Compliance in Black Mirror

Black Mirror is a very popular US-UK television science fiction series. It originally aired on Channel 4 in the UK and is now released and broadcasted by the subscription video streaming service Netflix. The series is anthology-style, with short seasons of stand-alone episodes which are like mini films. Most of the episodes of the series touch upon the dominance of and overreach into human life by technology, such as social media, AI, and other advanced, immersive systems and devices. The take offered is quite dramatic, often delving deeply into adverse psychological and sociological effects on modern society, taking a dark and even dystopian perspective.

While all the episodes of Black Mirror do depict a future reality, it is an immediate and accessible reality impacted by technology exceeding that which is currently possible but not so much as to be unthinkable. Indeed, the title of the show, Black Mirror, refers to current technology which is increasingly ubiquitous and addictive – television screens, computer monitors, and smartphone displays. The show both entices with the idea that many of these technological advancements could be convenient or novel or life-enhancing, while also warning that the obsessive and addictive aspects of technology could cause great harm and disruption if not developed and managed thoughtfully and carefully with the risks well in mind.

  • “The Entire History of You” (Series 1, Episode 3): In this episode, a couple struggling with mistrust and insinuations of infidelity make disastrous use of a common biometric – a “grain” implant everyone has that records everything they see, hear, and do. The recordings on the implants can be replayed via “re-dos.” This is used for surveillance purposes by security and management, as the memories can be played to an external video monitor for third parties to watch. Individuals can also watch the re-dos from their implants directly in their eyes, which allows them to repeatedly watch re-dos, often leading them to question and analyse the sincerity and credibility of people with whom they interact. People can also erase the records from their implants, altering the truthfulness of the recordings. This troubles the status of trust and honesty in society which has already in contemporary life been eroded by the influence of the internet.

 

 

 

  • “Be Right Back” (Series 2, Episode 1): In this episode, Martha is mourning her boyfriend, Ash, who died in a car accident. As she struggles to deal with his loss, her friend who has lso lost a partner recommends an online service that allows people to stay in touch with dead loved ones. The service crawls the departed person’s e-mail and social media profiles to create a virtual version of the person. After the machine learning advances enough by consuming and trying enough communications, it can also digest videos and photos by graduating from chatting via instant message to replicating the deceased’s voice and talking on the phone. At its most advanced, the service even allows a user to create an android version of the deceased that resembles him or her in every physical aspect and imitates the elements of the dead person’s personality that can be discovered by the online record. However, in all this there is no consideration given to the data privacy of the deceased person or to his or her consent to be exposed to machine learning and replicated in this manner, including even the physical android form.

 

 

  • “Nosedive” (Series 3, Episode 1): This is one of the most popular, critically-acclaimed episodes of the series, and one of the obvious reasons for this is that it focuses on social media and how it impacts friendships and interactions. The addictive aspects of social media in current times are already a hot topic in design ethics, driving people to question whether social media networks like Facebook or Twitter are good for the people who use them, and where to locate the line between entertainment and a fun way to connect and share, versus a platform with a potentially dark and abusive impact on users. In this episode, everyone is on social media and is subject to receiving ratings from virtually everyone they encounter. These ratings determine people’s standing both on social media and in the real world as well – controlling access to jobs, customer service, housing, and much more. Anxieties and aspirations about ratings drive everything people do and all the choices they make. “Addictive” has been met and surpassed, with social media having an absolutely pervasive impact in everyone’s lives.

 

 

  • “San Junipero” (Series 3, Episode 4): One of the most universally loved episodes of Black Mirror, San Junipero depicts the titular beach town which mysteriously appears to shift in time throughout the decades. Kelly and Yorkie both visit the town and have a romance. San Junipero turns out to be a simulated reality which exists only “on the cloud,” where people who are at the end of their lives or who have already died can visit to live in their prime again, forever if they so choose. In the real world, Kelly is elderly and in hospice care, while Yorkie is a comatose quadriplegic. Both eventually chose to be euthanized and uploaded to San Junipero to be together forever, after getting married first so that Kelly can give legal authorization to Yorkie to pass over. The bioethical considerations of such a reality are clear – in this society, assisted suicide is a legal normalcy, and part of patient care is planning one’s method of death and treatment path after death, which digitalization being a real option. All of the San Junipero simulations exist on huge servers, and judging by how many lights are flickering in the racks this seems to be a popular practice – but what about cybersecurity and information security of the simulations? What if the servers were hacked or damaged? This gives a new meaning to humanity and places an entirely different type of pressure on making sure that technology is used safely and the data stored on it is protected.

