Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, philosophy and health care

Friday, June 22, 2018

About Half of Americans Say U.S. Moral Values Are 'Poor’

Justin McCarthy
Originally published June 1, 2018

Forty-nine percent of Americans say the state of moral values in the U.S. is "poor" -- the highest percentage in Gallup's trend on this measure since its inception in 2002. Meanwhile, 37% of U.S. adults say moral values are "only fair," and 14% say they are "excellent" or "good."

Americans have always viewed the state of U.S. morals more negatively than positively. But the latest figures are the worst to date, with a record-high 49% rating values as poor and a record-tying-low 14% rating them as excellent or good.

In earlier polls on the measure, Americans were about as likely to rate the country's moral standing as only fair as they were to say it was poor. But in 10 of the past 12 annual polls since 2007, Americans have been decidedly more likely to rate it as poor.

The information is here.

Should Economists Make Moral Judgments?

Jacek Rostowski
Project Syndicate
Originally published May 25, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

But now, for the first time in many decades, economists must consider the moral implications of giving good advice to bad people. They are no longer exempt from the moral quandaries that many other professionals must face – a classic example being the engineers who design missiles or other weapons systems.

The new moral dilemma facing economists is perhaps most stark within international financial institutions (IFIs) such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, where economic mandarins with significant influence over public policy earn their living.

After the fall of Soviet-style communism, the IFIs admitted Russia and the other former Soviet republics (as well as China) on the assumption that they were each on a path to embracing democracy and a rules-based market economy. But now that democratic backsliding is widespread, economists need to ask if what is good for authoritarian states is also good for humanity. This question is particularly pertinent with respect to China and Russia, each of which is large enough to help shift the balance of world power against democracy.

That being the case, it stands to reason that democratic countries should try to limit the influence of authoritarian regimes within the IFIs – if not exclude them altogether in extreme cases. But it is worth distinguishing between two kinds of international institution in this context: rule-setting bodies that make it easier for countries with hostile ideological or national interests to co-exist; and organizations that create a strong community of interest, meaning that economic and political benefits for some members “spill over” and are felt more widely.

The article is here.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Wells Fargo's ethics hotline calls are on the rise

Matt Egan
Originally posted June 19, 2018

A top Wells Fargo (WFC) executive said on Tuesday that employees are increasingly using the bank's confidential hotline to report bad behavior.

"Our volumes increased on our ethics line. We're glad they did. People raised their hand," said Theresa LaPlaca, who leads a conduct office that Wells Fargo created last year.

"That is success for me," LaPlaca said at the ACFE Global Fraud Conference in Las Vegas.

Reassuring Wells Fargo workers to trust the bank's ethics hotline is no easy task. Nearly half a dozen workers told CNNMoney in 2016 that they were fired by Wells Fargo after calling the hotline to try to stop the bank's fake-account problem.

Last year, Wells Fargo was ordered to re-hire and pay $5.4 million to a whistleblower who was fired after calling the ethics hotline to report suspected fraud. Wells Fargo faces multiple lawsuits from employees who say they protested sales misconduct. The bank said in a filing that it also faces state law whistleblower actions filed with the Labor Department alleging retaliation.

The information is here.

Social Media as a Weapon to Harass Women Academics

George Veletsianos and Jaigris Hodson
Inside Higher Ed
Originally published May 29, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Before beginning our inquiry, we assumed that the people who responded to our interview requests would be women who studied video games or gender issues, as prior literature had suggested they would be more likely to face harassment. But we quickly discovered that women are harassed when writing about a wide range of topics, including but not limited to: feminism, leadership, science, education, history, religion, race, politics, immigration, art, sociology and technology broadly conceived. The literature even identifies choice of research method as a topic that attracts misogynistic commentary.

So who exactly is at risk of harassment? They form a long list: women scholars who challenge the status quo; women who have an opinion that they are willing to express publicly; women who raise concerns about power; women of all body types and shapes. Put succinctly, people may be targeted for a range of reasons, but women in particular are harassed partly because they happen to be women who dare to be public online. Our respondents reported that they are harassed because they are women. Because they are women, they become targets.

At this point, if you are a woman reading this, you might be nodding your head, or you might feel frustrated that we are pointing out something so incredibly obvious. We might as well point out that rain is wet. But unfortunately, for many people who have not experienced the reality of being a woman online, this fact is still not obvious, is minimized, or is otherwise overlooked. To be clear, there is a gendered element to how both higher education institutions and technology companies handle this issue.

The article is here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Can a machine be ethical? Why teaching AI ethics is a minefield.

Scotty Hendricks
Originally published May 31, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Dr. Moor gives the example of Isaac Asimov’s three rules of robotics. For those who need a refresher, they are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The rules are hierarchical, and the robots in Asimov’s books are all obligated to follow them.

Dr. Moor suggests that the problems with these rules are obvious. The first rule is so general that an artificial intelligence following them “might be obliged by the First Law to roam the world attempting to prevent harm from befalling human beings” and therefore be useless for its original function!

Such problems can be common in deontological systems, where following good rules can lead to funny results. Asimov himself wrote several stories about potential problems with the laws. Attempts to solve this issue abound, but the challenge of making enough rules to cover all possibilities remains. 

On the other hand, a machine could be programmed to stick to utilitarian calculus when facing an ethical problem. This would be simple to do, as the computer would only have to be given a variable and told to make choices that would maximize the occurrence of it. While human happiness is a common choice, wealth, well-being, or security are also possibilities.

The article is here.

How the Enlightenment Ends

Henry A. Kissinger
The Atlantic
Posted in the June 2018 Issue

Here are two excerpts:

Second, that in achieving intended goals, AI may change human thought processes and human values. AlphaGo defeated the world Go champions by making strategically unprecedented moves—moves that humans had not conceived and have not yet successfully learned to overcome. Are these moves beyond the capacity of the human brain? Or could humans learn them now that they have been demonstrated by a new master?


Other AI projects work on modifying human thought by developing devices capable of generating a range of answers to human queries. Beyond factual questions (“What is the temperature outside?”), questions about the nature of reality or the meaning of life raise deeper issues. Do we want children to learn values through discourse with untethered algorithms? Should we protect privacy by restricting AI’s learning about its questioners? If so, how do we accomplish these goals?

If AI learns exponentially faster than humans, we must expect it to accelerate, also exponentially, the trial-and-error process by which human decisions are generally made: to make mistakes faster and of greater magnitude than humans do. It may be impossible to temper those mistakes, as researchers in AI often suggest, by including in a program caveats requiring “ethical” or “reasonable” outcomes. Entire academic disciplines have arisen out of humanity’s inability to agree upon how to define these terms. Should AI therefore become their arbiter?

The article is here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

British Public Fears the Day When "Computer Says No"

Jasper Hamill
The Metro
Originally published May 31, 2018

Governments and tech companies risk a popular backlash against artificial intelligence (AI) unless they open up about how it will be used, according to a new report.

A poll conducted for the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) revealed widespread concern that AI will create a ‘Computer Says No’ culture, in which crucial decisions are made automatically without consideration of individual circumstances.

If the public feels ‘victimised or disempowered’ by intelligent machines, they may resist the introduction of new technologies, even if it holds back progress which could benefit them, the report warned.

Fear of inflexible and unfeeling automatic decision-making was a greater concern than robots taking humans’ jobs among those taking part in a survey by pollsters YouGov for the RSA.

The information is here.

Of Mice, Men, and Trolleys: Hypothetical Judgment Versus Real-Life Behavior in Trolley-Style Moral Dilemmas

Dries H. Bostyn, Sybren Sevenhant, and Arne Roets
Psychological Science 
First Published May 9, 2018


Scholars have been using hypothetical dilemmas to investigate moral decision making for decades. However, whether people’s responses to these dilemmas truly reflect the decisions they would make in real life is unclear. In the current study, participants had to make the real-life decision to administer an electroshock (that they did not know was bogus) to a single mouse or allow five other mice to receive the shock. Our results indicate that responses to hypothetical dilemmas are not predictive of real-life dilemma behavior, but they are predictive of affective and cognitive aspects of the real-life decision. Furthermore, participants were twice as likely to refrain from shocking the single mouse when confronted with a hypothetical versus the real version of the dilemma. We argue that hypothetical-dilemma research, while valuable for understanding moral cognition, has little predictive value for actual behavior and that future studies should investigate actual moral behavior along with the hypothetical scenarios dominating the field.

