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Ask Slashdot: Has Technology Created A Monster? (codinghorror.com) 244

Stack Overflow co-founder Jeff Atwood posted a worried blog post on New Year's Eve. Remember in 2011 when Marc Andreeseen said that "Software is eating the world?" That used to sound all hip and cool and inspirational, like "Wow! We software developers really are making a difference in the world!" and now for the life of me I can't read it as anything other than an ominous warning that we just weren't smart enough to translate properly at the time... What do you do when you wake up one day and software has kind of eaten the world, and it is no longer clear if software is in fact an unambiguously good thing, like we thought, like everyone told us... like we wanted it to be?
Slashdot reader theodp adds: "The year 2018 is the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," provocatively notes Dr. Ainissa Ramirez, "in which a scientist neglects to ask about the consequences of his creation. I suspect (and hope) that there will be much debate on the impact of technology on our lives in the numerous lectures and events scheduled this year. It is a long-overdue discussion because scientists sometimes get so excited about their innovations that they forget to ask, 'Am I building a monster?' This anniversary offers a pause to see if society likes where it is headed."
That quote is from a "predictions for 2018" article on the Mach technology site (hosted by NBC News) in which Dr. Moshe Y. Vardi, a Professor of Computer Science at Rice University, also sees a looming debate. He remembers how Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan referred to tech's CEO's as "our country's real overlords" and described them as "moral Martians who operate on some weird new postmodern ethical wavelength."

Keep reading for some even more dire predictions...

Yale ethicist and author Wendell Wallach predicts that in 2018 "A serious tragedy will direct the attention of international leaders, under public pressure, to finally take on the difficult but incredibly necessary task of putting in place effective oversight and governance of emerging technologies... Industry leaders, fearful of more stringent restrictions on their activities, will lead the way for thoughtful oversight of digital technologies." He admits his prediction may be wrong, but argues that "reaping the benefits of innovation and managing risks must happen together."

And finally, long-time Slashdot reader gurps_npc notes that "the entire point of the book is that Dr. Frankenstein IS the monster, the flesh golem he created is just a victim of Dr. Frankenstein's arrogance and pride. The doctor created this life, then being scared of it, abandons it. Without food, money, or a basic education, the flesh golem turns to a life of crime and seeks revenge for the evil actions that Doctor Frankenstein committed. He doesn't know any better because no one educated him.

"The real lesson is not 'there are things man is not meant to know'. Instead it is 'Be responsible and take actions to ensure your creations are not used by uneducated shmucks.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ask Slashdot: Has Technology Created A Monster?

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  • I helped create it. That fucker is indeed a monster.

    • Well according to tfa, you and/or your bosses are the monster. Skynet is only doing the best it knows how.

      • Skynet was a neural network, it made decisions based on the training data. The training data in the lab led it to believe that every problem could be solved by turning the system off and on again.
        • Skynet was a neural network, it made decisions based on the training data. The training data in the lab led it to believe that every problem could be solved by turning the system off and on again.

          Sounds like computer tech support.

      • by gatkinso ( 15975 )

        We were just a bunch of contractors. Had it not been us, it would have been Raytheon, or Sierra Nevada, or ...

  • Yeah (Score:5, Funny)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday December 31, 2017 @10:44PM (#55841627) Journal
    It's been downhill ever since the written word. By the eye of Ra I swear that we never should have started using hieroglyphs it only led on to demotic [wikipedia.org] and worse, English. MWGA.
  • "Scientists study the world as it is, engineers create the world that never has been." Theodore von KÃrmÃn The world belongs to the makers. If you don't like what is being made, make it better.
  • The only thing that needs to be pointed out, to make this whole yarn bunkum, is that, MySpace now equals DeadSpace. Fads today gone tomorrow. The noise of the proletariat is still driven by today's bright shiny, whether that be a fake egoist individual or object. Most of the rubbish about division is being driven by corporations so the psychopaths at the top can keep power and create chaos all to feed their ego. The false narratives of colour versus color (heh heh) or religion vs religion or make vs female,

    • by Memnos ( 937795 )

      Whoa there. Get thee to a chemist, because thy lithium script hath suredly run out. Getting a few things right does not mean that every thought that enters your brain is a divine pearl of wisdom. It may have sounded like poetry in your head, but you need to run it through the bullshit filter once or twice before it actually makes any sense.

