Computer Programmers Get New Tech Ethics Code - Scientific American

Computing professionals are on the front lines of almost every aspect of the modern world. They’re involved in the response when hackers steal the personal information of hundreds of thousands of people from a large corporation. Their work can protect—or jeopardize—critical infrastructure like electrical grids and transportation lines. And the algorithms they write may determine who gets a job, who is approved for a bank loan or who gets released on bail.

Technological professionals are the first, and last, lines of defense against the misuse of technology. Nobody else understands the systems as well, and nobody else is in a position to protect specific data elements or ensure the connections between one component and another are appropriate, safe and reliable. As the role of computing continues its decades-long expansion in society, computer scientists are central to what happens next.

That’s why the world’s largest organization of computer scientists and engineers, the Association for Computing Machinery, of which I am president, has issued a new code of ethics for computing professionals. And it’s why ACM is taking other steps to help technologists engage with ethical questions.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/computer-programmers-get-new-tech-ethics-code/

Artificial Intelligence Shows Why Atheism Is Unpopular - The Atlantic

Imagine you’re the president of a European country. You’re slated to take in 50,000 refugees from the Middle East this year. Most of them are very religious, while most of your population is very secular. You want to integrate the newcomers seamlessly, minimizing the risk of economic malaise or violence, but you have limited resources. One of your advisers tells you to invest in the refugees’ education; another says providing jobs is the key; yet another insists the most important thing is giving the youth opportunities to socialize with local kids. What do you do? 

Well, you make your best guess and hope the policy you chose works out. But it might not. Even a policy that yielded great results in another place or time may fail miserably in your particular country under its present circumstances. If that happens, you might find yourself wishing you could hit a giant reset button and run the whole experiment over again, this time choosing a different policy. But of course, you can’t experiment like that, not with real people.

You can, however, experiment like that with virtual people. And that’s exactly what the Modeling Religion Project does. An international team of computer scientists, philosophers, religion scholars, and others are collaborating to build computer models that they populate with thousands of virtual people, or “agents.” As the agents interact with each other and with shifting conditions in their artificial environment, their attributes and beliefs—levels of economic security, of education, of religiosity, and so on—can change. At the outset, the researchers program the agents to mimic the attributes and beliefs of a real country’s population using survey data from that country. They also “train” the model on a set of empirically validated social-science rules about how humans tend to interact under various pressures.

And then they experiment: Add in 50,000 newcomers, say, and invest heavily in education. How does the artificial society change? The model tells you. Don’t like it? Just hit that reset button and try a different policy.

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/07/artificial-intelligence-religion-atheism/565076/

Effort to Diversify Medical Research Raises Thorny Questions of Race - Scientific American

It’s a summer Saturday morning and more than 160 people are packed into a windowless classroom beneath a Lower Manhattan street. Organizers had distributed the ad for the three-hour event just three weeks earlier. The goal was to gather people who identify as “Asian” on the U.S. census—and nearly everyone in the overcapacity room fits that label.

Attendees, the flyer says, will learn about precision medicine—a health care trend in which treatment and medication are tailored to an individual’s genes, environment and lifestyle. “Why is it that we’re all getting the same blood pressure pill, when it might work really well with one person and not the other?” event leader Colleen Leners asks the audience. Leners is the policy director for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Since mid-May she has been traveling across the country to lead enrollment efforts for a new federal governmentresearch project that is grounded in genetics and aims to overhaul the way health care is delivered.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/effort-to-diversify-medical-research-raises-thorny-questions-of-race/

'The discourse is unhinged': how the media gets AI alarmingly wrong | The Guardian

[...] A month after this initial research was released, Fast Company published an article entitled AI Is Inventing Language Humans Can’t Understand. Should We Stop It?. The story focused almost entirely on how the bots occasionally diverged from standard English – which was not the main finding of the paper – and reported that after the researchers “realized their bots were chattering in a new language” they decided to pull the plug on the whole experiment, as if the bots were in some way out of control.

Fast Company’s story went viral and spread across the internet, prompting a slew of content-hungry publications to further promote this new Frankenstein-esque narrative: “Facebook engineers panic, pull plug on AI after bots develop their own language,” one website reported. Not to be outdone, the Sun proposed that the incident “closely resembled the plot of The Terminator in which a robot becomes self-aware and starts waging a war on humans”.

Zachary Lipton, an assistant professor at the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University, watched with frustration as this story transformed from “interesting-ish research” to “sensationalized crap”.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jul/25/ai-artificial-intelligence-social-media-bots-wrong

It's Time to Stop Using the 'Fire in a Crowded Theater' Quote - The Atlantic

From 2012, but very relevant these days:

Ninety-three years ago, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote what is perhaps the most well-known -- yet misquoted and misused -- phrase in Supreme Court history: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."