The research is here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sam Harris and the Myth of Perfectly Rational Thought

Robert Wright
Originally posted March 17, 2018

Here are several excerpts:

This is attribution error working as designed. It sustains your conviction that, though your team may do bad things, it’s only the other team that’s actually bad. Your badness is “situational,” theirs is “dispositional.”


Another cognitive bias—probably the most famous—is confirmation bias, the tendency to embrace, perhaps uncritically, evidence that supports your side of an argument and to either not notice, reject, or forget evidence that undermines it. This bias can assume various forms, and one was exhibited by Harris in his exchange with Ezra Klein over political scientist Charles Murray’s controversial views on race and IQ.


Most of these examples of tribal thinking are pretty pedestrian—the kinds of biases we all exhibit, usually with less than catastrophic results. Still, it is these and other such pedestrian distortions of thought and perception that drive America’s political polarization today.

For example: How different is what Harris said about Buzzfeed from Donald Trump talking about “fake news CNN”? It’s certainly different in degree. But is it different in kind? I would submit that it’s not.

When a society is healthy, it is saved from all this by robust communication. Individual people still embrace or reject evidence too hastily, still apportion blame tribally, but civil contact with people of different perspectives can keep the resulting distortions within bounds. There is enough constructive cross-tribal communication—and enough agreement on what the credible sources of information are—to preserve some overlap of, and some fruitful interaction between, world views.

The article is here.

Groundhog Day for Medical Artificial Intelligence

Alex John London
The Hastings Report
Originally published May 26, 2018


Following a boom in investment and overinflated expectations in the 1980s, artificial intelligence entered a period of retrenchment known as the “AI winter.” With advances in the field of machine learning and the availability of large datasets for training various types of artificial neural networks, AI is in another cycle of halcyon days. Although medicine is particularly recalcitrant to change, applications of AI in health care have professionals in fields like radiology worried about the future of their careers and have the public tittering about the prospect of soulless machines making life‐and‐death decisions. Medicine thus appears to be at an inflection point—a kind of Groundhog Day on which either AI will bring a springtime of improved diagnostic and predictive practices or the shadow of public and professional fear will lead to six more metaphorical weeks of winter in medical AI.

The brief perspective is here.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Does Non-Moral Ignorance Exculpate? Situational Awareness and Attributions of Blame and Forgiveness

Kissinger-Knox, A., Aragon, P. & Mizrahi, M.
Acta Anal (2018) 33: 161. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12136-017-0339-y


In this paper, we set out to test empirically an idea that many philosophers find intuitive, namely that non-moral ignorance can exculpate. Many philosophers find it intuitive that moral agents are responsible only if they know the particular facts surrounding their action (or inaction). Our results show that whether moral agents are aware of the facts surrounding their (in)action does have an effect on people’s attributions of blame, regardless of the consequences or side effects of the agent’s actions. In general, it was more likely that a situationally aware agent will be blamed for failing to perform the obligatory action than a situationally unaware agent. We also tested attributions of forgiveness in addition to attributions of blame. In general, it was less likely that a situationally aware agent will be forgiven for failing to perform the obligatory action than a situationally unaware agent. When the agent is situationally unaware, it is more likely that the agent will be forgiven than blamed. We argue that these results provide some empirical support for the hypothesis that there is something intuitive about the idea that non-moral ignorance can exculpate.

The article is here.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Ivanka Trump in China: The trademarks raising an ethics firestorm

Aimee Picchi
CBS News - Money Watch
Originally published May 29, 2018

Ivanka Trump this month received trademark approval from China for a broad array of items, including baby blankets, wallpaper and carpets. That wouldn't be unusual for a global business built on consumer goods such as elegant women's clothing and shoes, but it raises numerous ethical issues given that her father is the U.S. president.

The timing appears especially fraught given President Donald Trump agreed to rescue Chinese telecom giant ZTE Corp. shortly after Ivanka Trump's brand was awarded the trademarks.

Ethics watchdogs say the approvals are problematic on a number of levels, including Ivanka Trump's role representing the U.S. at diplomatic events even though her brand's business could be impacted -- for good or bad -- by relations with foreign nations. Then there's also the conflicts that arise from her father's role as president amid rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

The article is here.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Tech giants need to build ethics into AI from the start

James Titcomb
The Telegraph
Originally posted May 13, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

But excitement about the software soon turned to comprehending the ethical minefield it created. Google’s initial demo gave no indication that the person on the other end of the phone would be alerted that they were talking to a robot. The software even had human-like quirks built into it, stopping to say “um” and “mm-hmm”, a quality designed to seem cute but that ended up appearing more deceptive.

Some found the whole idea that a person should have to go through an artificial conversation with a robot somewhat demeaning; insulting even.

After a day of criticism, Google attempted to play down some of the concerns. It said the technology had no fixed release date, would take into account people’s concerns and promised to ensure that the software identified itself as such at the start of every phone call.

But the fact that it did not do this immediately was not a promising sign. The last two years of massive data breaches, evidence of Russian propaganda campaigns on social media and privacy failures have proven what should always have been obvious: that the internet has as much power to do harm as good. Every frontier technology now needs to be built with at least some level of paranoia; some person asking: “How could this be abused?”

The information is here.

The danger of absolute thinking is absolutely clear

Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi
Originally posted May 2, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

There are generally two forms of absolutism; ‘dichotomous thinking’ and ‘categorical imperatives’. Dichotomous thinking – also referred to as ‘black-and-white’ or ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking – describes a binary outlook, where things in life are either ‘this’ or ‘that’, and nothing in between. Categorical imperatives are completely rigid demands that people place on themselves and others. The term is borrowed from Immanuel Kant’s deontological moral philosophy, which is grounded in an obligation- and rules-based ethical code.

In our research – and in clinical psychology more broadly – absolutist thinking is viewed as an unhealthy thinking style that disrupts emotion-regulation and hinders people from achieving their goals. Yet we all, to varying extents, are disposed to it – why is this? Primarily, because it’s much easier than dealing with the true complexities of life. The term cognitive miser, first introduced by the American psychologists Susan Fiske and Shelley Taylor in 1984, describes how humans seek the simplest and least effortful ways of thinking. Nuance and complexity is expensive – it takes up precious time and energy – so wherever possible we try to cut corners. This is why we have biases and prejudices, and form habits. It’s why the study of heuristics (intuitive ‘gut-feeling’ judgments) is so useful in behavioural economics and political science.

But there is no such thing as a free lunch; the time and energy saved through absolutist thinking has a cost. In order to successfully navigate through life, we need to appreciate nuance, understand complexity and embrace flexibility. When we succumb to absolutist thinking for the most important matters in our lives – such as our goals, relationships and self-esteem – the consequences are disastrous.

The article is here.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Benefits of Admitting When You Don’t Know

Tenelle Porter
Behavioral Scientist
Originally published April 30, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

We found that the more intellectually humble students were more motivated to learn and more likely to use effective metacognitive strategies, like quizzing themselves to check their own understanding. They also ended the year with higher grades in math. We also found that the teachers, who hadn’t seen students’ intellectual humility questionnaires, rated the more intellectually humble students as more engaged in learning.

Next, we moved into the lab. Could temporarily boosting intellectual humility make people more willing to seek help in an area of intellectual weakness? We induced intellectual humility in half of our participants by having them read a brief article that described the benefits of admitting what you do not know. The other half read an article about the benefits of being very certain of what you know. We then measured their intellectual humility.

