Monthly Archives: November 2013

Mind Control… One Step Closer

Summary:

Is it right to control another creature against its will?  What if that creature is just the lowly cockroach?  That is the question raised by today’s article.  The company Backyard Brains has perfected technology which allows them to essentially mind-control cockroaches through the use of electrodes and chips.  Moreover, the technology is simple enough that they can, and are planning to, sell kits to kids which allow them to make their own “Robo-Roaches”.  Quite a few people are against this new technology, since making a “Robo-Roach” requires such things as cutting of the antennae of the roaches, and hurting them in other ways, and the entire premise of the technology is to use mind-control.  There is a feeling that this is probably not a good thing to be teaching kids.

Analysis:

Is there anything wrong with selling miniature surgery and mind-control kits to kids?  Maybe, maybe not, but I’m more concerned with what this technology could be used for in the future.  If you give a kid a kit that tells them to cut open a cockroach and insert electrodes which allow you to control the direction it runs, odds are there will be no long term effects, aside from making them okay with operating on cockroaches.  People already squish cockroaches without a second thought, and the type of kids who would be  interested in mind-controlling cockroaches are the same kids who would dissect them for fun anyways.   We call these kids aspiring biologists.  Add mind-control and they’re aspiring neuroscientists.  There is nothing wrong, in my mind, to selling these kits to kids, especially since those kids could very well grow to be the ones wo discover a cure for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

But, what about the technology itself? Is that okay?  I’m less sure about that.  We’re talking about using electricity to send signals to a cockroach’s brain which then compels it to turn a certain direction.  For a cockroach this is fine, since I do not really feel too concerned about their well-being.  Once again, I refer you to the fact that we kill them without a second thought, though many people believe there is a difference.  But what about when these experiments begin moving towards more complex organisms?  What are the odds that in the future it will be possible to use the same type of technology to control a human being?  I know that it is no where near that point yet, but I think it naive to not think that one day someone will try to use this technology in a destructive and/or self-serving way.  And if someone were to use these ideas to control a human, that would indisputably be wrong. This is the type of thing which ought to be allowed, but allowed with guidelines to ensure experiments are not taken too far.  We want to find a cure for Parkinson’s, not create human robots.

Conclusion:

In Genesis 1:28 God tes Adam to “…Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”  Creating a Robo-Roach seems like taking that to the extreme, but it still falls within the realm of possibility.  i don’t see anything wrong with letting kids have Robo-Roach kits, but am worried about the implications of the technology itself.  Let us hope it is never able to control a person.

https://www.backyardbrains.com/

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Finally, Video Games Gain Acceptance

Summary:

Today’s article is about, strangely enough, the Red Cross, and it’s attempts to guide the future of video game development, at least in a small way.  As video games progress they are coming ever closer to appearing, cosmetically, just like the real world.  The Red Cross has seen potential in this, and has been talking to video game developers about the possibility of using video games as a means to teach gamers about the laws of armed conflicts.  As it stands those playing a game involving war are able to perform acts that would simply not fly in the real world.  The Red Cross’ plan is to incorporate realistic consequences into games to help teach gamers how these thing play out in reality.  There are three reasons that I am in support of what they want to do: their restraint, their reasoning, and their approach.  

Analysis:

First, the Red Cross has a very specific focus in what they are trying to accomplish.  They do not wish to change everything about all video games.  They are only targeting video games which involve war, and even then only those which depict it realistically.  They have no interest in games such as Halo, which are set in worlds far removed from our own.  They are looking at games such as Call of Duty which could very easily be set within our own world.  The fact that the Red Cross is not protesting against  violence in video games in general, but simply trying to introduce a new level of realism into games as they are is a very admirable goal.

Second, the reasons for the Red Cross’ actions deserve mention.  They have seen a trend in video games where gamers can, and do, commit what would in the real world be considered war crimes.  The only difference is that in games there are no real consequences if you decide to wipe out a village of civilians for no reason.  Rather than seeing the violence of video games as a problem in and of itself, as others have, they want to use that violence to teach those playing the games valuable lessons about the real world.  Games like Medal of Honor and Call of Duty are marketed based on their realism.  Adding consequences analogous to the sanctions that would happen in the real world can only serve to help that goal.

