A structural view on the ethical non-neutrality of DiDIY

  • Posted on: 29 November 2015
  • By: lmari

In our Knowledge Framework, in which DiDIY is intended as a specific case of DIY, we propose to interpret DiDIY as a twofold phenomenon, both (subjective) mindset and (objective) activity. Neither of these dimensions is ethically neutral: for example, doing something by her/himself might lead someone to further appreciate the value of knowledge sharing but also to become more selfish.

This non-neutrality was very clear to us from the beginning, as we engaged “to produce well-founded transferable information, models and guidelines to support both education and policy making on DiDIY as it is forming, intended as an ongoing phenomenon that, while surely enabled by technology, should be driven and shaped by social and cultural strategies, not technology” (Project proposal - 2.1.1. Objectives), on the basis of the acknowledgment that “our digital age has the resources to re-conceive organizations and society itself to make them more explicitly human-centric: DiDIY can be an important enabler and a significant case of this paradigmatic change through its bottom-up (and not only top-down), collaborative (and not only competitive), adaptive (and not only rigid), open source (and not only closed source) strategies” (Project proposal - 2.1.2. Concept and Approach).

An interesting aspect of the non-neutrality of DiDIY comes from the fact that DiDIY-as-activity can produce objects that cannot be legally owned by the DiDIYer who produced them.
Our blog hosts several posts on this:
- The end of gun control: Digital DIY (3 June 2015 by vmueller);
- The Threats of Dangerous Information (17 June 2015, by wtebbens);
- Design-at-home viruses? (12 July 2015 by bruceedmonds);
- Digitally manufactured weapons: can they be controlled? (6 August 2015 by aerler);
- Wanted: examples of ILLEGAL use of 3D printing, Open Hardware and other Digital DIY (20 October 2015 by mfioretti);
- The ethics of 3D bioprinting (11 November 2015 by aerler);
- It has happened: A legal ban on digital DIY files (21 November 2015 by vmueller);
- On the effects of prohibiting dangerous files on the Internet (25 November 2015 by wtebbens).

I offer here a structural / systemic perspective on the subject. As such, what follows is (unfortunately?) quite abstract, as it aims at being applicable to a broad range of situations.

1. The world is often fuzzy, made of phenomena that usually admit multiple intermediate cases between the "all" and the "nothing". On the contrary, the law is, or is expected to be, sharp, because it is the formal reference for decision systems that are expected to produce yes/no (e.g., forbidden/allowed, guilty/innocent) outcomes.

2. Introducing a (yes/no) law on a (fuzzy) phenomenon implies identifying a threshold, and therefore de-fuzzifying the phenomenon. A de-fuzzification usually includes a component, related to where the threshold is put, that is at least partly conventional instead of being entirely based on the features of the phenomenon.

3. Social phenomena are often affected by technology: what is feasible, safe, secure, reliable, ... often depends on the availability of technological systems. Some thresholds are identified by (yes/no) laws on (fuzzy) phenomena on the basis of the current information on the feasibility, safety, security, reliability, ... related to the relevant phenomena. Hence technological changes can change phenomena in a way that is significant for law.

4. What we are currently discussing is a social phenomenon that is, in the sense above, fuzzy: there are multiple intermediate cases, indeed, from the predetermined shooting of an innocent by means of a DIY rifle to browsing websites on DIY rifles for better understanding the phenomenon.

5. Current technological changes in DiDIY systems, or at least the social information and perception on them (for our topic social information and perception could be not less important than facts), are significantly changing, in the sense above, the phenomenon of private ownership of firearms. Hence the thresholds that have been conventionally set so far might become (and plausibly have become) inadequate.

On this basis the (meta-)question that I propose is:
is it just a matter of setting new conventions about where to set the thresholds forbidden vs allowed?
or are the ongoing changes leading to so radically different scenarios that new decision criteria should be identified and proposed for their social agreement?