 

 

  • “Men Against Fire” (Series 3, Episode 5): This episode concerns the future of warfare in a post-apocalyptic world. Soldiers all have a biometric implant called MASS that augments reality, enhances their senses, and provides virtual reality experiences. One soldier’s implant begins to malfunction and he soon learns that the MASS is in fact altering his senses so that he will not see individuals he is told are enemy combatants as people. It turns out that the soldier is part of a eugenics program practicing worldwide genocide and the MASS is being used to deceive the solders and turn them into autonomous weapons who murder on command due to the augmentations and alterations to reality by the MASS. This storyline falls cannily close to many current concerns about the adoption of autonomous weapons that are not directed or monitored by humans, which are nearly within technological capability to be created and are the subject of international calls for appropriate supervision of and restraint in their development.

 

 

Black Mirror offers many interesting scenarios for analysis of and study by compliance and ethics professionals considering risk management related to the use of technology in organizations and society. As described above, surveillance, data privacy, consent, design ethics, autonomous weapons and other AI, bioethics, and cybersecurity are just a sampling of the issues invoked by episodes of the series.

Selected TED/TEDx talks on artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) describes the cognitive function of machines through technology such as algorithms or other machine learning mechanisms. The very definition of AI places technological devices with this “artificial” knowledge in comparison to and opposition with humans possessing “natural” knowledge. This discipline within technology has been around for more than sixty years and in recent years, is gaining consistent enough momentum that many of its once outlandish ambitions – such as self-driving cars, for example – are current or imminent reality. As computing power advances exponentially and uses for and types of data are ever-growing, AI is becoming ubiquitous in the news of the newest and emerging technological innovations.

As AI sustains and draws on its now considerable basis of achievements to make even more advancements in research and development across many business sectors, ethical and existential dilemmas related to it become more prevalent as well. Returning to that initial dichotomy between artificial or machine intelligence and natural or human intelligence, the design ethics and morality of bestowing human-like thinking ability on devices and networks raise many philosophical questions. Certain uses of AI, such as for autonomous weapons, could even pose safety risks to humans if not developed and directed thoughtfully.

These questions can go on and on; practical ethics represents the attempt to navigate the broad social context of the workplace by reconciling professional rules with moral expectations and norms. This, again, is highly pertinent to a corporate compliance program, which seeks to encourage an business culture that respects legality, approaches business competitively yet thoughtfully, and also sets standards for employee and organizational integrity. It is imperative for compliance professionals to understand practical ethics and use dilemma sessions or open discussions with the businesses they advise in order to encourage a common comfort level with this sort of thinking throughout their organization.

The below TED/TEDx talks emphasize the connection between AI and human life, commonly invoking questions about bioethics, practical ethics, and morality.

  • Artificial intelligence: dream or nightmare? (Stefan Wess) – Stefan Wess, a computer scientist and entrepreneur, provides a helpful primer on the history and current state of artificial intelligence in the contemporary movement of machine education. Big Data, the Internet of Things, machine learning, speech recognition – all these technologies and AI-related topics are already part of daily life. But as this continues to develop, how will organizations and individuals interact with the technology? How should it best be controlled and is it even possible to do so? The many risk implications of AI must be considered as more advanced creations become stronger and closer to reality every day.

 

 

  • Can we build AI without losing control over it? (Sam Harris) – Neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris is well-known for his commentaries on the interaction of science, morality, and society. Advanced AI is no longer just theoretical stuff of science fiction and the very distant future. Superintelligent AI – completely autonomous, superhuman machines, devices, and networks – is very close to reality. Technologists, the organizations in which they work, and the communities for which they create must all be conscientious about the development of these technologies and the assessment of the risks they could pose. Contending with the potential problems that stem from creating this very advanced AI needs to be done now, in anticipation of the technology, not later – when it may no longer be possible to control what has been designed and brought to “life.”   Planning, careful control frameworks, and regulatory supervision that balances openly encouraging innovation with soberly considering safety and risk consequences are all necessary to conscientiously embark upon these amazing technological endeavors.

 

 

  • What happens when our computers get smarter than we are? (Nick Bostrom) – In the same vein as the previous talk, one of the consequences of extremely “smart” artificial intelligence is that machine learning could be just as smart as a human being’s knowledge – and then, of course, eventually overtake humans in intelligence. This is alarming because it suggests the potential that humans could introduce their own subservience or obsolescence via machines created to make machines smarter. Again, all participants in developing this technology, including the consumers to whom it is ultimately directed, need to consider their intentions in bestowing machines with thought and balance the various risks carefully. With the ability for independent thought may also come the capacity for judgment. Humans must make an effort to ensure the values of these smart machines are consistent with those of humanity, in order to safeguard the relevance and survival of human knowledge itself for the future.

