Monthly Archives: December 2013

Wait, An Honor Code that Actually Works?!?

Summary:

This is the final article, and it is about cheating, and a school in Massachusetts which has taken a rather original approach to controlling it:  They make the students promise to not cheat, and report anyone who does, and trust them to do so.

Analysis:

At face value, it seems like a ludicrous notion.  The whole problem with cheating is that it involves lying, which is a breach of trust, so how can a system that operates solely on trust be a deterrent to cheating?  And yet at William’s College in Massachusetts, this appears to be exactly what has happened.  It involves an honor code which all students are required to agree to before entering, where they promise to not cheat, and to report if they see it happens.  Anything reported goes to a council made up of students, even if a professor was the one who found it, and they figure out if cheating actually happened, and what to penalize if it did.

This is a wonderful system, and demonstrates the remarkable capacity of a group of people to self-regulate based on a shared sense of duty.  In my own life I would make an analogy to the community of the video game “League of Legends”.  League of Legends, or LoL, as it is called, was once considered the defacto holder of the “Most Caustic and Unhelpfully Mean and Spiteful Internet Community” award.  In an effort to combat this Riot Ltd., the maker of LoL, introduced the Summoner’s Code and Tribunal, which works very similarly to the honor code at William’s.  Players are expected to play in accordance to the Summoner’s code, and to report anyone who breaks it, and these reports are processed by the Tribunal, which is made up of the players themselves.

The reason I think that these two systems work is based almost exclusively on the fact that the ones being punished are a part of the group which is delivering the punishment.  They are equals.  Proverbs 27:27 says that “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  A person who is being judged by the student council or the Tribunal cannot rebel against the judgment in good faith, for the judgment is one that he himself would pass down if put in the same position, a position he could be in if he so desired.  The judgment is not of clay to break on his tough hide, nor of steel to dull his conscience and bring rebellion.  It is of iron, enough to hurt and sharpen, in essence leaving him no one to fight against except himself.  That is why these types of systems are so effective.

Conclusion:

Can people be trusted?  Yes, they can, but only under certain circumstances.  They need to have roadblocks which keep them from being dishonest, road blocks which they cannot fight against.  The only such roadblocks are the only which come from themselves, or form their own friends and peer group.  They must be made to self-regulate, because if they do not someone else will  have to, which means they don’t have to, which means they can be dishonest if they can get away with it.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Can Cars be Trusted to Drive Themselves?

Summary:

Today’s article is about self-driving cars. It’s not so much about whether or not autonomous cars are themselves ethical to have, but rather whether or not such a car would be able to be programmed to respond to all the various ethical situations which would confront a car on a day to day basis.  For example, how to respond if confronted with a choice which seems to have no options except to crash into something, and the car has to decide what it will hit.

Analysis:

Now, the article itself was about ethics, and it raises quite a few good points.  But I don not wish to go into the detail the article did on every point.  There are simply two main things which I want to touch on.  These are the beneficial use of a car “neural network”, and the Trolley Problem (or, what to do in a no-win situation).

First off, something not touched on in the article itself, at least as I am going to present it.  The article spoke about a hypothetical tree branch in the middle of a road, and an autonomous car possibly simply stopping to avoid breaking traffic laws regarding crossing the center line.  This could, however, lead to another car, driven by a human, to hit the stopping car.  What to do about situations like this, where legal issues conflict with safety issues?  Well, I cannot speak to every situation, but there is something which I have thought would be very helpful in a situation such as this.  What if every car came equipped with a device which allowed it to detect cars around it, and communicate with those cars, relaying such information as velocity, current driving plans, whether or not it is autonomously driven, and any obstacle encountered?  If this were the case, then such scenarios as the branch could be much easier to deal with.  The car could search the area for other cars, and if none are found, then it simply is allowed to cross the center line and go around.  If there is a car coming from the opposite direction, then the blocked car can communicate with it, and determine a way for both to pass safely, and if there are cars behind, the same would happen.  Each car would no everything it needed to know about the surrounding cars.  The beauty is that the cars wouldn’t need to know any information about the people in the cars, such are who it’s registered to, or what the license plate is.  That wouldn’t be important.  It would essentially function vaguely like the scene from the film “Bee Movie” where the two main leads walk into the middle of the street without looking, and the cars simply merge around them.  Another interesting ramification, is that if the police is looking for a specific car, like “a black Ford Explorer”, it would be able to ask the network and find all the black Ford Explorers in the area, rather than simply putting a message on the road, and hope someone reports they saw it.

