Information and the Internet

The internet is full of information – all different kinds of information. In order to access this information we can, for instance, use search engines to find webpages. But is it really the best and most relevant information Google finds for us? And can we trust the webpages? What happens on the internet is not always transparent. Most is run by algorithms we cannot see neither understand and sometimes other people deliberately try to deceive us.

The focus of this seminar is some of these invisible and inner workings of the internet and how we, despite the lack of transparency, still can learn and come to know through the internet.


13:00  Welcome w. Sille Obelitz Søe (PhD Candidate, Information Studies,
           University of Copenhagen)

13:05 - 14:00  Don Fallis - ‘Adversarial Epistemology on the Internet’
                      (Professor, School of Information, University of Arizona)

14:00 - 14:55  Erik J. Olsson - ‘Linking as Voting: From Condorcet to Google’
                      (Professor, Chair in Theoretical Philosophy, Lund University)

14:55 - 15:05  Break

15:05 - 16:00  Patrick Blackburn - ‘Artificial Stupidity’
                      (Professor in Formal Philosophy, Roskilde University)

16:00  Reception

The seminar is open to all. Attendance is free. Please register by email to Sille Obelitz Søe no later than May 7 at 16:00.


Don Fallis ‘Adversarial Epistemology on the Internet’

Over the past twenty years, the internet has become an increasing important source of information for most of us. But can we trust the information on the internet? Anyone at all can send an email or post a website. How do we know that they know what they are talking about?

But the internet poses an even more insidious threat to our ability to acquire knowledge. There are many people online who intentionally try to mislead us. With email “phishing” scams, people regularly try to fool us into revealing personal information so that they can steal our identity and/or our money. People have falsified Wikipedia entries to mislead the public about themselves or others. Is it possible to acquire knowledge from the internet when there are so many of these epistemic adversaries out there?

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies what knowledge is and how people can acquire it. But only a few epistemologists have addressed the issue of adversaries who actively try to interfere with our knowledge acquisition for their own nefarious purposes. In this talk, I survey some of the existing work in what I will call adversarial epistemology (including work by René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, and David Hume). Although this work does not directly address (or solve) the problem of epistemic adversaries on the internet, I argue that it ultimately points the way to a potential solution. If what an email or a website says is true, I show how it is possible for an internet user to come to know this despite the existence of epistemic adversaries on the internet.

Erik J. Olsson ‘Linking as Voting: From Condorcet to Google’

When you link to a web page you are in a sense voting for (the importance, relevance, quality etc.) of that web page – at least that is how search engines like Google interpret the link when they decide how valuable the webpage is. But how far can the parallel between linking and voting be drawn? There is a famous result for voting, going back to the French 18th century mathematician Nicolas de Condorcet, which shows that what the majority votes for is, under certain conditions, likely to be true. I sketch an analogous result for linking on the web according to which what many people link to is, under certain conditions, likely to be important or relevant. I argue that just as Condorcet’s observation gives an epistemological justification for democratic voting procedure, this new result gives an epistemological justification for ranking webpages on the basis of how many other webpages link to them, as is the case for Google and other search engines (with some minor qualifications).  In the talk I address this issue without unnecessary technicality and with a focus on the philosophical and interpretational issues involved.

Patrick Blackburn ‘Artificial Stupidity’