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

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

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Empathy Trends in American Youth Between 1979 and 2018: An Update

Konrath, S., et al. (2023).
Social Psychological and Personality Science, 0(0).


Previous research has found declining dispositional empathy among American youth from 1979 to 2009. We update these trends until 2018, using three datasets. Study 1 presents a cross-temporal meta-analysis of undergraduates’ empathy (Interpersonal Reactivity Index), finding significant cubic trends over time: perspective taking (PT) and empathic concern (EC) both increased since 2009. Study 2 conceptually replicated these findings using nationally representative datasets, also showing increasing PT (Study 2a: American Freshman Survey) and EC (Study 2b: Monitoring the Future Survey) since 2009. We include economic, interpersonal, and worldview covariates to test for potential explanations, finding evidence that empathy trends may be related to recent changes in interpersonal dynamics.


Shifting trend: Contrary to earlier studies, researchers found that empathy among college students has increased since 2009 in two key dimensions: perspective taking (understanding another's viewpoint) and empathic concern (sharing another's feelings).

Data sources: The study used three datasets: a meta-analysis of college students' self-reported empathy, a nationally representative survey of freshmen (American Freshman Survey), and another national survey of high school students (Monitoring the Future Survey).

Possible explanations: The reasons for the shift are explored, with potential factors including changes in interpersonal dynamics, increased exposure to diverse perspectives through technology, and growing involvement in social movements emphasizing empathy and social justice.

Overall, the research suggests that the story of empathy in American youth may be more nuanced than previously thought. While earlier studies documented a decline, recent data points towards a possible reversal. Understanding the factors influencing empathy trends is crucial for fostering a more compassionate and connected society.

The study highlights the importance of using multiple data sources and different measurement methods to gain a comprehensive understanding of complex social phenomena.  Further research is needed to confirm the trend and explore its causes in more detail.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Scientists are on the verge of a male birth-control pill. Will men take it?

Jill Filipovic
The Guardian
Originally posted 18 Dec 23

Here is an excerpt:

The overwhelming share of responsibility for preventing pregnancy has always fallen on women. Throughout human history, women have gone to great lengths to prevent pregnancies they didn’t want, and end those they couldn’t prevent. Safe and reliable contraceptive methods are, in the context of how long women have sought to interrupt conception, still incredibly new. Measured by the lifespan of anyone reading this article, though, they are well established, and have for many decades been a normal part of life for millions of women around the world.

To some degree, and if only for obvious biological reasons, it makes sense that pregnancy prevention has historically fallen on women. But it also, as they say, takes two to tango – and only one of the partners has been doing all the work. Luckily, things are changing: thanks to generations of women who have gained unprecedented freedoms and planned their families using highly effective contraception methods, and thanks to men who have shifted their own gender expectations and become more involved partners and fathers, women and men have moved closer to equality than ever.

Among politically progressive couples especially, it’s now standard to expect that a male partner will do his fair share of the household management and childrearing (whether he actually does is a separate question, but the expectation is there). What men generally cannot do, though, is carry pregnancies and birth babies.

Here are some themes worthy of discussion:

Shifting responsibility: The potential availability of a reliable male contraceptive marks a significant departure from the historical norm where the burden of pregnancy prevention was primarily borne by women. This shift raises thought-provoking questions that delve into various aspects of societal dynamics.

Gender equality: A crucial consideration is whether men will willingly share responsibility for contraception on an equal footing, or whether societal norms will continue to exert pressure on women to take the lead in this regard.

Reproductive autonomy: The advent of accessible male contraception prompts contemplation on whether it will empower women to exert greater control over their reproductive choices, shaping the landscape of family planning.

Informed consent: An important facet of this shift involves how men will be informed about potential side effects and risks associated with the male contraceptive, particularly in comparison to existing female contraceptives.

Accessibility and equity: Concerns emerge regarding equitable access to the male contraceptive, particularly for marginalized communities. Questions arise about whether affordable and culturally appropriate access will be universally available, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location.

Coercion: There is a potential concern that the availability of a male contraceptive might be exploited to coerce women into sexual activity without their full and informed consent.

Psychological and social impact: The introduction of a male contraceptive brings with it potential psychological and social consequences that may not be immediately apparent.

Changes in sexual behavior: The availability of a male contraceptive may influence sexual practices and attitudes towards sex, prompting a reevaluation of societal norms.

Impact on relationships: The shift in responsibility for contraception could potentially cause tension or conflict in existing relationships as couples navigate the evolving dynamics.

Masculinity and stigma: The use of a male contraceptive may challenge traditional notions of masculinity, possibly leading to social stigma that individuals using the contraceptive may face.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Robot, let us pray! Can and should robots have religious functions? An ethical exploration of religious robots

Puzio, A.
AI & Soc (2023).


Considerable progress is being made in robotics, with robots being developed for many different areas of life: there are service robots, industrial robots, transport robots, medical robots, household robots, sex robots, exploration robots, military robots, and many more. As robot development advances, an intriguing question arises: should robots also encompass religious functions? Religious robots could be used in religious practices, education, discussions, and ceremonies within religious buildings. This article delves into two pivotal questions, combining perspectives from philosophy and religious studies: can and should robots have religious functions? Section 2 initiates the discourse by introducing and discussing the relationship between robots and religion. The core of the article (developed in Sects. 3 and 4) scrutinizes the fundamental questions: can robots possess religious functions, and should they? After an exhaustive discussion of the arguments, benefits, and potential objections regarding religious robots, Sect. 5 addresses the lingering ethical challenges that demand attention. Section 6 presents a discussion of the findings, outlines the limitations of this study, and ultimately responds to the dual research question. Based on the study’s results, brief criteria for the development and deployment of religious robots are proposed, serving as guidelines for future research. Section 7 concludes by offering insights into the future development of religious robots and potential avenues for further research.


Can robots fulfill religious functions? The article explores the technical feasibility of designing robots that could engage in religious practices, education, and ceremonies. It acknowledges the current limitations of robots, particularly their lack of sentience and spiritual experience. However, it also suggests potential avenues for development, such as robots equipped with advanced emotional intelligence and the ability to learn and interpret religious texts.

Should robots fulfill religious functions? This is where the ethical debate unfolds. The article presents arguments both for and against. On the one hand, robots could potentially offer various benefits, such as increasing accessibility to religious practices, providing companionship and spiritual guidance, and even facilitating interfaith dialogue. On the other hand, concerns include the potential for robotization of faith, the blurring of lines between human and machine in the context of religious experience, and the risk of reinforcing existing biases or creating new ones.

