IT DOESN’T MATTER WHEN YOU KILL ALL THE CIVILIANS

Interesting discussion on the moral implications of actions one takes while playing a video game.  

If you do bad or good things in a game does that mean you are a bad or good person? No…

I don’t think the player has any moral responsibility or energy or potential in a game whatsoever — whatever the player does is neither moral nor amoral, but unmoral

IT DOESN’T MATTER WHEN YOU KILL ALL THE CIVILIANS

The Ethics Of Who Gets The COVID-19 Vaccine And When

Interesting discussions around different ethical frameworks in this interview. Some of the approaches are strictly utilitarian: “get as much good…” and some deontological. 

Basically what we are trying to do in thinking through the ethics of vaccine prioritization is to first identify the ethics values that matter the most, one of which is clearly that we want to get as much good in terms of the public’s health as we can from the vaccines available. But others include questions of fairness, equity and also reciprocity, recognizing that some groups have really taken on more risks and more burdens or have had more burdens imposed on them so that the rest of us could live more normal lives or have a better chance of staying healthy.

https://www.npr.org/2020/12/20/948614855/the-ethics-of-who-gets-the-covid-19-vaccine-and-when

What’s also interesting are actions taken to address racial inequity in the impact of the pandemic. Should vaccine prioritization include race as a factor? Or simply other, race neutral risk factors that would account for this disproportionate impact (neighborhood, profession, etc.)? This article explores some of those ideas.

In California, experts are devising ways to ensure communities of color “disproportionately are benefited” from vaccine distribution, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vowed, “because of the impact they have felt disproportionately” during the pandemic.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/12/18/covid-vaccine-racial-equity/

All of this is similar to earlier posts from March about how to ethically allocate scarce resources like ventilators.

Who Should be Saved First?

https://toktopics.com/2020/03/25/who-should-be-saved-first-experts-offer-ethical-guidance/

 

Controversy over paper evaluating he impact on younger female scientists of having female or male mentors

In November, 2020, Science Magazine published a study (link to the actual paper) evaluating the impact on younger female scientists of having female or male mentors.

Here are some sections of the paper:

“Our gender-related findings suggest that current diversity policies promoting female-female mentorships, as well-intended as they may be, could hinder the careers of women who remain in academia in unexpected ways…Female scientists, in fact, may benefit from opposite-gender mentorships in terms of their publication potential and impact throughout their post-mentorship careers.”

The paper drew rather swift criticism and outrage and then outrage at the outrage. Out of all the…outrage some interesting issues arise:

  • Was the methodology of the study sound? Also worth noting that this was a statistical study that found a correlation, how did they conclude a causal link? Related question is whether people are criticizing the methodology because they are interested in rigorous science or because they want to undermine a study whose conclusions they don’t want to believe.
  • More importantly though, even if the study were done soundly, is this an appropriate question to study? Does the question/issue being studied violate some ethical standards? If a study turns out to be true but causes harm, should it be published or even explored in the first place? Are some questions off limits?
  • If only one paper finds an association or correlation can we call this scientific knowledge?
  • How do we, as individuals or communities of knowers, respond when a scientific study violates our personal or political beliefs?

This last question above is basis of the backlash against many of the study’s critics.

Here’s one article that goes over the issue:

A Study Claimed Male Mentors Are More Helpful to Women Scientists—and It Did Not Go Over Well

https://www.thedailybeast.com/a-study-claimed-male-mentors-are-more-helpful-to-women-scientistsand-it-did-not-go-over-well

Some interesting discussions on twitter as well

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A longer thread you can follow here: https://twitter.com/clairlemon/status/1330601601774456832

 

AI is wrestling with a replication crisis

Science is built on a bedrock of trust, which typically involves sharing enough details about how research is carried out to enable others to replicate it, verifying results for themselves. This is how science self-corrects and weeds out results that don’t stand up. Replication also allows others to build on those results, helping to advance the field. Science that can’t be replicated falls by the wayside.

At least, that’s the idea. In practice, few studies are fully replicated because most researchers are more interested in producing new results than reproducing old ones. But in fields like biology and physics—and computer science overall—researchers are typically expected to provide the information needed to rerun experiments, even if those reruns are rare.

 

Netflix Documentary: The Social Dilemma…and related articles

Here are a couple of posts around the theme of Knowledge and Technology. Netflix has recently put out a documentary called “The Social Dilemma” (trailer linked below). It touches upon some commonly discussed themes around the dangers of communications technologies and social media. 

What’s interesting is that despite what people agree are problematic outcomes, there are disagreements among root causes. 

