Big data and ethics

The perils of Big Data: How crunching numbers can lead to moral blunders

Considering data at a distance makes it perilously easy to overlook the stories the data does not tell. What would a strategic management consultancy have done if they had been handed the data of wealthy slaveholders? Would they have suggested ways to tweak profits? Or perhaps recommended lobbying Congress to prevent abolition? Hopefully not.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/02/18/perils-big-data-how-crunching-numbers-can-lead-moral-blunders/?utm_term=.6acb03d1c218

Machine Bias

If computers could accurately predict which defendants were likely to commit new crimes, the criminal justice system could be fairer and more selective about who is incarcerated and for how long. The trick, of course, is to make sure the computer gets it right. If it’s wrong in one direction, a dangerous criminal could go free. If it’s wrong in another direction, it could result in someone unfairly receiving a harsher sentence or waiting longer for parole than is appropriate.

https://www.propublica.org/article/machine-bias-risk-assessments-in-criminal-sentencing

 

Shooting Bambi To Save Mother Nature

Interesting topic that lends itself toward a discussion of different ethical approaches. There have been a lot of interesting cases of states and countries raising money for conservation through selling hunting permits. From a consequentialist perspective this seems to be a really ethical approach. Those who believe that hunting is categorically unethical would disagree, regardless of the outcome.

This is a good, brief podcast (10 minutes) which is worth a listen

(other good items related to this topic)

A lot of the funding for conservation in the U.S. has traditionally come from hunting. With the number of hunters is falling in the U.S., finding money to fund wildlife conservation is getting harder.

https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2019/01/22/687530630/shooting-bambi-to-save-mother-nature

What should happen to “offensive” artwork?

Knowledge Questions: What are the ethical limitations of artwork? To what extent are artists responsible for the reactions their work receives? What is the role of the audience in deciding the meaning of artwork? To what extent do the intentions of the artist matter in the interpretation of their work? What are the responsibilities of institutions in deciding what work is appropriate for display?

This is a topic that will never quite leave us. There are countless cases of “offensive” artwork and the reactions it gets. All of these provide great opportunities for TOK.

A Los Angeles School Planned to Whitewash a Mural That Offended Korean Activists—Until Shepard Fairey Stepped in to Defend It

(Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Stanton’s work depicts the late actress Ava Gardner on a backdrop of blue and orange sun rays. It was targeted by Korean-American activists who complained that the sun-ray pattern is similar to that of the Japanese Imperial flag, which has become a symbol of the atrocities Japan committed before and during World War II, particularly in China and Korea. In response, the school district announced plans to cover it up. 

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/shepard-fairey-defends-beau-stanton-mural-1423192

Should Art That Infuriates Be Removed?

“Is the censorship, much less the destruction of art, abhorrent? Yes. Should people offended or outraged by an artwork or an exhibition mount protests? Absolutely. And might a museum have the foresight to frame a possibly controversial work of art through labels or programming? Yes, that, too. “

White Artist’s Painting of Emmett Till at Whitney Biennial Draws Protests

White free speech and white creative freedom have been founded on the constraint of others, and are not natural rights. The painting must go.” She added that “contemporary art is a fundamentally white supremacist institution despite all our nice friends.”

 

Met Defends Suggestive Painting of Girl After Petition Calls for Its Removal

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art will not remove a controversial painting by the French painter known as Balthus from public display.”

 

  • How do we determine whether art is “appropriate”?
  • How does context affect the meaning of art? Notice how the quote below makes mention of the “current climate.” Should the “current climate” affect what is allowed to be displayed in a museum?

“Given the current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses, The Met is romanticizing voyeurism and the objectification of children,” it reads.

160803093028-australian-artist-clinton-mural-super-169Is censorship of artwork ever appropriate? If so, under what circumstances?

“A controversial mural of Hillary Clinton will be allowed to remain after the artist modified it from depicting the politician in a revealing swimsuit to one where she is wearing a burqa instead.”

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/02/asia/australia-clinton-mural-artist-burqa/

After hearing from both sides, the committee issued a statement that said the artwork “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, Manifest Destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.” and does not represent the San Francisco school’s “values of social justice.”

Photograph that has attracted controversy for more than two decades attracts protests outside New York exhibition

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/sep/28/andres-serrano-piss-christ-new-york

Baby DNA tests raise as many questions as answers

Knowledge Questions: How do we determine what is ethical? What are the ethical limitations of the applications of genetic technologies?

The tremendous potential — and concerns — over genome sequencing intensify at the beginning of life, when the genetic manual for a person’s entire life could guide their lifelong care, perhaps long before symptoms of disease even develop. But it also raises deep questions: Will the information provide clear, useful answers on what medical actions to take? Are parents sacrificing their children’s autonomy by making such a consequential decision when they are newborns? Does more information improve health and save lives, or increase unnecessary tests and parental worries and, potentially, alter the bond between parent and child?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/sequencing-newborn-babies-dna-raises-more-questions-than-it-answers/2019/01/03/3a7c31c2-0ed9-11e9-84fc-d58c33d6c8c7_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.202e688212c1

Take a look at the archive of topics related to genetic engineering here.

Articles tagged “genetic engineering”

Advertising Advertising and academia are controlling our thoughts. Didn’t you know?

Knowledge Question: What are the ethical limitations of advertising?

To what extent do we decide? We tell ourselves we choose our own life course, but is this ever true?

