Improving morality through robots

In “Can we trust robots to make moral decisions?” Olivia Goldhill describes research by philosophers and computer scientists to program robots to make ethical decisions. One big reason for asking how to build an ethical machine is that “work on robotic ethics is advancing our own understanding of morality.”

Superintelligence or superstupidity?

In “The A. I. Anxiety,” Joel Achenbach discusses the ideas of philosopher Nick Bostrom, physicist Max Tegmark, and others about A. I. or artificial intelligence. “Big-name scientists worry that runaway artificial intelligence could pose a threat to humanity. Beyond the speculation is a simple question:  Are we fully in control of our technology?” Which is the greater threat … that machines will become superintelligent or superstupid?

Are these lies justified?

In “Are These 10 Lies Justified” Gerald Dworkin listed ten lies he believe can be justified as morally permitted.  He asked his readers to add their comments to begin a dialogue. The article broke all records for “hits” on the New York Times’ philosophy blog “The Stone.” As he promised he would do, in “How You Justified 10 Lies (Or Didn’t)” Dworkin has now followed up with a report on readers’ comments about those ten lies.

Altruism’s blind spot

Lisa Herzog’s “(One of) Effective Altruism’s blind spot(s)” won the 2015 third place prize awarded by 3 Quarks Daily for a philosophy blog post.

John Collins, the final judge for the contest, wrote of this post: “Moral theories that prescribe extreme versions of utilitarianism are sometimes criticized for being too demanding. Herzog’s focus is on a respect in which effective altruism appears to be not demanding enough. By taking existing social institutions and practices as simply given the effective altruist finds herself choosing from a ‘restaurant menu’ of given options, ignoring the possibility of deeper structural change. When the problem is construed as one of individual choice rather than collective action, such approaches will remain invisible.”

The winning blog posts were selected from these nine finalists.

How we talk about passing

Daniel Silvermint’s “On How We Talk About Passing” won the 2015 second place prize awarded by 3 Quarks Daily for a philosophy blog post.

John Collins, the final judge for the contest, wrote of this post: “Silvermint’s piece, occasioned by last summer’s Rachel Dolezal incident, avoids the thorny issue of why, exactly, self-identification might be taken to be authoritative in the case of gender though not race, and asks us instead to hesitate and reconsider what we are doing when we rush to police the trespass of socially constructed categories that are tracked by highly unreliable markers. There is a valuable discussion here of the varieties of passing, though I found myself unsure as to whether to accept Silvermint’s suggestion that we apply the concept even to cases where there is neither misidentification nor intent. Can, for example, a white cisgender man, who, through privilege has had the luxury of never giving these matters a moment’s thought, really be said to be ‘passing’ as white and male? Silvermint comments that ‘a trans woman that passes isn’t a man pretending to be a woman – she is a woman’. I agree wholeheartedly with the main point there, but I’d be inclined to add that her being a woman means that she isn’t simply passing as a woman either. (Whether a trans person might be said to—or want to?—pass as cisgender is another matter.)”

The winning blog posts were selected from these nine finalists.

Slow corruption

Vidar Halgunset’s “Slow Corruption” won the 2015 first place prize awarded by 3 Quarks Daily for a philosophy blog post.

John Collins, the final judge for the contest, wrote of this post: “I liked the simple humanity of this essay very much. Halgunset’s immediate topic is the recent public debate in Norway over the selective abortion of fetuses diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. His central suggestion is that we focus not on the question ‘what would be so terrible about a society without Down’s syndrome?’ but ask instead, why might it be undesirable to create a society that lacked people with Down’s syndrome? And he asks us to stop and consider the reception of this debate by those of us who have Down’s syndrome.”

The winning blog posts were selected from these nine finalists.

App addiction

Is it your fault you’re addicted to Facebook, Candy Crush Saga, or whatever? Or are the web and all those apps scientifically designed to break your will? If so, shouldn’t they be regulated? These are questions Michael Schulson addresses in “User Behaviour”: “‘Much as a user might need to exercise willpower, responsibility and self-control, and that’s great, we also have to acknowledge the other side of the street,’ said Tristan Harris, an ethical design proponent who works at Google. (He spoke outside his role at the search giant.) Major tech companies, Harris told me, ‘have 100 of the smartest statisticians and computer scientists, who went to top schools, whose job it is to break your willpower.’”