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 judgments—for 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.
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.
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;
Here is a version of the thought experiment presented as a series of questions and answers.
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.
This article gets into a lot of the relevant issues of medical ethics and uses appropriate ethical language in the discussion. I’m working with this in my class today (remotely). Here’s the worksheet I’m using today.
This also connects to some questions that came up after Hurricane Katrina put a hospital in New Orleans in a situation in which it had to make similar decisions about life and death.
Who Gets the Ventilator?
Lastly, there is a recent Freakonomics Podcast about this very question that brings together a variety of perspectives on this question.
Please ignore the sensational headline but the article connects to many discussions that relate issues around ethics and public policy. This is a real life application of a form of “trolley problem” playing out in real life. This goes back to some of the choices faced by a hospital in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When forced to make decisions about whose lives to save, how do we decide?
“The criteria for access to intensive therapy in cases of emergency must include age of less than 80 or a score on the Charlson comorbidity Index [which indicates how many other medical conditions the patient has] of less than 5.”
The ability of the patient to recover from resuscitation will also be considered.
One doctor said: “[Who lives and who dies] is decided by age and by the [patient’s] health conditions. This is how it is in a war.”
Calculating the economic costs of curtailing social interaction compared with the lives saved, he agreed, might yield a useful metric for policymakers. The U.S. government routinely performs such analyses when assessing new regulations, with the “statistical value of life” currently pegged by one government agency at about $9 million.
Still, Dr. Thunstrom asked, “Do we even want to look at that? Is it too callous?”
“Technology feels disempowering because we haven’t built it around an honest view of human nature,” says tech critic Tristan Harris.
What is “brain hacking”? Tech insiders on why you should care
Anderson Cooper: Is Silicon Valley programming apps or are they programming people?
Tristan Harris: Inadvertently, whether they want to or not, they are shaping the thoughts and feelings and actions of people. They are programming people. There’s always this narrative that technology’s neutral. And it’s up to us to choose how we use it. This is just not true.
Interesting story that raises many interesting questions about ethics and responsibility. What is the responsibility of the institution vs. individual? How do we decide what is ethical? The article describes a level of abstraction and jargon that happens in the company that belies the very human cost of its actions. Further, how do our actions change when we don’t directly deal with the human face/cost of our actions?
People at Capital One are extremely friendly. But one striking fact of life there was how rarely anyone acknowledged the suffering of its customers. It’s no rhetorical exaggeration to say that the 3,000 white-collar workers at its headquarters are making good money off the backs of the poor. The conspiracy of silence that engulfed this bottom-line truth spoke volumes about how all of us at Capital One viewed our place in the world, and what we saw when we looked down from our glass tower.
Amid the daily office banter at Capital One, we hardly ever broached the essence of what we were doing. Instead, we discussed the “physics” of our work. Analysts would commonly say that “whiteboarding”—a gratifying exercise in gaming out equations on the whiteboard to figure out a better way to build a risk model or design an experiment—was the favorite part of their job. Hour-long conversations would oscillate between abstruse metaphors representing indebtedness and poverty, and an equally opaque jargon composed of math and finance-speak.
The central point here is that the show Euphoria inaccurately portrays teenagers’ lives which raises the question: Is there a responsibility that comes with creating artwork? Must it be accurate? Who decides?
The claim that the show is inaccurate is backup with statistics raises the question: How can math/statistics help us acquire knowledge? (or understand reality?)
People’s perceptions of teens’ behaviors seems to be generally inaccurate beyond what this show. If presented with this article and appropriate statistics would people change their mind or perceptions of these issues? I’m not sure that it would which leads us to the question: What is the role of intuition in acquiring knowledge? Can mathematical knowledge overcome intuitive beliefs?
This reminded me of an earlier article from the New York Times:
“The Kids Are More Than All Right”
“Something has gone wrong in the university — especially in certain fields within the humanities,” the three authors of the fake papers wrote in an article in the online journal Areo explaining what they had done. “Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields.”
Their original post”