Those who read the benefits-of-humility article self-reported higher intellectual humility than those in the other group. What’s more, in a follow-up exercise 85 percent of these same participants sought extra help for an area of intellectual weakness. By contrast, only 65 percent of the participants who read about the benefits of being certain sought the extra help that they needed. This experiment provided evidence that enhancing intellectual humility has the potential to affect students’ actual learning behavior.

Together, our findings illustrate that intellectual humility is associated with a host of outcomes that we think are important for learning in school, and they suggest that boosting intellectual humility may have benefits for learning.

The article is here.

Sex robots are coming. We might even fall in love with them.

Sean Illing
Originally published May 11, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Sean Illing: Your essay poses an interesting question: Is mutual love with a robot possible? What’s the answer?

Lily Eva Frank:

Our essay tried to explore some of the core elements of romantic love that people find desirable, like the idea of being a perfect match for someone or the idea that we should treasure the little traits that make someone unique, even those annoying flaws or imperfections.

The key thing is that we love someone because there’s something about being with them that matters, something particular to them that no one else has. And we make a commitment to that person that holds even when they change, like aging, for example.

Could a robot do all these things? Our answer is, in theory, yes. But only a very advanced form of artificial intelligence could manage it because it would have to do more than just perform as if it were a person doing the loving. The robot would have to have feelings and internal experiences. You might even say that it would have to be self-aware.

But that would leave open the possibility that the sex bot might not want to have sex with you, which sort of defeats the purpose of developing these technologies in the first place.


I think people are weird enough that it is probably possible for them to fall in love with a cat or a dog or a machine that doesn’t reciprocate the feelings. A few outspoken proponents of sex dolls and robots claim they love them. Check out the testimonials page on the websites of sex doll manufactures; they say things like, “Three years later, I love her as much as the first day I met her.” I don’t want to dismiss these people’s reports.

The information is here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Burnout Crisis in American Medicine

Rena Xu
The Atlantic
Originally published May 11, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

In medicine, burned-out doctors are more likely to make medical errors, work less efficiently, and refer their patients to other providers, increasing the overall complexity (and with it, the cost) of care. They’re also at high risk of attrition: A survey of nearly 7,000 U.S. physicians, published last year in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, reported that one in 50 planned to leave medicine altogether in the next two years, while one in five planned to reduce clinical hours over the next year. Physicians who self-identified as burned out were more likely to follow through on their plans to quit.

What makes the burnout crisis especially serious is that it is hitting us right as the gap between the supply and demand for health care is widening: A quarter of U.S. physicians are expected to retire over the next decade, while the number of older Americans, who tend to need more health care, is expected to double by 2040. While it might be tempting to point to the historically competitive rates of medical-school admissions as proof that the talent pipeline for physicians won’t run dry, there is no guarantee. Last year, for the first time in at least a decade, the volume of medical school applications dropped—by nearly 14,000, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. By the association’s projections, we may be short 100,000 physicians or more by 2030.

The article is here.

Thus Spoke Jordan Peterson

David Livingstone Smith and John Kaag
Foreign Policy
Originally published April 4, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Peterson’s philosophy is difficult to assess because it is constructed of equal parts apocalyptic alarm and homespun advice. Like the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, whom he cites as an intellectual influence, Peterson is fond of thinking in terms of grand dualities — especially the opposition of order and chaos. Order, in his telling, consists of everything that is routine and predictable, while chaos corresponds to all that is unpredictable and novel.

For Peterson, living well requires walking the line between the two. He is hardly the first thinker to make this point; another of his heroes, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, harking back to the ancient Greeks, suggested that life is best lived between the harmony of Apollo and the madness of Dionysus. But while Peterson claims both order and chaos are equally important, he is mainly concerned with the perils posed by the latter — hence his rules.

In his books and lectures, Peterson describes chaos as “feminine.” Order, of course, is “masculine.” So the threat of being overwhelmed by chaos is the threat of being overwhelmed by femininity. The tension between chaos and order plays out in both the personal sphere and the broader cultural landscape, where chaos is promoted by those “neo-Marxist postmodernists” whose nefarious influence has spawned radical feminism, political correctness, moral relativism, and identity politics.

At the core of Peterson’s social program is the idea that the onslaught of femininity must be resisted. Men need to get tough and dominant. And, in Peterson’s mind, women want this, too. He tells us in 12 Rules for Life: “If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men.… If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter.” “Healthy” women want men who can “outclass” them. That’s Peterson’s reason for frequently referencing the Jungian motif of the hero: the square-jawed warrior who subdues the feminine powers of chaos. Don’t be a wimp, he tells us. Be a real man.

The information is here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Did Google Duplex just pass the Turing Test?

Lance Ulanoff
Originally published

Here is an excerpt:

In short, this means that while Duplex has your hair and dining-out options covered, it could stumble in movie reservations and negotiations with your cable provider.

Even so, Duplex fooled two humans. I heard no hesitation or confusion. In the hair salon call, there was no indication that the salon worker thought something was amiss. She wanted to help this young woman make an appointment. What will she think when she learns she was duped by Duplex?

Obviously, Duplex’s conversations were also short, each lasting less than a minute, putting them well-short of the Turing Test benchmark. I would’ve enjoyed hearing the conversations devolve as they extended a few minutes or more.

I’m sure Duplex will soon tackle more domains and longer conversations, and it will someday pass the Turing Test.

It’s only a matter of time before Duplex is handling other mundane or difficult calls for us, like calling our parents with our own voices (see Wavenet technology). Eventually, we’ll have our Duplex voices call each other, handling pleasantries and making plans, which Google Assistant can then drop in our Google Calendar.

The information is here.

Is it Too Soon? The Ethics of Recovery from Grief

John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Originally published May 11, 2106

Here is an excerpt:

This raises an obvious and important question in the ethics of grief recovery. Is there a certain mourning period that should be observed following the death of a loved one? If you get back on your feet too quickly, does that say something negative about the relationship you had with the person who died (or about you)? To be more pointed: if I can re-immerse myself in my work a mere three weeks after my sister’s death, does that mean there is something wrong with me or something deficient in the relationship I had with her?

There is a philosophical literature offering answers to these questions, but from what I have read the majority of it does not deal with the ethics of recovering from a sibling’s death. Indeed, I haven’t found anything that deals directly with this issue. Instead, the majority of the literature deals with the ethics of recovery from the death of a spouse or intimate partner. What’s more, when they discuss that topic, they seem to have one scenario in mind: how soon is too soon when it comes to starting an intimate relationship with another person?

Analysing the ethical norms that should apply to that scenario is certainly of value, but it is hardly the only scenario worthy of consideration, and it is obviously somewhat distinct from the scenario that I am facing. I suspect that different norms apply to different relationships and this is likely to affect the ethics of recovery across those different relationship types.

The information is here.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Discerning bias in forensic psychological reports in insanity cases

Tess M. S. Neal
Behavioral Sciences & the Law, (2018).


This project began as an attempt to develop systematic, measurable indicators of bias in written forensic mental health evaluations focused on the issue of insanity. Although forensic clinicians observed in this study did vary systematically in their report‐writing behaviors on several of the indicators of interest, the data are most useful in demonstrating how and why bias is hard to ferret out. Naturalistic data were used in this project (i.e., 122 real forensic insanity reports), which in some ways is a strength. However, given the nature of bias and the problem of inferring whether a particular judgment is biased, naturalistic data also made arriving at conclusions about bias difficult. This paper describes the nature of bias – including why it is a special problem in insanity evaluations – and why it is hard to study and document. It details the efforts made in an attempt to find systematic indicators of potential bias, and how this effort was successful in part, but also how and why it failed. The lessons these efforts yield for future research are described. We close with a discussion of the limitations of this study and future directions for work in this area.

The research is here.

Can Morality Be Engineered In Artificial General Intelligence Systems?