 

 

  • The wonderful and terrifying implications of computers that can learn (Jeremy Howard) – The concept of deep learning enables humans to teach computers how to learn. Through this technique, computers can transform into vast stores of self-generating knowledge. Many people will likely be very surprised to learn how far along this technology is, empowering machines with abilities and knowledge that some might think is still within the realm of fantasy. Productivity gains in application of machine learning have the potential to be enormous as computers can be trained to invent, identify, and diagnose. Computers can learn through algorithms and their own compounding teaching to do so many tasks that will free humans to test the limits of current inventions and to extend human problem-solving far beyond where it already reaches. This is certain to change the face of human employment – already bots and androids are being used for assisting tasks in diverse fields from human resources recruiting to nursing patient care.   Again, the extension of these technologies must be carefully cultivated in order to neutralize the existential threats to human society and life that may be posed by unchecked autonomy of machines and artificial learning. The time to do this is now, as soon as possible – not once the machines already have these advanced capabilities with all the attendant risks.

 

 

  • What will future jobs look like? (Andrew McAfee) – Picking up on the theme of the changing nature of human employment as machines get smarter, Andrew McAfee draws on his academic and intellectual background as an economist to unpack what the impact on the labor market might be. The fear, of course, is that extremely human-like androids will take over the human workforce with their advanced machine intelligence, making humans mostly irrelevant and out of work. The more interesting discussion, however, is not whether androids will take away work from humans but how they may change the kinds of jobs that humans do. Considering and preparing for this reality, and educating both humans and machines accordingly, is imperative to do now.

 

 

Check back here in the future for continuing commentary on AI and its impact on human life and society, including technology and the ethics of knowledge acquisition, as well as more insights on specific AI innovations such as self-driving cars and machine learning.

Round-up on the humanity of artificial intelligence

Human fascination in, and even obsession with, robots is nothing new. For many years people have imagined distant versions of the future where human interaction with different types of robots, androids, or other robotics products was a routine part of life both at work and at home. Sometimes these forward-looking scenarios focus on convenience, service, and speed. Much more often, however, when asked to contemplate a future with ubiquitous artificial intelligence (AI) technology imbedded alongside humans, thoughts stray into possible troubling or dark impacts on society. People worry about loss of humanity as technology predominates, or the possibility that robots could be misused or even gain sentience and have intentions to work against or harm humans.

In the past these scenarios, both of the positive advancement of society and of the potential for isolating, dangerous dystopia, were mostly relegated to science fiction books, Hollywood blockbuster movies, or what were seen as overactive imaginations or paranoid opinions of luddites. Now, however, the news is full every day of developments in AI technology that bring the once-imaginary potential of robots ever closer to present reality.

As technologists and business organizations consider the utility of advancement in AI, ethicists and corporate compliance programs must also consider the risk management issues that come along with robots and robotics. Technology which will have such a broad and deep impact on human life must be anticipated with thoughtful planning for the compliance risks which can arise. In particular the potential for sharing human traits with AI technology or imbedding AI technology in place of human judgment present provocative challenges.

