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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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Students say free coding school wildly fails to deliver

(TECH NEWS) There’s a serious barrier to entry into web development so a free coding school launches, but students say it isn’t delivering on their promises.

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Coding bootcamps

Technology changes quickly and so does the skillset requirement by companies. Many people are finding themselves in the stage of their career path where they may want to try something new – and not surprisingly, make a nice salary doing it. The launch of coding bootcamps (starting with Code Academy and 2011) has been touted as the solution to educate those on a missing skillset and setting them up for well-paying J-O-Bs.

Coding bootcamps, now up to 95 full-time coding academies in the United States, offer job seekers training in an area where they can move in to a new career and also meet to provide much needed talent to employers who need people who can code. This doesn’t usually come for free though. Average coding bootcamps (6 months) can cost up to $21K with the promise you will land a high paying salary at the end of it. There are also many universities providing coding boot camp classes.

What does it mean when a free coding school launches (with the intent to provide an educational opportunity to those who maybe don’t have the funding for a large investment and/or the ability to take out more student loans) and simply asks for a portion of your starting salary once you land that incredible new Developer gig?

Sounds like a great idea. This meets the market demand for interested people to learn a new skill set and be ready for a new career in software development. Shouldn’t we be asking how easy it is for these folks to get hired after the program? The challenge with the Lambda School is that their curriculum and UX for online learning is in development.

While they intended to meet people where they were with an online platform (offering flexibility to the students and teachers), it has left a little bit to desire by its participants. The learning opportunities are constantly changing. The teachers are also not always available and most likely have other full-time obligations or employment.

Many students were left disappointed that they didn’t feel the education matched expectations and didn’t see how they were going to be able to be hired in to roles that would allow them to pay back the tuition. So much so they sent requests to get out of their signed contracts and halt the program.
It goes without saying that anything new has its challenges and businesses can only move so fast.

No matter how fast technology changes, we are humans and have certain human behaviors. Employers want to see real-world experience so even if you’ve taken classes, the candidate must be willing to do things above and beyond the class (volunteer projects and networking for sure). While we root for Lambda School to be a legitimate solution for those how may not have the budget for a full-time coding school, it might be worth the time to let them sort out their curriculum challenges and consider building up your skill set in this area in other ways.

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Tech News

Defense startups are getting beaucoup bucks from the DoD

(TECH NEWS) Some tech companies are getting large venture capital because the Department of Defense is looking for new defense startups.

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military looking defense startups

While private investors remain wary of funding defense startups, they are still keeping an eye on the possible venture opportunities. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is hoping domestic investors will increase spending into these startups in order to compete with China’s strategy of creating private equity firms to invest into foreign technologies.

A major reason for the growing interest by venture capitalists is the shift in focus from traditional weapons to tools for information warfare, meaning software and tech systems. Defense startups are creating products that may have multiple benefits outside the DoD.

Changes in the defense venture landscape are slow with all three parties learning how to benefit from one another. Startups realize working with the DoD is a “mission-driven objective” as stated by Ryan Tseng, founder of Shield AI. “We went into this eyes wide open, knowing full well that to the venture community, the math doesn’t make sense.”

However, there are several big investor players already in the game. Andreessen Horowitz, a top-tier venture fund is banking on the economic sustainability of defense startups in the future. They’ve already invested in Shield AI and defense tech company Anduril Industries. Additionally, the Founders Fund, another big name venture firm led by Silicon investors Peter Thiel, Brian Singerman, and Ken Howery is investing in Anduril and goTenna after successfully backing SpaceX and Palantir Technologies.

Defense companies’ emphasis on tech could be the answer to challenges usually associated with DoD investments like competing against dominate manufacturers with steady government contracts and long procurement cycles. U.S. Code 2377 stipulates that commercially available items be considered first in procurement efforts. If defense startups can enter the market, they will also stand a chance of winning government contracts over bigger, traditional companies, thus diversifying the playing field.

But until there is a greater guarantee of a payoff, investors are likely to remain skeptical. The possibilities for this new generation of defense companies is going to needs some more wins to prove the future is in their corner.

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Tech News

Goal-based project management tool simplifies your work life

(TECH NEWS) If you are struggling to keep tasks straight then this new tool Qoals allows for a simpler and more straightforward way to accomplish goals as a team.

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Qoals pitch

We all have goals – whether they be personal, professional, financial, etc. Anyone can set a goal, all it takes is having a thought and assigning it a certain level of importance. However, not everyone completes their goals due to the oft difficulties and confusions associated with execution.

Like anything else, if there’s a will, there’s a way. A new way has been found in the form of Qoals – a simple and straightforward tool that helps you to get aligned around business goals instead of an endless wall of tasks.

The ability to complete goals is done through: setting goals, adding tasks, collecting things, and tracking progress. With this, everyone on your team has access to this information to keep tabs on what’s happening.

With setting goals, you create and prioritize your goals, letting your team members know which ones are most important at that time. Goals can be prioritized with tabs such as: long term, short term, and urgent. By adding tasks, you can add and assign tasks to set a clear path in order to complete set goals.

In collecting things, you collect resources related to your goal and keep them in one safe place (again, this is accessible to your whole team). This doesn’t require uploading files, but simply including links to resources to keep everything easily accessible. Finally, by tracking progress, everyone on the team can see where you’re at with your goals – which saves time with the follow ups of “how’s Goal X going?”

Why did Qoals develop this goal-oriented approach? “It’s about time we simplify things,” according to the official website. “Get aligned around goals and let everyone know what’s important for the business. Add goals under various projects and start adding tasks and resources to make that goal happen.”

Additionally, Qoals boasts that this provides users with a birds-eye view of what’s happening with their team, allowing them to be more human-centric. You can create unlimited projects, set and track your goals, collected everything related to said goal, keep the discussion relevant, access your tasks with one click, stay connected to your team, and see what’s going on at a glance.
Qoals is currently in beta.

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