Without fail, whenever a free speech controversy hits, someone will cite this phrase as proof of limits on the First Amendment. And whatever that controversy may be, "the law"--as some have curiously called it--can be interpreted to suggest that we should err on the side of censorship. Holmes' quote has become a crutch for every censor in America, yet the quote is wildly misunderstood.

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/11/its-time-to-stop-using-the-fire-in-a-crowded-theater-quote/264449/

Editing human embryos 'morally permissible' - BBC News

Should we or shouldn't we be allowed to modify human DNA in future children?

An inquiry into the ethical issues surrounding genetically altering a human embryo has found there is "no absolute reason not to pursue it".

But appropriate measures must be put in place before it becomes UK law, said the report - which calls for further research both medically and socially.

Inquiry chair, Prof Karen Yeung, said: "The implications for society are extensive, profound and long-term."

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-44849034

Report located here: http://nuffieldbioethics.org/project/genome-editing-human-reproduction

That’s not Dad, that’s the Alzheimer’s that speaks, by Evelien van Veen (de Volkskrant 18 May 2018) – TrudoLemmens

It is March 9, 2018, and Luc Beemsterboer (52) enters the nursing home where his father has been living for three days. He walks through the long hallway and types in the access code for the glass sliding doors, behind which dad just happens to arrive. A little man, a little crooked by old age, neat jacket suit. When he sees his son, he momentarily pretends to run past him, a teasing twinkle in his eyes.

“How are you doing, Dad?”, asks Luc, when the tall and the short man stand head to head.

“Shitty”, is the answer – with a tone of: what did you expect?

Jacques Beemsterboer (80) is not in a nursing home because he really wanted it badly. He would by far have preferred to stay with his Toos, with whom he has been married for 55 years, in their new flat in the center of Papendrecht. But it did not work anymore. Jacques has Alzheimer’s, is confused, at home he ran around at night as a ghost, keeping Toos busy with him at the most impossible times. Sometimes, he realizes that he has dementia. “It enters your life insidiously,” he says when you ask him about it. “I can still participate quite well in conversations about nearly anything, but will I still know about it in fourteen days, that’s another question.

https://trudolemmens.wordpress.com/2018/07/14/thats-not-dad-thats-the-alzheimers-that-sounds-by-evelien-van-veen/

Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking Is Legal and Ethical - The ASCO Post

Terminally ill patients with cancer will sometimes ask their clinicians for help with assisted or hastened death.1 Although palliative care and hospice care can usually address the concerns of most patients, some have physical or existential suffering that is refractory to comfort and supportive care. Consequently, these patients sometimes persist in their requests for help with a hastened death. Because many clinicians are unsure how to respond to such requests, here we clarify the status of medical aid in dying laws and one important, yet still obscure, option for terminally ill patients looking to end their lives: voluntarily stopping eating and drinking

http://www.ascopost.com/issues/june-25-2018/voluntarily-stopping-eating-and-drinking-is-legal-and-ethical/

 

'It's nothing like a broken leg': why I'm done with the mental health conversation | The Guardian

Iam bleeding from the wrists in a toilet cubicle of the building I have therapy in, with my junior doctor psychiatrist peering over the top of the door, her lanyards clanking against the lock. Her shift finished half an hour earlier.

An hour later she calls the police, because I have refused to go to A&E or to let her look at me. Four policemen arrive. They are all ridiculously handsome. One of them is called Austin. Austin doesn’t have a Taser like all the others and when I question this, Austin says he hasn’t done his Taser training and all the others laugh. I feel bad for Austin.

I want to go home but I am not allowed. I am crying. The police ask me to tip out the contents of my jacket. Tampons fall out, with four sad coffee loyalty cards, each with a single stamp. Then I make a break for it because, seriously now, I just want to go home. The four officers surround me at the building entrance. One officer who has done his Taser training threatens to section me if I do not stop struggling.

As if you can just section me, I say. You can’t just say someone is sectioned and then they are sectioned. That is not how it works.

It turns out this is exactly how it works.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/30/nothing-like-broken-leg-mental-health-conversation

Why we need a clear definition of when death occurs - The Globe and Mail

Ontario Superior Court Justice Lucille Shaw released her long overdue decision this week in the case of a young Brampton woman pronounced dead in September, 2017, six months after closing arguments ended. Shaw concluded that Taquisha McKitty, 27, is in fact dead, rejecting arguments presented by her family that she was alive and had the right to continuing mechanical life support.

