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A robot now has citizenship – how ethical is it to hack her?

(EDITORIAL) Saudi Arabia gave a robot citizenship. What happens if she gets hacked? Is it ethical? Let’s discuss the intricacies of this problem we must solve in time.

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So, Saudi Arabia granted a robot citizenship. That’s not the topic at hand, somehow. That’s just a thing that happened, because 2018 has every intention of one-upping 2017 in the “we all live in a SNL sketch parodying Black Mirror” surrealism sweepstakes.

The topic at hand is this: What happens if somebody hacks her?

When my boss dropped that question on Facebook, and I had to stop and stare at it for awhile. Geek hypotheticals are extremely my shizz, but seriously. There are layers on layers to that one.

Happily, some smart people are already unpacking the layers.

1. Does citizenship = Personhood?

robot citizen

“Corporations have personhood in US. Is it ethical to hack them?” – Tim Kaupas

“There are white-hat hackers that are hired to review the security system of companies, some of which hacked into the system before they were given a fully supervised opportunity.” – Cheska Lesaca

Tim’s point and Cheska’s reply highlight a complicated point of law. “Corporate personhood” is the controversial legal doctrine that corporations enjoy some of the same rights as individual citizens. It’s a big idea that has been at the heart of a lot of recent – and very contentious – law, including 2010’s Citizens United vs. FEC, which protected corporate political donations as a form of free speech, and 2014’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., which permitted corporations to make hiring and firing decisions on religious lines under the First Amendment.

To state the obvious, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution doesn’t say anything about corporations having the right to free anything. To state the even more obvious, it says nothing whatsoever about Saudi Arabia.

To state the less obvious, corporate personhood isn’t the same as personhood, period. It isn’t a legal absolute. It’s a heading, a way of characterizing a bunch of American law that defines the parameters of what corporations can and can’t do.

Also, as Cheska points out, corporations don’t act like people most of the time. When a hacker hacks a corporation, half the time they hire other hackers to deal with security! If you’ve ever found someone in a ski mask going through your undies, I’m going to guess you didn’t offer them a job.

So which is Sophia? A person, with rights to respect and personal autonomy worthy of zealous defense? Or a corporate resource a curious person can poke through the workings of without serious ethical or legal harm?

2. Is it alive?

“Gotta back up. No robot should have citizenship. Dogs are conscious, rats are conscious, birds are conscious, none of them have citizenship. A robot shouldn’t have citizenship. Answering the question validates an absurd position.” – Matthew Hager

Citizenship is special. It makes assumptions of citizens that Sophia, technically spiffy as she is, doesn’t seem capable of fulfilling.

Sophia herself, by way of her pleasant, only slightly-Stepford website, says she “can animate all kinds of human expressions,” but is “only starting to learn about the emotions behind those expressions.” That would seem to be a drawback in someone who wants to interact with the state.

That’s Matthew’s point, and it’s well-taken. Sophia is a machine. She does what she’s scripted to do. She lacks even the self-determination of an animal, and animals aren’t citizens.

That said, you’re not allowed to rewrite the brain of an animal, either. Citizen or otherwise, basic ethics requires a level of respect for the autonomy of other beings. So what constitutes “being?” Is there a point at which a self-optimizing algorithm is close enough to thought that it’s worthy of respect?

3. Getting real

sophia robot

“Nope. It’s hexual assault.” – John Steinmetz

OK, that’s a really niche joke. See, hexadecimal numbering is used in computer programming to… you know what? Don’t worry about it. If you don’t know what it is, just accept it’s a silly nerd joke and move on.

Less funny? Sophia is a Saudi citizen. Per the UN, there are roughly 15 million women and girls who are Saudi citizens. As of 2011, they even get to vote! As long as they have a male guardian’s permission, that is. Same deal if they want to travel. Or get jobs. Or go to school. Or open a bank account.

Point being, as previously mentioned, I love nerdy hypotheticals, and like any good ex-Catholic schoolboy, I’m thoroughly enthused at the chance to debate complex ethical questions. But “hypothetical” is exactly what Sophia is. She’s a charming publicity stunt, a marketing move by Hanson Robotics. Fair enough.

But when it comes to Saudi citizenship, I could give a damn about Sophia the pretty robot. The ethical questions to be answered are anything but hypothetical.

Hack that.

This story was originally featured on February 06, 2018.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Patrick

    February 19, 2018 at 11:00 am

    “Corporations have personhood in US.”

    No they don’t. that’s an idiot repeating a political talking point that missed the truth.

    People are persons. People don’t lose their rights just because they work together in organizational form, be it churches, labor unions, civic groups, political parties … or corporations.

    So your free speech rights can’t be taken away just because you exercise them via a group. Otherwise, we could ban free speech for the Sierra Club and AFL-CIO.
    that doesn’t make corporations *into* persons at all.

    So the talking point has zero relevance into robots.

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Tech News

Facebook policy sets themselves up for yet another failure

(TECH) Facebook’s role in news consumption increases, and their new policy regarding news is raising eyebrows.

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Facebook did not get a lot of likes a when it was facing scrutiny for taking money for Russian ads, and their subsequent role in the 2016 Presidential election. In response to that, Facebook announced its Ad Archive – a public political archive to allow users more transparency in who purchased those ads like you can on television. Additionally, they changed their political ads policy.