Abhijeet Katte
Analytics India Magazine
Originally published May 10, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

This report Engineering Moral Agents – from Human Morality to Artificial Morality discusses challenges in engineering computational ethics and how mathematically oriented approaches to ethics are gaining traction among researchers from a wide background, including philosophy. AGI-focused research is evolving into the formalization of moral theories to act as a base for implementing moral reasoning in machines. For example, Kevin Baum from the University of Saarland talked about a project about teaching formal ethics to computer-science students wherein the group was involved in building a database of moral-dilemma examples from the literature to be used as benchmarks for implementing moral reasoning.

Another study, titled Towards Moral Autonomous Systems from a group of European researchers states that today there is a real need for a functional system of ethical reasoning as AI systems that function as part of our society are ready to be deployed.One of the suggestions include having every assisted living AI system to have  a “Why did you do that?” button which, when pressed, causes the robot to explain why it carried out the previous action.

The information is here.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Can precision medicine do for depression what it’s done for cancer? It won’t be easy

Megan Thielking
Originally posted May 9, 2018

At a growing number of research centers across the country, scientists are scanning brains of patients with depression, drawing their blood, asking about their symptoms, and then scouring that data for patterns. The goal: pinpoint subtypes of depression, then figure out which treatments have the best chance of success for each particular variant of the disease.

The idea of precision medicine for depression is quickly gaining ground — just last month, Stanford announced it is establishing a Center for Precision Mental Health and Wellness. And depression is one of many diseases targeted by All of Us, the National Institute of Health campaign launched this month to collect DNA and other data from 1 million Americans. Doctors have been treating cancer patients this way for years, but the underlying biology of mental illness is not as well understood.

“There’s not currently a way to match people with treatment,” said Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, a depression researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “That’s why this is a very exciting field to research.”

The information is here.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Doing good vs. avoiding bad in prosocial choice

 A refined test and extension of the morality preference hypothesis

Ben Tappin and Valerio Capraro


Prosociality is fundamental to the success of human social life, and, accordingly, much research has attempted to explain human prosocial behavior. Capraro and Rand (2018) recently advanced the hypothesis that prosocial behavior in anonymous, one-shot interactions is not driven by outcome-based social preferences for equity or efficiency, as classically assumed, but by a generalized morality preference for “doing the right thing”. Here we argue that the key experiments reported in Capraro and Rand (2018) comprise prominent methodological confounds and open questions that bear on influential psychological theory. Specifically, their design confounds: (i) preferences for efficiency with self-interest; and (ii) preferences for action with preferences for morality. Furthermore, their design fails to dissociate the preference to do “good” from the preference to avoid doing “bad”. We thus designed and conducted a preregistered, refined and extended test of the morality preference hypothesis (N=801). Consistent with this hypothesis and the results of Capraro and Rand (2018), our findings indicate that prosocial behavior in anonymous, one-shot interactions is driven by a preference for doing the morally right thing. Inconsistent with influential psychological theory, however, our results suggest the preference to do “good” is as potent as the preference to avoid doing “bad” in prosocial choice.

The preprint is here.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The pros and cons of having sex with robots

Karen Turner
Originally posted January 18, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Karen Turner: Where does sex robot technology stand right now?

Neil McArthur:

When people have this idea of a sex robot, they think it’s going to look like a human being, it’s gonna walk around and say seductive things and so on. I think that’s actually the slowest-developing part of this whole nexus of sexual technology. It will come — we are going to have realistic sex robots. But there are a few technical hurdles to creating humanoid robots that are proving fairly stubborn. Making them walk is one of them. And if you use Siri or any of those others, you know that AI is proving sort of stubbornly resistant to becoming realistic.

But I think that when you look more broadly at what’s happening with sexual technology, virtual reality in general has just taken off. And it’s being used in conjunction with something called teledildonics, which is kind of an odd term. But all it means is actual devices that you hook up to yourself in various ways that sync with things that you see onscreen. It’s truly amazing what’s going on.


When you look at the ethical or philosophical considerations, — I think there’s two strands. One is the concerns people have, and two, which I think maybe doesn’t get as much attention, in the media at least, is the potential advantages.

The concerns have to do with the psychological impact. As you saw with those Apple shareholders [who asked Apple to help protect children from digital addiction], we’re seeing a lot of concern about the impact that technology is having on people’s lives right now. Many people feel that anytime you’re dealing with sexual technology, those sorts of negative impacts really become intensified — specifically, social isolation, people cutting themselves off from the world.

The article is here.

The Ethics of Medicaid’s Work Requirements and Other Personal Responsibility Policies

Harald Schmidt and Allison K. Hoffman
JAMA. Published online May 7, 2018. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.3384

Here are two excerpts:

CMS emphasizes health improvement as the primary rationale, but the agency and interested states also favor work requirements for their potential to limit enrollment and spending and out of an ideological belief that everyone “do their part.” For example, an executive order by Kentucky’s Governor Matt Bevin announced that the state’s entire Medicaid expansion would be unaffordable if the waiver were not implemented, threatening to end expansion if courts strike down “one or more” program elements. Correspondingly, several nonexpansion states have signaled that the option of introducing work requirements might make them reconsider expansion—potentially covering more people but arguably in a way inconsistent with Medicaid’s broader objectives.

Work requirements have attracted the most attention but are just one of many policies CMS has encouraged as part of apparent attempts to promote personal responsibility in Medicaid. Other initiatives tie levels of benefits to confirming eligibility annually, paying premiums on time, meeting wellness program criteria such as completing health risk assessments, or not using the emergency department (ED) for nonemergency care.


It is troubling that these policies could result in some portion of previously eligible individuals being denied necessary medical care because of unduly demanding requirements. Moreover, even if reduced enrollment were to decrease Medicaid costs, it might not reduce medical spending overall. Laws including the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act still require stabilization of emergency medical conditions, entailing more expensive and less effective care.

The article is here.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Embracing the robot

John Danaher
Originally posted March 19, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Contrary to the critics, I believe our popular discourse about robotic relationships has become too dark and dystopian. We overstate the negatives and overlook the ways in which relationships with robots could complement and enhance existing human relationships.

In Blade Runner 2049, the true significance of K’s relationship with Joi is ambiguous. It seems that they really care for each other, but this could be an illusion. She is, after all, programmed to serve his needs. The relationship is an inherently asymmetrical one. He owns and controls her; she would not survive without his good will. Furthermore, there is a third-party lurking in the background: she has been designed and created by a corporation, which no doubt records the data from her interactions, and updates her software from time to time.

This is a far cry from the philosophical ideal of love. Philosophers emphasise the need for mutual commitment in any meaningful relationship. It’s not enough for you to feel a strong, emotional attachment to another; they have to feel a similar attachment to you. Robots might be able to perform love, saying and doing all the right things, but performance is insufficient.

The information is here.

Protecting confidentiality in genomic studies

MIT Press Release
Originally released May 7, 2018

Genome-wide association studies, which look for links between particular genetic variants and incidence of disease, are the basis of much modern biomedical research.

But databases of genomic information pose privacy risks. From people’s raw genomic data, it may be possible to infer their surnames and perhaps even the shapes of their faces. Many people are reluctant to contribute their genomic data to biomedical research projects, and an organization hosting a large repository of genomic data might conduct a months-long review before deciding whether to grant a researcher’s request for access.

In a paper published in Nature Biotechnology (https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt.4108), researchers from MIT and Stanford University present a new system for protecting the privacy of people who contribute their genomic data to large-scale biomedical studies. Where earlier cryptographic methods were so computationally intensive that they became prohibitively time consuming for more than a few thousand genomes, the new system promises efficient privacy protection for studies conducted over as many as a million genomes.

The release is here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The LAPD’s Terrifying Policing Algorithm: Yes It’s Basically ‘Minority Report’

Dan Robitzski
Originally posted May 11, 2018

The Los Angeles Police Department was recently forced to release documents about their predictive policing and surveillance algorithms, thanks to a lawsuit from the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition (which turned the documents over to In Justice Today). And what do you think the documents have to say?

If you guessed “evidence that policing algorithms, which require officers to keep a checklist of (and keep an eye on) 12 people deemed most likely to commit a crime, are continuing to propagate a vicious cycle of disproportionately high arrests of black Angelinos, as well as other racial minorities,” you guessed correctly.