    • by sfcat ( 872532 )

      The only thing that needs to be pointed out, to make this whole yarn bunkum, is that, MySpace now equals DeadSpace. Fads today gone tomorrow. The noise of the proletariat is still driven by today's bright shiny, whether that be a fake egoist individual or object. Most of the rubbish about division is being driven by corporations so the psychopaths at the top can keep power and create chaos all to feed their ego. The false narratives of colour versus color (heh heh) or religion vs religion or make vs female, a fake narrative a false construct created by stink tanks and PR=B$ to keep workers divided because the workers united will hang the fucking corrupt bosses.

      The tech companies have neglible power, look what happened to hasta la vista or the lotus eaters or all the other once dominating tech companies and their products that simply died. M$ is dying in slow motion, only assiduous lobbying and corruption keeping it on life support. Google tail is definitely going between it's legs to protect it's genitals, it's power a marketing illusion, the reality it lives or dies at the people's whim. The halls of power a cracked with panic seeking stuff to blame and refusing to accept, yep, your ego, greed and lusts are solely to be blamed and is your downfall, as in the past so in the future. Rise to the top on popularity and the rush of blood from your brain to your genitals basically cripples your thinking and you own ego becomes your undoing. Technology is totally reliant on everything working, the greater the failure that technology causes, the more rapid technologies demise.

      A failing AI does not indulge in plots, it simply fails, stuck in loops, crashes, simply fails to work. A failing AI does not work 99% and only fail 1%, like all software typical failure is BSOD, done and finished.

      Why do I feel like this post was generated by an AI algorithm?

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Perhaps because it is a post absent of belief, no love, no hate, what is, simply is. No expression of desire or worth, no preference indicated at all, just a chain of interactions and there consequences with much missing detail because that is more effort than commenting on chaos is worth. A comment as an algorithm, with it's programming purpose, dismantling empty belief perhaps?

    • The tech companies have neglible power,

      What? That's bollocks. They help control what we think. Your "supporting" "evidence" is that individual tech companies fail? That doesn't change that tech companies wield unprecedented power over public opinion.

  • The real monster (Score:5, Insightful)

    by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Sunday December 31, 2017 @10:52PM (#55841665)
    Is database/surveillance tech ALONG with an authoritarian (yes, the US government is authoritarian compared to many other democracies) government in bed with the purveyors of the database/surveillance tech. Add to this a large population of lemmings who think that "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear", and it's a recipe for long-term disaster.
    • The problem is not authoritarian governments building these systems, it's less-authoritarian governments building systems and forgetting that their successors might abuse it. Google's panopticon was largely built by well-meaning people who knew that they wouldn't abuse it and so didn't see the potential for abuse.
  • by clintp ( 5169 ) on Sunday December 31, 2017 @11:22PM (#55841737)

    As a technology-employed person myself as I get older I realize the growing importance of asking the question "just because we *can* do something, should we?" The cop out of "we scientists/engineers/programmers just create it, others decide how it gets used" died in Hiroshima or by tetraethyl lead poisoning.

    This isn't bombs and lasers, you say? Fine. Take an easy example. "Self-driving vehicles will save lives! Carbon!" The transportation companies will be *first* in line to replace long-haul and regional drivers with bots. Those drivers are expensive (training, insurance, wages) and have a lot of downtime. A half-million dollar rig sitting for 8 hours while the driver *sleeps* eats a lot of money.

    3.5 million Americans are employed as professional truck drivers and will be out of work when self-driving freight trucks hit the roads. Hire them to build the trucks? Fix them? Retraining them is expensive -- and historically this never happens. They may not even be able to be retrained for those jobs. When industries collapse, things get really bad really fast and politicians are poorly motivated to help.

    What should a good technologist do? Keep working on vision systems and feedback controls?

    • 3.5 million Americans are employed as professional truck drivers and will be out of work when self-driving freight trucks hit the roads.