Justice Shaw determined that this woman died last September when doctors determined her brain had irreversibly ceased to function. While the wait was painful for everyone, Justice Shaw’s decision was clear: People need and deserve to know with simplicity, clarity and consistency when their family member is dead. At the heart of this ruling is the principle that identifying death has to be carried out in the same manner for all people in society, even if people choose to understand life in different ways.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-why-we-need-a-clear-definition-of-when-death-occurs

Postmodernism vs. The Pomoid Cluster - Areo

Since I’ve been active on Twitter, I’ve had front row seats to the best intellectual slapfights no money can buy. It’s been uniquely interesting and yet frustrating. What’s hot right now in my bubble and its warzone-laden borderlands is “postmodernism.” The arguments usually start with tweets complaining about the latest social justice-related spat and using the word “postmodernism” or the phrases “postmodernist neo-Marxism” or even “cultural Marxism.” (These all mean the same thing, with slight differences in emphasis: “postmodernism” often focuses on a hostility to objectivity; “cultural Marxism” describes collectivist, conflict-based politics; “postmodern neo-Marxism” is the whole package.) Then other people criticize or mock the tweeters for not understanding what postmodernism is. Unproductive discussion results.

This bothers me for two reasons. One is erisological—this is a typical case of dysfunctional disagreement, i.e. a disagreement is fuelled by at least one party’s intentional or unintentional misunderstanding of either the other party’s position or the nature of their differences. The other is that I hate seeing arguments I’m fundamentally sympathetic to presented in a weak form.

I truly am sympathetic to those who complain about “postmodernism.” But I’ve spent too much time and effort learning to recognize disagreement patterns not to notice when “my side” is engaging in dodgy argumentation. Part of this is integrity (I hope), but another part is recognition of a tactical mistake: the sloppy use of terms like “postmodernism” or academically strange hybrids like “postmodern neo-Marxism” gives people an excuse to reject what you say. It’s good argumentation tactics to avoid making points which leave you vulnerable to criticism for trivial reasons, e.g. using a term in a way that suggests you don’t know what you’re talking about. Using technical terms in non-technical senses makes those in the know think exactly that and reject otherwise reasonable points

https://areomagazine.com/2018/06/30/postmodernism-vs-the-pomo-oid-cluster/

Psychology’s trolley problem might have a problem.

[...] For all this method’s enduring popularity, few have bothered to examine how it might relate to real-life moral judgments. Would your answers to a set of trolley hypotheticals correspond with what you’d do if, say, a deadly train were really coming down the tracks, and you really did have the means to change its course? In November 2016, though, Dries Bostyn, a graduate student in social psychology at the University of Ghent, ran what may have been the first-ever real-life version of a trolley-problem study in the lab. In place of railroad tracks and human victims, he used an electroschock machine and a colony of mice—and the question was no longer hypothetical: Would students press a button to zap a living, breathing mouse, so as to spare five other living, breathing mice from feeling pain?

“I think almost everyone within this field has considered running this experiment in real life, but for some reason no one ever got around to it,” Bostyn says. He published his own results last month: People’s thoughts about imaginary trolleys and other sacrificial hypotheticals did not predict their actions with the mice, he found.

It’s a discomfiting result, and one that seems—at least at first—to throw a boulder into the path of this research. Scientists have been using a set of cheap-and-easy mental probes (Would you hit the railroad switch?) to capture moral judgment. But if the answers to those questions don’t connect to real behavior, then where, exactly, have these trolley problems taken us?

https://slate.com/technology/2018/06/psychologys-trolley-problem-might-have-a-problem.html

Ontario judge refuses family's plea to keep brain dead woman on life-support | CBC News

Ontario judge has ruled she can be taken off the mechanical ventilator. (Instagram)

An Ontario court has rejected a Toronto-area family's plea to keep their 27-year-old daughter, who has been declared brain dead, on life-support.

Taquisha McKitty's parents were seeking an order to keep her on a mechanical ventilator, arguing she continues to show signs of life and that her Christian fundamentalist beliefs say she's alive as long as her heart's still beating. However, the  Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled Tuesday, in a complex and potentially precedent-setting decision, that McKitty can be considered dead and can be removed from life-support.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/taquisha-mckitty-decision-1.4674367

Friedrich Nietzsche: The truth is terrible – TheTLS

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) pursued two main themes in his work, one now familiar, even commonplace in modernity, the other still under-appreciated, often ignored.  The familiar Nietzsche is the “existentialist”, who diagnoses the most profound cultural fact about modernity: “the death of God”, or more exactly, the collapse of the possibility of reasonable belief in God. Belief in God – in transcendent meaning or purpose, dictated by a supernatural being – is now incredible, usurped by naturalistic explanations of the evolution of species, the behaviour of matter in motion, the unconscious causes of human behaviours and attitudes, indeed, by explanations of how such a bizarre belief arose in the first place. But without God or transcendent purpose, how can we withstand the terrible truths about our existence, namely, its inevitable suffering and disappointment, followed by death and the abyss of nothingness?

