John Danaher answers our questions about his Philosophical Disquisitions podcast
Tell us about your podcast.
My podcast is called Philosophical Disquisitions (which is also the name of my blog). It focuses primarily on the ethical, social and legal implications of emerging technologies, with a particular emphasis on AI and robotics. It’s primarily an interview-based podcast where each episode is a deep dive into a paper or book written by the guest. That said, I do also do some solo audio essays that cover my other philosophical interests (e.g. Epicureanism, Schopenhauer’s pessimism, Hume’s philosophy of religion). The podcast is available on most platforms, i.e. Apple, Spotify, Stitcher and so on. Just search for the name. You can also access it directly from the Philosophical Disquisitions website: https://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com.
Why did you start doing a podcast?
I first did a podcast about 10 years ago. It was bad. It was just me trying to explain specific philosophical arguments to myself with the possibility of an audience listening in. The more recent incarnation of the podcast started in 2016 as part of a funded research project I was doing on political philosophy and algorithmic governance. I enjoyed doing it so I have continued with it even though the project has come to an end.
What are the best three episodes you’ve aired so far, in your opinion?
Isn’t this like asking someone to name their favourite child? It’s too hard to go through the entire back catalogue so I’ll just focus on episodes I have aired in the past 12 months.
Episode 68: Deepfakes and the Epistemic Backdrop. This was an interview with Regina Rini (York University, Toronto) on the emergence of AI techniques for faking audiovisual materials. Many people will have seen some of these “deepfake” videos. There are a number of them featuring politicians saying things they never really said. We discussed the impact this technology is having on our social epistemic norms and, also, how it impacts on power dynamics in society. In short, the rise of the deepfakes makes it harder to speak truth to power through video and that’s something worth being aware of.
Episode 72: Grief in the time of a Pandemic. When the Covid-19 pandemic entered full swing back in March/April 2020, I did a series of episodes on the philosophical and ethical issues it raised. This one – an interview with Michael Cholbi (Edinburgh) about his theory of grief and how it might apply in the midst of a pandemic – was one of my favourites. It was also quite personal. My sister died a couple of years ago and I wrote a lot about grief in the aftermath. Michael helped me think through my own experiences.
Episode 82: What should we do about facial recognition technology? As I write, this is the most recently aired episode. It is an interview with Brenda Leong (Future of Privacy Forum) on the ethical and legal issues associated with facial recognition technology. Brenda is an expert on privacy regulation and she provides some excellent, nuanced insights into both the history of facial recognition and the recent controversy surrounding it.
Can you recommend one other philosophical podcast and tell us about one good episode – ideally one that’s not well known?
If you want to go really obscure, then Luke Muehlhauser’s now-defunct podcast Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot was a major inspiration for me when I started writing and podcasting. It focused on the philosophy of morality and religion (both early interests for me before switching to the ethics of technology). The last episode aired in 2011 but all 90 episodes are still available online and I still recommend them. Available at: bit.ly/34607Cp
If you want something less obscure and still current, The Dilemma Podcast is a lot of fun. Every episode focuses on a particular philosophical dispute and the hosts covers a wide variety of topics. Available at: bit.ly/31zZVdd
Besides straight up philosophy podcasts, could you recommend another podcast?
Again, this is a bit obscure, but the Review the Future podcast, particularly the first 40 or so episodes of it, were a major influence on my own thinking. The format is quite simple: two people (Jon Perry and Ted Kupper) talking through a range of futurist/technological issues but in an informed and engaging way. I would guess that I published maybe half a dozen philosophical papers on foot of ideas I first encountered on this podcast. Sadly, this is also now defunct or, rather, it has morphed into something else but you can still find the old episodes online. Available at: bit.ly/37jQfHs.
John Danaher is an academic and host of the Philosophical Disquisitions podcast.