      And then there are all those businesses that provide services to all those truck drivers. When the trucks stop only for (automated) refueling an entire business sector will die.

      • And then there are all those businesses that provide services to all those truck drivers. When the trucks stop only for (automated) refueling an entire business sector will die.

        Nonsense. I've seen Futurama... today's truck-stop hookers will simply be replaced by hooker-bots tomorrow. And who's going to train those hooker-bots, if not the hookers?

        • Don't forget the programming instructors who will be instructing the hookers on how to write the software to encode their experience into expert systems to upload into the hooker-bots. Plus, who's going to design the domain-specific language and write the compilers? As if there already wasn't a programmer shortage.

      • And then there are all those businesses that provide services to all those truck drivers. When the trucks stop only for (automated) refueling an entire business sector will die.

        Won't someone think of the lot lizards?

    • 3.5 million Americans are employed as professional truck drivers and will be out of work when self-driving freight trucks hit the roads.

      The American labor force is 160 million people, so the truck drivers are about 2%. The economy is currently growing at over 3% per year, so it could easily absorb that many workers even if all the trucks were replaced in one year. Most likely they will be phased in over a decade.

      Meanwhile, self driving cars will create plenty of business opportunities for "on demand" services and "just in time" deliveries. Need a tile saw for a project? Have one delivered to your front door in 15 minutes, use it for a f

      • by clintp ( 5169 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @12:48AM (#55841955)

        >The American labor force is 160 million people, so the truck drivers are about 2%. The economy is currently growing at over 3% per year, so it could easily absorb that many workers even if all the trucks were replaced in one year.

        Wow! Said like a statistician, someone who works in HR, or a Hillary campaign advisor. What a myopically heartless line of thinking.

        The unemployment rate would be down, yes. But you completely glossed over the 3.5 million people who are now unemployed in an industry that won't come back. They want to take the skills they have (driving a truck) and earn a living. You think those last-mile freelance Amazon drivers are earning a good living? Think again.

        "The economy is growing!" Not for them it's not.

        • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

          "The economy is growing!" Not for them it's not.

          So, what do you suggest? Should we outlaw automation and go back to manual labor as much as possible? Or just freeze technology as it is today, on the assumption that any further developments will inevitably harm more people than they help?

          If you agree that those options aren't practical, then the only alternative is to find a way for people to continue to enjoy a reasonable quality of life despite the existence of technologies that render their skills economically irrelevant. Perhaps that means Universa

          • "The economy is growing!" Not for them it's not.

            So, what do you suggest? Should we outlaw automation and go back to manual labor as much as possible?

            This is happening, and nothing save complete collapse is going to stop it.

            But, it is going to be exceptionally interesting times to live in. They employee has been enemy number one for a long time now. A liability to be eliminated. So the concept of using automation to eliminate as many of the enemy amidst us is seen as good.

            And if net new jobs are created, this automation is a failure. And the people at the low end are not going to be able to take most of those jobs created anyhow. The person who is

        • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @03:41AM (#55842327) Journal
          You're conflating two issues. Should you automate a job, and what do you do with the displaced workers?

          The answer to the first is almost always yes, because the total gain to society almost always outweighs the loss. In the industrial revolution, we went from 4 people each doing a week's worth of work in turn to produce a metre of cloth to 50 people in a factory producing hundreds of metres of cloth a day. The gain from poor people being able to afford to own more than one set of clothes was huge. The overall gain from suddenly having a load of workers available to do things like build railways, dig canals, and all of the rest of the jobs that spurred the industrial revolution was also huge.

          In contrast, the human cost of all of the carders, spinners, weavers, and so on being displaced was high. The lack of labour protection laws meant that factories exploited workers and there was a dip in quality of life for a lot of people.

          The problem is that the people responsible for the technology and the people responsible for the safety net are different. Self-driving trucks are coming and trying to prevent that is no more feasible than Ludd's Lads preventing the industrial revolution by smashing the machines 200 years ago. What we can do, is learn from the experiences of the past and make sure that there's enough of a tax on new technologies like this that they're still cheaper, but there is enough money in the budget for retraining, unemployment pay, and other things to move these people into new jobs.

