Elon Musk. Either you love him or you love to hate him. He is glorified by some as a demi-god who will lead humanity to the stars (because if it’s one thing we need it is more planets to plunder) and vilified by others as a Silicon Valley hack who is as hypocritical as he is wealthy (very). When one is confronted by such contradictory and binary views the natural intuition is to take a step back and assess the available evidence. Usually this leads to a more nuanced understanding of the subject matter, often resulting in a less binary…


(This article originally appeared in the Monday Magazine of 3 Quarks Daily, see here)

What do we mean when we talk about “responsibility”? We say things like “he is a responsible parent”, “she is responsible for the safety of the passengers”, “they are responsible for the financial crisis”, and in each case the concept of “responsibility” seems to be tracking different meanings. In the first sense it seems to track virtue, in the second sense moral obligation, and in the third accountability. My goal in this article is not to go through each and every kind of responsibility, but rather…


This article originally appeared in the Monday magazine of 3 Quarks Daily (see here).

It is natural to assume that technological artifacts have instrumental value. That is, the value of given technology lies in the various ways in which we can use it, no more, and no less. For example, the value of a hammer lies in our ability to make use of it to hit nails into things. Cars are valuable insofar as we can use them to get from A to B with the bare minimum of physical exertion. This way of viewing technology has immense intuitive appeal…


It is becoming increasingly common to talk about technological systems in agential terms. We routinely hear about facial recognition algorithms that can identify individuals, large language models (such as GPT-3) that can produce text, and self-driving cars that can, well, drive. Recently, Forbes magazine even awarded GPT-3 “person” of the year for 2020. In this piece I’d like to take some time to reflect on GPT-3. Specifically, I’d like to push back against the narrative that GPT-3 somehow ushers in a new age of artificial intelligence.

GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is a third-generation, autoregressive language model. It makes use of…


This past week I read two books I have been meaning to make time for: Carissa Véliz’s Privacy is Power and Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works. If your natural reaction is to ask why I am reading things that are not science, science-fiction, or stories about feudal Russia, then you know me well. However, for the next few months, I have decided to read some things that are, uhm, politically and socially relevant. Call this Fabio’s political turn. This is not to say that my Troika of interests are not relevant in this sense, but rather it is me acknowledging…


GameStop takes on Big Finance, with predictable results

If you haven’t heard about GameStop recently then you probably don’t have social media, and I respect you. However, something quite strange is happening in the stock market right now, and I’d like to reflect on this briefly.

Basically, a bunch of internet trolls have decided to fight hedge fund capital on their own terms. In the past most hedge funds have manipulated markets for their own interests, and then when things go wrong (think 2008) they weep and want to get bailed out. Usually, governments acquiesce because these sources of capital are “too big to fail”. These hedge funds…


Image from the RRI report by Hilary Sutcliffe, see here: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/sites/default/files/rri-report-hilary-sutcliffe_en.pdf
Image from the RRI report by Hilary Sutcliffe, see here: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/sites/default/files/rri-report-hilary-sutcliffe_en.pdf
Image from the RRI report by Hilary Sutcliffe, see here: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/sites/default/files/rri-report-hilary-sutcliffe_en.pdf

This article was originally published in the Monday Magazine of 3 Quarks Daily (see here).

In the media it is relatively easy to find examples of new technologies that are going “revolutionize” this or that industry. Self-driving cars will change the way we travel and mitigate climate change, genetic engineering will allow for designer babies and prevent disease, superintelligent AI will turn the earth into an intergalactic human zoo. As a reader, you might be forgiven for being in a constant state of bewilderment as to why we do not currently live in a communist utopia (or why we are…


By James Smith and Fabio Tollon

The recent hype around WhatsApp’s (essentially Facebook’s) new data policy has divided people into two camps: people rushing to find an alternative messaging service that will respect their privacy, and people agreeing to WhatsApp’s terms because “it doesn’t matter, WhatsApp already knows everything about me”. However, choosing Signal over WhatsApp does matter and you should be making the switch sooner rather than later (unless you live in the EU, where this policy is not in effect). Although Telegram collects less data than WhatsApp, it still collects far more than Signal, including IP address and cookie data. While Telegram insist that…


This article was originally published in the Monday Magazine of 3 Quarks Daily (see here).

“How do you get a philosophy major away from your front door? You pay them for the pizza.”

As a doctoral candidate in philosophy people often ask me what I am going to “do” with my degree. That is, how will I get a job and be a good, productive little bourgeois worker. How will I contribute to society, and how will my degree (which of course was spent thinking about the meaning of “meaning”, whether reality is real, and how rigid designation works) benefit…


This article was originally published in the Monday Magazine of 3Quarks Daily (see here).

I have always been deeply impressed by the way behavioural nudges can promote socially desirable outcomes. From “opt-out” retirement plans, flies in urinals, and speed camera lotteries, nudges big and small can be a force for good. But not all nudges are created equal. Nudge theory has taken the world by storm (with organizations and governments using these techniques), and so you might be forgiven for thinking that these behavioural interventions get it right most of the time. Well, as is often the case, things do…

Fabio Tollon

Full-time human, part-time philosopher. For more see https://ftollon.wordpress.com/about/

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