Ethics and feature detection

Automated feature detection within images (described in my previous post) deploys “machine learning” techniques. A machine learning algorithm scans thousands of “training” images that are pre-labelled with relevant feature descriptors. The algorithm adjusts the parameters in its network data structure to reproduce those same labels when presented with the same images. It thereby “learns” to…More

Algorithms and ethics

I’ve noticed amongst some digital scholars and critics a renewed interest in algorithms, e.g. people worry that Facebook’s “algorithm” skews what we read online towards the controversial and hence colours people’s politics. The concern is mainly over algorithms that “learn” from large amounts of data about us — in other words machine learning algorithms. A…More

Is it getting harder to be good?

Episode 37 of the comedy series The Good Place delivers a clever parable about ethics. In this unlikely universe people gain entry to Heaven by totting up enough credit points. Good deeds add points to your tally. But a check on the records shows that no one has made it into Heaven for the past…More

Individual-1: Kompromat 101

I’ve been trying to understand how Russia and the Kremlin are reputed to exert their soft-power influences on other states. I’ve seen plenty of films about espionage, blackmail and corruption, but I usually miss the twist in the plot that explains the hold that one state agent has over another — perhaps because such misdemeanours…More

Millennials and Morals

In the opinion of most people, millennials are tech-savvy, materialistic, selfish, lazy and arrogant — according to a 2016 Ipsos global trends survey. By way of contrast the same survey showed how the previous, baby boomer generation identifies itself as respectful, work-centric, community-oriented, well-educated and ethical. The Ipsos report provides some global evidence to correct…More

In bad taste

France, and some other countries, use the two-round election system. If there’s no majority vote winner from among a set of candidates then there’s a second election. It’s a playoff between the top two candidates. Binary choices are often easier to deal with, and are decisive. Of less consequence than state elections, I find it easy enough to choose…More

Testing ethical acuity

Ethical sensitivity is best cultivated through examples. To test this proposition I ran a class in which ethical matters were addressed through a series of contemporary case studies. There were 50 masters students in the class. Before the students broke into their groups to discuss the case studies I asked them all some simple binary questions,…More

The hermeneutical intractability of Asimov’s three laws of robotics

In his sci-fi detective mystery, I, Robot, Isaac Asimov writes: “Powell’s radio voice was tense in Donovan’s ear: ‘Now, look, let’s start with the three fundamental Rules of Robotics — the three rules that are built most deeply into a robot’s positronic brain.’ The rules follow. A robot may not injure a human being or,…More

What have the arts to do with ethics?

Ethics checklists, committees, codes of practice and approvals came late to the arts. The place of ethics in the practical arts and their study looks like an afterthought, as if peripheral to the act of creation. After all, art has to begin at least with the freedom to say and do what you want. The ethical may come later to…More

What does it all mean?

Art provides a soft target for opinion and prejudice. I recently read a comment at the end of a Huffington Post blog about the 2012 Turner prize winner (Elizabeth Price): “most of the stuff is self-indulgent nonsense that couldn’t possibly mean anything to anyone other than the artist.” Meaning is tricky. Think of meaning as…More