  • Anticipating increased interactions with androids – robots that look like humans and can speak, walk, and otherwise “act” like humans would – leads to the logical question of will humans have relationships with androids and vice versa? This would be not just transactional interactions like giving and receiving directions, or speaking back and forth on a script written to take advantage of or increase machine learning within the android. Rather, this could be intimate, emotionally-significant exchanges that build real connections. How can this be when only one side of the equation – the human – is assumed to be able to feel and think freely? While technical production of robots that appear credibly human-like is still beyond the reach of current science, and giving them a compelling human presence that could fool or attract a human is even further away, work on these tasks is well underway and it is not unreasonable to consider possible consequences of these developments. Will humans feel empathy and other emotions for androids? Can people ever trust robots that seem to be, but aren’t, people? Will the lines between “us” and “them” blur? The burgeoning field of human-robot interaction research seeks to answer these questions and develop technology which responds to and considers these tensions.  Love in the Time of Robots 
  • On a similar note, when could machine learning become machine consciousness? Humans have embraced the usefulness of AI technologies which become smarter and more effective over time after they are exposed to more knowledge and experience. This is a great argument for deploying technology to support and improve efficiency and productivity. Everyone wants computers, networked devices, and other products that use advanced technology to work more accurately and easily. Machine consciousness, however, suggests independent sentience or judgment abilities, the potential of which unsettle humans. From a compliance and ethics perspective there is an extra curiosity inherent in this – what will be the morality of these machines if they achieve consciousness? Will they have a reliable code of ethics from which they do not stray and which comports with human societal expectations? Will they struggle with ethical decision-making and frameworks like humans do? Or will human and human-like practical ethics diverge completely?  Can Robots be Conscious? 
  • In 2016, David Hanson of Hanson Robotics created a humanoid robot named Sophia. At his prompting during a live demonstration at the SXSW festival, Sophia answered his question “Do you want to destroy humans?… Please say ‘no’” by saying, “OK. I will destroy humans.” Despite this somewhat alarming declaration, during the demonstration Sophia also said that she was essentially an input-output system, and therefore would treat humans the way humans treated her. The intended purpose of Sophia and future robots like her is to provide assistance in patient care at assisted living facilities and in visitor services at parks and events. In October 2017, Saudi Arabia recognized the potential of the AI technology which makes Sophia possible by granting her citizenship ahead of its Future Investment Initiative event. A robot that once said it would ‘destroy humans’ just became a robot citizen in Saudi Arabia
  • The development of humanoid robots will certainly become a bioethics issue in the future as the technology to take the human traits further becomes within reach. While there are so many compelling cases for how highly advanced AI could be good for the world, the risks of making them somehow too human will always be evocative and concerning to people. The gap between humans and human-like androids is called the uncanny valley, the space between organic and inorganic, natural and artificial, cognitive and learned. The suggestion that the future of human evolution could be “synthetic” – aided by or facilitated in the development androids and other robotics – presents a fascinating challenge to bioethics. Are humanoid robots objects or devices like computers or phones? It is necessary to consider the humans and androids in comparison to one other just as it is humans and animals, for example. This ethical dilemma gets to the root of what the literal meaning or definition of life is and what it takes for someone, or something, to be considered alive. Six Life-Like Robots That Prove The Future of Human Evolution is Synthetic
  • One of the potential uses of AI technology which worries people the most is in autonomous weapons. The technology in fact already exists for weapons which can be used against people without human intervention or supervision in deploying them. Militaries around the world have been quick to develop and adopt weapon technology that uses remote computing techniques to fly, drive, patrol, and track. However, this established use of this technology is either for non-weaponized purposes or, in the case of drones, deployment of weapons with a human controller. Fully automating this technology would in effect be giving AI-powered machines the decision-making ability that could lead to killing humans. Many technologists and academics are warning governments to consider preventing large-scale manufacturing of these weapons via pre-emptive treaty or other international law.  Ban on killer robots urgently needed, say scientists

As the diverse selection of stories above illustrates, the reach of robots, robotics, androids, and other developments within AI technology are certain to permeate and indeed redefine human life. This will not be in the distant or unperceived future. Rather, real impact from these advancements is even already starting to be seen, and there is only more to come. Governments, organizations, and individuals must make diligent risk assessment preparations to integrate this technology with human life in a harmonious and sustainable fashion.

Selected TED/TEDx talks on self-driving cars

In a follow-up to yesterday’s post on current compliance trends in the emerging autonomous vehicle technology industry, the below is a collection of videos from TED and TEDx talks about self-driving cars. The possibilities of this technology at this point, its infancy, seem almost infinite. The impact autonomous cars could have on modern society and culture are fascinating to contemplate; it seems like this technology could disrupt and indeed improve people’s lives in many ways.

First, a primer on the technical basics of the self-driving car systems that are under development now, and the machine learning and artificial intelligence technology that will be imperative to make it practical and affordable, from Self-Driving Cars of The Near Future (Raquel Urtasun).

Of course, along with the tremendous potential of this autonomous vehicle technology also comes risks and decisions that must be carefully and thoughtfully made with compliance and ethics considerations in mind. In developing a technology that will have such a wide-reaching impact on so many people, both those who use it and those who do not personally do so, it is critically important to have in mind from the beginning all the interests concerned and how those might be conflicting or impacted.

  • Autonomous ride toward a new reality (Limmor Kfiri) – The benefits of self-driving cars must be taken alongside the issues and ethical dilemmas they prompt. In considering these challenges – which include, for example, cybersecurity risk in the possibility that someone could remotely hack a car’s self-driving technology system and take over control of the steering or brakes from the human inside it – creative approaches for handling the problems without stifling the technology are necessary. Governments and individuals who are involving in the designing phase can have a huge impact from the beginning in this effort.