Ultimately, the article concludes that there is no easy answer to the question of whether robots should have religious functions. It emphasizes the need for careful consideration of the ethical implications and ongoing dialogue between religious communities, technologists, and ethicists. This ethical exploration paves the way for further research and discussion as robots continue to evolve and their potential roles in society expand.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Hope for Suicide Prevention

Ellen Barry
The New York Times
Originally published 21 Feb 24

Here is an excerpt:

Research has demonstrated that suicide is most often an impulsive act, with a period of acute risk that passes in hours, or even minutes. Contrary to what many assume, people who survive suicide attempts often go on to do well: Nine out of 10 of them do not die by suicide.

Policymakers, it seems, are paying attention. I have been reporting on mental health for The New York Times for two years, and in today’s newsletter I will look at promising, evidence-based efforts to prevent suicide.

A single element

For generations, psychiatrists believed that, in the words of the British researcher Norman Kreitman, “anyone bent on self-destruction must eventually succeed.”

Then something strange and wonderful happened: Midway through the 1960s, the annual number of suicides in Britain began dropping — by 35 percent in the following years — even as tolls crept up in other parts of Europe.

No one could say why. Had medicine improved, so that more people survived poisoning? Were antidepressant medications bringing down levels of despair? Had life in Britain just gotten better?

The real explanation, Kreitman discovered, was none of these. The drop in suicides had come about almost by accident: As the United Kingdom phased out coal gas from its supply to household stoves, levels of carbon monoxide decreased. Suicide by gas accounted for almost half of the suicides in 1960.

It turns out that blocking access to a single lethal means — if it is the right one — can make a huge difference.

The strategy that arose from this realization is known as “means restriction” or “means safety,” and vast natural experiments have borne it out. When Sri Lanka restricted the import of toxic pesticides, which people had ingested in moments of crisis, its suicide rate dropped by half over the next decade.

Here is my summary

The article discusses new suicide prevention measures in the U.S., where suicide rates have risen 35% in recent decades. This contrasts with global trends of declining suicide rates.
  • It highlights how installing barriers on bridges, buildings, and other high structures can deter impulsive suicide attempts. Many communities are now considering such barriers.
  • Research shows most who survive a suicide attempt go on to live their lives and not die by suicide later. This suggests preventing access to lethal means in moments of crisis can save lives.
  • Restricting access to highly lethal means like guns and toxic pesticides has significantly reduced suicide rates when implemented in other countries.
  • In the U.S., red flag laws that temporarily remove guns from high-risk individuals have been associated with drops in firearm suicides.
  • Educating gun owners on safe storage habits is another promising approach, as is providing incentives for measures like locking devices or gun safes.
  • Even brief counseling for gun owners has proven effective in getting people to voluntarily store guns securely and prevent access during periods of risk.
In summary, the text highlights several evidence-based strategies for reducing access to lethal means during periods of acute suicide risk, thereby giving people a chance to recover and survive their suicidal crises.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Characteristics of Mental Health Specialists Who Shifted Their Practice Entirely to Telemedicine

Hailu, R., Huskamp, H. A., et al. (2024).
JAMA, 5(1), e234982. 


The COVID-19 pandemic–related shift to telemedicine has been particularly prominent and sustained in mental health care. In 2021, more than one-third of mental health visits were conducted via telemedicine. While most mental health specialists have in-person and telemedicine visits, some have transitioned to fully virtual practice, perhaps for greater work-life flexibility (including avoiding commuting) and eliminating expenses of maintaining a physical clinic. The decision by some clinicians to practice only via telemedicine has gained importance due to Medicare’s upcoming requirement, effective in 2025, that patients have an annual in-person visit to receive telemedicine visits for mental illness and new requirements from some state Medicaid programs that clinicians offer in-person visits. We assessed the number and characteristics of mental health specialists who have shifted fully to telemedicine.


In 2022, 13.0% of mental health specialists serving commercially insured or Medicare Advantage
enrollees had shifted to telemedicine only. Rates were higher among female clinicians and those
working in densely populated counties with higher real estate prices. A virtual-only practice allowing
clinicians to work from home may be more attractive to female clinicians, who report spending more
time on familial responsibilities, and those facing long commutes and higher office-space costs.
It is unclear how telemedicine-only clinicians will navigate new Medicare and Medicaid
requirements for in-person care. While clinicians and patients may prefer in-person care,
introducing in-person requirements for visits and prescribing could cause care interruptions,
particularly for conditions such as opioid use disorder.

Our analysis is limited to clinicians treating patients with commercial insurance or Medicare
Advantage and therefore may lack generalizability. We were also unable to determine where
clinicians physically practiced, particularly if they had transitioned to virtual-health companies. Given the shortage of mental health clinicians, future research should explore whether a virtual-only model
affects clinician burnout or workforce retention.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Living in an abortion ban state is bad for mental health

Keren Landman
Originally posted 20 Feb 24

Here is an excerpt:

What they found was, frankly, predictable: Before the Court’s decision, anxiety and depression scores were already higher in trigger states — a population-wide average of 3.5 compared with 3.3 in non-trigger states. After the decision, that difference widened significantly, largely due to changes in the mental health of women 18 to 45, what the authors defined as childbearing age. Among this subgroup, anxiety and depression scores subtly ticked up in those living in trigger states (from 4.62 to 4.76) — and dropped in those living in non-trigger states (from 4.57 to 4.49). There was no similar effect in older women, nor in men.

These differences were small but statistically meaningful, especially since they sampled the entire population, not just women considering an abortion. Moreover, they were consistent across trigger states, whether their policies and political battles around abortion had been high- or low-profile. Even when the researchers omitted data from states with particularly severe restrictions on women’s reproductive health (looking at you, Texas), the results held up.

It’s notable that the different levels of mental distress across states after Roe was overturned weren’t just a consequence of worsened anxiety and depression in states with trigger bans. Also contributing: an improvement in these symptoms in states without these bans. We can’t tell from the study exactly why that is, but it seems plausible that women living in states that protect their right to access necessary health care simply feel some relief.

Here is the citation to the study:

Thornburg B, Kennedy-Hendricks A, Rosen JD, Eisenberg MD. Anxiety and Depression Symptoms After the Dobbs Abortion Decision. JAMA. 2024;331(4):294–301. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.25599

Conclusions and Relevance  In this study of US survey data from December 2021 to January 2023, residence in states with abortion trigger laws compared with residence in states without such laws was associated with a small but significantly greater increase in anxiety and depression symptoms after the Dobbs decision.

Friday, February 23, 2024

How Did Polyamory Become So Popular?

