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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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Airbnb has blocked 50K+ bookings for being too big during COVID-19

(NEWS) Airbnb has cancelled a huge number of reservations as a security precaution during COVID-19 in the past year or so.

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In the last year or so, Airbnb has purposefully prevented at least 50,000 people from making irresponsible reservations on their properties, in many cases blocking those people from the platform itself. This prevention, at least in theory, helped cut down on the number of COVID parties during the pandemic.

According to The Verge, Airbnb’s head of trust and safety communication, Ben Breit, acknowledged blocked reservations in several cities across the United States, including Dallas, San Diego, and New Orleans. Breit confirmed that this response was an attempt to prevent large gatherings and parties during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic during which many areas banned group activities involving more than a few people.

While some requests for reservations were simply denied or “redirected”, many users were blocked from using Airbnb entirely. Airbnb noted that the number of blocked requests outpaced the number of people who were blocked, signifying that some accounts attempted to make more than one reservation before being removed from the platform.
Airbnb reportedly stated that “Instituting a global ban on parties and events is in the best interest of public health” prior to enacting a total ban on rentals at the beginning of 2020, a decision that gave way to the blocks and redirections in the last 12 months.

The evaluation system used to flag problematic reservations is relatively simple, according to Breit: “If you are under the age of 25 and you don’t have a history of positive reviews, we will not allow you to book an entire home listing local to where you live.”

But Airbnb didn’t entirely remove multiple-body listings or large rentals. The Verge reports that flagged users with the aforementioned criteria were still able to book both small rentals in local locations and larger rentals in reasonably distant locations.

Regardless of the optics here, Airbnb’s policy efficacy can’t be ignored. Multiple cities reported comparatively “quiet” holiday seasons–something that may contribute to Airbnb’s decision to extend their policy through the end of this summer.

The hosting company is also offering increased security measures, such as noise detection and a 24-hour hotline, at a discounted rate to property owners.

As both the vaccine gap and the proliferation of the Delta variant of COVID-19 continue to contribute to outbreaks, one can reasonably expect Airbnb to hold to this policy.

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TL;DV summarizes video meetings so folks can catch up in quickly *with* context

(TECHNOLOGY) TL;DV makes catching up on video team meetings slightly more tolerable and easily digestable.

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2021 was the year of virtual meetings, and while there are some perks associated with remote collaboration (I’m looking at you, pair of work pants that I didn’t have to wear once this year), these meetings often feel exponentially more arduous than their dressed-up counterparts. TL;DV, a consolidation app for Google Meet, looks to give back a bit of your time.

TL;DV (an acronym for “Too Long; Didn’t View”) is a Google Chrome recording extension that helps users specify important sections of meetings for anyone who needs to view them asynchronously. Users can tag specific segments in Google Meet sessions, transcribe audio, and leave notes above tagged sections for timestamp purposes, and the subsequent file can be shared via a host of both Google and third-party apps.

While the extension is only available for Google Meet at the time of writing, the TL;DV team has included a link to a survey for Zoom and MS Teams users on their site, thus implying that the team is looking into expanding into those platforms in the future.

The mission behind TL;DV is, according to the website, to empower users to “control how we spend our precious time” in the interest of combatting FOMO and meeting fatigue. By dramatically shortening the amount of time one must spend perusing a meeting recording, they seem well on their way to doing so.

Of course, the issue of human oversight remains. It seems likely that meeting facilitators will drop the ball here and there while tagging sections of the recording, and employees who miss crucial information in a recorded session are sure to be frustrated in the process–just not as frustrated as they might be if they attended the entire meeting live.

The current (free) version of TL;DV is in Beta, so users will have a three-hour cap on their videos. The development team promises a professional version by the end of 2021, with the added bonus of leaving prior recordings available for free for anyone who used the Beta. This is certainly an extension to keep an eye on–whether or not you’re remaining remote in 2022, virtual conferencing is no doubt here to stay.

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Hiding from facial recognition is a booming business

(TECH NEWS) ‘Cloaking’ is the new way to hide your face. Companies are making big money designing cloaking apps that thwart your features by adding a layer of make up, clothing, blurring, and even transforming you into your favorite celebrity.

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Facial recognition companies and those who seek to thwart them are currently locked in a grand game of cat and mouse. Though it’s been relentlessly pursued by police, politicians, and technocrats alike, the increasing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, workplaces, and housing complexes remains a widely unpopular phenomenon.

So it’s no surprise that there is big money to be made in the field of “cloaking,” or dodging facial recognition tech – particularly during COVID times while facial coverings are, literally, in fashion.

Take Fawkes, a cloaking app designed by researchers at the University of Chicago. It is named for Guy Fawkes, the 17th century English revolutionary whose likeness was popularized as a symbol of anonymity, and solidarity in V For Vendetta.

Fawkes works by subtly overlaying a celebrity’s facial information over your selfies at the pixel level. To your friends, the changes will go completely unnoticed, but to an artificial intelligence trying to identify your face, you’d theoretically look just like Beyonce.

Fawkes isn’t available to the general public yet, but if you’re looking for strategies to fly under the radar of facial recognition, don’t fret; it is just one example of the ways in which cloaking has entered the mainstream.

Other forms of cloaking have emerged in the forms of Tik Tok makeup trends, clothes that confuse recognition algorithms, tools that automatically blur identifying features on the face, and much more. Since effective facial recognition relies on having as much information about human faces as possible, cloaking enthusiasts like Ben Zhao, Professor of computer science at the University of Chicago and co-developer of Fawkes, hope to make facial recognition less effective against the rest of the population too. In an interview with The New York Times, Zhao asserts, “our [team’s] goal is to make Clearview [AI] go away.”

For the uninitiated, Clearview AI is a start-up that recently became infamous for scraping billions of public photos from the internet and privately using them to build the database for a law enforcement facial recognition tool.

The CEO of Clearview, Hoan Ton-That, claimed that the tool would only be improved by these workarounds and that in long run, cloaking is futile. If that sounds like supervillain talk, you might see why he’s earned himself a reputation similar to the likes of Martin Shkreli or Ajit Pai with his company’s uniquely aggressive approach to data harvesting.

It all feels like the beginning of a cyberpunk western: a story of man vs. machine. The deck is stacked, the rules are undecided, and the world is watching. But so far, you can rest assured that no algorithm has completely outsmarted our own eyeballs… yet.

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