Algorithms, no matter how sophisticated, are only as good as the information that’s provided to them. So when you feed an AI data from a city where there’s a problem of demonstrably, mathematically racist over-policing of neighborhoods with concentrations of people of color, and then have it tell you who the police should be monitoring, the result will only be as great as the process. And the process? Not so great!

The article is here.

Welcome to America, where morality is judged along partisan lines

Joan Vennochi
Boston Globe
Originally posted May 8, 2018

Here some excerpts:

“It’s OK to lie to the press?” asked Stephanopoulos. To which, Giuliani replied: “Gee, I don’t know — you know a few presidents who did that.”


Twenty years later, special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Trump’s lawyer, Cohen, is now entangled in the collusion investigation, as well as with the payment to Daniels, which also entangles Trump — who, according to Giuliani, might invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying under oath. That must be tempting, given Trump’s well-established contempt for truthfulness and personal accountability.


So it goes in American politics, where morality is judged strictly along partisan lines, and Trump knows it.

The information is here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Norms and the Flexibility of Moral Action

Oriel Feldman Hall, Jae-Young Son, and Joseph Heffner


A complex web of social and moral norms governs many everyday human behaviors, acting as the glue for social harmony. The existence of moral norms helps elucidate the psychological motivations underlying a wide variety of seemingly puzzling behavior, including why humans help or trust total strangers. In this review, we examine four widespread moral norms: fairness, altruism, trust, and cooperation, and consider how a single social instrument—reciprocity—underpins compliance to these norms. Using a game theoretic framework, we examine how both context and emotions moderate moral standards, and by extension, moral behavior. We additionally discuss how a mechanism of reciprocity facilitates the adherence to, and enforcement of, these moral norms through a core network of brain regions involved in processing reward. In contrast, violating this set of moral norms elicits neural activation in regions involved in resolving decision conflict and exerting cognitive control. Finally, we review how a reinforcement mechanism likely governs learning about morally normative behavior. Together, this review aims to explain how moral norms are deployed in ways that facilitate flexible moral choices.

The research is here.

Is There Such a Thing as Truth?

Errol Morris
Boston Review
Originally posted April 30, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

In fiction, we are often given an imaginary world with seemingly real objects—horses, a coach, a three-cornered hat and wig. But what about the objects of science—positrons, neutrinos, quarks, gravity waves, Higgs bosons? How do we reckon with their reality?

And truth. Is there such a thing? Can we speak of things as unambiguously true or false? In history, for example, are there things that actually happened? Louis XVI guillotined on January 21, 1793, at what has become known as the Place de la Concorde. True or false? Details may be disputed—a more recent example: how large, comparatively, was Donald Trump’s victory in the electoral college in 2016, or the crowd at his inauguration the following January? 
But do we really doubt that Louis’s bloody head was held up before the assembled crowd? Or doubt the existence of the curved path of a positron in a bubble chamber? Even though we might not know the answers to some questions—“Was Louis XVI decapitated?” or “Are there positrons?”—we accept that there are answers.

And yet, we read about endless varieties of truth. Coherence theories of truth. Pragmatic, relative truths. Truths for me, truths for you. Dog truths, cat truths. Whatever. I find these discussions extremely distasteful and unsatisfying. To say that a philosophical system is “coherent” tells me nothing about whether it is true. Truth is not hermetic. I cannot hide out in a system and assert its truth. For me, truth is about the relation between language and the world. A correspondence idea of truth. Coherence theories of truth are of little or no interest to me. Here is the reason: they are about coherence, not truth. We are talking about whether a sentence or a paragraph
 or group of paragraphs is true when set up against the world. Thackeray, introducing the fictional world of Vanity Fair, evokes the objects of a world he is familiar with—“a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harnesses, driven by a fat coachman in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles an hour.”

The information is here.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Human-sounding Google Assistant sparks ethics questions

The Strait Times
Originally published May 9, 2018

Here are some excerpts:

The new Google digital assistant converses so naturally it may seem like a real person.

The unveiling of the natural-sounding robo-assistant by the tech giant this week wowed some observers, but left others fretting over the ethics of how the human-seeming software might be used.


The Duplex demonstration was quickly followed by debate over whether people answering phones should be told when they are speaking to human-sounding software and how the technology might be abused in the form of more convincing "robocalls" by marketers or political campaigns.


Digital assistants making arrangements for people also raises the question of who is responsible for mistakes, such as a no-show or cancellation fee for an appointment set for the wrong time.

The information is here.

A narrative thematic analysis of moral injury in combat veterans

Held, P., Klassen, B. J., Hall, J. M., Friese, and others
Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. 
Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/tra0000364

Here is a portion of the Introduction:

In war, service members sometimes have to make difficult decisions, some of which may violate their deeply held beliefs and moral values. The term moral injury was coined to refer to the enduring mental health consequences that can occur from participating in, witnessing, or learning about acts that violate one’s moral code (Drescher et al., 2011; Litz et al., 2009; Shay, 1994). Some examples of potentially morally injurious events include disproportionate violence, engaging in atrocities, or violations of rules of engagement (Litz et al., 2009; Stein et al., 2012). Although consensus regarding how best to measure moral injury has not been reached, one preliminary estimate suggested that as many as 25% of a representative sample of veterans endorsed exposure to morally injurious experiences (Wisco et al., 2017). Involvement in these situations has been shown to be associated with a range of negative psychological reactions, including the development of mental health symptoms, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression (Held, Klassen, Brennan, & Zalta, 2017; Maguen et al., 2010), substance use problems (Wilk et al., 2010) and suicidal ideation (Maguen et al., 2012).

Litz and colleagues (2009) have proposed the sole theoretical model of how moral transgressions result in the development of mental health symptoms. Following the morally injurious event, individuals experience a conflict between the event and their own moral beliefs. For example, a service member may believe that civilians should not be harmed during combat but is involved in an event that involves the death of noncombatants. In an attempt to resolve this cognitive conflict, self-directed attributions of the event’s cause may be made, such as service members believing that they were complicit in noncombatants being harmed. The stable, internal, and global attributions that result lead to the development of painful emotions (e.g., guilt, shame, fear of social rejection) and withdrawal from social interaction. Lack of social contact leads to missed opportunities for potentially corrective information and further strengthens the painful emotions and the stable, internal, and global attributions about the morally injurious event (e.g., Martin et al., 2017). It has been proposed that unless addressed, the moral injury continues to manifest and perpetuate itself through intrusions, avoidance, and numbing in a manner similar to PTSD (Jinkerson, 2016; Farnsworth, Drescher, Nieu- wsma, Walser, & Currier, 2014; Litz, Lebowitz, Gray, & Nash, 2016; Litz et al., 2009).

The article is here.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Hostile environment: The dark side of nudge theory

Nick Barrett
Originally posted May 1, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Just as a website can use a big yellow button to make buying a book or signing up to a newsletter inviting, governments can use nudge theory to make saving money for your pension easy and user-friendly. But it can also establish its own dark patterns too and the biggest government dark pattern of all is the hostile environment policy established in 2012 to encourage migrants to leave the country.

The policy meant that without the right paperwork, people were deprived of health services, employment rights and access to housing and effectively excluded from mainstream society. They were not barred. The circumstances were simply created to nudge them into leaving the country.

For six years the hostile environment persecuted the least visible among us. It was only when its effects on the Windrush generation were revealed that the policy’s inherent prejudice became clear to all. What could once be seen as firm but fair suddenly looked cruel and unusual. These measures might have been defensible if the legal migration process hadn’t been turned into a painfully punitive process for anybody arriving from outside of the EU.

The information is here.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Preventing Med School Suicides

Roger Sergel
MegPage Today
Originally posted May 2, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

The medical education community needs to acknowledge the stress imposed on our medical learners as they progress from students to faculty. One of the biggest obstacles is changing the culture of medicine to not only understand the key burnout drivers and pain points but to invest resources into developing strategies which reduce stress. These strategies must include the medical learner taking ownership for the role they play in their lack of well-being. In addition, medical schools and healthcare organizations must reflect on their policies/processes which do not promote wellness. In both situations, there is pointing to the other group as the one who needs to change. Both are right.