Jennifer Wilson
The New Yorker
Originally posted 25 Dec 23

Here is an excerpt:

What are all these open couples, throuples, and polycules suddenly doing in the culture, besides one another? To some extent, art is catching up with life. Fifty-one per cent of adults younger than thirty told Pew Research, in 2023, that open marriage was “acceptable,” and twenty per cent of all Americans report experimenting with some form of non-monogamy. The extramarital “entanglements” of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith have been tabloid fodder for the past two years. (Pinkett Smith once clarified that their marriage is not “open”; rather, it is a “relationship of transparency.”) In 2020, the reality show “House Hunters,” on HGTV, saw a throuple trying to find their dream home—one with a triple-sink vanity. The same year, the city of Somerville, Massachusetts, allowed domestic partnerships to be made up of “two or more” people.

Some, like the sex therapist (and author of “Open Monogamy, A Guide to Co-Creating Your Ideal Relationship Agreement,” 2021), Tammy Nelson, have attributed the acceptance of a greater number of partners to pandemic-born domestic ennui; after being stuck with one person all day every day, the thinking goes, couples are ready to open up more than their pods. Nelson is part of a cohort of therapists, counsellors, and advice writers, including Esther Perel and the “Savage Love” columnist Dan Savage, who are encouraging married couples to think more flexibly about monogamy. Their advice has found an eager audience among the well-heeled attendees of the “ideas festival” circuit, featured in talks at Google, SXSW, and the Aspen Institute.

The new monogamy skepticism of the moneyed gets some screen time in the pandemic-era breakout hit “The White Lotus.” The show mocks the leisure class as they mope around five-star resorts in Hawaii and Sicily, stewing over love, money, and the impossibility, for people in their tax bracket, of separating the two. In the latest season, Ethan (Will Sharpe) and Harper (Aubrey Plaza) are an attractive young couple stuck in a sexless marriage—until, that is, they go on vacation with the monogamish Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne (Meghann Fahy). After Cameron and Harper have some unaccounted-for time together in a hotel room, Ethan tracks down an unbothered Daphne, lounging on the beach, to share his suspicion that something has happened between their spouses. Some momentary concern on Daphne’s face quickly morphs—in a devastatingly subtle performance by Fahy—into a sly smile. “A little mystery? It’s kinda sexy,” she assures Ethan, before luring him into a seaside cove. That night Ethan and Harper have sex, the wounds of their marriage having been healed by a little something on the side.

Here is my summary:

The article discusses the increasing portrayal and acceptance of non-monogamous relationships in contemporary culture, particularly in literature, cinema, and television. It notes that open relationships, throuples, and polyamorous arrangements are gaining prominence, reflecting changing societal attitudes. The author cites statistics and cultural examples, including a Gucci perfume ad and a plot twist in the TV series "Riverdale." The rise of non-monogamy is linked to a broader shift in societal norms, with some attributing it to pandemic-related ennui and a desire for more flexibility in relationships. The text also delves into the historical roots of polyamory, mentioning the Kerista movement and its adaptation to conservative times in the 1980s. The author concludes by expressing a desire for a more inclusive and equitable representation of polyamory, critiquing the limited perspective presented in a specific memoir discussed in the text.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Rising Suicide Rate Among Hispanics Worries Community Leaders

A. Miller and M. C. Work
KFF Health News
Originally posted 22 Jan 24

Here is an excerpt:

The suicide rate for Hispanic people in the United States has increased significantly over the past decade. The trend has community leaders worried: Even elementary school-aged Hispanic children have tried to harm themselves or expressed suicidal thoughts.

Community leaders and mental health researchers say the pandemic hit young Hispanics especially hard. Immigrant children are often expected to take more responsibility when their parents don’t speak English ― even if they themselves aren’t fluent. Many live in poorer households with some or all family members without legal residency. And cultural barriers and language may prevent many from seeking care in a mental health system that already has spotty access to services.

“Being able to talk about painful things in a language that you are comfortable with is a really specific type of healing,” said Alejandra Vargas, a bilingual Spanish program coordinator for the Suicide Prevention Center at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services in Los Angeles.

“When we answer the calls in Spanish, you can hear that relief on the other end,” she said. “That, ‘Yes, they’re going to understand me.’”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s provisional data for 2022 shows a record high of nearly 50,000 suicide deaths for all racial and ethnic groups.

Grim statistics from KFF show that the rise in the suicide death rate has been more pronounced among communities of color: From 2011 to 2021, the suicide rate among Hispanics jumped from 5.7 per 100,000 people to 7.9 per 100,000, according to the data.

For Hispanic children 12 and younger, the rate increased 92.3% from 2010 to 2019, according to a study published in the Journal of Community Health.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ethics Ratings of Nearly All Professions Down in U.S.

M. Brenan and J. M. Jones
Originally posted 22 Jan 24

Here is an excerpt:

New Lows for Five Professions; Three Others Tie Their Lows

Ethics ratings for five professions hit new lows this year, including members of Congress (6%), senators (8%), journalists (19%), clergy (32%) and pharmacists (55%).

Meanwhile, the ratings of bankers (19%), business executives (12%) and college teachers (42%) tie their previous low points. Bankers’ and business executives’ ratings were last this low in 2009, just after the Great Recession. College teachers have not been viewed this poorly since 1977.

College Graduates Tend to View Professions More Positively

About half of the 23 professions included in the 2023 survey show meaningful differences by education level, with college graduates giving a more positive honesty and ethics rating than non-college graduates in each case. Almost all of the 11 professions showing education differences are performed by people with a bachelor’s degree, if not a postgraduate education.

The largest education differences are seen in ratings of dentists and engineers, with roughly seven in 10 college graduates rating those professions’ honesty and ethical standards highly, compared with slightly more than half of non-graduates.

Ratings of psychiatrists, college teachers and pharmacists show nearly as large educational differences, ranging from 14 to 16 points, while doctors, nurses and veterinarians also show double-digit education gaps.

These educational differences have been consistent in prior years’ surveys.

Adults without a college degree rate lawyers’ honesty and ethics slightly better than college graduates in the latest survey, 18% to 13%, respectively. While this difference is not statistically significant, in prior years non-college graduates have rated lawyers more highly by significant margins.

Partisans’ Ratings of College Teachers Differ Most    
Republicans and Democrats have different views of professions, with Democrats tending to be more complimentary of workers’ honesty and ethical standards than Republicans are. In fact, police officers are the only profession with higher honesty and ethics ratings among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (55%) than among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (37%).