          The solution isn't to prevent technology that improves economic efficiency from being produced, it's to make sure that the improvements in the economy benefit everyone. Won't happen in the US though: wealth redistribution is a dirty word there, wealth is only allowed to flow to the people that already own a lot of capital.

          • This [amazon.com] is happening all over the world, not just evil 'ol US.

            (Planet of Slums - the huge increase in million person slums all over the world)

            Wealth distribution (or lack of it) has been an issue for humans since before time was time.

            All wars are resource wars.

          • "move these people into new jobs"

            Above what age is this not practical?

            When entire professions are effectively wiped out, are there going to be phoney, made-up jobs in order for people to collect a minimal paycheck? Because now there'll be all that many more similarly skilled people vying for the same low-paying work.

            I'm not all that hopeful that things are going to go well for societies with tens of millions of unemployable, desperate, nothing-left-to-lose people...
      • 3.5 million Americans are employed as professional truck drivers and will be out of work when self-driving freight trucks hit the roads.

        The American labor force is 160 million people, so the truck drivers are about 2%. The economy is currently growing at over 3% per year, so it could easily absorb that many workers even if all the trucks were replaced in one year.

        Now Bill - tell me about the fundamental mistake you just made. Here's help. Assuming that the rte of growth remains constant, your math is trying to tell us that out of work truck drivers will take up two percent of that growth. It also assumes that whatever jerbs they take in the new economy will pay the same as their truck driving jerb. Which is unlikely, and takes your assumption down to a 1 percent growth, except maybe even less.

        Most likely they will be phased in over a decade.

        Meanwhile, self driving cars will create plenty of business opportunities for "on demand" services and "just in time" deliveries. Need a tile saw for a project? Have one delivered to your front door in 15 minutes, use it for a few hours, and then another vehicle picks it up and returns it.

        The problem s that if automation creates more jerbs than it eliminates,

    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday January 01, 2018 @05:24AM (#55842501) Homepage Journal

      What should a good technologist do? Keep working on vision systems and feedback controls?

      If you love capitalism, promote space development. Not just exploration, but things like asteroid mining ASAP. Capitalism depends on endless growth to serve people's needs, and the only place that is available is in space. If we continue to grow endlessly on this planet, heedless of our impact, we are no better than amoeba.

      If you think capitalism's end game is failure, then you should promote minimum human activity, and minimum guaranteed income. Since our economic systems are ultimately based upon the land, and are fundamentally extractive, if we are going to go forward as a species we are going to have to do a lot less until we form more regenerative systems. For instance, if you're going to burn liquid fuels, heedless of the impact to our environment, then you're going to need to make them not just carbon-neutral, but actually carbon-negative at this point. This is non-trivial, but possible. We must also shift [back] to regenerative agricultural methods which actually improve the land, rather than depleting it.

      I would personally argue that both of these approaches are worth pursuing, but this comment has gone on long enough.

      • by epine ( 68316 )

        If we continue to grow endlessly on this planet, heedless of our impact, we are no better than amoeba.

        Worse, actually, because amoeba don't moralize deplorably into their beer.

        if (unchecked_species_privilege)
        cout << "Humans are the "
        << alignment ? "worst" : "best"
        << " of all possible species.\n";
        else
        throw

    • 3.5 million Americans are employed as professional truck drivers and will be out of work when self-driving freight trucks hit the roads.
      Truck drivers overwhelmingly vote Republican (http://verdantlabs.com/politics_of_professions/). The party that brought us the phrase "welfare queen" and that is currently working hand over fist to dismantle business regulation and social safety nets and kill the last of the unions off. If the free market puts them all out of work because technologists built a better mouse
  • by Proudrooster ( 580120 ) on Sunday December 31, 2017 @11:25PM (#55841741) Homepage

    If I've said it once.... I've said it a hundred times.

    Our technology is evolving faster than our species.

    We can truly say it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. If we could all just grow up and use our technology for good, but we can't. Just like light and dark, yin and yang, the good of technology is always accompanied by the evil dark side.

