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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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