We do need to change how we deliver a quality medical education AND we need our medical learners to reflect on their personal attitudes and openness to developing their resilience muscles to manage their stress. Equally important, we need to reduce the stigma of seeking help and break down the barriers which would allow our medical learners and physicians to seek help, when needed. We need to create support services which are convenient, accessible, and utilized.

What programs does your school have to support medical students' mental health?

The information is here.

Friday, June 1, 2018

CGI ‘Influencers’ Like Lil Miquela Are About to Flood Your Feeds

Miranda Katz
Originally published May 1, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

There are already a number of startups working on commercial applications for what they call “digital” or “virtual” humans. Some, like the New Zealand-based Soul Machines, are focusing on using these virtual humans for customer service applications; already, the company has partnered with the software company Autodesk, Daimler Financial Services, and National Westminster Bank to create hyper-lifelike digital assistants. Others, like 8i and Quantum Capture, are working on creating digital humans for virtual, augmented, and mixed reality applications.

And those startups’ technologies, though still in their early stages, make Lil Miquela and her cohort look positively low-res. “[Lil Miquela] is just scratching the surface of what these virtual humans can do and can be,” says Quantum Capture CEO and president Morgan Young. “It’s pre-rendered, computer-generated snapshots—images that look great, but that’s about as far as it’s going to go, as far as I can tell, with their tech. We’re concentrating on a high level of visual quality and also on making these characters come to life.”

Quantum Capture is focused on VR and AR, but the Toronto-based company is also aware that those might see relatively slow adoption—and so it’s currently leveraging its 3D-scanning and motion-capture technologies for real-world applications today.

The information is here.

The toxic legacy of Canada's CIA brainwashing experiments

Ashifa Kassam
The Guardian
Originally published May 3, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Patients were subjected to high-voltage electroshock therapy several times a day, forced into drug-induced sleeps that could last months and injected with megadoses of LSD.

After reducing them to a childlike state – at times stripping them of basic skills such as how to dress themselves or tie their shoes – Cameron would attempt to reprogram them by bombarding them with recorded messages for up to 16 hours at a time. First came negative messages about their inadequacies, followed by positive ones, in some cases repeated up to half a million times.

“He couldn’t get his patients to listen to them enough so he put speakers in football helmets and locked them on their heads,” said Johnson. “They were going crazy banging their heads into walls, so he then figured he could put them in a drug induced coma and play the tapes as long as he needed.”

Along with intensive bouts of electroshock therapy, Johnson’s grandmother was given injections of LSD on 14 occasions. “She said that made her feel like her bones were melting. She would say: ‘I don’t want these,’” said Johnson. “And the doctors and nurses would say to her: ‘You’re a bad wife, you’re a bad mother. If you wanted to get better, you would do this for your family. Think about your daughter.’”

The information is here.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Case of Dr. Oz: Ethics, Evidence, and Does Professional Self-Regulation Work?

Jon Tilburt, Megan Allyse, and Frederic Hafferty
AMA Journal of Ethics
February 2017, Volume 19, Number 2: 199-206.


Dr. Mehmet Oz is widely known not just as a successful media personality donning the title “America’s Doctor®,” but, we suggest, also as a physician visibly out of step with his profession. A recent, unsuccessful attempt to censure Dr. Oz raises the issue of whether the medical profession can effectively self-regulate at all. It also raises concern that the medical profession’s self-regulation might be selectively activated, perhaps only when the subject of professional censure has achieved a level of public visibility. We argue here that the medical profession must look at itself with a healthy dose of self-doubt about whether it has sufficient knowledge of or handle on the less visible Dr. “Ozes” quietly operating under the profession’s presumptive endorsement.

The information is here.

What did Hannah Arendt really mean by the banality of evil?

Thomas White
Originally published April 23, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Arendt dubbed these collective characteristics of Eichmann ‘the banality of evil’: he was not inherently evil, but merely shallow and clueless, a ‘joiner’, in the words of one contemporary interpreter of Arendt’s thesis: he was a man who drifted into the Nazi Party, in search of purpose and direction, not out of deep ideological belief. In Arendt’s telling, Eichmann reminds us of the protagonist in Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger (1942), who randomly and casually kills a man, but then afterwards feels no remorse. There was no particular intention or obvious evil motive: the deed just ‘happened’.

This wasn’t Arendt’s first, somewhat superficial impression of Eichmann. Even 10 years after his trial in Israel, she wrote in 1971:
I was struck by the manifest shallowness in the doer [ie Eichmann] which made it impossible to trace the uncontestable evil of his deeds to any deeper level of roots or motives. The deeds were monstrous, but the doer – at least the very effective one now on trial – was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous.
The banality-of-evil thesis was a flashpoint for controversy. To Arendt’s critics, it seemed absolutely inexplicable that Eichmann could have played a key role in the Nazi genocide yet have no evil intentions. Gershom Scholem, a fellow philosopher (and theologian), wrote to Arendt in 1963 that her banality-of-evil thesis was merely a slogan that ‘does not impress me, certainly, as the product of profound analysis’. Mary McCarthy, a novelist and good friend of Arendt, voiced sheer incomprehension: ‘[I]t seems to me that what you are saying is that Eichmann lacks an inherent human quality: the capacity for thought, consciousness – conscience. But then isn’t he a monster simply?’

The information is here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Reining It In: Making Ethical Decisions in a Forensic Practice

Donna M. Veraldi and Lorna Veraldi
A Paper Presented to American College of Forensic Psychology
34th Annual Symposium, San Diego, CA

Here is an excerpt:

Ethical dilemmas sometimes require making difficult choices among competing ethical principles and values. This presentation will discuss ethical dilemmas arising from the use of coercion and deception in forensic practice. In a forensic practice, the choice is not as simple as “do no harm” or “tell the truth.” What is and is not acceptable in terms of using various forms of pressure on individuals or of assisting agencies that put pressure on individuals? How much information should forensic psychologists share with individuals about evaluation techniques? What does informed consent
mean in the context of a forensic practice where many of the individuals with whom we interact are not there by choice?

The information is here.

Google's Mysterious AI Ethics Board Should Be Transparent Like Axon's

Sam Shead
Originally published April 27, 2018

A new artificial intelligence ethics (AI) board was announced this week by Axon — the US company behind the taser weapon — but the AI ethics board many people still want to know about remains shrouded in mystery.

Google quietly set up an AI ethics board in 2014 following the £400 million acquisition of a London AI lab called DeepMind, which hopes to one day build machines with human-level intelligence that will have a profound impact on the society we live in. Who sits on that board, how often that board meets, or what that board discusses, has remained a closely guarded company secret, despite DeepMind cofounder Mustafa Suleyman (who lobbied for the creation of the board) saying in 2016 that Google will publicise the names of those on it.

This week, Axon, a US company that develops body cameras for police officers and weapons for the law enforcement market, demonstrated the kind of transparency that Google should aspire towards when it announced an AI ethics board to "help guide the development of Axon's AI-powered devices and services".

The information is here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Ethics debate as pig brains kept alive without a body

Pallab Ghosh
Originally published April 27, 2018

Researchers at Yale University have restored circulation to the brains of decapitated pigs, and kept the organs alive for several hours.

Their aim is to develop a way of studying intact human brains in the lab for medical research.

Although there is no evidence that the animals were aware, there is concern that some degree of consciousness might have remained.

Details of the study were presented at a brain science ethics meeting held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda in Maryland on 28 March.

The work, by Prof Nenad Sestan of Yale University, was discussed as part of an NIH investigation of ethical issues arising from neuroscience research in the US.

Prof Sestan explained that he and his team experimented on more than 100 pig brains.

The information is here.