This is just a great line from a NYTimes Article

The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them. 

from: ‘The Internet Is Broken’: @ev Is Trying to Salvage It

 

From the “Social Dilemma Fails to Tackle the Real Issues in Tech”, which takes a critical view of the argument put forward in The Social Dilemma:

Focusing instead on how existing inequalities intersect with technology would have opened up space for a different and more productive conversation. These inequalities actually influence the design choices that the film so heavily focuses on—more specifically, who gets to make these choices.

https://slate.com/technology/2020/09/social-dilemma-netflix-technology.html

From “The Risk Makers: Viral hate, election interference, and hacked accounts: inside the tech industry’s decades-long failure to reckon with risk”

The internet’s “condition of harm” and its direct relation to risk is structural. The tech industry — from venture capitalists to engineers to creative visionaries — is known for its strike-it-rich Wild West individualistic ethos, swaggering risk-taking, and persistent homogeneity. Some of this may be a direct result of the industry’s whiteness and maleness. For more than two decades, studies have found that a specific subset of men, in the U.S. mostly white, with higher status and a strong belief in individual efficacy, are prone to accept new technologies with greater alacrity while minimizing their potential threats — a phenomenon researchers have called the “white-male effect,” a form of cognition that protects status. In the words of one study, the findings expose “a host of new practical and moral challenges for reconciling the rational regulation of risk with democratic decision making.”

https://onezero.medium.com/the-risk-makers-720093d41f01

 

Facebook is out of control. If it were a country it would be North Korea

This is a company that facilitated an attack on a US election by a foreign power, that live-streamed a massacre then broadcast it to millions around the world, and helped incite a genocide.

I’ll say that again. It helped incite a genocide. A United Nations report says the use of Facebook played a “determining role” in inciting hate and violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya, which has seen tens of thousands die and hundreds of thousands flee for their lives.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jul/05/facebook-is-out-of-control-if-it-were-a-country-it-would-be-north-korea

The man who built a spyware empire says it’s time to come out of the shadows

The business he leads, NSO Group, is the world’s most notorious spyware company. It’s at the center of a booming international industry in which high-tech firms find software vulnerabilities, develop exploits, and sell malware to governments. The Israeli-headquartered company has been linked to high-profile incidents including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and spying against politicians in Spain…

We’ve gone full circle, arriving back in a thick tangle of secrecy. Money is flowing, abuses keep happening, and the hacking tools are proliferating: no one disputes that.

But who is accountable when brutal authoritarians get their hands on cutting-edge spyware to use against opponents? An already shadowy world is getting darker, and answers are becoming harder to come by.

 

When Choosing What To Believe, People Often Choose Morality Over Hard Evidence

What happens when moral beliefs collide with documented evidence? For many people, it means doubling down on whichever compliments their worldview.

The authors offer two models for this system of rationalization. In the first model, moral concerns shift the correct criteria for making judgmentsfor instance, by lowering the amount of hard evidence deemed sufficient to justify a particular belief. “Morality changes how much evidence [people] consider to be required to hold [a particular] belief in an evidentially-sound way,” the authors write.

If AI is going to help us in a crisis, we need a new kind of ethics

AI has the potential to save lives but this could come at the cost of civil liberties like privacy. How do we address those trade-offs in ways that are acceptable to lots of different people? We haven’t figured out how to deal with the inevitable disagreements.

AI ethics also tends to respond to existing problems rather than anticipate new ones. Most of the issues that people are discussing today around algorithmic bias came up only when high-profile things went wrong, such as with policing and parole decisions.

https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/06/24/1004432/ai-help-crisis-new-kind-ethics-machine-learning-pandemic/?truid=e0dd2cbe984961ceccec29c613c6f06f&utm_source=the_download&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the_download.unpaid.engagement&utm_term=non-subs&utm_content=07-17-2020

The Drowning Child and the Expanding Circle

Old but classic thought experiment about ethics and our responsibilities to others. Have somehow not made meaningful use of this with my students but now that Ethics is no longer its own AOK, maybe it’s time to find a place for it. Below is a selection from the full text. Click on the link below.

I am always struck by how few students challenge the underlying ethics of the idea that we ought to save the lives of strangers when we can do so at relatively little cost to ourselves. At the end of the nineteenth century WH Lecky wrote of human concern as an expanding circle which begins with the individual, then embraces the family and ‘soon the circle… includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity, and finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of man [sic] with the animal world’.1 On this basis the overwhelming majority of my students seem to be already in the penultimate stage – at least – of Lecky’s expanding circle. There is, of course, for many students and for various reasons a gap between acknowledging what we ought to do, and doing it;

https://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/199704–.htm

Here is a version of the thought experiment presented as a series of questions and answers.

https://www.philosophyexperiments.com/singer/

If you want a video adaptation of it:

All of this is connects to the concept of effective altruism

The nonprofit, GiveWell, is “dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give.” It tries to
“determine how much good a given program accomplishes (in terms of lives saved, lives improved, etc.) per dollar spent.”

Read more about the organization and their recommended charities.

https://www.givewell.org/charities/top-charities