Finally, the Red Cross has been very understanding in its approach to trying to add sanctions to video games.  They are not protesting, or whipping the media into a frenzy, or anything of that sort.  They are going to video game developers directly and seeing if the industry would be open to adding these changes of its own free will.  This very similar to when the comic book industry voluntarily instituted the Comics Code Authority.  Since the Red Cross has been so, for lack of a better word, nice in their attempts to add extra realism to video games, I think they at least deserve to have their ideas listened to and tried out in a few games.

Conclusion:

The Red Cross sees video games as an opportunity to teach gamers about how war works in the real world.  They have a very narrow focus in their mission, not trying to revolutionize the entirety of the video game industry.  They see video games as a potential force for good, rather than as a blight upon the world.  They are tactful in their approach, looking for cooperation with video game developers, rather than trying to force their views on the industry.  Proverbs 27:17 says that “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  The Red Cross has expressed a desire to help “sharpen” the video game industry, and I think that they should be allowed to.

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Trust: Now Taken, not Given

Summary:

Today’s article was about major corporations, and how they are very much like the government.  They take a lot of our information, don’t tell anyone about it, and expect everyone to trust that they’re not going to abuse it.  So, should we be worried about major corporations and their antics?  Are those antics even morally justifiable?  Let’s look, shall we?

Analysis:

So, there are two major corporations the article talks about:  Facebook and Google.  The event that prompted the article is that Facebook is updating their privacy policy, and the changes make clear that Facebook is using face recognition software on user profile pics in an effort to improve advertising.  Not “going to use”, but already using.  Facebook doesn’t think they did anything wrong by scanning profile pics and then using them as ad fodder because in their mind, since it is a public site, once you put information on their site it is okay for them to use it to turn a profit.  Similarly, Google is currently (as of the writing of the article this post is based on, while was back in September) in court defending its right to use automated methods to scan both the e-mails of both it’s clients, and anything sent to those e-mails.  To my mind there are two different issues here.  First is fact that major corporations are gathering information just like the government has been, but without any of the safeguards that the government has.  The second is what that information is being used for, and how it’s not fair to the user.

The first issue is fairly straight forward.  At least in theory the government has built-in checks and balances to prevent it from getting too big, and from gathering too much information.  Recent revelations by Edward Snowden have shown that those policies are not followed as rigorously as they ought to be, but they are there none-the-less.   Major corporations,however, do not even nominally have that kind of self-policing.  This means that there is a much greater chance of them using the information they get for profit, at the expense of the users.  This article points out seven different ways facial recognition , the major issue in what Facebook has been doing,  could be used in the future.  If Facebook were to find a way to capitalize of these technologies on its site, even if it meant their users were slightly inconvenienced or more, what would be stopping them?

What is the information Facebook and Google are gathering being used for?  It is being used for creating custom advertising, which on the surface seems like a good thing.  Better ads means that you’ll see more thing that you want to see, and have less annoying ads.   The problem is that Facebook and Google have to go through private information in order to make these better ads.  For Google and Gmail it’s about reading e-mails.  No one wants other people who aren’t the recipient to read their e-mails, and the fact that Google is using their e-mails of their own profit is a breach of trust.  Facebook’s position seems a bit less shady, since they’re only using profile pictures, which anyone can see anyways.  But in reality, people who are not your friends probably aren’t going to be looking at your Facebook profile picture, unless you’re a famous celebrity or some such thing.  Plus, even profile pictures which are not current can be set to viewable only to friends, which means that Facebook’s policy will also be using private information for it’s own profit.   Now, Gmail and Facebook are both free services, and I am okay with them using ads as a form of revenue, since they have to get money somehow to function.  But, when they are using personal information, which people think is hidden, in order to turn a profit, then there’s a problem.  1 Timothy 5:18 says “…’Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.'”  This is to say that if you are getting profit off of someone else, it follows that you ought to let them share in the returns.  Using Facebook is paid for by the ads.  Using private information for the ads is not part of that deal.  If Facebook is going to use private information to improve ads, then so be it, but they should in some way reimburse the user for selling their information.  This same thing applies to Google, and anyone else who is using a person’s private information for profit.

Conclusion: 

So Facebook and Google have also been putting their hands into the cookie jar of information.  Not terribly surprising, though perhaps a little disturbing.  They do not have any of the safeguards the government pretends to have, at least not anything built in specifically for that purpose.  Therefore there is no rel way of knowing how far they might go in pursuit of profit.  But also, they are also using private information for their own gain, for which they should at least give a little back to the user.

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