Choosing partners or rivals

The Harvard Gazette
Originally published April 27, 2018

Here is the conclusion:

“The interesting observation is that natural selection always chooses either partners or rivals,” Nowak said. “If it chooses partners, the system naturally moves to cooperation. If it chooses rivals, it goes to defection, and is doomed. An approach like ‘America First’ embodies a rival strategy which guarantees the demise of cooperation.”

In addition to shedding light on how cooperation might evolve in a society, Nowak believes the study offers an instructive example of how to foster cooperation among individuals.

“With the partner strategy, I have to accept that sometimes I’m in a relationship where the other person gets more than me,” he said. “But I can nevertheless provide an incentive structure where the best thing the other person can do is to cooperate with me.

“So the best I can do in this world is to play a strategy such that the other person gets the maximum payoff if they always cooperate,” he continued. “That strategy does not prevent a situation where the other person, to some extent, exploits me. But if they exploit me, they get a lower payoff than if they fully cooperated.”

The information is here.

Monday, May 28, 2018

This Suicide Pod Dubbed 'the Tesla of Death' Lets You Kill Yourself Peacefully

Loukia Papadopoulos
Interesting Engineering
Originally posted April 27, 2018

A new controversial pod for ending one’s life is on the market and it is being dubbed the Tesla of death and its founder, the Elon Musk of suicide. The pod, developed by euthanasia campaigner Dr. Philip Nitschke, is called the Sarco and it seeks to revolutionize the way we die.

The Sarco's website features a thought-provoking question on its landing page. “What if we had more than mere dignity to look forward to on our last day on this planet?” reads the site.

A description of the pod goes on to explain that “the elegant design was intended to suggest a sense of occasion: of travel to a ‘new destination’, and to dispel the ‘yuk’ factor.” If this sounds like a macabre joke, rest assured it is not.

The article is here.

The ethics of experimenting with human brain tissue

Nita Farahany, and others
Originally published April 25, 2018

If researchers could create brain tissue in the laboratory that might appear to have conscious experiences or subjective phenomenal states, would that tissue deserve any of the protections routinely given to human or animal research subjects?

This question might seem outlandish. Certainly, today’s experimental models are far from having such capabilities. But various models are now being developed to better understand the human brain, including miniaturized, simplified versions of brain tissue grown in a dish from stem cells — brain organoids. And advances keep being made.

These models could provide a much more accurate representation of normal and abnormal human brain function and development than animal models can (although animal models will remain useful for many goals). In fact, the promise of brain surrogates is such that abandoning them seems itself unethical, given the vast amount of human suffering caused by neurological and psychiatric disorders, and given that most therapies for these diseases developed in animal models fail to work in people. Yet the closer the proxy gets to a functioning human brain, the more ethically problematic it becomes.

The information is here.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

​The Ethics of Neuroscience - A Different Lens

New technologies are allowing us to have control over the human brain like never before. As we push the possibilities we must ask ourselves, what is neuroscience today and how far is too far?

The world’s best neurosurgeons can now provide treatments for things that were previously untreatable, such as Parkinson’s and clinical depression. Many patients are cured, while others develop side effects such as erratic behaviour and changes in their personality. 

Not only do we have greater understanding of clinical psychology, forensic psychology and criminal psychology, we also have more control. Professional athletes and gamers are now using this technology – some of it untested – to improve performance. However, with these amazing possibilities come great ethical concerns.

This manipulation of the brain has far-reaching effects, impacting the law, marketing, health industries and beyond. We need to investigate the capabilities of neuroscience and ask the ethical questions that will determine how far we can push the science of mind and behaviour.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Illusionism as a Theory of Consciousness

Keith Frankish

Theories of consciousness typically address the hard problem. They accept that phenomenal consciousness is real and aim to explain how it comes to exist. There is, however, another approach, which holds that phenomenal consciousness is an illusion and aims to explain why it seems to exist. We might call this eliminativism about phenomenal consciousness. The term is not ideal, however, suggesting as it does that belief in phenomenal consciousness is simply a theoretical error, that rejection of phenomenal realism is part of a wider rejection of folk psychology, and that there is no role at all for talk of phenomenal properties — claims that are not essential to the approach. Another label is ‘irrealism’, but that too has unwanted connotations; illusions themselves are real and may have considerable power. I propose ‘illusionism’ as a more accurate and inclusive name, and I shall refer to the problem of explaining why experiences seem to have phenomenal properties as the illusion problem.

 Although it has powerful defenders — pre-eminently Daniel Dennett — illusionism remains a minority position, and it is often dismissed out of hand as failing to ‘take consciousness seriously’ (Chalmers, 1996). The aim of this article is to present the case for illusionism. It will not propose a detailed illusionist theory, but will seek to persuade the reader that the illusionist research programme is worth pursuing and that illusionists do take consciousness seriously — in some ways, more seriously than realists do.

The article/book chapter is here.

Friday, May 25, 2018

What does it take to be a brain disorder?

Anneli Jefferson
Synthese (2018).


In this paper, I address the question whether mental disorders should be understood to be brain disorders and what conditions need to be met for a disorder to be rightly described as a brain disorder. I defend the view that mental disorders are autonomous and that a condition can be a mental disorder without at the same time being a brain disorder. I then show the consequences of this view. The most important of these is that brain differences underlying mental disorders derive their status as disordered from the fact that they realize mental dysfunction and are therefore non-autonomous or dependent on the level of the mental. I defend this view of brain disorders against the objection that only conditions whose pathological character can be identified independently of the mental level of description count as brain disorders. The understanding of brain disorders I propose requires a certain amount of conceptual revision and is at odds with approaches which take the notion of brain disorder to be fundamental or look to neuroscience to provide us with a purely physiological understanding of mental illness. It also entails a pluralistic understanding of psychiatric illness, according to which a condition can be both a mental disorder and a brain disorder.

The research is here.

The $3-Million Research Breakdown

Jodi Cohen
Originally published April 26, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

In December, the university quietly paid a severe penalty for Pavuluri’s misconduct and its own lax oversight, after the National Institute of Mental Health demanded weeks earlier that the public institution — which has struggled with declining state funding — repay all $3.1 million it had received for Pavuluri’s study.

In issuing the rare rebuke, federal officials concluded that Pavuluri’s “serious and continuing noncompliance” with rules to protect human subjects violated the terms of the grant. NIMH said she had “increased risk to the study subjects” and made any outcomes scientifically meaningless, according to documents obtained by ProPublica Illinois.

Pavuluri’s research is also under investigation by two offices in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: the inspector general’s office, which examines waste, fraud and abuse in government programs, according to subpoenas obtained by ProPublica Illinois, and the Office of Research Integrity, according to university officials.

The article is here.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Is there a universal morality?

Massimo Pigliucci
The Evolution Institute
Originally posted March 2018

Here is the conclusion:

The first bit means that we are all deeply inter-dependent on other people. Despite the fashionable nonsense, especially in the United States, about “self-made men” (they are usually men), there actually is no such thing. Without social bonds and support our lives would be, as Thomas Hobbes famously put it, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. The second bit, the one about intelligence, does not mean that we always, or even often, act rationally. Only that we have the capability to do so. Ethics, then, especially (but not only) for the Stoics becomes a matter of “living according to nature,” meaning not to endorse whatever is natural (that’s an elementary logical fallacy), but rather to take seriously the two pillars of human nature: sociality and reason. As Marcus Aurelius put it, “Do what is necessary, and whatever the reason of a social animal naturally requires, and as it requires.” (Meditations, IV.24)

There is something, of course, the ancients did get wrong: they, especially Aristotle, thought that human nature was the result of a teleological process, that everything has a proper function, determined by the very nature of the cosmos. We don’t believe that anymore, not after Copernicus and especially Darwin. But we do know that human beings are indeed a particular product of complex and ongoing evolutionary processes. These processes do not determine a human essence, but they do shape a statistical cluster of characters that define what it means to be human. That cluster, in turn, constrains — without determining — what sort of behaviors are pro-social and lead to human flourishing, and what sort of behaviors don’t. And ethics is the empirically informed philosophical enterprise that attempts to understand and articulate that distinction.

