David J. Gunkel

David J. Gunkel is Distinguished Teaching Professor of Communication Technology at Northern Illinois University and the author of The Machine Question: Critical Perspectives on AI, Robots, and Ethics, Of Remixology: Ethics and Aesthetics after Remix, both published by the MIT Press, and other books.

  • Robot Rights

    Robot Rights

    David J. Gunkel

    A provocative attempt to think about what was previously considered unthinkable: a serious philosophical case for the rights of robots.

    We are in the midst of a robot invasion, as devices of different configurations and capabilities slowly but surely come to take up increasingly important positions in everyday social reality—self-driving vehicles, recommendation algorithms, machine learning decision making systems, and social robots of various forms and functions. Although considerable attention has already been devoted to the subject of robots and responsibility, the question concerning the social status of these artifacts has been largely overlooked. In this book, David Gunkel offers a provocative attempt to think about what has been previously regarded as unthinkable: whether and to what extent robots and other technological artifacts of our own making can and should have any claim to moral and legal standing. In his analysis, Gunkel invokes the philosophical distinction (developed by David Hume) between “is” and “ought” in order to evaluate and analyze the different arguments regarding the question of robot rights. In the course of his examination, Gunkel finds that none of the existing positions or proposals hold up under scrutiny. In response to this, he then offers an innovative alternative proposal that effectively flips the script on the is/ought problem by introducing another, altogether different way to conceptualize the social situation of robots and the opportunities and challenges they present to existing moral and legal systems.

    • Hardcover $35.00
  • Of Remixology

    Of Remixology

    Ethics and Aesthetics after Remix

    David J. Gunkel

    A new theory of moral and aesthetic value for the age of remix, going beyond the usual debates over originality and appropriation.

    Remix—or the practice of recombining preexisting content—has proliferated across media both digital and analog. Fans celebrate it as a revolutionary new creative practice; critics characterize it as a lazy and cheap (and often illegal) recycling of other people's work. In Of Remixology, David Gunkel argues that to understand remix, we need to change the terms of the debate. The two sides of the remix controversy, Gunkel contends, share certain underlying values—originality, innovation, artistic integrity. And each side seeks to protect these values from the threat that is represented by the other. In reevaluating these shared philosophical assumptions, Gunkel not only provides a new way to understand remix, he also offers an innovative theory of moral and aesthetic value for the twenty-first century.

    In a section called “Premix,” Gunkel examines the terminology of remix (including “collage,” “sample,” “bootleg,” and “mashup”) and its material preconditions, the technology of recording. In “Remix,” he takes on the distinction between original and copy; makes a case for repetition; and considers the question of authorship in a world of seemingly endless recompiled and repurposed content. Finally, in “Postmix,” Gunkel outlines a new theory of moral and aesthetic value that can accommodate remix and its cultural significance, remixing—or reconfiguring and recombining—traditional philosophical approaches in the process.

  • The Machine Question

    The Machine Question

    Critical Perspectives on AI, Robots, and Ethics

    David J. Gunkel

    An investigation into the assignment of moral responsibilities and rights to intelligent and autonomous machines of our own making.

    One of the enduring concerns of moral philosophy is deciding who or what is deserving of ethical consideration. Much recent attention has been devoted to the "animal question"—consideration of the moral status of nonhuman animals. In this book, David Gunkel takes up the "machine question": whether and to what extent intelligent and autonomous machines of our own making can be considered to have legitimate moral responsibilities and any legitimate claim to moral consideration.

    The machine question poses a fundamental challenge to moral thinking, questioning the traditional philosophical conceptualization of technology as a tool or instrument to be used by human agents. Gunkel begins by addressing the question of machine moral agency: whether a machine might be considered a legitimate moral agent that could be held responsible for decisions and actions. He then approaches the machine question from the other side, considering whether a machine might be a moral patient due legitimate moral consideration. Finally, Gunkel considers some recent innovations in moral philosophy and critical theory that complicate the machine question, deconstructing the binary agent–patient opposition itself.

    Technological advances may prompt us to wonder if the science fiction of computers and robots whose actions affect their human companions (think of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey) could become science fact. Gunkel's argument promises to influence future considerations of ethics, ourselves, and the other entities who inhabit this world.

    • Hardcover $41.00
    • Paperback $30.00