    My prediction for 2018 is that AI and machine learning are going to be applied to hacking. AI's will be trained to write code to exploit all things and the exploits will be endless. Humans won't even be able to understand the exploit code as the AI software churns them out. Further I predict human cloning will happen this year and that China/Russia/North Korea will test some pretty nasty hacks on Americas Banks, Stock Market, Telecommunications, and/or gas/electric/water. I also predict that US drug usage will continue to increase (opioids, weed, alcohol) and the life expectancy will continue to decrease and suicide rates will continue to increase. I also predict that based on an increased energy in the atmosphere that storms will continue to grow in intensity. I also predict there will be a war in North Korea due to an error in a rocket test hitting a US ally. Further I predict Russia will take over another ex-Russian republic and China will continue to flex it's military muscle.

    7 billion people on the planet. Technology everywhere, and we still can't figure out to behave and share.

    I was watching TV with a little child and she was horrified by the war videos on the news and she asked me, "Why is there war? Why are they fighting?"

    My answer, "Because, Sharing is hard."

    To all reading this, in 2018 do a better job of sharing, loving your neighbor, and using less plastic.

    Happy New Year!

    • “And the Flatline aligned the nose of Kuang's sting with the center of the dark below. And dove. Case's sensory input warped with their velocity. His mouth filled with an aching taste of blue. His eyes were eggs of unstable crystal, vibrating with a frequency whose name was rain and the sounds of trains, suddenly sprouting a humming forest of hair-fine spines. The spines split, bisected, split again, exponential growth under the dome of the Tessier-Ashpool ice.”

      William Gibson, Neuromancer

  • by pngwen ( 72492 ) on Sunday December 31, 2017 @11:29PM (#55841749) Journal

    Nearly 30 years ago, I wrote my first line of code. I knew then that I had stumbled across the thing with which I would destroy the world of men.

    In the intervening time I have flooded your inboxes, tracked your buying habits, sold you sub-prim adjustable rate mortgages, delivered you pornography, and helped states maintain your vital records. Now, I have stepped back and started teaching.

    I feed younglings to the beast!

  • Back when the net did not have to worry about banning, reporting, removing reviews, news, deranking, that a site owner wanted to help one side of US politics.
    The "monster" is new site owners, big brand owners trying to impose their elite party political ideology on all site users.
    If people want to swap news, reports, movie reviews online why should a site owner need to ban links, ban accounts, derank news and report users to their respective governments?
    The politics of a few big brands is the problem no
  • I annoy my wife because I leave my cell phone in my brief case most of the time. And don't hear it ring. To me it is a tool for me to use, when I have a need.
    I also, don't have Facebook, Twitter or Netflix accounts. When people act surprised, I just say as a contract software developer I create Tech. I don't really have a use for it ;)

    But when I do get out and about, I can see exactly what the author is saying. A vast majority of individuals have their smart phone in their hand and seem obvious to the wo
    • One of my favorite quotes as read on Slashdot sometime in the last millennium:

      System engineers don't write application software. They certainly don't use any.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @12:20AM (#55841887)

    I think the big test for us is coming up shortly. Technology is shifting from being a labor-saving device to a labor-eliminating device. And unlike previous shifts, the employment losses are going to be at all levels of intelligence. How we respond to this is going to be the difference between having a peaceful transition to a lower level of work and a revolution.

    Take an example of a doctor. Doctors have a regulated profession and are therefore likely immune, but assume they don't. Right now, the selection criteria for medical school are a photographic memory (to ace the MCAT) and near-perfect academic performance in college. The current reason for this is to limit the number of medical students, and it makes sense to only take the best since they're in for a multi-year academic hazing. But in the age of Google, do doctors really have to have the entire body of medical knowledge accessible in their brains on demand?

    At the low end, almost every middleman and paper-processing job will be eliminated. No great loss? How about the millions of people working for companies that have jobs like this? All of a sudden, they have zero income and zero ability to contribute to the workforce.

    What I find frustrating is that anyone discussing this seems to get characterized as the Unabomber or similar, ranting against technology. Technology is fine...what we do with it needs to be looked at.

    • Take an example of a doctor. Doctors have a regulated profession and are therefore likely immune, but assume they don't.