Of course, the goal of this is to promote transparency and give the public an opportunity to scrutinize advertisers and have more control about what they do with that information. Facebook and the world at large acknowledges that still isn’t a perfect solution, and there are many problems left to work out, including how perpetrators can get around the new rules by simply setting up an LLC.

Now, Facebook says they will include news pages in their Ad Archives. While this decision was originally opposed by many news publishers, and Facebook compromised by putting them in a separate category, it has officially become part of Facebook policy.

To be a news page, there are several criteria pages and promoters must follow, including focusing on current events and news, spreading factual and true information, and publishing content that is not user generated or aggregated from other areas of the web. Also, the amount of advertising content can not exceed the amount of content related to news.

Facebook’s decision to include news publishers involved some input from The Trust Project was a decent step, but it’s almost certain that many publishers are raising their eyebrows at the decision to include them in the archive, with the indication that news organizations are as suspect as corrupt Russian players. It is particularly grating in an environment where Twitter has opted not to lump news and Russian actors together.

Certainly, how publishers spend their dollars and make platform decisions will be impacted, especially as this continues. Given the broad domains of ad archive – elections, elected officials, and issues of national importance – we are likely to see how things play out over the next few months.

The biggest concern of course, is how this sets Facebook up for another failure in regards to how it handles news, and how this will impact the people receiving that news. And hopefully, we find out before the stakes are too high.

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Quickly delete years of your stupid Facebook updates

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Digital clutter sucks. Save time and energy with this new Chrome extension for Facebook.

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When searching for a new job, it’s always a good idea to scan your social media presence to make sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure with offensive or immature posts.

In fact, you should regularly check your digital life even if you’re not on the job hunt. You never know when friends, family, or others are going to rabbit hole into reading everything you’ve ever posted.

Facebook is an especially dangerous place for this since the social media giant has been around for over fourteen years. Many accounts are old enough to be in middle school now.

If you’ve ever taken a deep dive into your own account, you may have found some unsavory posts you couldn’t delete quickly enough.

We all have at least one cringe-worthy post or picture buried in years of digital clutter. Maybe you were smart from the get-go and used privacy settings. Or maybe you periodically delete posts when Memories resurfaces that drunk college photo you swore wasn’t on the internet anymore.

But digging through years of posts is time consuming, and for those of us with accounts older than a decade, nearly impossible.

Fortunately, a new Chrome extension can take care of this monotonous task for you. Social Book Post Manager helps clean up your Facebook by bulk deleting posts at your discretion.

Instead of individually removing posts and getting sucked into the ensuing nostalgia, this extension deletes posts in batches with the click of a button.

Select a specific time range or search criteria and the tool pulls up all relevant posts. From here, you decide what to delete or make private.

Let’s say you want to destroy all evidence of your political beliefs as a youngster. Simply put in the relevant keyword, like a candidate or party’s name, and the tool pulls up all posts matching that criteria. You can pick and choose, or select all for a total purge.

You can also salt the earth and delete everything pre-whatever date you choose. I could tell Social Book to remove everything before 2014 and effectively remove any proof that I attended college.

Keep in mind, this tool only deletes posts and photos from Facebook itself. If you have any savvy enemies who saved screenshots or you cross-posted, you’re out of luck.

The extension is free to use, and new updates support unliking posts and hiding timeline items. Go to town pretending you got hired on by the Ministry of Truth to delete objectionable history for the greater good of your social media presence.

PS: If you feel like going full scorched Earth, delete everything from your Facebook past and then switch to this browser to make it harder for Facebook to track you while you’re on the web.

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Why are all apps starting to look exactly the same?

(TECHNOLOGY) As apps evolve, they are beginning to look uniform – is this a good or bad thing?

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Have you noticed that all apps are beginning to look a lot alike? Many popular social media apps are utilizing minimalist designs, featuring lots of black and white with negative space and little color.

At a glance, you may not be able to differentiate what’s Airbnb and what’s Instagram. Normally, something like this could be argued to be unoriginal and boring. However, let’s look at the positives.

If every app – for the most part – is operating with the same design, they’re not trying to constantly one-up each other with the next big look. As a result, they have more time to focus on what’s important – the content found on the app and the functions of the app.

While many apps offer similar features (like Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram both having Stories), every social media app has its own flair that keeps users coming back. And, user retention is higher if they feel comfortable using the app – which is another plus of them all having similar designs.

If you have 12 different social media apps with 12 different interfaces and means of operation, it’s unlikely that a user will keep up with all 12. But, if they know exactly how to use them, the user can flip back and forth like it’s nothing.

However, “app fatigue is a real thing,” said Yaz of UX Collective. “Most people have grown tired of bouncing between too many apps or learning how to use a new interface after every new download.”

Below is Yaz’s exploration of the uniformity in apps:

Research has found that a quarter of all apps are deleted after just one use. People tend to stick with the apps that they have found made a positive impact in their lives – either for communication with others or apps that save them time.

Uniformity means developers can spend more of their time on creating the content that will aid in better communication and more time saving options.

Again, what it comes down to is the content and function. That’s where the true creativity comes in. People aren’t using Airbnb because the app or the website are ridiculously exciting; they’re using it because it offers a service that is beneficial.

What are your thoughts on app uniformity? Unoriginal, or a stepping stone for what’s really important?

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