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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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Tech News

Descript is a mindblowing editing shortcut for audio and video

(TECH NEWS) Descript is an automatic transcription tool that uses machine-learning to make transcribing easier.

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Anyone getting into audio/video editing for the first time is almost immediately struck with the sheer enormity and complexity of it all. Even if you have the physical hardware, the proper software, and the creative spark to produce media, that doesn’t make the process of editing it all into a cohesive product any less daunting. For those of us struggling under the sisyphean weight of complicated editing workflows, a new product aims to relieve us all of this struggle. Enter Descript, an automatic transcription tool.

Descript uses machine-learning to transcribe your raw audio and video files into a dialogue script. This in itself is an incredibly valuable tool for anyone looking to transcribe podcasts, youtube videos, or whatever kind of media you produce. But this is just the beginning of what makes this app so special.

Descript is the world’s first audio word processor. Using the transcript the app creates from your audio, you can edit the text script to change the media itself. Removing the “umms” and “ahhs” from your speech — or removing whole sentences at a time — is as simple as using the backspace key on a word processor.

As a would-be podcaster, I played around with the app over the weekend, so I can tell you my initial impressions of the app. While it’s not for me (not yet, anyway), it is incredibly easy and fun and quite frankly mindblowing to use.

First things first, let’s talk about the cost.

The app works on a subscription model that pays by the minute. New users are able to upload up to 30 minutes of audio for free, but anything past that will require paying 15 cents per minute or signing up for a monthly subscription. Keep in mind these costs apply to total raw audio uploaded, not finished product audio produced. So if you’re the type (like me) to record several hours of audio per week only to trim it down to a single hour of product, this may be a bit on the wasteful side.

As for the transcription itself, the program’s machine-learning transcription transcribed my dulcet tones into the appropriate written words with nearly complete accuracy. I did have a few issues with the program understanding other speakers, but I believe that may have been a fault on my end that I’ll go into later. If the machine-learning transcription isn’t accurate enough for you, you can also choose to pay extra in order to have your audio specially transcribed by real human professionals.

The app can divide audio between different people speaking, but not automatically. If you have different audio files for each speaker, then each audio file will be labeled separately from the start. If multiple speakers are on the same audio track (like mine), then you’ll have to notate these differing speakers in the script yourself. I believe this is why the program had difficulty transcribing other speakers on the audio than myself. Being on the same audio track, the machine attuned itself to my voice (the first speaker on the recording) and was trying to interpret other people’s words as if I were the one saying them.

As for the audio editing aspect of this program, well, it really needs to be experienced to be believed. I was told what the program could do beforehand, but actually editing audio just by changing words around on a script is something else entirely. Cutting out non sequitur sentences, removing unnecessary articles, or even changing the order of words around to better suit the flow of conversation — through a literal word processor — will make you feel like an arcane grammar wizard.

Will this replace your entire audio/video workflow? Probably not. At least not yet. In addition to the cost factor which may be prohibitive to some users, there are some issues of editing that aren’t based on word choice. I found myself frustrated at my inability to change the timing of spaces between words, sometimes leaving gaps between sentences (or not enough space between words). Of course, I only had the program for a weekend, so this could very well be attributed to user error.

Whatever flaws real or imagined this program may have, it’s very important to keep in mind that Descript is the first of its kind.

It can only improve from here, not to mention potentially inspire a wave of similar programs that may very well function better. Whether or not Descript is right for you, what’s undeniable is that this program is the start of something amazing.

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This eye tracking tech could be what saves VR

(TECHNOLOGY) VR has struggled with adoption rates, but this new technology could finally make it more useful in daily life.

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VR could be saved

The new HTC Vive Pro Eye VR headset made its debut at CES 2019. An updated version of the HTC Vive Pro, its features are expected to have a variety of uses over the long-term.

The Vive Pro Eye features new eye tracking technology developed in partnership with Tobii Eye Tracking. Inside the headset are sensors around the eyes to help the A.I. target what your eye is seeing. This is integrated into the UI design, allowing users to select menu options just by looking at their choice. In theory, users can choose how to interact with different A.I. characters or in VR chat spaces.

The eye tracking features Dynamic Foveated Rendering which will allow the computer to render VR objects the user is looking at to a high resolution. Likewise, images on the user’s periphery or outside the field of view will appear at a lower resolution or won’t be rendered at all. This way headset will require less performance power from its graphics card, and can still generate high-quality images in the places that matter.

Another feature is the A.I. assist where the computer can register intended targets in the VR environment based upon where your eyes are looking. This could be helpful for newcomers to VR instead of adjusting to the hand-eye coordination with the remote.

In a new industry like VR, the turnover rate for technology is fairly high, but the fovated rendering is likely to stay. Since its practicality not only enhances user experience, but also provides support from a hardware standpoint, its not outlandish to think developers will piggy-back off this new feature.

Sounds like fun? Well, currently the Vive Pro Eye is meant for business ventures rather than for consumers. But we’ll likely see this technology eventually find its way into more affordable VR products. There is no release date or price range yet available.

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Google kills another of their brands – are chatbots over?

(TECH) Google sunsets another brand – does it mean *they* failed or that an entire technology failed?

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allo by google

Another Google invention bites the dust as we said goodbye to Allo to close out the year. Development for the Google’s instant messaging app was officially “paused” earlier in 2018, though the company says users will still have limited support.

While the reasons for Allo’s demise are as messy as they are unsurprising, the public backlash against chatbots and privacy abuse was another nail in Allo’s coffin per its definitive feature, Google Assistant.

Allo is like most messaging apps with the ability to send/receive all your favorite pictures, links, emojis, and animated cat stickers, and meant to compete with the experience of using Apple’s iMessage. The added bonus was Allo’s Google Assistant, a chatbot powered by the omnipotent Google Search engine suggesting replies and constantly “learning” as its users fed it information.

Allo could learn your favorite sports teams, nearby restaurants, or parts of your texting patterns. As if that weren’t creepy enough, users must specifically put the app into “incognito mode” in order to keep their conversations safe from potential data mining. With 2018 declaring open season on digital privacy, it’s unlikely the coming year will be any better.

The real benefits of a virtual assistant are hiding beneath a thick layer of potential data theft, legal controversies, and an unsightly image as Silicon Valley’s A.I. minions. But ultimately, Allo’s demise is connected to Google’s push to catch the trending wave of RCS communication.

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is meant to set a universal standard of communication across platforms. Currently, Allo is (was) just one messaging app among many others such as Facebook Messaging, WhatsApp, and Telegram.

Most of us are forced to jump between apps to communicate with all our contacts as service carriers/device manufactures keep us jumping through hoops.

Allo is not RCS compatible, (a.k.a. only an Allo user can message other Allo users) and its low number of users doesn’t speak well to the future. Meanwhile, RCS is a trend that’s growing in the United States and Google intends to be in the forefront getting everyone to hold hands and sing kumbaya. Can you imagine? Compatibility for all? It sounds too good to be true — are the eavesdropping chatbots coming along?

Google has always has always bid on multiple horses when coming to the various tech races.

Allo’s birth and death is no less unusual than the company deciding to switch from exclusivity to inclusivity. The path towards global connectivity will undoubtedly be littered with the bodies of other fallen platforms. Here lies Allo, right next to MySpace.

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