 

  • The Overlooked Secret Behind Driverless Cars (Priscilla Nagashima Boyd) – There are many very practical problems of driving that technologists hope self-driving vehicles can help to address. For example, which route to select for the best commute or where to find a parking spot are all decisions people must make when driving now that semi-autonomous or autonomous driving systems could take care of in the future. However, with these conveniences there are some serious potential effects to privacy. People must ask themselves whether they are comfortable with location sharing, for example, something which has been an uncomfortable subject for some with social media or smartphone apps already. This may require a change in attitude and expectations toward privacy, and a heightened trust in technology, that during this time of cybersecurity breaches and leaks, some people are not so eager to normalize.

 

  • What’s the perfect driverless car? It depends on who you ask (Ryan Jenkins) – Design ethics and artificial intelligence meet in the development of the technology for autonomous vehicles. Technologies which can so deeply impact human life – such as smartphones, software algorithms, and indeed self-driving cars – bring with them many moral questions about what the character of and oversight on that impact might be. Any technology which can transform the way people live can do so helpfully or harmfully. Therefore, designers, engineers, lawmakers, and compliance and ethics professionals must collaborate to ensure that autonomous vehicles are produced so that they will meaningfully and positively shape human lives.

 

  • Are we ready for driverless cars? (Lauren Isaac) – Maybe the technology for driverless cars is great, but what if humans are the ones who are not ready? Like all systems, it can be designed with all the necessary controls and considerations in mind to make it as safe as possible, but if people do not use it appropriately or with good intentions then everything can go wrong. If people are not prepared to share with each other as well as redefine some of their inflexible ideas about ownership and control, then the technology will struggle to succeed in its bolder ambitions for society as a collective. Lawmakers and regulators can intervene early to ensure the philosophical intention of the driverless vehicle includes that people are safe and their interests are served, rather than neglected or abused, by the technology.

 

  • Are we ready for the self-driving car? (Tyron Louw) – While the previous lecture addresses people’s behavioral capability to handle self-driving car technology, in their attitudes and their openness to change and responsibility, this one focuses on people’s performance capacity. People are often frustrated when their laptops freeze or their phones have a dead battery – how will they react in the moment if a self-driving car has a technical malfunction? How can driverless vehicles be designed to take into account the possibility that the unsafe part of a self-driving car is the human driver in or near it?

 

The potential of the technology for autonomous vehicles, as expressed in these lectures and many others, is so striking, that it would be an inexcusable loss to not manage its growth and advancement in a way that ensures its sustainability. In the absence of regulatory action, and with tremendous respect for and power to the unchecked ambition of innovation, organizations and individuals working in this space must takes a value-based approach to developing, testing, and launching this technology. This way, its risks and challenges can be properly controlled against, and its greatness can be realized.

Round-up on compliance issues with self-driving cars

The science fiction world of the future is in active development. Projects involving artificial intelligence are on the forefront of the business strategy of many Silicon Valley technology companies and the venture capital firms that finance them, as well as traditional automotive companies and electronics manufacturers. Advancements in automation are the focus of major investments by these organizations, all of which hope to stake a competitive claim in this disruptive market.

Artificial intelligence innovations and specifically those involved automation do include robots and computer-generated personas serving functions ranging from assistants to recruiters to reservationists like the writers of earlier decades once imagined. However, one of the more practical applications of this emerging technology is in the transportation industry. Self-driving cars offer fascinating efficiency and improvement possibilities for a world that is increasingly urbanized. Organizations working in the self-driving cars industry all hope to address the constant dilemmas within the automotive industry – design and production safety, environmental sustainability, distracted driving, how to handle congestion and commuting.

Of course, as this advanced technology develops, obvious compliance and ethics considerations emerge. Consumer protection, safety and privacy, design ethics, and regulatory response are all challenges which business interests in the self-driving car industry must confront. one of the Many of the challenges of modern society in general are writ large in the world of higher education.