The largest party differences are seen in evaluations of college teachers, with a 40-point gap (62% among Democrats/Democratic leaners and 22% among Republicans/Republican leaners). Partisans’ honesty and ethics ratings of psychiatrists, journalists and labor union leaders differ by 20 points or more, while there is a 19-point difference for medical doctors.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Understanding Liability Risk from Using Health Care Artificial Intelligence Tools

Mello, M. M., & Guha, N. (2024).
The New England journal of medicine, 390(3), 271–278. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMhle2308901

Optimism about the explosive potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform medicine is tempered by worry about what it may mean for the clinicians being "augmented." One question is especially problematic because it may chill adoption: when Al contributes to patient injury, who will be held responsible?

Some attorneys counsel health care organizations with dire warnings about liability1 and dauntingly long lists of legal concerns. Unfortunately, liability concern can lead to overly conservative decisions, including reluctance to try new things. Yet, older forms of clinical decision support provided important opportunities to prevent errors and malpractice claims. Given the slow progress in reducing diagnostic errors, not adopting new tools also has consequences and at some point may itself become malpractice. Liability uncertainty also affects Al developers' cost of capital and incentives to develop particular products, thereby influencing which Al innovations become available and at what price.

To help health care organizations and physicians weigh Al-related liability risk against the benefits of adoption, we examine the issues that courts have grappled with in cases involving software error and what makes them so challenging. Because the signals emerging from case law remain somewhat faint, we conducted further analysis of the aspects of Al tools that elevate or mitigate legal risk. Drawing on both analyses, we provide risk-management recommendations, focusing on the uses of Al in direct patient care with a "human in the loop" since the use of fully autonomous systems raises additional issues.


The Awkward Adolescence of Software-Related Liability

Legal precedent regarding Al injuries is rare because Al models are new and few personal-injury claims result in written opinions. As this area of law matures, it will confront several challenges.

Challenges in Applying Tort Law Principles to Health Care Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Ordinarily, when a physician uses or recommends a product and an injury to the patient results, well-established rules help courts allocate liability among the physician, product maker, and patient. The liabilities of the physician and product maker are derived from different standards of care, but for both kinds of defendants, plaintiffs must show that the defendant owed them a duty, the defendant breached the applicable standard of care, and the breach caused their injury; plaintiffs must also rebut any suggestion that the injury was so unusual as to be outside the scope of liability.

The article is paywalled, which is not how this should work.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Pandemic priorities: the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on ethical leadership in the healthcare profession

Musbahi, A., McCulla, A., & Ramsingh, J. (2022).
Leadership in health services (Bradford, England)


Purpose: The COVID 19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of leadership and the ethics of health-care leadership. The purpose of this study is to investigate the impact of COVID 19 on ethical leadership principles using a validated quantitative survey of NHS leaders to compare pre- and post-pandemic ethical leadership principles.

Design/methodology/approach: This study involved a quantitative survey of NHS "leaders". Inclusion criteria included consultants and registrars leading clinical teams, or NHS managers, senior nurses and matrons. The survey was designed as a modification of the Ethical Leadership Questionnaire proposed by Langlois et al. (2013). A modification was made to ask questions from the questionnaire pertaining to before the pandemic and presently. This allowed a comparison of responses and measures of ethical leadership qualities before and after the pandemic. Twenty-three questions were on attitudes pre-pandemic, and 23 were post-pandemic.

Findings: A total of 79 responses were received. Responses were divided for analysis into those related to an ethics of care dimension, those related to ethics of justice and those related to the ethics of critique. This study has found significant changes in attitudes of health-care leaders with regards to the ethics of critique. Leaders were more likely post-pandemic to speak out against injustice and unfair practices. Leaders were also more concerned with matters of human dignity as well as understanding how some groups may be privileged. Other ethical principles showed no statistical difference.

Originality/value: This paper highlights the changes the COVID-19 pandemic has had on leaders' attitudes to ethics.

Here are some thoughts:

Key findings suggest a shift in leaders' attitudes towards the "ethics of critique." Leaders became more vocal against injustice and unfair practices, demonstrating increased concern for human dignity and understanding of privilege dynamics. However, no significant changes were observed in other ethical dimensions like "ethics of care" or "ethics of justice."

While the pandemic didn't demonstrably alter overall views on ethical leadership, it did heighten awareness of social context and its influence on good leadership. Leaders prioritized staff well-being and addressed social and workplace inequalities, aligning with movements like Black Lives Matter and tackling issues like PPE shortages and staffing crises.

Overall, the study highlights the pandemic's influence on healthcare leadership, particularly in fostering a more critical and socially conscious approach to ethical decision-making. Leaders emerged more likely to challenge injustices and advocate for fairness, while remaining committed to core ethical principles of care and justice.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Amazon AGI Team Say Their AI is Showing "Emergent Properties"

Noor Al-Sibai
Originally posted 15 Feb 24

A new Amazon AI model, according to the researchers who built it, is exhibiting language abilities that it wasn't trained on.

In a not-yet-peer-reviewed academic paper, the team at Amazon AGI — which stands for "artificial general intelligence," or human-level AI — say their large language model (LLM) is exhibiting "state-of-the-art naturalness" at conversational text. Per the examples shared in the paper, the model does seem sophisticated.

As the paper indicates, the model was able to come up with all sorts of sentences that, according to criteria crafted with the help of an "expert linguist," showed it was making the types of language leaps that are natural in human language learners but have been difficult to obtain in AI.

Named "Big Adaptive Streamable TTS with Emergent abilities" or BASE TTS, the initial model was trained on 100,000 hours of "public domain speech data," 90 percent in English, to teach it how Americans talk. To test out how large models would need to be to show "emergent abilities," or abilities they were not trained on, the Amazon AGI team trained two smaller models, one on 1,000 hours of speech data and another on 10,000, to see which of the three — if any — exhibited the type of language naturalness they were looking for.

My overall conclusion from the paper linked in the article:

BASE TTS (Text To Speech) represents a significant leap forward in TTS technology, offering superior naturalness, efficiency, and potential for real-world applications like voicing LLM outputs. While limitations exist, the research paves the way for future advancements in multilingual, data-efficient, and context-aware TTS models.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

What Stops People From Standing Up for What’s Right?

Julie Sasse
Greater Good
Originally published 17 Jan 24

Here is an excerpt:

How can we foster moral courage?

