Spotlight on...Fiachra O’Brolchain

Category: Spotlight on Published: 15 June 2017

1)    Can you tell us simply, in 3 sentences what your research is about?
My research is about the ethical issues associated with assistive technologies for people with intellectual disabilities, ASD, and dementia.  It analyses various problems that might arise from the adoption of assistive technologies, such as infringements of privacy, threats to autonomy, and the distribution of the technologies.  I use ethical theory to suggest which problems are most pressing and how best to avoid or resolve them.

2)    Why should we be interested in this issue?
Assistive technologies are likely to become prevalent in our society, but without ethical oversight governing their development, use, and distribution, they are likely to cause as many problems as they will solve.  If we are to make the best use of these innovations, we need to think about how they will affect the practical instantiation of principles and values we as a society cherish. This is all the more improtant when we are designing technologies for vulnerable population groups such as people with intellectual disabilities, autism and dementia. Ethics can help guide the development and use of these technologies.

3)    What does it mean to your research career to be an ASSISTID Marie Curie Fellow?
It’s hugely significant to me, and I am very lucky.  It gives me a prolonged opportunity to work solidly on an exciting area, to collaborate with other scholars in many different areas – including those developing technologies – and to interact with users of the technologies.  Alongside that, the training opportunities and the ability to participate conferences globally is extremely beneficial for any scholar.  The Marie Curie is of course extremly presitigious, and being involved with an organisation such as ASSISTID,  has been great.  As well as providing great support, I’ve had the chance to ask technology designers very practical questions. This means that my work will not just be abstract but will have practical implications.

4)    What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
I hope to contribute to the philosophical literature and to help ensure that the opportunities presented by assistive technologies are maximised whilst the challenges they bring are minimsed.  I hope to make designers of assistive technologies more aware of some of the ethical issues that they might inadvertantly create so that they can build in ways to minimse them.

5)    What is the most frequently asked question which people ask you about your work?
I probably get asked the most questions about privacy.  People are becoming very aware of how new technologies infringe people’s privacy, and they are (rightly) concerned about it. 

6)    Tell us something which might surprise us?
I like to climb moutains. Before I started this Fellowship I climbed Mt Kenya – the second highest mountain in Africa.