Nietzsche the “existentialist” exists in tandem with an “illiberal” Nietzsche, one who sees the collapse of theism and divine teleology as tied fundamentally to the untenability of the entire moral world view of post-Christian modernity. If there is no God who deems each human to be of equal worth or possessed with an immortal soul beloved by God, then why think we all deserve equal moral consideration?  And what if, as Nietzsche argues, a morality of equality – and altruism and pity for suffering – were, in fact, an obstacle to human excellence? What if being a “moral” person makes it impossible to be Beethoven? Nietzsche’s conclusion is clear: if moral equality is an obstacle to human excellence, then so much the worse for moral equality. This is the less familiar and often shockingly anti-egalitarian Nietzsche.

https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/friedrich-nietzsche-truth-terrible/

QALYs in 2018—Advantages and Concerns | JAMA

The quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) is a health metric some people love to hate. Concerns include that QALYs are not patient focused,1 may be used as rationing tools by health insurers, and may be perceived as dehumanizing. The Affordable Care Act prohibits the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute from using cost-per-QALY benchmarks. The use of QALYs by policy makers to inform coverage and reimbursement decisions is controversial.

However, QALYs are simply a metric to quantify health. Despite concerns, QALYs endure because they help address a difficult and unavoidable question: how to estimate and compare the benefits of what are often heterogeneous health interventions. Recently, QALYs have received increased interest in the United States from the work of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), a private, nonprofit organization that evaluates pharmaceuticals and other technologies and uses QALYs in its cost-effectiveness assessments. Thus, it remains important to appreciate the strengths and limitations of QALYs, why this metric is not going away, and what QALYs may portend for the future of health policy and medical practice.

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2682917

How philosophy helped one soldier on the battlefield | Aeon Essays

When I attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2002-3, the leadership training was excellent. It included discussion of the British Army’s values and the laws of armed conflict. However, I received no ethics training for the occasions when neither values nor laws would fully prepare me to make complex moral decisions in faraway fields populated by people with very different cultural norms. 

The then prime minister Tony Blair spoke at our pass-out parade just weeks after the invasion of Iraq. Dignitaries usually stop at every third or fourth person on parade to have a few words. Blair stopped at what seemed like every single officer cadet to speak, no doubt driven by good motivation, but inadvertently causing great pain for all on parade who had to stand there much longer than normal. He asked me what I would be doing in the Army. I told him I would be in intelligence. He said: ‘You will be busy.’ And he was right.

https://aeon.co/essays/how-philosophy-helped-one-soldier-on-the-battlefield

How Much Pain Should Animals Endure for Science? - The Atlantic

Each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, roughly 820,800 guinea pigs, dogs, cats, and other animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act are used in research in the United States; of those, about 71,370 are subjected to unalleviated pain. These stats don’t track the millions of mice and rats that are used in lab experiments and excluded from the animal protection law (although the rodents are covered by other federal regulations). Scientists and their institutions say they’re committed to keeping pain or distress to a minimum in lab animals where they can. But how do you know how much pain a mouse or a zebrafish feels? And who decides how much pain is too much?

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/06/how-much-pain-should-animals-endure-for-science/562268/

The relentless honesty of Ludwig Wittgenstein | Ian Ground

If you ask philosophers – those in the English speaking analytic tradition anyway – who is the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, they will most likely name Ludwig Wittgenstein. But the chances are that if you ask them exactly why he was so important, they will be unable to tell you. Moreover, in their own philosophical practice it will be rare, certainly these days, that they mention him or his work. Indeed, they may very fluently introduce positions, against which Wittgenstein launched powerful arguments: the very arguments which, by general agreement, make him such an important philosopher. Contemporary philosophers don’t argue with Wittgenstein. Rather they bypass him. Wittgenstein has a deeply ambivalent status – he has authority, but not influence.

For the more general reader, Wittgenstein’s status in contemporary philosophy will be puzzling. The general view is that Wittgenstein is surely the very model of a great philosopher. The perception is that he is difficult, obscure and intense, severe and mystical, charismatic and strange, driven and tragic, with his charisma and difficulty bound up with his character and his life. Wittgenstein saw philosophy not just as a vocation, but as a way of life he had to lead. This is perhaps why writers and artists have found him an object of fascination and inspiration. He is the subject of novels, poetry, plays, painting, music, sculpture and films. In the arts and the culture generally, Wittgenstein seems to be what a philosopher ought to be.

https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/ludwig-wittgenstein-honesty-ground