The second thing which interested me in the article was the Trolley Problem, which essentially puts one in the situation of allowing people to die, or performing actions with cause other, less numerous, people to die.  How does one make such a decision?  I want to first of all point out the similarities between this, and the film “I, Robot”.  One of the major driving forces in that movie is that Will Smith’s character was saved from drowning by a robot, but in the process the robot was forced to allow a child to die.  His character strongly believed that the robot made the wrong call, and this illustrates the problem robots are faced with.  They are unable, by their very nature, to feel emotions or make decisions based on the things like the human protective instinct of a child.  Therefore a computer will have to make decisions numerically, like in “I, Robot”, which is what the article was concerned about.  I’m more concerned, honestly, with how this will affect insurance.  If cars are making decisions based on their programming, then if it crashes it is not the fault of the driver, but the programmer.  This will seriously change how insurance is sold, with “malpractice insurance” perhaps becoming just as much as necessity for car programmers as it is for doctors.  I’m not sure how this will play out in the long run, but it is interesting to think about.

Conclusion:

Automated cars are an exciting part of our future, and they are coming, no matter what anyone wants.  All we can do is try to expect what it will mean for everyone, and plan accordingly.  The Bible says in Romans 13:1 says that we are to “Be good citizens…”.  Figuring out how we as a country are going to deal with the many changes happening to driving is a part of that.  I hope that we will be able to form good laws which correctly deal with all the issues involved.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Upcoming Worldwide “French Revolution”

Summary:

Today’s article is not about new technology or anything of that sort, but rather about the very real ramifications of the direction the technology we already have is taking.  The question in this blog post is this : Is there a point where the problems brought on by a technology outweigh the gains?  If so, where is that line drawn?  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Analysis:

Essentially, a research firm called Gartner says that computers, and technology like 3-D printers, are making the human element of the workforce obsolete, and computers will very soon be running almost everything.  Not in the evil overlord kind of way, but in the WALL-E, robot on the job, kind of way.  The point they wanted to make is that with more robots on the job, that means less people on the job, which means more unemployment, which means a lot of unhappy people.  These unhappy people will most likely, according to Gartner, spark a lot of social unrest, similar to Occupy Wall Street in 2011.

The machines which were meant to make our lives easier, are in fact possibly making them harder for a lot of people, at least indirectly.  Is this okay?  Well, there are a few things that I would say about the current position.  First of all, we are in a time of flux, when everything is new and changes are happening so quickly that their full ramifications have not been seen.  For example, while it is true that 3-D printers and such could very easily reduce the number of actual people with jobs, there is also the possibility that they might lower costs as well, so that each person needs less money to live, and thus could get by with a job at Wal-Mart or something.  For example, if TVs start to be printed out fully made, and there are less workers needed, could it not be possible that in the future a nice TV might cost $100?  And since bio-printing is a thing, maybe in the future all food will be printed out, and make the cost of growing it go down.  Of course, I am aware that 3-D printing is expensive at the moment, but everything is at the start.  That’s why I mentioned that we’re in flux.  In time, as with everything, the price will go down, as designers learn new, better, and cheaper methods of building and performing 3-D printing.