      Doctors can be replaced with nurses augmented with a small shell script. Well, okay, a long shell script. But it's been shown that expert systems out-perform doctors already. All you need right now is a human to interface between the expert system and the patient, both to understand the medical jargon and to determine which parts of what the patient is saying are actually relevant. People often choose the wrong word even when they're not using medical terminology.

      But in the age of Google, do doctors really have to have the entire body of medical knowledge accessible in their brains on demand?

      No, and that's why they can be automated awa

    • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @07:26AM (#55842699)

      I think the big test for us is coming up shortly. Technology is shifting from being a labor-saving device to a labor-eliminating device. And unlike previous shifts, the employment losses are going to be at all levels of intelligence. How we respond to this is going to be the difference between having a peaceful transition to a lower level of work and a revolution.

      Unfortunately, if you look at history and human behavior, the answer has already been written.

      The chasm between the wealthy elite and the other 99.999% of the human race is growing wider, not shrinking. Greed will ensure we continue to race down the road of automation and AI as fast as possible regardless of the consequences. Automation is already consuming jobs. And for those assuming AI is still a minor risk, understand it will take merely good-enough AI to start replacing humans.

      Millions of humans will not merely be unemployed. They will become unemployable, because our timeless mantra/excuse of "Go Get An Education" will eventually become irrelevant. We talk of things like UBI to establish a basic income for the unemployable, but the reality is UBI will have to be funded by taxing the rich, which is already an exercise in futility. The rich abuse loopholes and funnel trillions into untouchable tax havens, and when forced to fund UBI, they will lobby to pass legislation to minimize their UBI tax burden. UBI will become nothing more than Welfare 2.0 for the unemployable masses.

      Will there be uprisings in the US? Most likely. Will they be successful against a powerful military who has militarized every local police force over the last few decades? I highly doubt it. It will likely just be very bloody.

      All of this will happen because Greed N. Corruption killed Common F. Sense long ago.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Which was lost first greed and corruption or loss of empathy and humanity. Looking at kids which evolves first ? We are probably suffering from our lack of development and evolution as a species. With the wealth humanity collectively possesses we could make the world an amazing awesome place for sooo many. Itâ(TM)s a shame what we inflict on one another and how much of our lives and time we squander, not living but trying to accumulate stuff and or manipulate/control others. Maybe humanity as a whole i

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Unfortunately, if you look at history and human behavior, the answer has already been written. (...) The chasm between the wealthy elite and the other 99.999% of the human race is growing wider, not shrinking.

        But there's always been this elite, how rich and powerful were the pharaohs to the slaves that built the pyramids? The Roman Emperor to the beggars on the streets? The Church built enormous cathedrals with exquisite ornamentation. Wealthy merchant families existed long before the Rockefellers [wikipedia.org] like the Medici [wikipedia.org] family. Revolutions happen not because the rich get richer, but because the poor become poorer.

        UBI will become nothing more than Welfare 2.0 for the unemployable masses.

        And? That's half of the "bread and circus" you need to avoid a revolution. If you got food on the table, cl

      • All of this will happen because Greed N. Corruption killed Common F. Sense long ago.

        About 3.8 billion years ago, on Earth at least. Likely longer ago since it's unlikely that Earth is the only place life has arisen. Life is inherently greedy.

        Any system that relies upon participants not being greedy is doomed to failure, or at least very limited effectiveness. The reason that free market capitalism has succeeded where every other economic system has failed is because it exploits greed rather than fighting it.

  • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @01:12AM (#55841987) Homepage

    Tools aren't inherently good or bad. An axe can be used to cut wood for a fireplace, or it can be used to kill someone. Or it can take the user's leg off at the knee if used carelessly. Technology and software are just tools. They make doing things more efficient. What they're applied to, however, isn't something the tool can control. It's what use the user makes of the tool that's good or bad.

    And yes, that's independent of the tool. Take the atomic bomb. Supposedly good only for mass destruction, you'd think? Well yes, the bomb may be. But the exact same principles and science behind the bomb are also behind the manufacture of radioactive sources for medical imaging and the treatment of cancer. The two are inseparable, you can't make it so you can manufacture isotopes for medical uses but somehow make it so you can't manufacture a bomb. And no you can't somehow make the knowledge needed to make an atomic bomb unobtainable, because all it takes is the basic knowledge of nuclear physics and a lot of time to crunch the numbers and work through the equations.

