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Ethics in the age of autonomous vehicles

Earlier this month, TechCrunch held its inaugural Mobility Sessions event, where leading mobility-focused auto companies, startups, executives and thought leaders joined us to discuss all things autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles.

Extra Crunch is offering members access to full transcripts of key panels and conversations from the event, such as Megan Rose Dickey‘s chat with Voyage CEO and co-founder Oliver Cameron and Uber’s prediction team lead Clark Haynes on the ethical considerations for autonomous vehicles.

Megan, Oliver and Clark talk through how companies should be thinking about ethics when building out the self-driving ecosystem, while also diving into the technical aspects of actually building an ethical transportation product. The panelists also discuss how their respective organizations handle ethics, representation and access internally, and how their approaches have benefited their offerings.

Clark Haynes: So we as human drivers, we’re naturally what’s called foveate. Our eyes go forward and we have some mirrors that help us get some situational awareness. Self-driving cars don’t have that problem. Self-driving cars are designed with 360-degree sensors. They can see everything around them.

But the interesting problem is not everything around you is important. And so you need to be thinking through what are the things, the people, the actors in the world that you might be interacting with, and then really, really think through possible outcomes there.

I work on the prediction problem of what’s everyone doing? Certainly, you need to know that someone behind you is moving in a certain way in a certain direction. But maybe that thing that you’re not really certain what it is that’s up in front of you, that’s the thing where you need to be rolling out 10, 20 different scenarios of what might happen and make certain that you can kind of hedge your bets against all of those.

For access to the full transcription below and for the opportunity to read through additional event transcripts and recaps, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Megan Rose Dickey: Ready to talk some ethics?

Oliver Cameron: Born ready.

Clark Haynes: Absolutely.

Rose Dickey: I’m here with Oliver Cameron of Voyage, a self-driving car company that operates in communities, like retirement communities, for example. And with Clark Haynes of Uber, he’s on the prediction team for autonomous vehicles.

So some of you in the audience may remember, it was last October, MIT came out with something called the moral machine. And it essentially laid out 13 different scenarios involving self-driving cars where essentially someone had to die. It was either the old person or the young person, the black person, or the white person, three people versus one person. I’m sure you guys saw that, too.

So why is that not exactly the right way to be thinking about self-driving cars and ethics?

Haynes: This is the often-overused trolley problem of, “You can only do A or B choose one.” The big thing there is that if you’re actually faced with that as the hardest problem that you’re doing right now, you’ve already failed.

You should have been working harder to make certain you never ended up in a situation where you’re just choosing A or B. You should actually have been, a long time ago, looking at A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and like thinking through all possible outcomes as far as what your self-driving car could do, in low probability outcomes that might be happening.

Rose Dickey: Oliver, I remember actually, it was maybe a few months ago, you tweeted something about the trolley problem and how much you hate it.

Cameron: I think it’s one of those questions that doesn’t have an ideal answer today, because no one’s got self-driving cars deployed to tens of thousands of people experiencing these sorts of issues on the road. If we did an experiment, how many people here have ever faced that conundrum? Where they have to choose between a mother pushing a stroller with a child and a regular, normal person that’s just crossing the road?

Rose Dickey: We could have a quick show of hands. Has anyone been in that situation?

CRISPR scientist in China claims his team’s research has resulted in the world’s first gene-edited babies

In what represents a dramatic and ethically fraught escalation of CRISPR research, a Chinese scientist from a university in Shenzhen claims he has succeeded in helping create the world’s first genetically-edited babies. Dr. Jiankui He told the Associated Press that twin girls were born earlier this month after he edited their embryos using CRISPR technology to remove the CCR5 gene, which plays a critical role in enabling many forms of the HIV virus to infect cells.

The AP’s interview was published after a report by the MIT Technology Review earlier today that He’s team at the Southern University of Science and Technology wants to use CRISPR technology to eliminate the CCR5 gene and create children with resistance to HIV.

