21st October 2014, 5.15pm until 7pm in the Departmental Seminar Room
Title: Political Philosophy after Alan Turing
Abstract: Turing’s formalisation of the stored computer program broke the distinction between numbers that meanthings and numbers that do things (Dyson 2012). I consider the implications of Turing’s achievement for two of the traditional concerns of political philosophy. First, arguments for the freedom of thought and expression appear to encounter difficulties given that the same code that describes a program also executes it (this has already generated interesting legal cases). Second, I turn to social contract theories of political obligation (focusing in particular on the social contract theories of Locke and Nozick), suggesting that they might be understood in software engineering terms as invoking a trusted third party (TTP) to maintain the rule of law and enforce contracts. These arguments encounter difficulties with the advent of smart contracts and distributed autonomous organisations (DAOs). Following this, I pursue a fascinating suggestion by Szabo that specifying contracts in computer languages may allow us to derive common logical structures of contracts, linking this to Leibniz’s work on themathesis universalis.