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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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robot citizen

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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Extend your smart home to the mailbox with the Ring Mailbox Sensor

(TECH NEWS) With the rise of the smart home and mail theft, Amazon’s new Ring product is the perfect addition to protect your letters and packages.

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Ring Mailbox Sensor on the inside of a mailbox door with hand delivering letters.

Smart home enthusiasts worried about the increasing problem of mail theft are getting a new piece of security technology: The new Ring Mailbox Sensor.

Pop the wireless, battery-powered motion sensor in your mailbox, and it will alert you when someone opens the lid or door. You can get a notification in the Ring app on your smartphone and, because Ring is an Amazon company, through any Alexa-enabled device. (So your Ecobee thermostat can tell you you’ve got mail. Cool.)

The sensor’s biggest benefit: You can immediately collect your mail when you get an alert that it’s been delivered. If you’re home.

There’s no camera with live view or speaker for yelling at the thief to drop your stuff, although you can do that with any microphone-enabled cameras near your mailbox.

But if you’ve ringed your home with Ring products, you can set the sensor to turn on Smart Lights or to make the video doorbell or security cameras start recording. If your mailbox is near your front door, however, that will probably already be happening after those devices detect motion. The sensor could be very useful for mailboxes at the end of a long driveway and out of sight of any cameras.

You can preorder the Mailbox Sensor ($29.99) at Ring.com and Amazon.com starting on Oct. 8. To connect the sensor with the doorbell, smart lights, and Alexa devices, you’ll need the Ring Bridge ($49.99).

You may want to keep an eye on Amazon’s new Sidewalk technology, however. Sidewalk is designed to extend the range of your Wi-Fi network. It siphons off a small part of your bandwidth, and that of your neighbors with Amazon-related devices, to create a crowd-sourced neighborhood network.

Amazon has released a list of devices – mostly Echoes and cameras – that will act as bridges themselves, and it’s not yet clear how the Mailbox Sensor will interact with all of that in the future. By the way, if privacy concerns were the first thing that popped into your head when you read that, check out Amazon’s Sidewalk white paper on privacy.

FYI: If your mail is stolen, You should report to the USPS, using their online form. You could report to the police via 311 but know that it’s unlikely officers will pursue the crime.

The best defense against thieves is still a locked mailbox. It’s not fool-proof, of course, but it can make thieves take longer to get at your mail. But if they take the sensor with your mail, or even your whole mailbox, Ring will replace the Mailbox Sensor for free.

You can find out more about the Mailbox Sensor in Ring’s support FAQ.

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Degree holders are shifting tech hubs and affordability

(TECH NEWS) Tech hubs are shifting as degree holders move, but it’s causing some other issues and raising some interesting questions about the future of jobs.

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degree city

Bloomberg recently announced their annual “Brain” Indexes. The indexes are an annual reckoning of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs and degree holders. The “Brain Concentration Index” approximates the number of people working full time in computer, engineering, and science jobs (including math and architecture.) It measures the median earnings for people in those jobs. It also counts how many people have a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, or an advanced degree of any kind. It blends those things together to determine how “brainy” a city is.

Since they started in 2016, Boulder, CO has been at the top of the list. This year it’s followed by San Jose, CA, which many people might expect to be at the top. Many of the more surprising cities, like Ann Arbor, MI, Ithaca, NY, and even Lawrence, KS, are bolstered by the presence of a strong university.

It’s an interesting methodology. It’s worth noting that anyone with an advanced degree, whether it’s an MBA, a law degree, or a Ph.D. in literature, contributes to which city is a “tech hub.” It’s also worth noting how expensive many of these places are to live.

If you follow this kind of national data collection at all, you may also know that Boulder is one of the least-affordable cities in the country. So is the San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara metro area, with a median home price of 1.25 million dollars and a median household income of $117,474. (That means that the average mortgage is more than half of the average paycheck). However many people tech hubs like San Jose and San Francisco attract, they’re also hemorrhaging talent. Every day, 8 Californians move to Austin. Of the people who stay, more than half are thinking of moving.

They aren’t doing that for fun. As much flak as Californians get for gentrifying places like Austin, they’re being megagentrified out of their own homes. As salaries rise and CEO gigs attract the wealthy (and turn them into the Uberwealthy), the people who wait on tables or teach their children can’t afford to stay there anymore.

Speaking of people leaving, Bloomberg also measured what they call “brain drain,” the flow of advanced degree holders out of cities. They pair that with a decline in white-collar jobs and a decline in STEM pay to come up with their annual list. It includes places like Lebanon, PA and Kahului, HI.

All in all, it’s interesting information. But there are other factors at work that it can’t speak to. What does wage stagnation in the U.S. mean for the flow of education workers? If San Jose and San Francisco can be tech hubs based on the number of people with degrees, but people are still fleeing, what does that say about rankings like these? What human stories get lost in the shuffle? And is “tech hub” even something a city wants to be if that means running out of teachers (or making them sleep in garages)? Where does the next generation of tech hub workers come from?

Knowing the people behind the numbers makes it clear just what a mixed bag this is. Maybe we need more tech hubs like Lawrence, Kansas. Or maybe we need rent control. Or maybe we need to embrace remote work. Maybe there are no answers. As interesting as data like this is, there’s something sort of wistful about it, too.

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Tech News

New Apple Watch is awesome, but past watches could be just as good for cheaper

(TECH NEWS) The Apple Watch Series 6 is a ridiculous display of self-flattery—but that doesn’t mean people won’t line up to buy it in droves.

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Apple Watch being worn on wrist showing weather for Montreal.

The Apple Watch has been the subject of everything from speculation to ridicule during its relatively short tenure on this planet. While most have nothing but praise for the most recent iteration, that praise comes at a cost: The Apple Watch’s ghost of Christmas past.

Or, to put it more literally, the fact that the Apple Watch’s prior version and accompanying variations are too good—and, at this point, too comparatively cheap—to warrant buying the most recent (and expensive) option.

Sure, the Apple Watch Series 6 has a bevy of health features—a sensor that can take an ECG and a blood oxygen test, to name a couple—but the Series 5 has almost everything else that makes the Apple Watch Series 6 “notable.” According to Gear Patrol, even the Series 4 is comparable if you don’t mind forgoing the option to have the Apple Watch’s screen on all of the time.

More pressingly, Gear Patrol points out, is the availability of discount options from Apple. The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE are, at this point, budget options that still do the job for smart watch enthusiasts.

Not to mention any Apple Watch can run updates can utilize Apple’s Fitness Plus subscription—another selling point that, despite its lucrative potential, doesn’t justify buying a $400 watch when a cheaper option is present.

It’s worth noting that Apple is no stranger to outdoing themselves retroactively. Every year, Apple’s “new” MacBook, iPhone, and iPad models are subjected to extensive benchmarking by every tech goatee around. And the conclusion is usually that buying a generation or two behind is fine—and, from a financial perspective, smart.

And yet, as the holidays roll around or the initial drop date of a new product arrives, Apple invariably goes through inventory like a tabby cat through unattended butter.

The Apple Watch is already a parody of itself, yet its immense popularity and subtle innovation has promoted it through several generations and a few spin-off iterations. And that’s not even including the massive Apple-specific watch band market that appears to have popped up as a result.

Say what you will about the Series 6; when the chips are on the table, my money’s on the consumers making the same decisions they always make.

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