Strong Female Protagonist, Book Two: the hard philosophical questions of superheroism and compassion

It's been nearly four years since the first crowdfunded collection of Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag's webcomic Strong Female Protagonist was published; the second volume, published this week, traces not just the evolution of its protagonist, the superhero Alison "Mega Girl" Green, but of its creators, who have found new and amazing depths to plumb and heights to soar to.

A dozen googlers quit over Google's military drone contract

Google's "Project Maven" is supplying machine-learning tools to the Pentagon to support drone strikes; the project has been hugely divisive within Google, with employees pointing out that the company is wildly profitable and doesn't need to compromise on its ethics to keep its doors open; that the drone program is a system of extrajudicial killing far from the battlefield; and that the firm's long-term health depends on its ability to win and retain the trust of users around the world, which will be harder if Google becomes a de facto wing of the US military. Read the rest

Syllabus for a course on Data Science Ethics

The University of Utah's Suresh Venkatasubramanian and Katie Shelef are teaching a course in "Ethics in Data Science" and they've published a comprehensive syllabus for it; it's a fantastic set of readings for anyone interested in understanding and developing ethical frameworks for computer science generally, and data science in particular. Read the rest

Koch-funded "academic freedom" grifters run into trouble at Wellesley

Reactionaries of every stripe have latched onto "academic freedom" for self-promotion as speakers on college campuses, but Wellesley College's Koch-funded Freedom Project came under scrutiny thanks to student activists and journalists. Now the program's head is taking a year off to teach "elsewhere." Read the rest

Aerial footage of a Volkswagen diesel car graveyard in California

To date, Volkswagen has bought back about 350,000 diesel vehicles in the wake of the massive environmental fraud they committed around emissions testing. Here's one of 37 VW graveyards. Read the rest

An ethical oath for programmers

Nick Johnstone's "Programmer's Oath" is billed as "An oath for programmers, comparable to the Hippocratic Oath." Naturally, it's on Github and you can create a pull request if you think that Johnstone got something wrong. Read the rest

Here's the winner of Integrity Idol, the reality show for Nigerian government workers

Nuzo Eziechi said, "I am incredibly excited to be honored as Nigeria's Integrity Idol." The show featured government workers competing to be crowned most ethical. Read the rest

Everything we eat screams

The New York Times' Joanna Klein reports that plants express qualities of consciousness. May as well enjoy those dolphinburgers after all!

“Plants are not just robotic, stimulus-response devices,” said Frantisek Baluska, a plant cell biologist at the University of Bonn in Germany and co-author of the study. “They’re living organisms which have their own problems, maybe something like with humans feeling pain or joy.” “In order to navigate this complex life, they must have some compass.”

Read the rest

Collecting all the ethical principles for robots, from Asimov to the trade union movement

Robohub is creating a series of "robotics and AI ethics" posts, starting with a roundup of all the rules for AIs and robots of note, starting with Asimov's Three Laws and moving through rules published by scholarly and technical groups like ACM and IEEE, trade union groups like UNI, and multistakeholder groups like the Montréal Declaration for Responsible AI draft principles. Read the rest

The ethics of upgrading your brain with implants

Computational neuroscientist Anders Sanberg is a senior research fellow at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute where he explores the ethics of future human enhancement through AI, genetic engineering, and brain implants. IEEE Spectrum's Eliza Strickland interviewed Sanberg about the ethics of augmenting your wetware with neurotech:

Spectrum: Do you worry that neurotech brain enhancements will only be available to the wealthy, and will increase the disparities between the haves and have-nots?

Sandberg: I’m not too worried about it. If the enhancement it is in the form of a device or pill, those things typically come down in price exponentially. We don’t have to worry so much about them being too expensive for the mass market. It’s more of a concern if there is a lot of service required—if you have to go to a special place and get your brain massaged, or you have to take a few weeks off work for training, the prices for those services won’t come down because they’re based on salaries. The real question is, how much benefit do you get from being enhanced? You have to consider positional benefits versus absolute benefits. For example, being tall is positionally good for men, tall men tend to get ahead in work and have better life outcomes. But if everyone becomes taller, no one is taller. You only get the benefit if you’re taller than everyone else. Many people who are against enhancement use this argument: Enhancement leads to this crazy race and we’re all worse off.

Spectrum: So even if a cognition-enhancing device became available, you don’t think everyone should get one?

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Trump appointees are violating the law that prevents them from regulating their former bosses

A 2009 rule created by Obama in his first days in office says that former executives and lobbyists can't be hired to work for the government in a capacity that gives them oversight over their former employers; they must wait for two years after leaving such employment before working in a regulatory capacity that relates to it. Read the rest

UPDATED: Without warning, after hours, House GOP dismantles ethics watchdog

Update: They've backed down because Trump warned them it would be a distraction from taking away healthcare and giving tax cuts to rich people.

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics -- created in 2008 after three Congressmen were jailed for corruption -- has been stripped of its powers by the House GOP, who held an after-hours vote, with no notice, on Monday night. Read the rest

A checklist for figuring out whether your algorithm is a "weapon of math destruction"

The Data & Society institute (dedicated to critical, interdisciplinary perspectives on big data) held an online seminar devoted to Cathy O'Neil's groundbreaking book Weapons of Math Destruction, which showed how badly designed algorithmic decision-making systems can create, magnify and entrench the social problems they're supposed to solve, perpetuating inequality, destabilizing the economy, and making a small number of people very, very rich. Read the rest

U.S. ethics office tweets sarcastically at Trump on his business conflicts

It's come to this, folks. The office of the United States that oversees ethics in government is sending sarcastic tweets to president-elect Donald J. Trump. Yes, he of the still unreleased tax returns, the many conflicts of interest, the recent $25 million fraud settlement, and the late-night Twitter wars. Read the rest

Trump to avoid "appearance" of business conflicts

Today President-Elect Trump took to Twitter in an attempt to assure the world he will not let it look like he is making money off the Presidency.

Via the New York Times:

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a liberal nonprofit group that promotes ethics in government, said: “Unless his solution is to sell the business outside the family and put the proceeds in a blind trust, he’s not really doing anything to solve the problem. Just because you say something on Twitter doesn’t make it so.”

It remains unclear what the president-elect’s plan will look like, but simply removing Mr. Trump from operational, day-to-day control of business decisions still could allow him to benefit financially from payments made to his companies by foreign governments, which may be prohibited by the so-called emoluments clause of the Constitution, Mr. Eisen said.

And Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts said nothing about whether his children — who serve as advisers on his presidential transition committee — would continue to have roles in his administration.

If the business is run by his children, they must be entirely separated from government operations, Mr. Eisen and Mr. Painter said. That means they could not participate in meetings with world leaders, like the prime minister of Japan, as Ivanka Trump did this month.

“Without an ethics firewall that is set up at once and continues into the administration, scandal is sure to follow,” their statement said.

Aides to Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to requests for more detail.

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1 in 5 snoop on a phone belonging to a friend or loved one

In Snooping on Mobile Phones: Prevalence and Trends, a paper presented at SOUPS 16, computer scientists from UBC and the University of Lisbon show that a rigorous survey reveals that up to one in five people have snooped on a loved one or friend by accessing their phone. Read the rest

Can a sexbot be a murderer?

Paolo Bacigalupi's new short story "Mika Model" is a detective tale about a murdering sexbot. Read the rest

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