Posted February 25, 2015on:
A good day Widdershin friends. I hope your day is a good one.
There’s the breaking news of the American Sniper killer, Eddie Ray Routh, being found guilty. Routh was pronounced guilty in a mere three hours of jury deliberation that included a dinner break and was then promptly sentenced to life in prison. From a legal perspective, Routh being found guilty under Texas law is as about as remarkable as the sun appearing in the East this morning. There will be an unsuccessful appeal of the guilty verdict and this just in: The sun will set in the West this evening.
A couple of months back, I read an article in the NYT Magazine about the need to infuse robots with ethics in their operating algorithms. The article was entitled Death by Robot. This need to technologically propagate a puritan guilt is a direct outgrowth of asking robots to do more.
While there are few ethical dilemmas associated with a Roomba sucking up kitty hair, there are some pretty significant dilemmas when a driverless Google car culls through its decision tree. In an emergency, does the driverless car plow over a pedestrian, hit an S.U.V., a safer Volvo, or a low passenger total Mini Cooper? This is the “moral math” that must be embedded within the operating algorithm of robots.
It’s the same concept as Isaac Asimov’s three rules in I, Robot, making sure the robot machine does its job without hurting the human for whom it works. All of these scenarios evoke the classic Ethics 101 situation known as the “trolley problem” — deciding whether a conductor should flip a switch that will kill one person to avoid a crash in which five would otherwise die.
The pearl of wisdom in this article is delivered via a quote at a U.N. conference on weapons by a Peter Asaro, a Stanford Law School scholar. He said:
A machine is not capable of considering the value of those human lives that it is about to end. And if they’re not capable of that and we allow them to kill people under the law, then we all lose dignity, in the way that if we permit slavery, it’s not just the suffering of those who are slaves but all of humanity that suffers the indignity that there are any slaves at all.
Immediately upon reading that quote my never-too-focused attention was diverted to thoughts about the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” (AUMF) concerning ISIL as opposed to the existing AUMF passed before our ill-advised thirteen year walk-about in Iraq. The thought — forget the robots, how did our leaders do on the moral math of waltzing on a dance card that came to suck the life from perhaps a half a million humans and cost $3.0 Trillion?
These days the Googling machine makes looking back easier and more accurate than trying to remember. Here’s what we were talking about back in 2001 and 2002:
Ann Coulter was belching the indiscriminate carpet bombing of random Muslim countries without much regard for who actually planned 9/11 followed up by slaughtering Muslim leaders and forcibly converting any survivors to Christianity.
Bill Kristol called the failure to overthrow Hussein in 1991, “the biggest mistake we have made.”
We knew the fabricated news stories were baseless lies sourced from motivated defectors, but we ignored them with a collective “meh” since media sources were reigning in critical reporting of the Bush Administration due to viewer pressure and patriotic fervor.
We suffered through 4,500 press appearance from Pentagon officers and analysts to drum up support through op eds, leaked sourced stories, and innuendo.
George Will indelicately compared Democratic war critics to Nazi collaborators, Bolsheviks, Nixon, Jane Fonda, and Leninist “useful idiots”.
We knew there was an orchestrated campaign to manipulate public opinion through a PR office run by Cheney and Rumsfeld where the overriding objectives were “we don’t speak of Iraq exit strategies” and “Iraqi occupation will be a financial bonanza”.
The Iraq AUMF passed Congress on October 10, 2002.
Take a look at this list here even though your memory might be robust. Time has a tendency to shave away the edges of inconvenient truths, bolster shreds of motivated reasoning, and drain any doubt from conformational bias. I had forgotten the rawness of this period and how unfocused vengeance had replaced any semblance of considered reflection.
So herein lies the rub: If no countenance of criticism was allowed from 2001 through the run-up and conduct of the Iraq War, where any and all criticism was treated as treasonous unpatriotic acts bordering on sedition, did we learn anything from taking up residence in the discomfort of the “uncanny valley” where morality never mixes with the known reality of facts?
Was the indignity of the atrocities so pungent and acrid that we have chosen to yet again forget the guilt to ease our conscience? Remarkably, if driverless robots were making these decisions, they wouldn’t have the luxury of “unlearning” factual reality — only humans are blessed with the ability to consciously ignore the guilt oozing from our compromised sense of morality.
Take the conversation in any direction you might like.
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