further factors are at play? What technological and societal trends might come to bear on the issue in future.
Technology ethics as management / policy fashion
There has been much research on management fashions in the area of business studies. Such fashions follow typical patterns in terms of attention paid to the object of fashion over time. Public attention to ethics rises and falls. The project would apply the ideas of management fasion and explore to what degree ethics in general and technology ethics in particular can be interpreted as a fashion.
Disabled people’s attitudes towards enabling technologies
Much is made of the potential for ICT to help people with impairments overcome those impairments. Does the experience of disabled people match those claims, or have they just changed the nature of the disability? On a more detailed level, does the experience of disabled people match the claims made about particular products? What is the origin of this mis-match?
Social network analysis of technology ethics
While there has been much research on technology and ethics, it is not always clear whether this research has an impact on technology research and development or whether it is an example of a closed circle of initiated individuals talking to each other. One way of coming to a better understanding of this would be to undertake a social network analysis of individuals in the area of technology (or maybe only ICT) and ethics. This could be done by exploring memberships of projects, authorships, editorships, websites etc. Such an analysis would provide a deeper understanding of the social structures behind technology ethics