  • One of the first questions that comes up in any discussion about autonomous vehicles is of public relations. How will people – both other drivers and pedestrians – react to seeing a car with no driver behind the wheel? Will this be a distraction in and of itself? Virginia Tech and Ford tested this recently by sending out a fake self-driving car onto the streets of Arlington County. This car was intended to look like it had no driver, as an autonomous vehicle would, but in reality, there was a driver “dressed” as a car seat, complete with a face mask, in a specially-configured seating area. Such studies should help to determine the best design for autonomous vehicles taking in considerations of their surroundings, as well as to give ideas of what indications need to be provided outside of the vehicle to let people know what it is:  “Driverless van” is just a VT researcher in a really good driver’s seat costume
  • Ford is far from the only corporate giant interested in self-driving cars. From the consumer electronics sector, Samsung has made a major investment of money and resources with a dedicated business unit to developing autonomous technology. Samsung would like to compete with startups already working in this space, such as Mobileye, which is partnered with major automotive companies including BMW and Fiat Chrysler. Samsung acquired Harman, a major audio technology company, last year toward preparing for this effort. This work will be done in California, which has been granting self-driving permits via its Department of Motor Vehicles rather aggressively. Removing regulatory and administrative hurdles that might have prevent granting the permits has given California a leg-up in attracting businesses which hope to exploit this growing market:  Samsung makes a $300 million push into self-driving cars
  • Like the California DMV, the federal Department of Transportation has been quick to provide guidance on autonomous vehicles so that development and testing for the technology can proceed expediently. These guidelines are recommended but not mandatory and suggest fewer restrictions in the development process, hoping to facilitate innovations and advancements by manufacturers in a technology which is seen as positively disruptive for public safety and access to mobility. The DOT plans to have an evolving approach to addressing automated driving technology as the industry develops, indicating that the government wants the industry to take the lead in setting its agenda:    Department Of Transportation Rolls Out New Guidelines For Self-Driving Cars
  • In general, this deregulatory agenda seems likely to rule the day in the autonomous driving business, at least for now. Federal safety regulators will take a hands-off approach for the time being, deferring to the objections of organizations developing the technology, especially with regards to a proposed requirement that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would have had the ability to approve or reject autonomous vehicle systems before they were offered for sale. A light regulatory touch has been deemed the way forward in order to support what is seen as a transformative technology. Rather than legislate and establish oversight and review standards from the beginning, in this instance lawmakers and regulators have chosen to let the technology lead the way and presumably will intervene when development and testing leads to actually using and selling the vehicle systems in consumer and public applications:  Trump’s Regulators Ease the Path for Self-Driving Cars
  • On the same day that the deregulatory posture of the DOT and NHTSA was announced, the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal entity that investigates plane, train, and vehicle accidents, announced that a manufacturer was partially to blame for a car accident involving semi-autonomous driving technology. In this case, a motorist died in a high way accident using Tesla’s Autopilot feature, which handles steering and speed when engaged. In the accident, the Tesla crashed into a truck that entered its lane without the Autopilot system recognizing it. In its own investigation, the NHTSA laid the blame for the accident on human error, saying that the driver should have been monitoring the car despite having the feature engaged. The NTSB however, said that the Autopilot system had insufficient system controls to prevent the accident. As autonomous vehicles make their debut on the road, and semi-autonomous vehicles become even more widespread, it is very important for consumer safety and protection that this control framework is considered in the design and manufacturing process to protect against insufficient monitoring by drivers or abuse of the system, however possible:  Tesla Bears Some Blame for Self-Driving Crash Death, Feds Say   

Check back tomorrow for a companion post to this round-up: selected TED/TEDx talks on self-driving cars and what autonomous vehicles may mean for individuals, organizations, and society.

Selected TED & TEDx talks on ethical dilemmas

An ethical dilemma is a problem in decision-making between two or more possible choices which involve conflicting interests and challenging possible consequences. Often this can be understood as a scenario in which making one decision has an impact on the interests involved in the other decision(s) not made. Choosing to not make a decision is also, in its own right, a choice which implies these consequential dynamics. The below TED/TEDx talks are a sampling of some different dilemmas encountered and the ways that the speakers have thought about and attempted to resolve them.

  • The ethical dilemma of designer babies (Paul Knoepfler) – Biotechnology which was once the stuff of science fiction is now becoming an everyday reality, or at least a possibility that is easy to imagine for the not-so-distant future. For many years now there have been ethical questions about the use of gene editing technology in human embryos. This could allow scientists to mitigate the risk of certain auto-immune or congenital diseases, which would be a marvel of modern medicine. However, it could also make the way for individuals to use the technology to also alter physical appearance and pre-determine many of a person’s traits, perhaps also eventually personality characteristics. What answers does bioethics have for this dilemma? Is it worth the risks, too dangerous to justify the benefits, or somewhere in between – a technology that should be progressively and thoughtfully developed with both those risks and those benefits in careful balance?