We can expect commercial enterprises to attempt whatever lawful ruses they can pull off. It is up to society, represented by government, to stop them, through the kind of regulation that has so far been lacking. But what puzzles and disgusts me even more than this failure is the willingness of universities to host research that helps advertisers hack our minds. The Enlightenment ideal, which all universities claim to endorse, is that everyone should think for themselves. So why do they run departments in which researchers explore new means of blocking this capacity?

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/31/advertising-academia-controlling-thoughts-universities

Debate: The Best Case for Liberty Is Consequentialist

“What are the philosophical underpinnings of libertarianism?”

Interesting debate about consequentialism vs. deontology as far as justifying libertarianism as a political and economic philosophy.

“Don’t get me wrong—rights are important. But they’re important because they’re beneficial. Private property, free trade, and civil liberties are valuable as means to a prosperous, peaceful, and happy world.”

“The trouble is, deontologists have a hard time explaining why enriching the poor and healing the sick matter at all. At most, these are fringe benefits of liberty. To deontologists, a political system that feeds the hungry is like a polio vaccine that freshens your breath—the bonus is nice, but it’s not the point. This view gets things wrong, however. That freedom makes us happier, healthier, and wealthier is the point.”

“Morally good things can make people happier. But I have often noticed that morally bad things can make people happier too: A petty thief steals a tomato from a neighbor’s garden. The neighbor thinks an animal ate it. The thief loves to steal, and the neighbor is only mildly disappointed. Aggregate happiness has increased, yet we find the thief’s action despicable.”

https://reason.com/archives/2018/09/09/proposition-the-best-case-for

Read my lips: the rise and rise of photo-editing

For my generation, editing your own image has become as routine as using social media. We grew up with airbrushing and Photoshop and saw the exposés of flawless magazine cover stars who weren’t flawless at all. Instead of rejecting the falsehoods we’ve made it part of our daily lives, crafting idealised digital versions of ourselves that feel like an essential corollary to real life. Technology has set a new standard for beauty that quite literally doesn’t exist in real life. Rather than reject that, we’ve embraced it.

https://www.1843magazine.com/style/read-my-lips-the-rise-and-rise-of-photoediting

The Inquiry Podcast: Can We Teach Robots Ethics?

From driverless cars to “carebots”, machines are entering the realm of right and wrong. Should an autonomous vehicle prioritise the lives of its passengers over pedestrians? Should a robot caring for an elderly woman respect her right to life ahead of her right to make her own decisions? And who gets to decide? The challenges facing artificial intelligence are not just technical, but moral – and raise hard questions about what it means to be human.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/w3csv1c2

 

Does the Trolley Problem Have a Problem?

What if your answer to an absurd hypothetical question had no bearing on how you behaved in real life?

“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://amp.slate.com/technology/2018/06/psychologys-trolley-problem-might-have-a-problem.html?__twitter_impression=true

Ethics of shutting down Backpage.com for promoting prostitution and child sex trafficking

Backpage.com was was online site with classified ads. Many of these ads were for sexual services. Interest in the site increased when craigslist banned such ads from its site. In April 2018, the US government shut down the site

The main issue that led to backpage being shut down was child sex trafficking. Ads appeared on the site for children who had been abducted and forced into prostitution. Though Backpage.com was the platform on which the ads appeared, it was ultimately held criminally liable for its users content after the U.S. Department of Justice took action against it. The US Congress also recently passed a bill along the same lines as this action.

This provides a great example of the contrast of ethical approaches.

Even though the main goal of the government’s action was to protect sex workers and exploited children, “sex workers across the U.S. and Canada swarmed social media to air concerns rarely heard in political discourse: To them, Backpage’s demise meant the end of safeguards and a reliable revenue stream in a profession that’s not going anywhere.”

How do we approach this topic? Should we stick to the moral principle that prostitution is morally wrong and should not be facilitated in any way? What about the principle of protecting free speech? Free association? How do we reconcile conflicting moral principles?

Should we look at this like a consequentialist and say that prostitution exists whether or not it is legal and we should try to protect workers whose professions make them vulnerable to abuse? What if these actions don’t do anything to limit child sex trafficking and it simply moves to another site?

What is the responsibility of the platform on which this whole debate is playing out?

A few interesting resources to explore this topic.

Reply All: No more safe harbor

The Podcast, Reply All covered this story with some great reporting. You can find a link for the episode as well as the transcript.

“But the thing that caught my eye in the aftermath of this story was that there were all these sex workers on the internet and they were all saying the same thing: this law is a disaster. Even though it’s supposed to go after sex trafficking,It’s actually going to go after us, voluntary sex workers. And that Backpage, it was not the boogeyman that the government had made it out to be, it was actually a website that was doing a lot of good.
“And I wondered – how could that be true? How can a website that sold children be good for the world? So I spent the past couple of weeks I’ve been talking to sex workers.”

https://www.gimletmedia.com/reply-all/119-no-more-safe-harbor

“Sex workers ‘devastated,’ look to alternatives after Backpage closure”

Backpage didn’t turn me into a sex worker, any more than Youtube can turn people in musicians or comedians. It was just the medium. A really good, really helpful medium that was free and accessible.

— Sarah Fenix (@sarahthemoose) April 7, 2018

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/04/13/backpage-closure-sex-workers-react/513802002/

“Backpage’s Sex Ads Are Gone. Child Trafficking? Hardly.”

As for the bill, rather than narrowly targeting websites that knowingly advertise these despicable practices, it would allow police to criminally pursue a website that has no idea it is hosting, and has procedures in place to prevent, ads featuring criminal activity. It does so because the “intent standard” – what a prosecutor has to prove the defendant knew – is vague.