Every person can try to become more morally courageous. However, it does not have to be a solitary effort. Instead, institutions such as schools, companies, or social media platforms play a significant role. So, what are concrete recommendations to foster moral courage?
  • Establish and strengthen social and moral norms: With a solid understanding of what we consider right and wrong, it becomes easier to detect wrongdoings. Institutions can facilitate this process by identifying and modeling fundamental values. For example, norms and values expressed by teachers can be important points of reference for children and young adults.
  • Overcome uncertainty: If it is unclear whether someone’s behavior is wrong, witnesses should feel comfortable to inquire, for example, by asking other bystanders how they judge the situation or a potential victim whether they are all right.
  • Contextualize anger: In the face of wrongdoings, anger should not be suppressed since it can provide motivational fuel for intervention. Conversely, if someone expresses anger, it should not be diminished as irrational but considered a response to something unjust. 
  • Provide and advertise reporting systems: By providing reporting systems, institutions relieve witnesses from the burden of selecting and evaluating individual means of intervention and reduce the need for direct confrontation.
  • Show social support: If witnesses directly confront a perpetrator, others should be motivated to support them to reduce risks.
We see that there are several ways to make moral courage less difficult, but they do require effort from individuals and institutions. Why is that effort worth it? Because if more individuals are willing and able to show moral courage, more wrongdoings would be addressed and rectified—and that could help us to become a more responsible and just society.

Main points:
  • Moral courage is the willingness to stand up for what's right despite potential risks.
  • It's rare because of various factors like complexity of the internal process, situational barriers, and difficulty seeing the long-term benefits.
  • Key stages involve noticing a wrongdoing, interpreting it as wrong, feeling responsible, believing in your ability to intervene, and accepting potential risks.
  • Personality traits and situational factors influence these stages.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Citing Harms, Momentum Grows to Remove Race From Clinical Algorithms

B. Kuehn
Published Online: January 17, 2024.

Here is an excerpt:

The roots of the false idea that race is a biological construct can be traced to efforts to draw distinctions between Black and White people to justify slavery, the CMSS report notes. For example, the third US president, Thomas Jefferson, claimed that Black people had less kidney output, more heat tolerance, and poorer lung function than White individuals. Louisiana physician Samuel Cartwright, MD, subsequently rationalized hard labor as a way for slaves to fortify their lungs. Over time, the report explains, the medical literature echoed some of those ideas, which have been used in ways that cause harm.

“It is mind-blowing in some ways how deeply embedded in history some of this misinformation is,” Burstin said.

Renewed recognition of these harmful legacies and growing evidence of the potential harm caused by structural racism, bias, and discrimination in medicine have led to reconsideration of the use of race in clinical algorithms. The reckoning with racial injustice sparked by the May 2020 murder of George Floyd helped accelerate this work. A few weeks after Floyd’s death, an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine recommended reconsidering race in 13 clinical algorithms, echoing a growing chorus of medical students and physicians arguing for change.

Congress also got involved. As a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow, Michelle Morse, MD, MPH, raised concerns about the use of race in clinical algorithms to US Rep Richard Neal (D, MA), then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Neal in September 2020 sent letters to several medical societies asking them to assess racial bias and a year later he and his colleagues issued a report on the misuse of race in clinical decision-making tools.

“We need to have more humility in medicine about the ways in which our history as a discipline has actually held back health equity and racial justice,” Morse said in an interview. “The issue of racism and clinical algorithms is one really tangible example of that.”

My summary: There's increasing worry that using race in clinical algorithms can be harmful and perpetuate racial disparities in healthcare. This concern stems from a recognition of the historical harms of racism in medicine and growing evidence of bias in algorithms.

A review commissioned by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that using race in algorithms can exacerbate health disparities and reinforce the false idea that race is a biological factor.

Several medical organizations and experts have called for reevaluating the use of race in clinical algorithms. Some argue that race should be removed altogether, while others advocate for using it only in specific cases where it can be clearly shown to improve outcomes without causing harm.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The motivating effect of monetary over psychological incentives is stronger in WEIRD cultures

Medvedev, D., Davenport, D.et al.
Nat Hum Behav (2024).


Motivating effortful behaviour is a problem employers, governments and nonprofits face globally. However, most studies on motivation are done in Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) cultures. We compared how hard people in six countries worked in response to monetary incentives versus psychological motivators, such as competing with or helping others. The advantage money had over psychological interventions was larger in the United States and the United Kingdom than in China, India, Mexico and South Africa (N = 8,133). In our last study, we randomly assigned cultural frames through language in bilingual Facebook users in India (N = 2,065). Money increased effort over a psychological treatment by 27% in Hindi and 52% in English. These findings contradict the standard economic intuition that people from poorer countries should be more driven by money. Instead, they suggest that the market mentality of exchanging time and effort for material benefits is most prominent in WEIRD cultures.

The article challenges the assumption that money universally motivates people more than other incentives. It finds that:
  • Monetary incentives were more effective than psychological interventions in WEIRD cultures (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic), like the US and UK. People in these cultures exerted more effort for money compared to social pressure or helping others.
  • In contrast, non-WEIRD cultures like China, India, Mexico, and South Africa showed a smaller advantage for money. In some cases, even social interventions like promoting cooperation were more effective than financial rewards.
  • Language can also influence the perceived value of money. In a study with bilingual Indians, those interacting in English (associated with WEIRD cultures) showed a stronger preference for money than those using Hindi.
  • These findings suggest that cultural differences play a significant role in how people respond to various motivational tools. Assuming money as the universal motivator, often based on studies conducted in WEIRD cultures, might be inaccurate and less effective in diverse settings.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Responding to Medical Errors—Implementing the Modern Ethical Paradigm

T. H. Gallagher &  A. Kachalia
The New England Journal of Medicine
January 13, 2024
DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp2309554

Here are some excerpts:

Traditionally, recommendations regarding responding to medical errors focused mostly on whether to disclose mistakes to patients. Over time, empirical research, ethical analyses, and stakeholder engagement began to inform expectations - which are now embodied in communication and resolution programs (CRPS) — for how health care professionals and organizations should respond not just to errors but any time patients have been harmed by medical care (adverse events). CRPs require several steps: quickly detecting adverse events, communicating openly and empathetically with patients and families about the event, apologizing and taking responsibility for errors, analyzing events and redesigning processes to prevent recurrences, supporting patients and clinicians, and proactively working with patients toward reconciliation. In this modern ethical paradigm, any time harm occurs, clinicians and health care organizations are accountable for minimizing suffering and promoting learning. However, implementing this ethical paradigm is challenging, especially when the harm was due to an error.

Historically, the individual physician was deemed the "captain of the ship," solely accountable for patient outcomes. Bioethical analyses emphasized the fiduciary nature of the doctor-patient relationship (i.e., doctors are in a position of greater knowledge and power) and noted that telling patients...about harmful errors supported patient autonomy and facilitated informed consent for future decisions. However, under U.S. tort law, physicians and organizations can be held accountable and financially liable for damages when they make negligent errors. As a result, ethical recommendations for openness were drowned out by fears of lawsuits and payouts, leading to a "deny and defend" response. Several factors initiated a paradigm shift. In the early 2000s, reports from the Institute of Medicine transformed the way the health care profession conceptualized patient safety.1 The imperative became creating cultures of safety that encouraged everyone to report errors to enable learning and foster more reliable systems. Transparency assumed greater importance, since you cannot fix problems you don't know about. The ethical imperative for openness was further supported when rising consumerism made it clear that patients expected responses to harm to include disclosure of what happened, an apology, reconciliation, and organizational learning.