 

  • Can we engineer the end of ageing? (Daisy Robinton) – While the prior talk considers the beginning of life, there are also bioethical considerations to scientific advancements made concerning the end of life also. Just as there can be cellular interventions on the biological makeup of embryos, therapeutic mechanisms of stem cell identity may already be useful in increasing longevity and health, such as by reversing the growth of cancerous cells or addressing other developmental diseases. However, what about the possibly to “edit” one’s DNA not for survival or to cure a sickness, but to improve capabilities or change aesthetic qualities? If some physiological differences are editable at the cellular then is it ethical to do so?

 

  • The Social Dilemma of Driverless Cars (Iyad Rahwan) – Self-driving cars have been in the news a lot recently as leading organizations such as Ford, General Motors, Tesla, and even Samsung are making major investments in developing field. In the US, the federal government has indicated that it prefers to let technological innovation take precedence over anticipatory regulation, perhaps taking lessons learned from the initial failure of the electric car industry in the 1990s and early 2000s. The artificial intelligence of self-driving cars is ethically challenging, in consideration that these driverless vehicles will share the road with pedestrians and conventional vehicles. Will they be safer than cars with human drivers, or do they bring up all kinds of new safety and privacy concerns?

 

  • Machiavelli’s Dilemma (Matt Kohut) – More to the point of typical everyday interactions than the abstractions of the limits of medicine and technology, what about character judgments? The classic question remains – do we want to be loved or feared? Liked or respected? Most people of course would say some combination of both, but in first impressions or in difficult leadership situations, sometimes the choice to be one at the expense of the other is unavoidable.

 

  • The paradox of choice (Barry Schwartz) – The thing of all these different dilemmas have in common is, of course, choices that individuals, organizations, and sometimes society as a whole must make. Facing the responsibility of making a choice indicates that there is freedom of choice in the first place. The privilege of decision-making can also be a burden. One must be able to decide in the beginning in order to feel some sense of personal dissatisfaction or insufficiency provoked by the idea that other choices, and other outcomes could have been possible.

 

As the above demonstrates, there are many diverse examples of ethical dilemmas which come from all areas of business and life. This effectively points out how ubiquitous these challenging situations are. From simple, everyday interactions to matters of life and death, ethical dilemmas present challenging, compelling moral questions.

Round-up on ethics of design in technology

One of the most interesting and challenging inquiries in the evolving ethical code of technology has to do with design choices. Ethical decision-making and process design has direct impact on the fluid, complex process of creating the devices, interfaces, and systems that are brought to market and used by consumers on a constant basis. In such a disruptive and innovative industry, there are moral costs for every design decision: every new creation replaces or changes an existing one, and for everyone who has new access or benefits, others experience the costs of these decisions. Therefore the ethics of design as applied to technology and, of particular interest, social media, have concrete importance for everyone living in a world increasingly dominated by user experiences, communities’ terms of service, and smart devices.

  • Former Google product manager Tristan Harris has gone viral with his commentary on the ethics of design in smart phones and platforms creating apps for them. There is a balance in online design where the internet platforms go from being useful or intuitive to encouraging interruption and even obsession. Many people worry about the effect “screen time” may have on their attention span, quality of sleep, and offline interactions with people. Design techniques may actually keep people attached to their devices in a constant loop of advertisements, notifications, and links, as content providers and platforms compete to grab viewers’ attention. Alerting people to the control their devices have over their attention and time is one step, but urging more ethical choices in the design process is the next frontier for innovation reform:  Our Minds Have Been Hijacked By Our Phones.  Tristan Harris Wants To Rescue Them. 
  • The above phenomenon of addictive design has become so imbedded in the creation of app features that even the most subtle changes can have a huge impact on the consumption practices of users. But when do features go from entertaining and user-friendly to compulsive, even addictive? Refreshing an app can be like pulling the lever on a slot machine, giving the brain rewards in the form of new content to keep the loop going at the expense of other activities and priorities. These design improvements, then, may actually affect users more as manipulations:  Designers are using “dark UX” to turn you into a sleep-deprived internet addict
  • These small, ongoing redesigns are intended to make apps more readable and consumable. These periodic improvements are intended to make content more captivating and enable longer browsing – again prompting the question, what is the ethical code for the control designers wield over users with these choices? From a design ethics perspective, these small changes can be viewed as more alarming than major ones, as they are so incremental that many users do not consciously notice them and therefore “optimization” tips into “over-optimization,” meaningful interaction becoming possibly destructive:  Facebook and Instagram get redesigns for readability
  • Artificial intelligence always captures the public’s imagination – thrills and fears about the possible developing capabilities of robots and predictive algorithms that could direct and define – and perhaps threaten – human existence in the future. AI has been developing in recent years at a breakneck pace, and all indications are that this innovation will continue or multiply in the coming period. The science fiction-esque impact of AI on society will grow and bring with it all kinds of ethical concerns about the abilities of humans to define and control it in a timely and effective way:  Ethics — the next frontier for artificial intelligence
  • Social media platforms have developed into social systems, with all the dilemmas and dynamics that come along with that. These networks may face the choice between engagement and all of the thorny dialogs that come with it, and a simpler, more remote model that can be enjoyable but is less interactive and therefore, perhaps, less provocative:  ‘Link in Bio’ Keeps Instagram Nice

