Keep Droning On

The abilities of robots are improving everyday. From video drones flown by civilians, to war machines that can engage and attack humans automatically, there are ethical questions behind any machine that can do what a human can’t do alone.

An article in The Atlantic explained that robots are used for national security to complete dull, dirty and/or dangerous jobs. Whether for surveillance or disassembling bombs, robots always act with “dispassion”.  Even in the heat of war, a robot cannot become fatigued, hungry, angry or distracted, and will perform the same regardless of conditions that may be incredibly stressful to humans.

However, robots are rarely completely self automated, and can generally at least be overridden by humans.  However, if a robot has information that human can’t see, such as night vision, who should make the decision?  If a robot can identify a civilian is in danger, but a human operator authorizes an attack anyway, should the robot be able to veto the command, or should it be required to follow the human instruction.

Ethically, the robot would be doing right by saving a human life, but giving a  robot the ability to override humans commands may be a slippery slope that movies like I, Robot warn of. If robots aren’t coded to always obey human operators, the potential for them to act uncontrollably is far more likely.

While automation encourages dispassion and therefor strong ethics, these ethics are still programmed by the robots creator, and an be influenced by the programmer or whoever funds the project. Two robots of the same function could make different decisions if one is  programmed by a computer scientist in Japan and the other is built by the U.S. Navy. Both may make ethical decisions in their home countries, but if they were used in a foreign place their ethics may not match that society’s.

This is currently happening in the United States as Native American’s are fighting to protect their lands and water from an oil pipeline.  There is a standoff of protests between police and protestors in Standing Rock that has been occurring for over six months.  Protestors have been tear gassed, attacked and shot with rubber bullets, so some are using video drones to document what they believe to be unfair treatment.

The drones should not cause any ethical issues because they are simply recording the actions of police, but the drones have been attacked with rocks and even shot at by police officers. Although the surveillance simply encourages transparency from the government and does not pose a threat to officers, these public officials seem to believe their privacy is necessary.

If they were private residents on their own property, I would completely understand shooting down the drones, but as working employees of the government, it only seems as if they have something unethical to hide.

**Feature image provided by Tomwsulcer under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain


Yes or No? The Dangers of Social Media

Millennials like myself may have been the last generation to experience a childhood without smartphones and social media, but we have certainly been sucked in to its endless information now.  Like many others, I am active on the big three sites; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

These site’s short text posts, memes, and videos are allowing people to gain information quicker than ever before.  Within a few minutes I can read news articles, laugh at viral videos, check up with my friends, and read a meme about Donald Trump.

But, is this information overload actually sticking with me?  I often find myself turning off my phone and wondering what I was just looking at for the last 15 minutes.

Social Media “expert” Jim Steyer told the Los Angeles Times that “In a world where everyone is addicted to cellphones, there’s less reflection.” Although people are accessing information at rates never seen before, they aren’t actually analyzing or absorbing it.

This leads to generalizations and allows users to easily be influenced to one opinion or another without knowing the facts.

Social media’s quick content encourages simple “yes” or “no” opinions, which has helped to polarized politics even further.  Instead of researching all of the options,  social media gives users a short video, meme, or unsupported statistic and expects users to make an opinion immediately by liking, sharing, or commenting on the post.

Trump has been using this lack of reflection to gain popularity in the 2016 election. His sporadic, opinion-based tweets have received viral attention.  Despite the tweets nearly always lacking factual support, they force people to make an opinion on it.  Either “Make America Great Again” or “#NeverTrump”.  Regardless, the reactions cause the posts to trend, and they gain more exposure, and more quick opinions to be formed.

Like a reality TV show, this election has been all about popularity instead of the issues, and  as Steyer put it, “Trump understands reality TV.” His celebrity persona gained him attention across social media and broadcast media.  Whether the attention was good or bad, it allowed Trump to gather supporters.

Also,  following a politician, cause, or biased news source can influence opinion’s simply by the nature of social media.  This allows all of the information we are processing by social media to be molded into the scope of these accounts.  For example, users following left-leaning accounts will never see a story about Donald Trump in a positive light, but those following Trump and his supporters will only see pro-Trump propaganda.

Consequently, the followers can inherently believe that everyone agrees with their opinions.  This shared support then adds credibility to the cause, when in reality while the rest of the internet, and the country has their own opinions.  This apparent credibility can be especially dangerous, when the campaign is built on opinion instead of fact.

Although potentially dangerous for our country, Trump has been able to build a credibility for himself among supporters without a political background or even endorsements from any of the living President’s.

Regardless of the cause, social media’s ability to rally people together is why a Forbes article considered social media as “the ideal vehicle to deliver messages asking for support.”

New World Ethics

Do you ever feel like you’re being watched?

With the recent advancements in wearable technology, users can gather more and more information about themselves and the world around them.  From Go-Pro’s to Google Glass, users can collect, photos, video, audio, location and health information.

Sometime this information is locally stored, but many devices are connected to bluetooth, wifi or cellular data, and many must be linked to accounts like Google.

A lot of information is stored online to increase user satisfaction. For example, FitBit stores it’s users information on the cloud so that they can access it on their phone or desktop.  FitBit makes it clear in their terms and conditions that they do not sell or distribute personally identifiable information (PII), except under “limited circumstances.”

Although this sounds great, I dug a little further, and in the fine print, it explains that your PII can be disclosed to others in a “sale of assets.”  So if the company is struggling, FitBit can sell your email, address, name and other information and just send you a notification.

Thankfully, FitBit just has basic information like that. While it could sell access to your google account, and potentially any information stored there, this is small stakes compared to what other private information could be made public.

What about when wearable technology records high quality audio and video? This potentially leaves users vulnerable to be tracked or watched by the company, anyone they “sell assets” to, or potential hackers and hactivists.

This also puts the people around the user at risk of being recorded or tracked without their consent. As wearable tech becomes more common and less noticeable, it will become essentially invisible. Whether in public or private spaces, anyone wearing glasses or a watch could be a spy.

Even more nerve-wracking is that they could be spying on you without knowing.  A hacker could watch some through their (or their family’s) wearable technology. Not only is this invading their privacy, but could prove dangerous and encourage assault, rape or murder.

There are plus sides though.  We’ve recently seen some success in requiring police officers to wear body cameras.  Wearable tech like this would give video evidence in court for many committed crimes.  It would help record everything from traffic accidents to murder, and to convict criminals properly.

Government’s access to these video’s would have to be restricted however.  In the first Presidential debate of 2016, when asked about Homeland Security, Hillary Clinton responded that she thinks “we’ve got to have an intelligence surge, where we are looking for every scrap of information.”

If the government is shifting towards an intelligence surge, and the potential to watch and listen through google glass is available, suddenly the Big Brother scenario becomes bigger, scarier, and more invisible. While I would love to have a recording of all the fleeting moments of my life, I can live without it if Big Brother can watch me get ready for class everyday.

**The featured image is owned and copyrighted by Minecraftpsyco under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.