He’s claims are certain to cause a huge stir at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing, set to begin in Hong Kong on Tuesday. According to the Technology Review, the summit’s organizers were apparently not notified of He’s plans for the study, though the AP says He informed them today. (It is important to note that there is still no independent confirmation of He’s claim and that it has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.)

During his interview with the AP, He, who studied at Rice and Stanford before returning to China, said he felt “a strong responsibility that it’s not just to make a first, but also make it an example” and that “society will decide what to do next.”

According to documents linked by the Technology Review, the study was approved by the Medical Ethics Committee of Shenzhen HOME Women’s and Children’s Hospital. The summary on the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry also said the study’s execution time is between March 7, 2017 to March 7, 2019, and that it sought married couples living in China who met its health and age requirements and are willing to undergo IVF therapy. The research team wrote that their goal is to “obtain healthy children to avoid HIV providing new insights for the future elimination of major genetic diseases in early human embryos.”

A table attached to the trial’s listing on the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry said genetic tests have already been carried out on fetuses of 12, 19, and 24 weeks of gestational age, though it is unclear if those pregnancies included the one that resulted in the birth of the twin girls, whose parents wish to remain anonymous.

“I believe this is going to help the families and their children,” He told the AP, adding that if the study causes harm, “I would feel the same pain as they do and it’s going to be my own responsibility.”

Chinese scientists at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou first edited the genes of a human embryo using CRISPR technology (the acronym stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats), which enables the removal of specific genes by acting as a very precise pair of “genetic scissors,” in 2015. Though other scientists, including in the United States, have conducted similar research since then, the Southern University of Science and Technology’s study is considered especially radical because of the ethical implications of CRISPR, which many scientists fear may be used to perpetuate eugenics or create “designer babies” if carried out on embryos meant to be carried to term.

As in the United States and many European countries, using a genetically-engineered embryo in a pregnancy is already prohibited in China, though the Technology Review points out that this guideline, which was issued to IVF clinics in 2003, may not carry the weight of the law.

In 2015, shortly after the Sun Yat-sen University experiment (which was conducted on embryos that were unviable because of chromosomal effects) became known, a meeting called by several groups, including the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, the Institute of Medicine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of London, called for a moratorium on making inheritable changes to the human genome.

In addition to ethical concerns, Fyodor Urnov, a gene-editing scientist and associate director of the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences, a nonprofit in Seattle, told the Technology Review that He’s study is cause for “regret and concern” because it may also overshadow progress in gene-editing research currently being carried out on adults with HIV.

TechCrunch has contacted He for comment at his university email.

Whitehouse.gov petition seeking Trump tax returns flies past 100,000 signature goal

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 26:  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is interviewed following the grand opening ceremony at the new Trump International Hotel October 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. The hotel, built inside the historic Old Post Office, has 263 luxury rooms, including the 6,300-square-foot 'Trump Townhouse' at $100,000 a night, with a five-night minimum. The Trump Organization was granted a 60-year lease to the historic building by the federal government before the billionaire New York real estate mogul announced his intent to run for president.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) A Whitehouse.gov petition calling for President Donald Trump to immediately release his tax returns has surpassed the 100,000-signature threshold in under a day, garnering a Whitehouse response. It’s not clear that the current administration intends to follow the practice established under Former President Barack Obama, of accepting petitions online, reviewing and responding to… Read More

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Whitehouse.gov petition seeking Trump tax returns flies past 100,000 signature goal

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 26:  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is interviewed following the grand opening ceremony at the new Trump International Hotel October 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. The hotel, built inside the historic Old Post Office, has 263 luxury rooms, including the 6,300-square-foot 'Trump Townhouse' at $100,000 a night, with a five-night minimum. The Trump Organization was granted a 60-year lease to the historic building by the federal government before the billionaire New York real estate mogul announced his intent to run for president.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) A Whitehouse.gov petition calling for President Donald Trump to immediately release his tax returns has surpassed the 100,000-signature threshold in under a day, garnering a Whitehouse response. It’s not clear that the current administration intends to follow the practice established under Former President Barack Obama, of accepting petitions online, reviewing and responding to… Read More