Queries into design ethics and choice theory in technology, especially social media, ask the questions of what human experience will evolve into in a world which is increasingly digitized and networked. The design decisions made in the creation of these devices and systems require an ethical code and a sense of social responsibility in order to define the boundaries of what are the best collective choices.

Round-up on the ethics of the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things refers to physical devices which are inter-networked and can share and store data between themselves. This includes things such as televisions, cars, buildings, and other objects that have network-connected technology inside that allow these objects to be accessed and controlled remotely via computer-based networks. This also includes systems that operate in this way, such as smart homes, grids, and cities. These things can be identified and operated individually but also are part of the interconnected system and can have co-dependencies.

There are obvious ethical issues with a highly connected and complex system such as the Internet of Things, where tremendous amounts of data are stored and shared and ultimately used in often mysterious or unclear ways – certainly to improve the intelligence of the Internet of Things and make it operate more efficiently, but also potentially for malicious or dishonest purposes.   Security vulnerabilities in a system which is remotely accessible are also an alarming risk, as unauthorized intrusions or destructive attacks could render everyday items such as cars or door locks inoperable or turn items such as smart houses or transportation networks against their users.

  • The technology that drives the Internet of Things has grown explosively, and legal and compliance frameworks have not been able to keep pace. Questions of liability that arise from cyberattacks on the Internet of Things and rules of responsibility governing companies working within this space are largely undefined. The Internet of Things may bring change to society similar to that of the Industrial Revolution. A thoughtful view on regulations and ethical guidance to protect privacy and security from the earliest design point in the industry is crucial: The Internet of Things Needs a Code of Ethics
  • Among all the fears of artificial intelligence and sentient, unfriendly robots with autonomous weapons, the real risk of the Internet of Things will still lie in the hands of humans. Hackers are a big threat to the system’s security and this risk must be taken seriously, with organizations investing in controls to prevent and mitigate attacks, intrusions, and disruptions that could damage devices, harm people, and interrupt business operations: Why Hackers Will Become a Significant Threat to the Internet of Things
  • The data produced in the Internet of Things is a major security and privacy consideration. Users of these interconnected devices may not realize how much information the devices have about them and their activities. The Roomba, a small robot home vacuum, was an early-comer to this market. The company that makes it, iRobot, has said it hopes to make money from selling maps of users’ living rooms to other companies. Using customer data for profit from a third-party is nothing new in the internet company world, but there are many questions of privacy, notice, and consent which remain to be answered: The Internet of Things is a data farm, Roomba won’t be its only profiteer
  • Cybersecurity fears about the Internet of Things extend to the U.S. government as well, where legislators have proposed to make sure that smart devices can receive security updates like traditional computers. Lawmakers also seek to prevent manufacturers from hard-coding passwords into their system tools that can be manipulated by hackers to take control of the related devices. The U.S. government is just as interested in the objects of the Internet of Things as consumers are, and safeguarding against present and future risks from them is top of mind: Two U.S. lawmakers think the government has a new cybersecurity problem: The Internet of Things
  • So what does all this mean for the future of the Internet of Things? Will the risks of it slow its growth or it will it continue to advance in both complexity and connectivity, its risks unchecked or outpacing the frameworks created to control against them? It appears likely that the value and appeal of connection, and the fear of not being able to function and communicate, will outweigh the desire to want to withdraw from it for safety and privacy purposes: The Internet of Things Connectivity Binge: What Are the Implications?

The intelligence and complexity of the Internet of Things will continue to grow as consumer applications become more in demand and commonplace. The need for strong security standards and clear customer protections will expand in kind. Privacy, safety, and control are all ethical concerns which compliance programs at the companies working on the Internet of Things will have to consider prominently in future risk assessments and strategic plans.