#420 July 6th, 2015 – Ethical Decisions for Cars

This week’s headline story: Ethical Decisions for Cars

smart_carEthical considerations previously addressed only by science fiction authors like Isaac Asimov, are now being faced in real life by car manufacturers. Should robots be given authority to weigh the value of one human life against others in life or death situations? In this case, the robots are self-driving cars and the life or death situations are unavoidable car accidents. So, for example, should an autonomous vehicle sacrifice its occupant by swerving off a cliff to avoid killing a school bus full of children? Auto executives, finding themselves in unfamiliar territory, have enlisted ethicists and philosophers to help them navigate the shades of gray. Ford, General Motors, Audi, Renault and Toyota, which are all on the cusp of delivering self-driving cars, are beating a path to Stanford University’s Center for Automotive Research, which is programming cars to make ethical decisions and see what happens.

“This is going to set the tone for all social robots,” says philosopher Patrick Lin, who runs the Ethics and Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic University and counsels automakers. “These are the first truly social robots to move around in society.” The promise of self-driving cars is that they’ll anticipate and avoid collisions, dramatically reducing the 33,000 deaths on U.S. highways each year. But accidents will still happen. And in those moments, the robot car may have to choose the lesser of two evils — swerve onto a crowded sidewalk to avoid being rear-ended by a speeding truck or stay put and place the driver in mortal danger.

Should rules governing autonomous vehicles emphasize the greater good — the number of lives saved — and put no value on the individuals involved? Should they borrow from Asimov, whose first law of robotics says an autonomous machine may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human to be harmed.

“I wouldn’t want my robot car to trade my life just to save one or two others,” Lin says. “But it doesn’t seem to follow that it should hold a single human life as most important, no matter how many victims you’re talking about. That seems plain wrong.” That’s why we shouldn’t leave those decisions up to robots, says Wendell Wallach, author of “A Dangerous Master: How to Keep Technology from Slipping Beyond Our Control.” “The way forward is to create an absolute principle that machines do not make life and death decisions,” says Wallach, a scholar at the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at Yale University. “There has to be a human in the loop. You end up with a pretty lawless society if people think they won’t be held responsible for the actions they take.”

Other Tech News

  • How Ads Follow You from Phone to Desktop to Tablet [Technology Review]
    You may have noticed that advertisers are now able to follow you from device to device. For example, if you shop for a new car on your notebook PC, you may start seeing ads for cars on your phone and tablet. The convergence of three trends are responsible for this growing trend. The first is called “probabilistic matching,” the study of millions of Web users to determine who is likely to be the same person across devices. For example, Drawbridge, which specializes in matching users across devices, says it has linked 1.2 billion users across 3.6 billion devices. Another trend making all this matching possible is a sort of digital fingerprinting made possible by the tracking of billions of ad requests a day from Internet ad exchanges selling in real time. “We are getting very smart about associating the anonymous identifiers across the various devices,” says the founder and CEO of Drawbridge. Another wave feeding the fast growth of cross-platform advertising is the stampede onto mobile devices. Just last month Google announced that users in the United States, Japan, and eight other countries now use mobile devices for more than half of their searches. U.S. mobile traffic soared 63 percent in 2014 alone, according to a report from Cisco. So, no matter what efforts you may take to mask your online activities, advertisers are trying to stay a step ahead in their efforts to track you.
  • Rainbow Facebook Photos: Armchair Activism or Shifting Tide? [NewsFactor]
    Last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a right guaranteed under the Constitution regardless of a person’s sexual orientation. Those on social media couldn’t have missed the news as posts from supporters and dissenters literally took over news feeds. On Facebook, more than 26 million users adopted a rainbow hue on their profile photos in support of the ruling courtesy of a free Facebook app. The rainbows are the latest sign of the important place social media has taken in our lives, when it comes to self-expression, politics and privacy.

in Information Security News…

  • More Internet Backbone Cables Cut in California [NewsFactor]
    A new form of hacking requires no knowledge of computer programming, all it takes is a pair of bolt cutters. Over the past year, fiber-optic cables providing Internet connectivity have been intentionally severed in at least 11 different locations around the San Francisco Bay area. The most recent incident affected three cables in the same area, according to the FBI.

and in Tech Industry news…

  • Yelp Study Blasts Google for Screwing With Search [Ecommerce Times]
    New research suggests that Google is manipulating search results to favor its own businesses. However, the research may not be entirely objective, as it was sponsored by Yelp, a competitor of Google that has itself been accused of algorithm cooking.
  • Reddit Moderators Shut Down Parts of Site Over Employee’s Dismissal [NYTimes]
    Hundreds of sections of Reddit, the popular online message board, were unavailable Friday in what appeared to be a protest by many of the site’s moderators after the abrupt dismissal of a high-ranking company employee. The protest began shortly after Victoria Taylor, Reddit’s director of talent, was dismissed on Thursday afternoon. In a telephone interview Friday, Reddit’s interim chief executive, Ellen Pao, said, “I’m sorry we let our community down yesterday.” She added, “We should have informed our community moderators about the transition and worked through it with them.” Reddit is one of the highest trafficked sites on the Internet, with more than 160 million regular monthly visitors.

and finally,

  • Google’s New App Blunders by Calling Black People ‘Gorillas’ [NewsFactor]
    When Google’s new Photo app came out, Google executives warned that it’s AI features probably wouldn’t get everything right — a point that has now been hammered home. The app released in late May uses recognition software to analyze images in pictures to sort them into a variety of categories, including places, names, activities and animals. The app has been mocked for labeling some people as seals and some dogs as horses. But, it went too far, when it recently labeled two African Americans as gorillas. The mistake went viral on Twitter with the account-holder using a profanity while expressing his dismay about the app likening his friend to an ape, a comparison widely regarded as a racial slur. “We’re appalled and genuinely sorry that this happened,” Google spokeswoman Katie Watson said. “We are taking immediate action to prevent this type of result from appearing.”

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