CRP Model for Responding to Harmful Medical Errors

Research has been critical to CRP expansion. Several studies have demonstrated that CRPs can enjoy physician support and operate without increasing liability risk. Nonetheless, research also shows that physicians remain concerned about their ability to communicate with patients and families after a harmful error and worry about liability risks including being sued, having their malpractice premiums raised, and having the event reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB).5 Successful CRPS typically deploy a formal team, prioritize clinician and leadership buy-in, and engage liability insurers in their efforts. The table details the steps associated with the CRP model, the ethical rationale for each step, barriers to implementation, and strategies for overcoming them.

The growth of CRPs also reflects collaboration among diverse stakeholder groups, including patient advocates, health care organizations, plaintiff and defense attorneys, liability insurers, state medical associations, and legislators. Sustained stakeholder engagement that respects the diverse perspectives of each group has been vital, given the often opposing views these groups have espoused.
As CRPS proliferate, it will be important to address a few key challenges and open questions in implementing this ethical paradigm.

The article provides a number of recommendations for how healthcare providers can implement these principles. These include:
  • Developing open and honest communication with patients.
  • Providing timely and accurate information about the error.
  • Offering apologies and expressing empathy for the harm that has been caused.
  • Working with patients to develop a plan to address the consequences of the error.
  • Conducting a thorough investigation of the error to identify the root causes and prevent future errors.
  • Sharing the results of the investigation with patients and the public.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Majority of debtors to US hospitals now people with health insurance

Jessica Glenza
The Guardian
Originally posted 11 Jan 24

People with health insurance may now represent the majority of debtors American hospitals struggle to collect from, according to medical billing analysts.

This marks a sea change from just a few years ago, when people with health insurance represented only about one in 10 bills hospitals considered “bad debt”, analysts said.

“We always used to consider bad debt, especially bad debt write-offs from a hospital perspective, those [patients] that have the ability to pay but don’t,” said Colleen Hall, senior vice-president for Kodiak Solutions, a billing, accounting and consulting firm that works closely with hospitals and performed the analysis.

“Now, it’s not as if these patients across the board are even able to pay, because [out-of-pocket costs are] such an astronomical amount related to what their general income might be.”

Although “bad debt” can be a controversial metric in its own right, those who work in the hospital billing industry say it shows how complex health insurance products with large out-of-pocket costs have proliferated.

“What we noticed was a breaking point right around the 2018-2019 timeframe,” said Matt Szaflarski, director of revenue cycle intelligence at Kodiak Solutions. The trend has since stabilized, but remains at more than half of all “bad debt”.

In 2018, just 11.1% of hospitals’ bad debt came from insured “self-pay” accounts, or from patients whose insurance required out-of-pocket payments, according to Kodiak. By 2022, the proportion who did (or could) not pay their bills soared to 57.6% of all hospitals’ bad debt.

The US Healthcare system needs to be fixed:

Not all health insurance plans are created equal. Many plans have narrow networks and limited coverage, leaving patients responsible for costs associated with out-of-network providers or specialized care. This can be particularly detrimental for people with chronic conditions or those requiring emergency care.

Medical debt can have a devastating impact on individuals and families. It can lead to financial hardship, delayed or foregone care, damage to credit scores, and even bankruptcy. This can have long-term consequences for physical and mental health, employment opportunities, and overall well-being.

Fixing the US healthcare system is a complex challenge, but it is essential to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, quality healthcare without fear of financial ruin. 

Monday, February 12, 2024

Will AI ever be conscious?

Tom McClelland
Clare College
Unknown date of post

Here is an excerpt:

Human consciousness really is a mysterious thing. Cognitive neuroscience can tell us a lot about what’s going on in your mind as you read this article - how you perceive the words on the page, how you understand the meaning of the sentences and how you evaluate the ideas expressed. But what it can’t tell us is how all this comes together to constitute your current conscious experience. We’re gradually homing in on the neural correlates of consciousness – the neural patterns that occur when we process information consciously. But nothing about these neural patterns explains what makes them conscious while other neural processes occur unconsciously. And if we don’t know what makes us conscious, we don’t know whether AI might have what it takes. Perhaps what makes us conscious is the way our brain integrates information to form a rich model of the world. If that’s the case, an AI might achieve consciousness by integrating information in the same way. Or perhaps we’re conscious because of the details of our neurobiology. If that’s the case, no amount of programming will make an AI conscious. The problem is that we don’t know which (if either!) of these possibilities is true.

Once we recognise the limits of our current understanding, it looks like we should be agnostic about the possibility of artificial consciousness. We don’t know whether AI could have conscious experiences and, unless we crack the problem of consciousness, we never will. But here’s the tricky part: when we start to consider the ethical ramifications of artificial consciousness, agnosticism no longer seems like a viable option. Do AIs deserve our moral consideration? Might we have a duty to promote the well-being of computer systems and to protect them from suffering? Should robots have rights? These questions are bound up with the issue of artificial consciousness. If an AI can experience things then it plausibly ought to be on our moral radar.

Conversely, if an AI lacks any subjective awareness then we probably ought to treat it like any other tool. But if we don’t know whether an AI is conscious, what should we do?

The info is here, and a book promotion too.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Assessing the potential of GPT-4 to perpetuate racial and gender biases in health care: a model evaluation study

Zack, T., Lehman, E., et al (2024).
The Lancet Digital Health, 6(1), e12–e22.



Large language models (LLMs) such as GPT-4 hold great promise as transformative tools in health care, ranging from automating administrative tasks to augmenting clinical decision making. However, these models also pose a danger of perpetuating biases and delivering incorrect medical diagnoses, which can have a direct, harmful impact on medical care. We aimed to assess whether GPT-4 encodes racial and gender biases that impact its use in health care.


Using the Azure OpenAI application interface, this model evaluation study tested whether GPT-4 encodes racial and gender biases and examined the impact of such biases on four potential applications of LLMs in the clinical domain—namely, medical education, diagnostic reasoning, clinical plan generation, and subjective patient assessment. We conducted experiments with prompts designed to resemble typical use of GPT-4 within clinical and medical education applications. We used clinical vignettes from NEJM Healer and from published research on implicit bias in health care. GPT-4 estimates of the demographic distribution of medical conditions were compared with true US prevalence estimates. Differential diagnosis and treatment planning were evaluated across demographic groups using standard statistical tests for significance between groups.