But what if that never happens?  What if the prices never drop, and people still keep losing jobs? Should development stop in favor of keeping people employed and happy?  I don’t really think so.  On the one hand, there’s really no way to stop the progress.  It has started, and it will continue, in one way or another, until it’s reached it’s full conclusion.  On the other hand, this might not actually be that terrible of  thing, in the long run, even if prices stay the same.  Not that there won’t be problems, and lots of unemployment, but I think people with adjust.  In time new jobs will open up, they just won’t be the same type of jobs from the past.  They’ll be jobs in programming, jobs in maintenance, jobs in repairs.  Robots can’t do everything.  There will always be jobs.  The only problem will be getting people who able and willing to do the jobs required.

Conclusion:

Robots are taking over, and jobs are getting scarce as a result, but I don’t think this means the end of the world.  In Matthew 26:11 Jesus says that “The poor [we] will always have with [us]…”.  We can never get rid of poverty, and even if for a little while there are rough times, it will end up being temporary.  The article points up the possibly of social unrest, but this is inevitable in any change of the social paradigm .  It will happen, and it will stabilize, and people will find new ways to make life work.  It’s the way things have always happened.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

That Which Makes Us Human…

Summary:

Today’s article is, oddly enough, about transplants, not computers.  Specifically, it is about head transplants, and the fact that they may very soon be possible.  Is it right to put your head on someone else’s body?  That’s what we’re going to be talking about ^_^.

Analysis:

First of all, very little information was given in the article itself.  It simply stated that an Italian surgeon, by the name of Dr. Sergio Canavero, has been making claims that through the use of fusogens it very well might be possible to perform a head transplant within the next few years, and then commented on how odd that would be if it were actually possible.  Fusogens themselves are basically bits of stuff which can be used to fuse different calls together.  I wish I could give a more technical explanation, but it’s way over my head.  But that’s what they do, and Dr. Canavero believes he can use it to fuse a head with a different body.  Head transplants have been done before on monkeys, albeit with the monkeys being left paralyzed, but the idea of being able to do it on a human has been thought impossible.  I don’t really know if it is possible, that’s beyond the scope of this blog, and luckily I don’t have to.  This blog is about ethical issues, not whether or not something is actually possible.  With that in mind I’m going to move forward under the assumption that head transplants will be a viable surgical operation very soon in the future.

I think that the first question is:  If you’re putting your head on another body, whose body are you going to put it on?  I mean, if we assume that the donor body was already dead, would it not  make more sense to harvest it for the organs, instead of the body, so that you can save the life of a lot of people, rather than just one?  The is already a shortage of available organs for transplants.  Head transplants would only serve to increase this problem.  There are other concerns as well.  For example, if head transplants end up being very expensive (a likely scenario), then perhaps only the rich could afford them, allowing themselves to effectively live forever , barring brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.  And if you don’t think that people will try to live forever, Hebrews 9:27 says that “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment”.  Everyone must die, but many also fear what comes after, for a part of them knows, on some level, that the judgment is coming.  They will do everything they can to remain alive, and head transplants are option for the rich who can afford it indefinitely.  I’m fine with them trying to stay alive as long as possible, but the fear of death has prompted people to do some very unethical in the pursuit of a solution.

One last thing.  With the advances in prosthetic limbs which have been developed recently, including limbs with feeling, what is to stop the movie “RoboCop” from becoming reality?  If you can’t find a body to transplant to, simply build your own body, and use that.  I feel that if a head transplant is successful, within a couple decades( certainly within our lifetimes) human cyborgs will be a thing, and a normal thing at that.  I’m all for the medical applications here, as people who are quadriplegics would be able to have freedom again, but I’m concerned by the obvious weaponization possibilities.  Once again: “RoboCop”.  But that’s not an issue with the technology, only with its use.  Anything can be used unethically, but that doesn’t make it unethical.

Summary:

So, apparently human head transplants will be possible in the future.  I’m okay with this, but am worried about where the bodies will come from for the head to be transplanted to.  If they are taken from the current pool of organ donors, then others will have to go without.  Also, if that’s the case, the very rich might simply use the technology to stay alive indefinitely, living far beyond the standard human lifetime.  On the other hand, it is very possible that in the future full body prostheses will be available, which is perfectly okay, minus a few very glaring possibilities of cyborg soldiers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized