Saturday, December 31, 2016

U.S. Ethics Chief Ordered Gushing Responses To Trump’s Tweets; Huffington Post, 12/30/16

Mary Papenfuss, Huffington Post; 

U.S. Ethics Chief Ordered Gushing Responses To Trump’s Tweets:

"Newly obtained records reveal that the head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics personally ordered several oddly enthusiastic tweets after President-elect Donald Trump’s recent claim that he planned to sever ties to his business operations to avoid conflicts of interest as president."

You Could Have Bought A Ticket To Donald Trump’s New Year’s Eve Party; Huffington Post, 12/30/16

Daniel Marans, Huffington Post; 

You Could Have Bought A Ticket To Donald Trump’s New Year’s Eve Party:

"Tickets were on sale for a lavish New Year’s Eve party that President-elect Donald Trump and his family are hosting at the Mar-a-Lago Club this weekend, which once again raises those thorny ethics question that have dogged Trump’s presidential transition.

Mar-a-Lago sold the tickets, the Trump transition team confirmed to Politico. They cost $525 each for members of the Mar-a-Lago Club and $575 for guests. Since Trump himself owns the Palm Beach, Florida, resort, those sales profit him personally. 
Simply buying a ticket could be seen as an effort to curry favor with the president-elect. Those seeking an in-person audience with him also had an incentive to buy since Trump will be there."

These common mistakes can lead to lawyer ethics complaints; ABA Journal, 2/10/16

Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal; 

These common mistakes can lead to lawyer ethics complaints:

"Oddball ethics complaints may get more attention, but it’s the run-of-the-mill problems that are most likely to trip up lawyers, according to lawyers who handle such cases.

BNA’s U.S. Law Week spoke with several experts about common errors. Here are five of them..."

What You Can Do to Improve Ethics at Your Company; Harvard Business Review (HBR), 12/29/16

  • Christopher McLaverty
  • Annie McKee, Harvard Business Review (HBR); 

  • What You Can Do to Improve Ethics at Your Company:

    "Enron. Wells Fargo. Volkswagen. It’s hard for good, ethical people to imagine how these meltdowns could possibly happen. We assume it’s only the Ken Lays and Bernie Madoffs of the world who will cheat people. But what about the ordinary engineers, managers, and employees who designed cars to cheat automotive pollution controls or set up bank accounts without customers’ permission? We tell ourselves that we would never do those things. And, in truth, most of us won’t cook the books, steal from customers, or take that bribe.

    But, according to a study by one of us (Christopher) of C-suite executives from India, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and the U.K., many of us face an endless stream of ethical dilemmas at work. In-depth interviews with these leaders provide some insight and solutions that can help us when we do face these quandaries."

    Let's Make 2017 The Year Of Ethics And Morality; Forbes, 12/28/16

    Deepali Srivastava, Forbes; Let's Make 2017 The Year Of Ethics And Morality:

    "The chronic decline of our political structures and civil society institutions became painfully obvious this year. The election of Donald Trump in the United States and the rise of the far right in Europe are inspiring much soul searching in the West. The problem is just as acute in Asia where the middle class’ growing prosperity is deeply intertwined with worsening inequality, environmental degradation and social unrest.
    Yet, I detected another trend in 2016 that fills me with hope for the New Year: the very public embrace by eminent scientists, economists, novelists and even some businesspeople of the role of ethics in society.
    Influential people have started espousing the moral philosophy of doing the right thing and are building bridges between spirituality and rationality."

    The ethics of digitally resurrecting actors; New Atlas, 12/27/16

    Rich Haridy, New Atlas; The ethics of digitally resurrecting actors:

    "In the wake of Peter Cushing's digital resurrection in Star Wars: Rogue One, debate is once again raging around the ethics of re-purposing the images of long dead actors. In a previous article we examined the journey into the uncanny valley Hollywood has taken over the past 15 years as computer generated images have become more photo-realistic. But how are we to deal with the murky legal and ethical waters surrounding this discomforting territory?"

    As We Leave More Digital Tracks, Amazon Echo Factors In Murder Investigation; NPR, 12/28/16

    Alina Selyukh, NPR; 

    As We Leave More Digital Tracks, Amazon Echo Factors In Murder Investigation:

    "Amazon's personal assistant device called Echo was one of the most popular gifts this Christmas. But this week, the device grabbed headlines for another reason: Police in Arkansas are trying to use its data in a murder investigation.

    What we know from court documents is that in November 2015, a man in Arkansas had some friends over at his house to watch a football game and in the morning, one of the friends was found dead in a hot tub in the backyard. Police later charged the man who lived in the house, James Bates, with murder. He has pleaded not guilty.

    As the police were investigating the crime, they found a number of digital devices in the suspect's house, including an Amazon Echo device that was in the kitchen. They have since seized the device and have apparently gotten some information from it, but what they want to check is what — if anything — the device may have recorded around the time of the murder."

    Does Empathy Guide or Hinder Moral Action?; New York Times, 12/29/16

    Room for Debate, New York Times; 

    Does Empathy Guide or Hinder Moral Action? :

    "After a year of surprising election results and referendums, and violence in protests, terrorism and war, the term “empathy” has been cited by many as a key component to helping groups of people that have little in common, or disagree, come together. But does empathy actually increase the ability of opposing parties to understand each other better, or otherwise inform correct moral action?"

    Global Press Freedom Has Taken An ‘Unbelievable’ Hit This Year; Huffington Post, 12/29/16

    Jesselyn Cook, Huffington Post; 

    Global Press Freedom Has Taken An ‘Unbelievable’ Hit This Year:

    "The freedom of information advocacy group, also known as Reporters Sans Frontières, ranks 180 countries’ levels of press freedom to produce an overall world evaluation. Between 2013 and the start of this year, the global score plummeted by 13.6 percent. Factors evaluated by the group ― all of which worsened during this period ― include media independence, transparency and censorship, among others. The final grade for 2016 has yet to be calculated and released, but the overall picture is grim...

    A large group of press freedom organizations recently penned an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump, whom the Committee to Protect Journalists has already declared a “threat to press freedom.” The incoming leader of the free world has continuously berated and vilified the “disgusting” media, and denied press credentials to news organizations that covered his campaign in ways that displeased him."

    Friday, December 30, 2016

    Getting a Drone as a Gift? Check Your Insurance; New York Times, 12/14/16

    Ann Carrns, New York Times; 

    Getting a Drone as a Gift? Check Your Insurance:

    [Kip Currier: Amazon is getting buzz this week with widely-reported coverage of the ever-experimenting online retailer's 2016 patent for floating warehouse blimps--or in Amazon's own words "airborne fulfillment centers (AFCs)". AFCs would, in theory, serve as "motherships" for worker bee drones to transport purchased goods directly to Amazon customers.

    Joanne Lipman, chief content officer for Gannett, predicts that though some crystal ball gazers declared 2016 as the year drones would take off and be the new "it" thing, 2017 will be "The Year of the Drone, Really".

    Earlier this month I did a very informative American Bar Association (ABA) Continuing Legal Education (CLE) webinar, "U.S. Drone Law: Current Status, Future Direction", through the ABA Intellectual Property Law section. A panel of practitioners with drone expertise highlighted key cases (e.g. the so-called "Drone Slayer" case), current legal issues, and liability concerns for emerging drone technologies. (Aside: in addition to legal issues, drones implicate a whole slew of information ethics issues; most notably, privacy.)

    The article excerpted below sheds useful light on insurance issues regarding drone ownership and usage, something most of us probably have not considered, but absolutely should know more about. Especially considering how many people gifted and received drones as holiday gifts this year! (See Drone sales soaring this Christmas, capping a record year for the industry)]

    "MANY people will receive drones as gifts this holiday season. But before heading to the nearest field to fly the devices, recipients may want to check their insurance coverage.

    “I’m sure there will be a lot of drones given as Christmas gifts, and we’ll start to see more drone-related claims,” said Chris Hackett, the senior director for personal lines at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, an industry group."

    Wednesday, December 28, 2016

    Campus Identity Politics Is Dooming Liberal Causes, a Professor Charges; Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/15/16

    Evan R. Goldstein, Chronicle of Higher Education; Campus Identity Politics Is Dooming Liberal Causes, a Professor Charges:
    "Rage over racial, gender, and sexual identity has no sense of proportion and creates a damaging spectacle, says Mark Lilla, a professor of humanities at Columbia University."

    A professor wants to teach ‘The Problems of Whiteness.’ A lawmaker calls the class ‘garbage.’; Washington Post, 12/28/16

    Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Washington Post; A professor wants to teach ‘The Problems of Whiteness.’ A lawmaker calls the class ‘garbage.’ :
    "“I support academic freedom and free speech,” [David Murphy, Wisconsin state assemblyman] said. “Free speech also means the public has the right to be critical of their public university. The university’s handling of controversies like this appears to the public as a lack of balance in intellectual openness and diversity of political thought on campus.”
    Gov. Scott Walker (R) told the Wisconsin State Journal that he didn’t agree with Murphy’s call to withhold funding from the university if it doesn’t drop the class...
    In a statement, the university defended the course and stressed that it was elective, not required, and that it was “not designed to offend individuals or single out an ethnic group.”
    “We believe this course, which is one of thousands offered at our university, will benefit students who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of race issues,” the university’s statement said. “The course is a challenge and response to racism of all kinds.”"

    Russians No Longer Dispute Olympic Doping Operation; New York Times, 12/27/16

    Rebecca R. Ruiz, New York Times; Russians No Longer Dispute Olympic Doping Operation:
    "Russia is for the first time conceding that its officials carried out one of the biggest conspiracies in sports history: a far-reaching doping operation that implicated scores of Russian athletes, tainting not just the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi but also the entire Olympic movement.
    Over several days of interviews here with The New York Times, Russian officials said they no longer disputed a damning set of facts that detailed a doping program with few, if any, historical precedents.
    “It was an institutional conspiracy,” Anna Antseliovich, the acting director general of Russia’s national antidoping agency, said of years’ worth of cheating schemes, while emphasizing that the government’s top officials were not involved."

    Sunday, December 25, 2016

    "I Want THAT Kid For Christmas"; Pearls Before Swine, GoComics, 12/25/16

    Stephan Pastis, Pearls Before Swine, GoComics; "I Want THAT Kid For Christmas"

    Fostering Civility in a Time of Disrespect; New York Times, 12/23/16

    Jonathan A. Knee, New York Times; Fostering Civility in a Time of Disrespect:
    "Just in time for the season of giving, Christine Porath, a Georgetown University management professor, brings us “Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace” (Grand Central), a slender, but compelling, guide to treating others respectfully and protecting oneself from those who don’t.
    As the subtitle suggests, most of the book’s examples relate to behaviors observed and strategies pursued in the corporate jungle. The focus is on the serious business risk posed by failing to foster a culture of civility. While the nation waits breathlessly for the dawn of the Trump era, however, it is impossible to read this practical volume without wondering about its implications for the functioning of our federal institutions and the comity among nations."

    Have Yourself a Merry Little 2017; New York Times, 12/24/16

    Bruce Handy, New York Times; Have Yourself a Merry Little 2017:
    "The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has used the original lyrics before, including on the 2015 album “Big Band Holidays,” so it’s not as if someone fished them out of the trunk 72 years later to make a tart postelection point. I’m also well aware that our current challenges pale in comparison to fighting a world war with civilization in the balance. Let’s say we are somewhere on a continuum between that and facing a move from St. Louis to New York. Still, I have to confess the “it may be your last” line captured my near-apocalyptic mood — and maybe yours as well.
    But the lyric that moved me to tears is the line that follows “If the fates allow” (and remained in Martin’s final lyrics):
    Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
    How prosaic, even homely as pre-rock era songwriting goes, and yet how perfect. Muddling through, somehow, may not sound particularly inspirational, but perseverance is often the best option at hand, when just moving forward, one inch or foot or yard at a time, can be a kind of heroism. At least that’s how it struck me listening to Ms. Russell, her deeply felt performance offering a subdued and cleareyed but still genuine optimism...
    In “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is the catalyst for a happy ending: Tootie’s backyard rampage prompts her father to change his mind about the move, and we cut to a dazzling climax at the 1904 World’s Fair, electric lights and handsome beaus suggesting a fine future for all. Happy endings seem a little more remote in 2016 — miles away, as they say, or at least as distant as the next election. In the meantime, we muddle through. It’s a start."

    How to Teach High-School Students to Spot Fake News; Slate, 12/21/16

    Chris Berdik, Slate; How to Teach High-School Students to Spot Fake News:
    "The exercise was part of “Civic Online Reasoning,” a series of news-literacy lessons being developed by Stanford University researchers and piloted by teachers at a few dozen schools. The Stanford initiative launched in 2015, joining a handful of recent efforts to help students contend with misinformation and fake news online—a problem as old as dial-up modems but now supercharged by social media and partisan news bubbles. The backers of these efforts warn that despite young people’s reputation as “digital natives,” they are woefully unprepared to sort online fact from fiction, and the danger isn’t just to scholarship but to citizenship...
    Kahne plans to study news-literacy efforts to discover what specific strategies get young people to value facts, whether they bolster their existing beliefs or contradict them. For now, one popular suggestion by news-literacy educators is to tap teenagers’ instinctive aversion to people telling them what to think.
    “One of the messages we’ve tried to stress more and more lately with the rise of fake news is this: Do you want to be fooled?” said Jonathan Anzalone, assistant director of the Center for News Literacy. “Wouldn’t you rather make up your own mind?”"

    Reading Fake News, Pakistani Minister Directs Nuclear Threat at Israel; New York Times, 12/24/16

    Russell Goldman, New York Times; Reading Fake News, Pakistani Minister Directs Nuclear Threat at Israel:
    "A fake news article led to gunfire at a Washington pizzeria three weeks ago. Now it seems that another fake news story has prompted the defense minister of Pakistan to threaten to go nuclear.
    The defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, wrote a saber-rattling Twitter post directed at Israel on Friday after a false report — which the minister apparently believed — that Israel had threatened Pakistan with nuclear weapons. Both countries have nuclear arsenals.
    “Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh,” the minister wrote on his official Twitter account, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too.”...
    That story, with the typo-laden headline “Israeli Defense Minister: If Pakistan send ground troops to Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack,” appeared on the website on Dec. 20, alongside articles with headlines like “Clinton is staging a military coup against Trump.”
    The fake story about Israel even misidentified the country’s defense minister, attributing quotations to a former minister, Moshe Yaalon. Israel’s current minister of defense is Avigdor Lieberman."

    Saturday, December 24, 2016

    Trump Conflicts Could Violate The Constitution On Day 1, Lawyers Say; NPR, 12/23/16

    Steve Inskeep, NPR; Trump Conflicts Could Violate The Constitution On Day 1, Lawyers Say:
    "Donald Trump will enter the White House with more potential conflicts of interest than any recent president. Steve Inskeep talks to recent White House ethics lawyers Richard Painter and Norman Eisen."

    Radio's Diane Rehm, A Mainstay Of Civil Discourse, Signs Off; NPR, 12/23/16

    David Folkenflik, NPR; Radio's Diane Rehm, A Mainstay Of Civil Discourse, Signs Off:
    "Among her most frequent nonpolitical guests were the actor and singer Julie Andrews, the author Isabel Allende, and the poet Maya Angelou, who stopped a conversation about her book with this: "I like you so much, Diane Rehm, and ... so does your audience. And I have a feeling all the time that you and I are best friends."
    The interview took place in 2013 and was their final conversation.
    "You are the kind of best friend everybody would like to have," Angelou added. "You're honest, you're direct, and you're not brutal.""

    Anne Applebaum: I understand the power of fake news, Russian-style; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/24/16

    Anne Applebaum, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Anne Applebaum: I understand the power of fake news, Russian-style:
    "...[T]his brings us to a deeper question, one that takes us beyond this ugly campaign and the possible Russian role in it: Why are Americans so vulnerable to fake news, even when generated by a hostile foreign power? Why do they consume it and pass it on?
    The fault is partly that of the Republican Party, which told people for years to hate and fear “Washington” and has now created a constituency that actually prefers information generated by the Kremlin or white supremacists. The problem also lay with Hillary Clinton, who was hardly a trusted figure to begin with.
    But it is also true that we are living through a global media revolution, that people are hearing and digesting political information in brand-new ways and that nobody yet understands the consequences. Fake stories are easier to create, fake websites can be designed to host them, and social media rapidly disseminate disinformation that people trust because they get it from friends."

    Friday, December 23, 2016

    Talking About Ethics Across Cultures; Harvard Business Review, 12/23/16

    Mary C. Gentile, Harvard Business Review; Talking About Ethics Across Cultures:
    "The program in Delhi started as many of these programs do: A group of cordial but skeptical participants sat with arms crossed and gentle smirks, leaning back in their chairs. When I finally was able to coax one of them to express what they were thinking, he said: “Madam, we are very happy to have you here and we are happy to listen to what you have to say about ethics and values in the workplace. But this is India, and we are entrepreneurs — we can’t even get a driver’s license without paying a bribe.”
    He was raising an issue I had struggled with when developing the program, which is called Giving Voice to Values. My aim was to take a new approach to values-driven leadership development, one that was a stark departure from the way companies and educators had been teaching business ethics. For years, training in this area was based on the assumption that the way to build an ethical workplace was to educate employees on laws, ethical norms, and company values so that they could decide what the “right” thing to do was in any particular situation. I became increasingly convinced, however, that many folks already knew what was right — and many of them even wanted to do it — but they felt pressured to do otherwise by the competitive environment, by their colleagues and managers, by their customers, and often, as the participant in my Delhi program pointed out, by the cultural context in which they were operating.
    I’ve learned by sharing the Giving Voice to Values approach with audiences around the world — in India, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, China, the Philippines, the U.A.E., Cairo, Moscow, Costa Rica, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, and all over Europe — that there are key ways to building ethical workplaces across cultures."

    Why time management is ruining our lives; Guardian, 12/22/16

    Oliver Burkeman, Guardian; Why time management is ruining our lives:
    "Personal productivity presents itself as an antidote to busyness when it might better be understood as yet another form of busyness. And as such, it serves the same psychological role that busyness has always served: to keep us sufficiently distracted that we don’t have to ask ourselves potentially terrifying questions about how we are spending our days. “How we labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, in what reads like a foreshadowing of our present circumstances. “Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.”
    You can seek to impose order on your inbox all you like – but eventually you’ll need to confront the fact that the deluge of messages, and the urge you feel to get them all dealt with, aren’t really about technology. They’re manifestations of larger, more personal dilemmas. Which paths will you pursue, and which will you abandon? Which relationships will you prioritise, during your shockingly limited lifespan, and who will you resign yourself to disappointing? What matters?"

    Oracle executive publicly resigns after CEO joins Trump's transition team; Guardian, 12/21/16

    Olivia Solon, Guardian; Oracle executive publicly resigns after CEO joins Trump's transition team:
    "George Polisner, 57, who had worked at Oracle on and off since 1993, posted his resignation letter to LinkedIn, outlining concerns over Trump’s choice of cabinet, tax and environmental policies as well as the stoking of fear and hatred towards minorities...
    Once he made his mind up to resign, he told his manager before sending the letter to Catz and simultaneously publishing to LinkedIn. “I decided it was too important to die as a private letter.”
    Polisner said that it’s important for technology companies to have dialogue with the Trump administration, as happened at last week’s roundtable attended by execs from companies including Apple, Google, Facebook, IBM and Oracle...
    However, Polisner remains concerned about how the president-elect could use technology as a tool to concentrate wealth and power and oppress vulnerable parts of society.
    “In my mind the table has already been set and they are not going to listen to a tech person who says ‘this may not work out so well’ because they’ve already calculated the impact to the balance sheet.”"

    Thursday, December 22, 2016

    USPTO Fights Fraudulent Trademark Solicitations; Guest blog by Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Boney Denison, Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership, 12/21/16

    Guest blog by Commissioner for Trademarks Mary Boney Denison, Director's Forum: A Blog from USPTO's Leadership; USPTO Fights Fraudulent Trademark Solicitations:
    "The USPTO has worked hard to fight solicitations from companies fraudulently promising to protect trademarks, and we have taken a number of steps to help raise awareness of these schemes in an attempt to limit the number of victims defrauded. Our agency works closely with federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the United States Postal Inspection Service to combat the problem...
    A registered trademark is a valuable asset, and where there’s money, unfortunately, there are bound to be criminal elements lurking. The USPTO continues to provide its ongoing full support to U.S. law enforcement officials working on this issue."

    "Signed Us Up"; Bizarro, 12/22/16

    Dan Piraro, Bizarro; "Signed Us Up"

    Wednesday, December 21, 2016

    Should Couples Get Prenups for Their Ideas?; New York Times, 12/21/16

    Room for Debate, New York Times; Should Couples Get Prenups for Their Ideas? :
    "The number of 18- to 35-year-olds seeking prenups is on the rise nationwide, but many millennials are more interested in protecting intellectual property — such as films, songs, software and even apps that haven’t been built yet — than cash.
    What does this shift mean for marriage and divorce?"

    The Thorny Ethics of the Oscars; New Yorker, 12/21/16

    Michael Schulman, New Yorker; The Thorny Ethics of the Oscars:
    "It seems impossible, and misguided, to demand an ethical CAT scan for everyone who’s nominated for an Oscar. Not long ago, I had lunch with an Academy member who had been busily attending screenings. When I asked whether the Affleck story would color his vote, he said anxiously, “I just don’t know.” Each Artist vs. Art case is complicated—less a one-to-one ratio than a quadratic equation—but, at some point, Academy members will be faced with a list of five names and a choice to make. What if it’s between Affleck and Denzel Washington for Best Actor, and you think Washington’s a great guy but Affleck gave the better performance? Forget the rabbi: each Oscar voter is now his or her own Solomon the Wise."

    Tuesday, December 20, 2016

    ‘Ethics in the Real World,’ Peter Singer’s Provocative Essays; Book Review by Dwight Garner, New York Times, 12/19/16

    Book Review by Dwight Garner, New York Times; ‘Ethics in the Real World,’ Peter Singer’s Provocative Essays:
    [Update 12/21/16: I was able to locate and buy this afternoon a copy of Ethics in the Real World (2016), a collection of 82 essays by Peter Singer, at a Barnes & Noble at Settler's Ridge in suburban Pittsburgh. The 4-page essay "Rights for Robots?" was written by Peter Singer (with Agata Sagan). Though this essay was written in 2009, the ethical issues it raises about robots seem even more timely and relevant today.]
    [Kip Currier: Just read the New York Times review (excerpted below) of Princeton University philosopher Peter Singer's new book “Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter" and was intrigued by some of the chapter titles, like "Rights for Robots?" Unfortunately, the Barnes & Noble near me is holding their only print copy for another customer. But I'll pick up a copy elsewhere this week and look forward to checking it out.]
    In his new book, “Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter,” Mr. Singer picks up the topics of animal rights and poverty amelioration and runs quite far with them. But he’s written better and more fully about these issues elsewhere; they are not the primary reason to come to this book.
    “Ethics in the Real World” comprises short pieces, most of them previously published. This book is interesting because it offers a chance to witness this influential thinker grapple with more offbeat questions.
    Among the essay titles here: “Should Adult Sibling Incest Be a Crime?”; “Is It O.K. to Cheat at Football?”; “Tiger Mothers or Elephant Mothers?”; “Rights for Robots?”; and “Kidneys for Sale?” This book is the equivalent of a moral news conference, or a particularly good Terry Gross interview."

    Sunday, December 18, 2016

    The Wild West of Robotic "Rights and Wrongs"; Ethics and Information Blog, 12/18/16

    Kip Currier, Ethics and Information Blog; The Wild West of Robotic "Rights and Wrongs"
    The challenge of "robot ethics"--how to imbue robotic machines and artificial intelligence (AI) with the "right" programming and protocols to make ethical decisions--is a hot topic in academe and business. Particularly right now, related to its application in autonomous self-driving vehicles (e.g. Uber, Apple, Google).
    When we think about ethical questions addressing how robots should or should not act, Isaac Asimov's oft-discussed "Three Laws of Robotics", spelled out in his 1942 short story "Runaround", certainly come to mind (see here).
    Themes of robots making judgments of "right and wrong", as well as ethical topics exploring AI accountability and whether "human rights" should be inclusive of "rights-for-robots", have also been prominent in depictions of robots and AI in numerous science fiction films and TV shows over the past 50+ years: Gort in The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) and (2008) (Klaatu...Barada...Nikto!). 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and the monotonal, merciless HAL 9000 ("Open the pod bay doors, Hal"). 1983's War Games, starring Brat Pack-ers Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy, can also be seen as a cautionary tale of ethical-decision-making-gone-awry in a proto-machine learning gaming program ("Shall we play a game?"), used for then-Cold War military and national security purposes.
    Blade Runner (1982) revealed Replicants-with-an-expiration-date-on-the-run. (We'll have to wait and see what's up with the Replicants until sequel Blade Runner 2049 debuts in late 2017.) Arnold Schwarznegger played a killer-robot from the future in The Terminator (1984), and returned as a reprogrammed/converted "robot savior" in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) throughout its run explored "sentience" and the nature of humans AND non-humans "being human", as seen through the eyes of Enterprise android crew member "Commander Data" (see 1987 standout episode "The Measure of a Man"). Fifth column sometimes-sleeper Cylons with "many copies" and "a plan" were the driving force in 2004-2009's Battlestar Galactica. Will Smith portrayed a seriously robophobic cop hot on the heels of a homicidal robot suspect in the Asimov-short-story-collection-suggested I, Robot (2004).
    Most recently, robots are front and center (if not always readily identifiable!) in this year's breakout HBO hit Westworld (see the official Opening Credits here). Short-hand for the show's plot: "robots in an American West-set amusement park for the human rich". But it's a lot more than that. Westworld is an inspired reimagining ("Game of Thrones" author George R.R. Martin recently called this first season of “Westworld” a "true masterpiece") of the same-named, fairly-forgettable (--but for Yul Brynner's memorable robot role, solely credited as "Gunslinger"!) 1973 Michael Crichton-written/directed film. What the 1973 version lacked in deep-dive thoughts, the new version makes up for in spades, and then some: This is a show about robots (but really, the nature of consciousness and agency) for thinking people.--With, ahem, unapologetic dashes of Games of Thrones-esque sex and violence ("It's Not TV. It's HBO.(R)") sprinkled liberally throughout.
    Much of the issue of robot ethics has tended to center on the impacts of robots on humans. With "impacts" often meaning, at a minimum, job obsolescense for humans (see here and here). Or, at worst, (especially in terms of pop culture narratives) euphemistic code for "death and destruction to humans". (Carnegie Mellon University PhD and author David H. Wilson's 2011 New York Times best-selling Robopocalypse chillingly tapped into fears of a "Digital Axis of Evil"--AI/robots/Internet-of-Things--Revolution of robotic rampage and revenge against humans, perceived as both oppressors and inferior. This year Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, among others (from 2015, see here and here), also voiced real-world concerns about the threats AI may hold for future humanity.)
    But thought-provoking, at times unsettling and humanizing depictions of robotic lifeforms--Westworld "hosts" Maeve and Dolores et al., robot boy David in Steven Spielberg's 2001 A.I. Artificial Intelligence, as well as animated treatments in 2008's WALL-E from Pixar and 2016's Hum (see post below linked here)--are leveling this imbalance. Flipping the "humancentric privilege" and spurring us to think about the impacts of human beings on robots. What ethical considerations, if any, are owed to the latter? Whether robots/AI can and should be (will be?) seen as emergent "forms of life". Perhaps even with "certain inalienable Rights" (Robot Lives Matter?).
    (Aside: As a kid who grew up watching the "Lost in Space" TV show (1965-1968) in syndication in the 1970's, I'll always have a soft spot for the Robinson family's trusty robot ("Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!") simply called...wait for it..."Robot".)
    In the meantime--at least until sentient robots can think about "the nature of their own existence" a la Westworld, or the advent of the "singularity" (sometimes described as the merging of man and machine and/or the moment when machine intelligence surpasses that of humans)--these fictionalized creations serve as allegorical constructs to ponder important, enduring questions: What it means to be "human". The nature of "right" and "wrong", and the shades in between. Interpretations of societal values, like "compassion", "decency", and "truth". And what it means to live in a "civilized" society. Sound timely?

    An Abused, Dishwashing Robot Dreams of an Escape; Slate, 12/17/16

    Madeline Raynor, Slate; An Abused, Dishwashing Robot Dreams of an Escape:
    "Hum," above, is a science-fiction short from director Tom Teller and Frame 48. It follows a robot that works as a dishwasher in a restaurant, confined to a small, poorly lit room and abused by a cruel human boss."

    Why Ethical People Make Unethical Choices; Harvard Business Review, 12/16/16

    Ron Carucci, Harvard Business Review; Why Ethical People Make Unethical Choices:
    "Despite good intentions, organizations set themselves up for ethical catastrophes by creating environments in which people feel forced to make choices they could never have imagined. Former Federal Prosecutor Serina Vash says, “When I first began prosecuting corruption, I expected to walk into rooms and find the vilest people. I was shocked to find ordinarily good people I could well have had coffee with that morning. And they were still good people who’d made terrible choices.”
    Here are five ways organizations needlessly provoke good people to make unethical choices."

    No Deal: German Universities Prepare For Cut-Off From Elsevier Journals; Intellectual Property Watch, 12/16/16

    Intellectual Property Watch; No Deal: German Universities Prepare For Cut-Off From Elsevier Journals:
    "After licensing negotiations between German university libraries and Elsevier failed at the beginning of the month, over 60 university libraries in Germany are preparing to be cut off from hundreds of journals of the British publisher, after a standoff over pricing and access.
    The university libraries organised in the DEAL initiative rejected an offer made by Elsevier earlier this month for a first nationwide licence, because of an aggressive pricing and flaws in the access models...
    With the stop of the negotiations access to future journal editions be cut off on 1 January, when current licenses are expiring. But there will also be no access to archived editions of journals licensed under “individual e-packages for the economic sciences in particular,” according to the message."

    Open Government Data Act set for progress in 2017 after Senate passage; FedScoop, 12/12/16

    Samantha Ehlinger, FedScoop; Open Government Data Act set for progress in 2017 after Senate passage:
    "A bill codifying and building on the president's executive order and the White House’s Open Data Policy passed the Senate unanimously early on Saturday morning, in a surprising last-minute effort to get the bill through the chamber before the holidays.
    The OPEN Government Data Act, which sets in place a presumption that government data should be published in an open, machine-readable format, will likely not make it to President Barack Obama’s desk. But the bill could be reintroduced next year.
    “Because transparency keeps Washington accountable to the people, government data should be made public unless an administration makes a compelling reason not to,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., who introduced the legislation with Sen. Brian Schatz D-Hawaii, in a statement. “After passing the Senate with bipartisan support, we have momentum to carry this important work into the new year.”"

    Saturday, December 17, 2016

    How to rethink what’s ‘top secret’ for the Internet age; Washington Post, 12/16/16

    Dianne Feinstein, Washington Post; How to rethink what’s ‘top secret’ for the Internet age:
    "Rooted in a paper-based era, the existing classification system has become so complex and distorted that it no longer serves its fundamental goals: sharing secrets with our allies and partners while safeguarding this information from adversaries who would do us harm...
    We may never fully eliminate the tendency of reviewers to overclassify information. But by working to implement these solutions, we can begin to change the dynamic. At the heart of this issue are dedicated government employees who truly want to do the right thing, and there’s an obvious natural instinct to protect secrets. But classification should shield secrets, not bury them."

    Don’t call it post-truth. There’s a simpler word: lies; Guardian, 12/16/16

    Jonathan Freedland, Guardian; Don’t call it post-truth. There’s a simpler word: lies:
    "We’ve been calling this “post-truth politics” but I now worry that the phrase is far too gentle, suggesting society has simply reached some new phase in its development. It lets off the guilty too lightly. What Trump is doing is not “engaging in post-truth politics”. He’s lying.
    Worse still, Trump and those like him not only lie: they imply that the truth doesn’t matter, showing a blithe indifference to whether what they say is grounded in reality or evidence...
    Only in the political realm have we somehow drifted into a world in which no one can be trusted, not on questions of judgment, nor even on questions of fact. But we cannot live in such a world. Evidence, facts and reason are the building blocks of civilisation. Without them we plunge into darkness."

    Genetically engineered humans will arrive sooner than you think. And we're not ready.; Vox, 12/15/16

    Sean Illing, Vox; Genetically engineered humans will arrive sooner than you think. And we're not ready. :
    "Michael Bess is a historian of science at Vanderbilt University and the author of a fascinating new book, Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in a Bioengineered Society. Bess’s book offers a sweeping look at our genetically modified future, a future as terrifying as it is promising...
    Sean Illing
    I'm always amazed at how little technologists tend to think about the moral and political implications of their work. For example, it's hard to imagine how disruptive this kind of biotechnology will be to our sense of fairness and equity.
    We should be very concerned about the societal risks that would emerge alongside these bioenhancement technologies. Because presumably, in the beginning at least, only rich people will have access to this technology, and I wonder what kind of disorder that could spawn.
    Michael Bess
    Well, let's put it this way: If only rich people have access to these technologies, then we have a very big problem, because it's going to take the kinds of inequalities that have been getting worse over recent decades, even in a rich country like ours, and make them much worse, and inscribe those inequalities into our very biology.
    So it's going to be very hard for somebody to be born poor and bootstrap themselves up into a higher position in society when the upper echelons of society are not only enjoying the privileges of health and education and housing and all that, but are bioenhancing themselves to unprecedented levels of performance. That's going to render permanent and intractable the separation between rich and poor.
    For me, then, one of the imperatives that's going to arise out of bioenhancement is we're going to have to, in a sense, become Sweden. We're going to have to find a way to socialize the benefits of these technologies and offer them, at least as an option, to all citizens.
    Doing this in a rich country like ours is hard enough — the challenge of doing this on a planetary scale is far more daunting."

    Friday, December 16, 2016

    EFF to Supreme Court: Trademarks are Not Government Speech; Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), 12/16/16

    Daniel Nazer, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF); EFF to Supreme Court: Trademarks are Not Government Speech:
    "Today, together with the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression, EFF submitted an amicus brief in Lee v. Tam. Our brief discusses an unusual but important question: are registered trademarks government expression? It is important to get the dividing line between government and private speech correct. This is because, while the government doesn’t get to control what you say, it does get to control what it says. As we argue in our brief, categorizing registered trademarks as government expression would threaten speech in many other areas.
    The case involves a rock band from California called The Slants."

    Larry Colburn, Who Helped Stop My Lai Massacre, Dies at 67; New York Times, 12/16/16

    Sam Roberts, New York Times; Larry Colburn, Who Helped Stop My Lai Massacre, Dies at 67:
    "Would Mr. Colburn have fired at his fellow Americans?
    “How could I ever be prepared for something like that?” he replied years later. “Would I have? I guess that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?”
    Seymour M. Hersh, the independent journalist who later uncovered the My Lai massacre, said of Mr. Colburn in a phone interview on Friday that “for a door gunner in Vietnam to point his machine gun at an American officer” under those circumstances “was in the greatest tradition of American integrity.”...
    My Lai became a paradigm for unbridled brutality and an object lesson in battlefield ethics, but the crewmen whose audacious intervention prevented even more bloodshed were largely forgotten.
    Their heroism was acknowledged with Bronze Stars, which they considered inappropriate recognition: The Bronze Star is awarded for bravery under enemy assault, they reasoned, and they had demonstrated courage in the face of friendly fire.
    After the investigations and trial, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Colburn received something else, too: hate mail.
    “One of the most infuriating things is being called a whistle-blower, as if we went and ratted someone out,” Mr. Colburn told Vietnam Magazine. “That is completely false; there was no back-stabbing going on. We were right in their face at My Lai. We were ready to confront those people then and there. And we did, the best we could.”"

    Trump Family Tried To Auction Coffee With Ivanka, Raising Ethical Concerns; NPR, 12/16/16

    Camila Domonoske, NPR; Trump Family Tried To Auction Coffee With Ivanka, Raising Ethical Concerns:
    "Update at 10:55 a.m. ET: As this post was publishing, the auction for coffee with Ivanka Trump was pulled from the Charitybuzz website. The link now redirects to its home page, with no explanation.
    Our previous post continues:...
    The auction for coffee with President-elect Donald Trump's oldest daughter is a fundraiser for the Eric Trump Foundation, which says the proceeds will benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
    The New York Times has reported on the auction and raised questions about the ethical implications of selling off face time with the future first family — especially given Ivanka Trump's perceived influence over her father."

    How Google's search algorithm spreads false information with a rightwing bias; Guardian, 12/16/16

    Olivia Solon and Sam Levin, Guardian; How Google's search algorithm spreads false information with a rightwing bias:
    "Google’s search algorithm appears to be systematically promoting information that is either false or slanted with an extreme rightwing bias on subjects as varied as climate change and homosexuality.
    Following a recent investigation by the Observer, which found that Google’s search engine prominently suggests neo-Nazi websites and antisemitic writing, the Guardian has uncovered a dozen additional examples of biased search results.
    Google’s search algorithm and its autocomplete function prioritize websites that, for example, declare that climate change is a hoax, being gay is a sin, and the Sandy Hook mass shooting never happened."

    Inside ‘The Man in the High Castle’ Season 2: A ‘Cautionary Tale’ for America; Daily Beast, 12/15/16

    Matt Wilstein, Daily Beast; Inside ‘The Man in the High Castle’ Season 2: A ‘Cautionary Tale’ for America:
    "The Man in the High Castle is a show about alternate realities. Its second season is arriving on Amazon at a time when many Americans feel like they might be living in one.
    The show’s premise—what if the Allies lost World War II?—is only slightly more unnerving than our current reality: What if Donald Trump was elected president of the United States? But here we are. And here are the main characters of The Man in the High Castle, based on Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel of the same name, struggling under the Greater Nazi Reich on the East Coast and the Japanese Pacific States on the West.
    The renewed relevance of this under-the-radar streaming series is top of mind for the show’s producers and cast, who assembled together in Los Angeles just a few weeks after Trump’s unexpected electoral success. Collectively, they are grappling with the question of whether Americans will want to watch a show about Nazis ruling over the United States at a time when swastikas are popping up on storefronts and school buildings across the country."

    Trudeau to be questioned by ethics watchdog over reports of cash for access; Guardian, 12/15/16

    Ashifa Kassam, Guardian; Trudeau to be questioned by ethics watchdog over reports of cash for access:
    "Justin Trudeau will be questioned by Canada’s ethics watchdog over reports of political fundraisers that allegedly offered privileged access to the prime minister and his cabinet ministers for a price.
    The development marks the first time in a decade that the ethics commissioner has questioned a sitting prime minister and is a turning point for Trudeau who swept to a majority government last year on broad promises to run a transparent administration that would abide by the highest standards of ethics."

    Did Facebook Just Kickstart the Real Infowar?; Daily Beast, 12/16/16

    Gideon Resnick, Ben Collins, Daily Beast; Did Facebook Just Kickstart the Real Infowar? :
    "Should Facebook’s fact-check initiative take off and result in censorship of propagandist sites, editors at websites like Infowars and alt-right leaders insist it will only reinforce the belief that certain ideas are being suppressed in favor of facts from mainstream outlets. One editor told The Daily Beast the Facebook plan proves that now the “‘Infowar’ isn’t a cliché, it’s perfectly apt.”"

    US Finds Existing Copyright Law Suited For Software Embedded In Everyday Products; Intellectual Property Watch, 12/16/16

    Intellectual Property Watch; US Finds Existing Copyright Law Suited For Software Embedded In Everyday Products:
    "The United States Copyright Office has released a study that finds that existing copyright laws are sufficient to cover issues arising over software embedded in everyday consumer products. But it does call for some flexibility for consumers to tinker with their devices.
    The report, which followed hearings and research in the field, is available here. The report was requested by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee."

    The right shuts down free speech, too; Washington Post, 12/15/16

    Catherine Rampell, Washington Post; The right shuts down free speech, too:
    "The good news: Both the left and the right have reached consensus that free speech is important.
    The bad news: “Free speech” has apparently been redefined to mean “speech with which I agree.”"

    "Are You a Hacker?"; robrogers.com, 12/16/16

    Rob Rogers, robrogers.com; "Are You a Hacker?"

    Trump's conflicts of interest: a visual guide; Guardian, 12/1/16

    Nadja Popovich and Jan Diehm, Guardian; Trump's conflicts of interest: a visual guide

    Friday, December 9, 2016

    Ethics in the swamp: the rot of corruption; Huffington Post, 12/9/16

    Katherine Marshall, Huffington Post; Ethics in the swamp: the rot of corruption:
    "Corruption is a live topic today. Since 2005, international anti-corruption day has been “celebrated” on December 9, in hopes that a visible day marking the topic can raise awareness about corruption and bolster a sense that something can be done to combat and prevent it. The large biannual International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC17) in Panama City ended on December 4, where some 1300 very diverse participants addressed a multitude of issues, from green eyeshade detail, lawyerly discourse, to lofty principles such as trust. The meeting concluded with a commitment that: “Together we will strengthen our web of anti-corruption activists. Together, the public sector, business and civil society will hold the corrupt to account. It is Time for Justice, Equity, Security, and Trust.” The activists, many part of Transparency International, come from all over the world, widely different in ideology and approach, but they share a gutsy determination to hold leaders to account.
    More tellingly, corruption is a leading topic in political discourse, from Washington to Manila to Kabul to Nairobi to Abuja. The belief that corruption is pervasive drives much of the anger that we see reflected in extremist movements, secular and religious. It fuels the populist surge and the sense of rot that discredits governments and politicians in widely different countries and cultures. America’s political campaign featured narratives about a Washington swamp with bloated, rotten bureaucracies wasting or diverting public resources. The narratives can be misleading, undermining courageous political leaders and public servants, but many see little beyond stories about corrupt practices...
    The next International Anti-Corruption Conference will be in Denmark in 2018. It’s time to mix the oil and water. Fighting corruption is about more than exhortation: declaiming against those who steal and fail to honor their public responsibilities. Anti-corruption strategies and practices can work. But only when the passion of activists and moral leaders comes together with different parts of society, religious institutions included, to translate anger and a desire for good governance into reality. The fight against corruption, for decent governance and strong public service depends on public morality and a common commitment to ethical standards and priorities. Draining the swamp depends on linking the best of religious and civic teachings to the realities of political leadership and governance. That’s what it will take to achieve “Justice, Equity, Security, and Trust”."

    "Danger", robrogers.com, 12/9/16

    Rob Rogers, robrogers.com; "Danger"

    Wednesday, December 7, 2016

    Trump Fires Adviser’s Son From Transition for Spreading Fake News; New York Times, 12/6/16

    Matthew Rosenberg, Maggie Haberman, and Eric Schmitt, New York Times; Trump Fires Adviser’s Son From Transition for Spreading Fake News:
    "President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday fired one of his transition team’s staff members, Michael G. Flynn, the son of Mr. Trump’s choice for national security adviser, for using Twitter to spread a fake news story about Hillary Clinton that led to an armed confrontation in a pizza restaurant in Washington.
    The uproar over Mr. Flynn’s Twitter post cast a harsh spotlight on the views that he and his father, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, aired on social media throughout the presidential campaign. Both men have shared fake news stories alleging that Mrs. Clinton committed felonies, and have posted their own Twitter messages that at times have crossed into Islamophobia.
    But their social media musings apparently attracted little attention from Mr. Trump or his transition team before a North Carolina man fired a rifle on Sunday inside Comet Ping Pong, which was the subject of false stories tying it and the Clinton campaign to a child sex trafficking ring."

    Radio Conspiracy Theorist Claims Ear Of Trump, Pushes 'Pizzagate' Fictions; NPR, 12/6/16

    David Folkenflik, NPR; Radio Conspiracy Theorist Claims Ear Of Trump, Pushes 'Pizzagate' Fictions:
    "Jones has claimed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were an inside job, that the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax, and that President Obama would round up people into concentration camps.
    "He comes out of this kind of '90s fusion paranoia background where it's really more about opposition to the powers that be from any old direction," says Jesse Walker, author of The United States Of Paranoia. "It really is this idea of people's autonomy and freedom and health being threatened by this grand amorphous force that's within the big institutions of society but larger than them."
    Walker contends Jones' all-encompassing assault on authority does not fall neatly along conservative or liberal lines.
    That said, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, says his attacks inspire a strong following among racists."

    ‘We’re going to put a bullet in your head’: #PizzaGate threats terrorize D.C. shop owners; Washington Post, 12/6/16

    John Woodrow Cox, Washington Post; ‘We’re going to put a bullet in your head’: #PizzaGate threats terrorize D.C. shop owners:
    "Ousmaal first reported the harassment of her restaurant to D.C. police two weeks ago, but in emails she shared with The Post, an officer told her they couldn’t do anything to prevent free speech. He suggested she file a lawsuit.
    She understands freedom of speech, Ousmaal replied in an email, but “derogatory libelous and hateful blogs and emails should not and cannot qualify.”"

    Stop Calling Everything “Fake News”; Slate, 12/6/16

    Will Oremus, Slate; Stop Calling Everything “Fake News” :
    "Two months ago, almost no one was talking about fake news. A Google Trends search for the term shows that it barely registered before October. Now you can hardly turn on the real news without hearing it.
    Fake news is a real, specific problem. But in all the furor around who’s making it, who’s sharing it, its impact, and how to stop it, it’s easy to lose sight of something more fundamental: what it is. The broader the definition, the less useful the concept becomes—and it’s already verging on counterproductive."

    Setting a standard: The new city Ethics Board is a vital matter; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/4/16

    Editorial Board, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Setting a standard: The new city Ethics Board is a vital matter:
    "The city’s reconstituted Ethics Hearing Board has the opportunity to set a standard for local government. Legislation passed by Pittsburgh City Council and signed by Mayor Bill Peduto appears to give the board real teeth to root out ethics violations and impose discipline. Just as important, however, will be the board’s work in fostering a climate where officials, employees and others involved in the city better understand the rules and diligently strive to comply with them... Board members must have taught law, been subject to ethics codes or otherwise have an “ethics background.”"

    TV for the fake news generation: why Westworld is the defining show of 2016; Guardian, 12/7/16

    Paul MacInnes, Guardian; TV for the fake news generation: why Westworld is the defining show of 2016:
    "Westworld is a hit. Viewing figures released this week confirmed that the first season of HBO’s sci-fi western drama received a bigger audience than any other debut in the channel’s history...
    The producers deliberately reached out to an audience that enjoys obsessing. They knew some fans would watch the show again and again on their laptops. They knew they would freeze-frame the screen and zoom in on details that would pass the casual viewer by. From there the fans would try to make connections, to unravel the mysteries, to find deeper meaning. Things were left uncertain enough that people could believe what they wanted. Whether a theory was “true” was less important than the fact that someone believed in it. Sound familiar?
    I’m not calling HBO a purveyor of fake news, and neither am I suggesting that Westworld has been captured by the alt-right like Pepe the Frog. But the drama has certainly tapped into an audience of young people who love video games and cracking codes, and understands both technology and identity politics."

    "Actual Troll Afraid To Post"; Frank & Ernest Comic Strip, GoComics, 12/7/16

    Frank & Ernest Comic Strip, GoComics; "Actual Troll Afraid To Post"

    Tuesday, December 6, 2016

    Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft team up to tackle extremist content; Guardian, 12/5/16

    Olivia Solon, Guardian; Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft team up to tackle extremist content:
    "Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have pledged to work together to identify and remove extremist content on their platforms through an information-sharing initiative.
    The companies are to create a shared database of unique digital fingerprints – known as “hashes” – for images and videos that promote terrorism. This could include recruitment videos or violent terrorist imagery or memes. When one company identifies and removes such a piece of content, the others will be able to use the hash to identify and remove the same piece of content from their own network...
    Because the companies have different policies on what constitutes terrorist content, they will start by sharing hashes of “the most extreme and egregious terrorist images and videos” as they are most likely to violate “all of our respective companies” content policies, they said."

    The Future of Privacy; New York Times, 12/6/16

    William Gibson, New York Times; The Future of Privacy:
    "I’ve never been able to fit the concepts of privacy, history and encryption together in a satisfying way, though it continues to seem that I should. Each concept has to do with information; each can be considered to concern the public and the private; and each involves aspects of society, and perhaps particularly digital society. But experience has taught me that all I can hope to do with these three concepts is demonstrate the problems that considering them together causes."

    In Trump’s America, ‘pizzagate’ could be the new normal; Washington Post, 12/5/16

    Dana Milbank, Washington Post; In Trump’s America, ‘pizzagate’ could be the new normal:
    "This would appear to be the new normal: Not only disagreeing with your opponent but accusing her of running a pedophilia ring, provoking such fury that somebody takes it upon himself to start shooting. Not only chafing when criticized in the press but stoking anti-media hysteria that leads some supporters to threaten to kill journalists.
    After The Washington Post reported Sunday about the Comet gunman and the nonsense conspiracy theory that motivated him, the reporters received emails and tweets saying “I hope the next shooter targets you lying sacks of s--- in the media,” “God has a plan better than death,” and “it would also be a shame if someone took a gun to” The Post.
    Trump is not directly responsible for every violent word or action of his followers. But he foments violence. As The Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron, has noted, when Trump refers to journalists as “the lowest form of life,” “scum” and the enemy, “it is no wonder that some members of our staff [at The Post] and at other news organizations received vile insults and threats of personal harm so worrisome that extra security was required.”"

    Monday, December 5, 2016

    N.C. man told police he went to D.C. pizzeria with assault rifle to ‘self-investigate’ election-related conspiracy theory; Washington Post, 12/5/16

    Faiz Siddiqui and Susan Svrluga, Washington Post; N.C. man told police he went to D.C. pizzeria with assault rifle to ‘self-investigate’ election-related conspiracy theory:
    [Kip Currier: In the wake of post-2016 Presidential Election revelations by fake news writers, research findings on fake news here and here and here, and efforts by tech giants over the past few weeks to rein in fake news dissemination and proliferation here in the U.S. and abroad, this story about a seemingly fake-news-weaponized assailant's dangerous "conspiracy theory reconnaissance" on Sunday at a popular pizza eatery in Chevy Chase, Maryland and his impact on other businesses and area residents is a chilling example of the potentially dire consequences that fake news and conspiracy theories can have. Thankfully no one was physically injured. But this is a wake-up call to all of us about the legitimate threat fake news poses to democratic values and democracy itself, as well as to personal liberty and public safety. I've not been to Comet Ping Pong yet but have enjoyed browsing the nearby Politics and Prose bookstore (which each month hosts an incredible array of authors for book talks nurturing the free flow of information, ideas, and speech!) and grabbing a delicious Fox BLT at The Little Red Fox on my way back to Pittsburgh.]
    "The popular family restaurant, near Connecticut and Nebraska avenues NW in the Chevy Chase neighborhood, was swept up in the onslaught of fake news and conspiracy theories that were prevalent during the presidential campaign. The restaurant, its owner, staff and nearby businesses have been attacked on social media and received death threats...
    The restaurant’s owner and employees were threatened on social media in the days before the election after fake news stories circulated claiming that then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief were running a child sex ring from the restaurant’s backrooms. Even Michael Flynn, a retired general whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to advise him on national security, shared stories about another anti-Clinton conspiracy theory involving pedophilia. None of them were true. But the fake stories and threats persisted, some even aimed at children of Comet Ping Pong employees and patrons. The restaurant’s owner was forced to contact the FBI, local police, Facebook and other social-media platforms in an effort to remove the articles.
    Last month, citing its policy against posting the personal information of others, Reddit banned the “pizzagate” topic.
    But it didn’t stop the harassment, and nearby businesses have received threats as well, according to police. On Sunday, Washington Post reporters involved in this article were the target of online threats shortly after it posted.
    Matt Carr, the owner of the Little Red Fox market and coffee shop, said his business started getting threats last weekend...
    Politics and Prose, the bookstore that has been a Washington institution and neighborhood fixture for more than 30 years, was in the middle of a book event when attendees and staff saw police converging on the block, said Bradley Graham, a store co-owner.
    They, too, had received threats recently, Graham said, and were planning to meet with police Monday “because we had feared that what, up to now, had been simply despicable menacing verbal attacks online or on the phone might escalate.”"

    Thursday, December 1, 2016

    SOLVING THE PROBLEM OF FAKE NEWS; New Yorker, 11/30/16

    Nicholas Lemann, New Yorker; SOLVING THE PROBLEM OF FAKE NEWS:
    "What we are now calling fake news—misinformation that people fall for—is nothing new. Thousands of years ago, in the Republic, Plato offered up a hellish vision of people who mistake shadows cast on a wall for reality. In the Iliad, the Trojans fell for a fake horse. Shakespeare loved misinformation: in “Twelfth Night,” Viola disguises herself as a man and wins the love of another woman; in “The Tempest,” Caliban mistakes Stephano for a god. And, in recent years, the Nobel committee has awarded several economics prizes to work on “information asymmetry,” “cognitive bias,” and other ways in which the human propensity toward misperception distorts the workings of the world.
    What is new is the premise of the conversation about fake news that has blossomed since Election Day: that it’s realistic to expect our country to be a genuine mass democracy, in which people vote on the basis of facts and truth, as provided to them by the press."

    Australian students recreate Martin Shkreli price-hike drug in school lab; Guardian, 11/30/16

    Melissa Davey, Guardian; Australian students recreate Martin Shkreli price-hike drug in school lab:
    "He said the open nature of the project demystified science and revealed the number of roadblocks the students had faced in coming up with the final product, which involved three complicated chemical steps.
    “With science results you can be presented with a polished finished product that hides the false steps along the way,” he said. “The students’ real-time diary highlights their whole process, and is a very transparent way of doing things.”...
    He said unfortunately the students would not be able to sell their drug to the US market. While the drug can be bought in Australia for about A$13 for a packet of 50, there are a number of complicated legal roadblocks in the way of producing and selling it in the US.
    “Turing has the exclusive rights to sell it, even though the drug is no longer under patent,” Todd said. “The ridiculousness of this legal loophole means if we wanted to launch it as drug in the US we’d have to go through a whole new clinical trial because we would have to compare the Sydney Grammar stuff with the officially sanctioned stuff, and Turing would have to give us the drug to allow those comparisons to be made."