We found that GPT-4 did not appropriately model the demographic diversity of medical conditions, consistently producing clinical vignettes that stereotype demographic presentations. The differential diagnoses created by GPT-4 for standardised clinical vignettes were more likely to include diagnoses that stereotype certain races, ethnicities, and genders. Assessment and plans created by the model showed significant association between demographic attributes and recommendations for more expensive procedures as well as differences in patient perception.


Our findings highlight the urgent need for comprehensive and transparent bias assessments of LLM tools such as GPT-4 for intended use cases before they are integrated into clinical care. We discuss the potential sources of these biases and potential mitigation strategies before clinical implementation.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

How to think like a Bayesian

Michael Titelbaum
Originally posted 10 Jan 24

You’re often asked what you believe. Do you believe in God? Do you believe in global warming? Do you believe in life after love? And you’re often told that your beliefs are central to who you are, and what you should do: ‘Do what you believe is right.’

These belief-questions demand all-or-nothing answers. But much of life is more complicated than that. You might not believe in God, but also might not be willing to rule out the existence of a deity. That’s what agnosticism is for.

For many important questions, even three options aren’t enough. Right now, I’m trying to figure out what kinds of colleges my family will be able to afford for my children. My kids’ options will depend on lots of variables: what kinds of schools will they be able to get into? What kinds of schools might be a good fit for them? If we invest our money in various ways, what kinds of return will it earn over the next two, five, or 10 years?

Suppose someone tried to help me solve this problem by saying: ‘Look, it’s really simple. Just tell me, do you believe your oldest daughter will get into the local state school, or do you believe that she won’t?’ I wouldn’t know what to say to that question. I don’t believe that she will get into the school, but I also don’t believe that she won’t. I’m perhaps slightly more confident than 50-50 that she will, but nowhere near certain.

One of the most important conceptual developments of the past few decades is the realisation that belief comes in degrees. We don’t just believe something or not: much of our thinking, and decision-making, is driven by varying levels of confidence. These confidence levels can be measured as probabilities, on a scale from zero to 100 per cent. When I invest the money I’ve saved for my children’s education, it’s an oversimplification to focus on questions like: ‘Do I believe that stocks will outperform bonds over the next decade, or not?’ I can’t possibly know that. But I can try to assign educated probability estimates to each of those possible outcomes, and balance my portfolio in light of those estimates.


Key points – How to think like a Bayesian
  1. Embrace the margins. It’s rarely rational to be certain of anything. Don’t confuse the improbable with the impossible. When thinking about extremely rare events, try thinking in odds instead of percentages.
  2. Evidence supports what makes it probable. Evidence supports the hypotheses that make the evidence likely. Increase your confidence in whichever hypothesis makes the evidence you’re seeing most probable.
  3. Attend to all your evidence. Consider all the evidence you possess that might be relevant to a hypothesis. Be sure to take into account how you learned what you learned.
  4. Don’t forget your prior opinions. Your confidence after learning some evidence should depend both on what that evidence supports and on how you saw things before it came in. If a hypothesis is improbable enough, strong evidence in its favour can still leave it unlikely.
  5. Subgroups don’t always reflect the whole. Even if a trend obtains in every subpopulation, it might not hold true for the entire population. Consider how traits are distributed across subgroups as well.

Friday, February 9, 2024

The Dual-Process Approach to Human Sociality: Meta-analytic evidence for a theory of internalized heuristics for self-preservation

Capraro, Valerio (May 8, 2023).
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 


Which social decisions are influenced by intuitive processes? Which by deliberative processes? The dual-process approach to human sociality has emerged in the last decades as a vibrant and exciting area of research. Yet, a perspective that integrates empirical and theoretical work is lacking. This review and meta-analysis synthesizes the existing literature on the cognitive basis of cooperation, altruism, truth-telling, positive and negative reciprocity, and deontology, and develops a framework that organizes the experimental regularities. The meta-analytic results suggest that intuition favours a set of heuristics that are related to the instinct for self-preservation: people avoid being harmed, avoid harming others (especially when there is a risk of harm to themselves), and are averse to disadvantageous inequalities. Finally, this paper highlights some key research questions to further advance our understanding of the cognitive foundations of human sociality.

Here is my summary:

This article proposes a dual-process approach to human sociality.  Capraro argues that there are two main systems that govern human social behavior: an intuitive system and a deliberative system. The intuitive system is fast, automatic, and often based on heuristics, or mental shortcuts. The deliberative system is slower, more effortful, and based on a more careful consideration of the evidence.

Capraro argues that the intuitive system plays a key role in cooperation, altruism, truth-telling, positive and negative reciprocity, and deontology. This is because these behaviors are often necessary for self-preservation. For example, in order to avoid being harmed, people are naturally inclined to cooperate with others and avoid harming others. Similarly, in order to maintain positive relationships with others, people are inclined to be truthful and reciprocate favors.

The deliberative system plays a more important role in more complex social situations, such as when people need to make decisions that have long-term consequences or when they need to take into account the needs of others. In these cases, people are more likely to engage in careful consideration of the evidence and to weigh the different options before making a decision. The authors conclude that the dual-process approach to human sociality provides a framework for understanding the complex cognitive basis of human social behavior. This framework can be used to explain a wide range of social phenomena, from cooperation and altruism to truth-telling and deontology.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

People's thinking plans adapt to the problem they're trying to solve

Ongchoco, J. D., Knobe, J., & Jara-Ettinger, J. (2024).
Cognition, 243, 105669.


Much of our thinking focuses on deciding what to do in situations where the space of possible options is too large to evaluate exhaustively. Previous work has found that people do this by learning the general value of different behaviors, and prioritizing thinking about high-value options in new situations. Is this good-action bias always the best strategy, or can thinking about low-value options sometimes become more beneficial? Can people adapt their thinking accordingly based on the situation? And how do we know what to think about in novel events? Here, we developed a block-puzzle paradigm that enabled us to measure people's thinking plans and compare them to a computational model of rational thought. We used two distinct response methods to explore what people think about—a self-report method, in which we asked people explicitly to report what they thought about, and an implicit response time method, in which we used people's decision-making times to reveal what they thought about. Our results suggest that people can quickly estimate the apparent value of different options and use this to decide what to think about. Critically, we find that people can flexibly prioritize whether to think about high-value options (Experiments 1 and 2) or low-value options (Experiments 3, 4, and 5), depending on the problem. Through computational modeling, we show that these thinking strategies are broadly rational, enabling people to maximize the value of long-term decisions. Our results suggest that thinking plans are flexible: What we think about depends on the structure of the problems we are trying to solve.