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Whitehouse.gov petition seeking Trump tax returns flies past 100,000 signature goal

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 26:  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is interviewed following the grand opening ceremony at the new Trump International Hotel October 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. The hotel, built inside the historic Old Post Office, has 263 luxury rooms, including the 6,300-square-foot 'Trump Townhouse' at $100,000 a night, with a five-night minimum. The Trump Organization was granted a 60-year lease to the historic building by the federal government before the billionaire New York real estate mogul announced his intent to run for president.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) A Whitehouse.gov petition calling for President Donald Trump to immediately release his tax returns has surpassed the 100,000-signature threshold in under a day, garnering a Whitehouse response. It’s not clear that the current administration intends to follow the practice established under Former President Barack Obama, of accepting petitions online, reviewing and responding to… Read More

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Whitehouse.gov petition seeking Trump tax returns flies past 100,000 signature goal

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 26:  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is interviewed following the grand opening ceremony at the new Trump International Hotel October 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. The hotel, built inside the historic Old Post Office, has 263 luxury rooms, including the 6,300-square-foot 'Trump Townhouse' at $100,000 a night, with a five-night minimum. The Trump Organization was granted a 60-year lease to the historic building by the federal government before the billionaire New York real estate mogul announced his intent to run for president.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) A Whitehouse.gov petition calling for President Donald Trump to immediately release his tax returns has surpassed the 100,000-signature threshold in under a day, garnering a Whitehouse response. It’s not clear that the current administration intends to follow the practice established under Former President Barack Obama, of accepting petitions online, reviewing and responding to… Read More

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Whitehouse.gov petition seeking Trump tax returns flies past 100,000 signature goal

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 26:  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is interviewed following the grand opening ceremony at the new Trump International Hotel October 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. The hotel, built inside the historic Old Post Office, has 263 luxury rooms, including the 6,300-square-foot 'Trump Townhouse' at $100,000 a night, with a five-night minimum. The Trump Organization was granted a 60-year lease to the historic building by the federal government before the billionaire New York real estate mogul announced his intent to run for president.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) A Whitehouse.gov petition calling for President Donald Trump to immediately release his tax returns has surpassed the 100,000-signature threshold in under a day, garnering a Whitehouse response. It’s not clear that the current administration intends to follow the practice established under Former President Barack Obama, of accepting petitions online, reviewing and responding to… Read More

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Here's why those tech billionaires are throwing millions at ethical AI

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Worried about a dystopian future in which AI rule the world and humans are enslaved to autonomous technology? You’re not alone. So are billionaires (kind of).

First it was the Partnership on AI formed by Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and IBM. 

Then came Elon Musk and Peter Thiel’s recent investment in $1 billion research body, OpenAI. 

Now, a new batch of tech founders are throwing money at ethical artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems (AS). And experts say it couldn’t come sooner. 

LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman, and eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar (through his philanthropic investment fund) donated a combined $20 million to the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund on Jan. 11 — helping ensure the future’s more “man and machine, not man versus machine,” as IBM CEO Ginny Rometty put it to WSJ Thursday. Read more…

More about Ebay, Linkedin, Funding, Ethics, and Ai

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Putting the “intelligent” machine in its place

South Korean Go game fans watch a television screen broadcasting live footage of the Google DeepMind Challenge Match, at the Korea Baduk Association in Seoul on March 9, 2016. 
A 3,000-year-old Chinese board game was the focus of a very 21st century showdown as South Korean Go grandmaster Lee Se-Dol kicked off his highly anticipated clash with the Google-developed supercomputer, AlphaGo.         (Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images) Sometimes even just defining the problem you’re trying to solve is the hardest part. We need human intelligence to decide how and when to use machine intelligence, and the more sophisticated the uses we make of machine intelligence, the more critically we need human intelligence to ensure it’s deployed sensibly and safely. Read More

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