The information is here.

Determined to be humble? Exploring the relationship between belief in free will and humility

Earp, B. D., Everett, J. A., Nadelhoffer, T., Caruso, G. D., Shariff, A., & Sinnott-Armstrong, W. (2018, April 24).

In recent years, diminished belief in free will or increased belief in determinism have been associated with a range of antisocial or otherwise negative outcomes: unjustified aggression, cheating, prejudice, less helping behavior, and so on. Only a few studies have entertained the possibility of prosocial or otherwise positive outcomes, such as greater willingness to forgive and less motivation to punish retributively. Here, five studies explore the relationship between belief in determinism and another positive outcome or attribute, namely, humility. The reported findings suggest that relative disbelief in free will is reliably associated with at least one type of humility—what we call ‘Einsteinian’ humility—but is not associated with, or even negatively associated with, other types of humility described in the literature.

The preprint is here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Double warning on impact of overworking on academic mental health

Sophie Inge
The Times of Higher Education
Originally published on April 4, 2018

Fresh calls have been made to tackle a crisis of overwork and poor mental health in academia in the wake of two worrying new studies.

US academics who conducted a global survey found that postgraduate students were more than six times more likely to experience depression or anxiety compared with the general population, with female researchers being worst affected.

Meanwhile, a survey of more than 5,500 staff in Norwegian universities found that academics reported higher levels of workaholism than their administrative colleagues and revealed that the group appears to be among the occupations most prone to workaholism in society as a whole. Young and female academics were more likely than their senior colleagues to indicate that this had an impact on their family life.

The information is here.

Growing brains in labs: why it's time for an ethical debate

Ian Sample
The Guardian
Originally published April 24, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

The call for debate has been prompted by a raft of studies in which scientists have made “brain organoids”, or lumps of human brain from stem cells; grown bits of human brain in rodents; and kept slivers of human brain alive for weeks after surgeons have removed the tissue from patients. Though it does not indicate consciousness, in one case, scientists recorded a surge of electrical activity from a ball of brain and retinal cells when they shined a light on it.

The research is driven by a need to understand how the brain works and how it fails in neurological disorders and mental illness. Brain organoids have already been used to study autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia and the unusually small brain size seen in some babies infected with Zika virus in the womb.

“This research is essential to alleviate human suffering. It would be unethical to halt the work,” said Nita Farahany, professor of law and philosophy at Duke University in North Carolina. “What we want is a discussion about how to enable responsible progress in the field.”

The article is here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Truckers Line Up Under Bridge To Save Man Threatening Suicide

Vanessa Romo
Originally published April 24, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

"It provides a safety net for the person in case they happen to lose their grip and fall or if they decide to jump," Shaw said. "With the trucks lined up underneath they're only falling about five to six feet as opposed 15 or 16."

After about two hours of engaging with officials the distressed man willingly backed off the edge and is receiving help, Shaw said.

"He was looking to take his own life but we were able to talk to him and find out what his specific trigger was and helped correct it," Shaw said.

In all, the ordeal lasted about three hours.

The article is here.

Institutional Betrayal: Inequity, Discrimination, Bullying, and Retaliation in Academia

Karen Pyke
Sociological Perspectives
Volume: 61 issue: 1, page(s): 5-13
Article first published online: January 9, 2018


Institutions of higher learning dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and committed to diversity should be exemplars of workplace equity. Sadly, they are not. Their failure to take appropriate action to protect employees from inequity, discrimination, bullying, and retaliation amounts to institutional betrayal. The professional code of ethics for sociology, a discipline committed to the study of inequality, instructs sociologists to “strive to eliminate bias in their professional activities” and not to “tolerate any forms of discrimination.” As such, sociologists should be the leaders on our campuses in recognizing institutional betrayals by academic administrators and in promoting workplace equity. Regrettably, we have not accepted this charge. In this address, I call for sociologists to embrace our professional responsibilities and apply our scholarly knowledge and commitments to the reduction of inequality in our own workplace. If we can’t do it here, can we do it anywhere?

The article is here.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Mathematical Framework for Superintelligent Machines

Daniel J. Buehrer
IEEE Access

Here is an excerpt:

Allowing machines to modify their own model of the world and themselves may create “conscious” machines, where the measure of consciousness may be taken to be the number of uses of feedback loops between a class calculus’s model of the world and the results of what its robots actually caused to happen in the world. With this definition, if the programs, neural networks, and Bayesian networks are put into read-only hardware, the machines will not be conscious since they cannot learn. We
would not have to feel guilty of recycling these sims or robots (e.g. driverless cars) by melting them in incinerators or throwing them into acid baths, since they are only machines. However, turning off a conscious sim without its consent should be considered murder, and appropriate punishment should be administered in every country.

Unsupervised hierarchical adversarially learned inference has already shown to perform much better than human handcrafted features. The feedback mechanism tries to minimize the Jensen-Shanon information divergence between the many levels of a generative adversarial network and the corresponding inference network, which can correspond to a stack of part-of levels of a fuzzy class calculus IS-A hierarchy. 

From the viewpoint of humans, a sim should probably have an objective function for its reinforcement learning that allows it to become an excellent mathematician and scientist in order to “carry forth an ever-advancing civilization”. But such a conscious superintelligence “should” probably also make use of parameters to try to emulate the well-recognized “virtues” such as empathy, friendship, generosity, humility, justice, love, mercy, responsibility, respect, truthfulness, trustworthiness, etc.

The information is here.

A ‘Master Algorithm’ may emerge sooner than you think

Tristan Greene
Originally posted April 18, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

It’s a revolutionary idea, even in a field like artificial intelligence where breakthroughs are as regular as the sunrise. The creation of a self-teaching class of calculus that could learn from (and control) any number of connected AI agents – basically a CEO for all artificially intelligent machines – would theoretically grow exponentially more intelligent every time any of the various learning systems it controls were updated.

Perhaps most interesting is the idea that this control and update system will provide a sort of feedback loop. And this feedback loop is, according to Buehrer, how machine consciousness will emerge:
Allowing machines to modify their own model of the world and themselves may create “conscious” machines, where the measure of consciousness may be taken to be the number of uses of feedback loops between a class calculus’s model of the world and the results of what its robots actually caused to happen in the world.
 Buehrer also states it may be necessary to develop these kinds of systems on read-only hardware, thus negating the potential for machines to write new code and become sentient. He goes on to warn, “However, turning off a conscious sim without its consent should be considered murder, and appropriate punishment should be administered in every country.”

The information is here.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Robot cognition requires machines that both think and feel

Luiz Pessosa
Originally published April 13, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Part of being intelligent, then, is about the ability to function autonomously in various conditions and environments. Emotion is helpful here because it allows an agent to piece together the most significant kinds of information. For example, emotion can instil a sense of urgency in actions and decisions. Imagine crossing a patch of desert in an unreliable car, during the hottest hours of the day. If the vehicle breaks down, what you need is a quick fix to get you to the next town, not a more permanent solution that might be perfect but could take many hours to complete in the beating sun. In real-world scenarios, a ‘good’ outcome is often all that’s required, but without the external pressure of perceiving a ‘stressful’ situation, an android might take too long trying to find the optimal solution.

Most proposals for emotion in robots involve the addition of a separate ‘emotion module’ – some sort of bolted-on affective architecture that can influence other abilities such as perception and cognition. The idea would be to give the agent access to an enriched set of properties, such as the urgency of an action or the meaning of facial expressions. These properties could help to determine issues such as which visual objects should be processed first, what memories should be recollected, and which decisions will lead to better outcomes.

The information is here.

Friendly note: I don't agree with everything I post.  In this case, I do not believe that AI needs emotions and feelings.  Rather, AI will have a different form of consciousness.  We don't need to try to reproduce our experiences exactly.  AI consciousness will likely have flaws, like we do.  We need to be able to manage AI given the limitations we create.