    Ethics classes are well and good, and a necessary part of any engineer's education. But in the end it comes down to this: anything capable of being useful is capable of being dangerous, and humans being humans there's always going to be someone who'll turn any tool to a bad use. The only solution I can see involves forcibly making every human being behave ethically, and I don't see any acceptable way of doing that. For one thing, even ignoring the truly evil and the criminal, we can't even agree on what "ethical" means in concrete terms. Is it ethical to ever use lethal force to defend yourself, and if so under what constraints? Is it ethical to demand that residents of a community follow the community's rules, and if so what should be the extent of the community's rule-making authority? Is it ethical to require your employees to work around potentially-dangerous equipment, and if so what are your obligations towards them when they're doing what you require of them? Given that we can't settle those sorts of disagreements I just don't see how we can define "ethical" in concrete enough terms to apply at the tool level while still allowing the tools to be useful to us.

    • by tenco ( 773732 )

      The tool "atomic bomb" is bad.

      You can't use it for anything but destruction, killing, maiming, poisoning and MAD power play. The tools to build the raw materials for the bomb are agnostic, but the bomb is not. And, yes, the two are separable. Manufacturing the raw material for the "heart" of an atomic bomb is not equivalent to engineering said bomb and testing it. Nor is engineering this bomb a requirement to engineering any other tools that are based on the scientific discovery of radioactivity.

  • Brought to you by assorted TLA institutions, various other agencies, Facebook, Amazon, Slashdot, twitter, Google, etc.

    As well as history's greatest mis-information matrix.

    SOmething to consider.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @02:59AM (#55842195) Homepage Journal

    At least not in the book. In the book he's a gifted young student who starts down the road of science but is corrupted by his juvenile fascination with the occult.

    You can see that Frankenstein was no scientist by the one thing that was never present in any of his plans: publication. Because that's really the defining characteristic of what a scientist is: he is someone who submits his work for others to critique and build upon. Science is about expanding humanity's understanding. Frankenstein was something different. Here is what he himself says:

    I had a contempt for the uses of modern natural philosophy. It was very different, when the masters of the science sought immortality and power; such views, although futile, were grand: but now the scene was changed. The ambition of the inquirer seemed to limit itself to the annihilation of those visions on which my interest in science was chiefly founded. I was required to exchange chimeras of boundless grandeur for realities of little worth.

    So what Frankenstein wanted to be was something more like a wizard: not someone who advances knowledge through sharing, but someone whose possession of ancient and secret knowledge confers power on himself. And while he turns from studying occult books to science in his school career, he never stops thinking like or acting like an occultist.

    I don't think that the novel is a cautionary tale about science; I think i'ts really a cautionary tale about romanticism. Frankenstein is pretty much undeniably a literary portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley, a man she was madly in love with for his prodigious charisma and intellect but could be cold and heartless toward people who weren't useful to him in his self-aggrandizement.

    • So what Frankenstein wanted to be was something more like a wizard: not someone who advances knowledge through sharing, but someone whose possession of ancient and secret knowledge confers power on himself.

      So Frankenstein wanted to use patents, DRM, and code obfuscation?

  • Oh his name was Wendell Wallach, Wendell Wallach
    Oh his name was Wendell Wallach, Wendell Wallach
    Yes his name was Wendell Wallach,
    And he only had one leg!
    Yes his name was Wendell Wallach, Wendell Wallach.

    (Burt Bacharach)

  • by Picodon ( 4937267 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @07:52AM (#55842739)

    When personal computing started, it was largely run by enthusiasts who envisioned how liberating it could be. Of course, it soon became a booming business run by the usual people, guided by the usual (lack of) ethics and entirely focused on profit (and therefore, consumer control). Later, people thought that Internet could render obsolete traditional tightly-controlled advertiser-directed media like television. Well, what do we now have? And is that the fault of software and programmers? Programmers are employees, and they do as they’re told. I doubt anyone grew up dreaming: “When I’m grown-up, I’ll be a DRM or spyware software developer!”