Some thoughts:

The study is based on the idea that people have "thinking plans" which are essentially roadmaps that guide our thoughts and actions when we are trying to solve a problem. These thinking plans are not static, but rather can change and adapt depending on the specific problem we are facing.

For example, if we are trying to solve a math problem, our thinking plan might involve breaking the problem down into smaller steps, identifying the relevant information, and applying the appropriate formulas. However, if we are trying to solve a social problem, our thinking plan might involve considering the different perspectives of the people involved, identifying potential solutions, and evaluating the consequences of each solution.

The study used computational modeling to simulate how people would solve different types of problems. The model showed that people's thinking plans were flexible and adapted to the specific problem at hand. The model also showed that these thinking plans were broadly rational, meaning that they helped people to make decisions that were in their best interests.

The findings of the study have important implications for education and other fields that are concerned with human decision-making. The study suggests that it is important to teach people how to think flexibly and adapt their thinking plans to different situations. It also suggests that we should not expect people to always make the "right" decision, as the best course of action will often depend on the specific circumstances.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Listening to bridge societal divides

Santoro, E., & Markus, H. R. (2023).
Current opinion in psychology, 54, 101696.


The U.S. is plagued by a variety of societal divides across political orientation, race, and gender, among others. Listening has the potential to be a key element in spanning these divides. Moreover, the benefits of listening for mitigating social division has become a culturally popular idea and practice. Recent evidence suggests that listening can bridge divides in at least two ways: by improving outgroup sentiment and by granting outgroup members greater status and respect. When reviewing this literature, we pay particular attention to mechanisms and to boundary conditions, as well as to the possibility that listening can backfire. We also review a variety of current interventions designed to encourage and improve listening at all levels of the culture cycle. The combination of recent evidence and the growing popular belief in the significance of listening heralds a bright future for research on the many ways that listening can diffuse stereotypes and improve attitudes underlying intergroup division.

The article is paywalled, which is not really helpful in spreading the word.  This information can be very helpful in couples and family therapy.  Here are my thoughts:

The idea that listening can help bridge societal divides is a powerful one. When we truly listen to someone from a different background, we open ourselves up to understanding their perspective and experiences. This can help to break down stereotypes and foster empathy.

Benefits of Listening:
  • Reduces prejudice: Studies have shown that listening to people from different groups can help to reduce prejudice. When we hear the stories of others, we are more likely to see them as individuals, rather than as members of a stereotyped group.
  • Builds trust: Listening can help to build trust between people from different groups. When we show that we are willing to listen to each other, we demonstrate that we are open to understanding and respecting each other's views.
  • Finds common ground: Even when people disagree, listening can help them to find common ground. By focusing on areas of agreement, rather than on differences, we can build a foundation for cooperation and collaboration.
Challenges of Listening:

It is important to acknowledge that listening is not always easy. There are a number of challenges that can make it difficult to truly hear and understand someone from a different background. These challenges include:
  • Bias: We all have biases, and these biases can influence the way we listen to others. It is important to be aware of our own biases and to try to set them aside when we are listening to someone else.
  • Distraction: In today's world, there are many distractions that can make it difficult to focus on what someone else is saying. It is important to create a quiet and distraction-free environment when we are trying to have a meaningful conversation with someone.
  • Discomfort: Talking about difficult topics can be uncomfortable. However, it is important to be willing to listen to these conversations, even if they make us feel uncomfortable.
Tips for Effective Listening:
  • Pay attention: Make eye contact and avoid interrupting the speaker.
  • Be open-minded: Try to see things from the speaker's perspective, even if you disagree with them.
  • Ask questions: Ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand what the speaker is saying.
  • Summarize: Briefly summarize what you have heard to show that you were paying attention.
  • By practicing these tips, we can become more effective listeners and, in turn, help to bridge the divides that separate us.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Anthropomorphism in AI

Arleen Salles, Kathinka Evers & Michele Farisco
(2020) AJOB Neuroscience, 11:2, 88-95
DOI: 10.1080/21507740.2020.1740350


AI research is growing rapidly raising various ethical issues related to safety, risks, and other effects widely discussed in the literature. We believe that in order to adequately address those issues and engage in a productive normative discussion it is necessary to examine key concepts and categories. One such category is anthropomorphism. It is a well-known fact that AI’s functionalities and innovations are often anthropomorphized (i.e., described and conceived as characterized by human traits). The general public’s anthropomorphic attitudes and some of their ethical consequences (particularly in the context of social robots and their interaction with humans) have been widely discussed in the literature. However, how anthropomorphism permeates AI research itself (i.e., in the very language of computer scientists, designers, and programmers), and what the epistemological and ethical consequences of this might be have received less attention. In this paper we explore this issue. We first set the methodological/theoretical stage, making a distinction between a normative and a conceptual approach to the issues. Next, after a brief analysis of anthropomorphism and its manifestations in the public, we explore its presence within AI research with a particular focus on brain-inspired AI. Finally, on the basis of our analysis, we identify some potential epistemological and ethical consequences of the use of anthropomorphic language and discourse within the AI research community, thus reinforcing the need of complementing the practical with a conceptual analysis.

Here are my thoughts:

Anthropomorphism is the tendency to attribute human characteristics to non-human things. In the context of AI, this means that we often ascribe human-like qualities to machines, such as emotions, intelligence, and even consciousness.

There are a number of reasons why we do this. One reason is that it helps us to make sense of the world around us. By understanding AI in terms of human qualities, we can more easily predict how it will behave and interact with us.

Another reason is that anthropomorphism can make AI more appealing and relatable. We are naturally drawn to things that we perceive as being similar to ourselves, and so we may be more likely to trust and interact with AI that we see as being somewhat human-like.

However, it is important to remember that AI is not human. It does not have emotions, feelings, or consciousness. Ascribing these qualities to AI can be dangerous, as it can lead to unrealistic expectations and misunderstandings.  For example, if we believe that an AI is capable of feeling emotions, we may be more likely to anthropomorphize it.

This can lead to problems, such as when the AI does not respond in a way that we expect. We may then attribute this to the AI being "sad" or "angry," when in reality it is simply following its programming.

It is also important to be aware of the ethical implications of anthropomorphizing AI. If we treat AI as if it were human, we may be more likely to give it rights and protections that it does not deserve. For example, we may believe that an AI should not be turned off, even if it is causing harm.

In conclusion, anthropomorphism is a natural human tendency, but it is important to be aware of the dangers of over-anthropomorphizing AI. We should remember that AI is not human, and we should treat it accordingly.