    What is much more stunning is the herd mentality exhibited by the public, mindlessly embracing technology of really dubious benefit yet with very obvious drawbacks in terms of personal freedom. Are consumers ever stopping to wonder: “Wait a minute, what’d happen with this product if...?” No, instead, the mood is “Shut up and take my money!”

    Is that the fault of software? Or is it our collective fault? And if children are trained to be dumb consumers, is it the fault of the device we place into their hands, the malicious applications that we let them use and the dumb content that we make available to them through those devices? Or is it the fault of their educators (that’s us) who deprive them from meaningful conversations about serious topics, and the chance to develop the ability to think deeply, have an educated, polite and fruitful conversation, cultivate intellectual curiosity and doubts, enhance their awareness of the real world around them, and treasure human values like charity?

    Blaming software would be like blaming food, and the abundance of food. Yup, most of us are obese and sick. No, it’s not the fault of farmers or produce. We need to look in the mirror and begin to honestly appraise the fundamentals of how we live (and want to live) as individuals and operate as a society.

    • More and more the theory that intelligent civilizations always destroy themselves when the become advanced makes sense to me. https://futurism.com/we-wont-b... [futurism.com] I think a large percentage of us agree that we are watching a slow motion train wreck. Whether the train actually crashes in the end or not, it is going to get a lot more scarier. There is nothing we can do but hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Think about not having children. Do whatever sets your soul on fire. Live your best life.
      • "Whether the train actually crashes in the end or not...

        A lot of damage is being done in the time period even before we find out if the train crashes.
  • by w3woody ( 44457 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @12:11PM (#55843635) Homepage

    Our old A/C unit finally gave up the ghost and so we had to replace it with a new compressor and air exchange unit. We bought a top of the line unit, which the installers were able to put into place in just a couple of hours. And of course the unit didn't work: when plugged in, the thermostat gave a '443' error, which the installers simply could not figure out.

    The next day a technician came out to diagnose the problem. It turns out the software on the outside compressor unit was incorrectly configured, and the '443' error indicated a mismatch between the air exchange unit inside the house, and the compressor on the outside. A few minutes with a laptop and the software in the compressor was correctly configured, allowing the system to work.

    In the old days, the compressor was simply a fan, pump and baffles which allowed the coolant to be heated or cooled, running to an inside comp, fan and baffles which then blew the heat or cold air off the coils and through the house.

    Today's A/C unit has a microcontroller in the compressor to measure a bunch of diagnostic information, a microcontroller on the heat exchange unit, and the thermostat contains a microprocessor which monitors all this diagnostic equipment. It's great in that I was able to get into the diagnostic settings and change a few properties to allow our A/C unit not to blow so hard at night (when we're sleeping), and to favor using the heat pump at colder temperatures in order to save power--even though in the winter it may take longer to heat the house up. The thermostat shows us the outside temperature at the compressor on the main screen, and will give a five day weather forecast when hooked up to the WiFi network in the house. It can cooperate with other thermostats in a zoned house to optimize energy usage. It will even notify the installers (if we wish) with diagnostic problems if there is a problem with our unit, so they can more quickly diagnose and fix problems as they arise.

    But there are a hell of a lot more moving parts than the older A/C units--and a hell of a lot more things that can go wrong.

  • by Xyrus ( 755017 ) on Monday January 01, 2018 @12:23PM (#55843711) Journal

    When the first AI burger flippers are employed.

    At that point, AI and automation will be at a level that will replace low income menial labor. It will be faster, cheaper, and work 24-7. It won't need health care. It won't need a 401k. It won't need maternity leave, or vacation days. Within the span of a couple of years millions will lose their jobs, with absolutely no prospects for getting a new one. How will that end I wonder?

    Want to know what the businesses are going to be doing with all that lovely tax money they just got? Automation. "We're going to streamline our processes to bring the most value to the company!" Yeah, that's called automation. Increasing productivity while reducing the workforce overhead.

    May you live in interesting times.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire

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