"ethics" entries

Four short links: 12 December 2014

Four short links: 12 December 2014

Tech Ethics, Yahoo's KVS, Biology Inside, and Smart Luggage

  1. Do Artifacts Have Ethics? — 41 questions to ask yourself about the technology you create.
  2. MDBM — Yahoo’s fast key-value store, in use for over a decade. Super-fast, using mmap and passing around (gasp) raw pointers.
  3. The Revolution in Biology is Here, Now (Mike Loukides) — I’ve been asked plenty of times (and I’ve asked plenty of times), “what’s the killer product for synthetic biology?” BioFabricate convinced me that that’s the wrong question. We may never have some kind of biological iPod. That isn’t the right way to think. What I saw, instead, was real products that you might never notice. Bricks made from sand that are held together by microbes designed to excrete the binder. Bricks and packing material made from fungus (mycelium). Plastic excreted by bacteria that consume waste methane from sewage plants. You wouldn’t know, or care, whether your plastic Lego blocks are made from petroleum or from bacteria, but there’s a huge ecological difference.
  4. Bluesmart — Indiegogo campaign for a “connected carry-on,” aka a smart suitcase. From the mobile app you can track it, learn when it’s close (or too far away), (un)lock, weigh…and you can plug your devices in and recharge from the built-in battery. Sweet!
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Four short links: 27 November 2014

Four short links: 27 November 2014

Scalable Infrastructure, Lens Tech, Javascript Frameworks, and Morality Valley

  1. Stumbleupon’s Big Data Architecture Using Open Source Software (PDF) — not just the list of tools but the functions they implement. Useful!
  2. Innovega — making a contact lens with a tiny bump that acts as a microscope for content shown in glasses. That description, and this link via MIT Technology Review)
  3. How to Pick a Front-End Framework — not unreasonable opinions, largely useful.
  4. [Silicon Valley] Bedevilled by Moral Issues (NYT, registerwall) — given that Silicon Valley tends to copy and paste the mantra, “we’re making the world a better place,” it seem reasonable to expect that tech companies would hold themselves to a higher ethical standard.
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Four short links: 19 August 2014

Four short links: 19 August 2014

Adjustable Ethics, Face Projection, Mod Minecraft, and Robot Grasp

  1. Robot Cars with Adjustable Ethics Settings (Wired) — no user-servicable virtues inside. In an important sense, any injury that results from our ethics setting may be premeditated if it’s foreseen.
  2. Face-Tracking with Projection Mapping: Weird (BoingBoing) — amazing video of real-time face mapping combined with projection mapping. It is, as promised, weird.
  3. LearnToModteaches you how to code by teaching you how to mod Minecraft. It gives you two different ways to code: with blocks or with Javascript. Preorder for Oct 2014 promised release. (via Wired)
  4. Grasping with Robots: Which Object is in Reach? (Robohub) — This post is part of our ongoing efforts to make the latest papers in robotics accessible to a general audience.a new approach to build a comprehensive representation of the capabilities of a robot related to reaching and grasping. Very short, very readable, as promised.
Comment: 1

Four short links: 11 August 2014

Startup Anthropology, Ends to Means, Permission to Test, and Distributed Systems Research

  1. Anthropology of Mid-Sized Startups — old but good post about the structures, norms, and dimensions of startup culture. Like a religion, a startup will care for its collective interest by defining certain things as sacred. A classic example is the company’s logo. This symbol is, quite literally, “set apart and forbidden” by brand guidelines, which often specify exactly how the logo must be presented and how far it should sit from the other elements on a page (thus separating the sacred from the profane).
  2. What Leads To — I love the elegant mechanic of decomposing an end back to a means you can do right now. Lots more sophistication obviously possible, but the fact that it’s not just about “thumbs up this end!” or about actions divorced from intention, makes it a step ahead for social software.
  3. Researching Link Rot (Pinboard) — graceful notification of a test, and with the simple ability to opt-out.
  4. The Space Between Theory and Practice in Distributed Systems (Marc Brooker) — I went through everything I’ve read on distributed systems and arranged them on a spectrum from theory to practice the two ends would be really well populated, but the middle would be disturbingly empty. Worse, changing to a graph of citation links would show a low density from theory to practice.
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Four short links: 4 August 2014

Four short links: 4 August 2014

Web Spreadsheet, Correlated Novelty, A/B Ethics, and Replicated Data Structures

  1. EtherCalcopen source web-based spreadsheet.
  2. Dynamics of Correlated Novelties (Nature) — paper on “the adjacent possible”. Here we propose a simple mathematical model that mimics the process of exploring a physical, biological, or conceptual space that enlarges whenever a novelty occurs. The model, a generalization of Polya’s urn, predicts statistical laws for the rate at which novelties happen (Heaps’ law) and for the probability distribution on the space explored (Zipf’s law), as well as signatures of the process by which one novelty sets the stage for another. (via Steven Strogatz)
  3. On The Media Interview with OKCupid CEO — relevant to the debate on ethics of A/B tests. I preferred this to Tim Carmody’s rant.
  4. CRDTs as Alternative to APIswhen using CRDTs to tie your system together, you don’t need to resort to using impoverished representations that simply never come anywhere near the representational power of the data structures you use in your programs at runtime. See also this paper on Convergent and Commutative Replicated Data Types.
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Four short links: 22 July 2014

Four short links: 22 July 2014

English lint, Scalable Replicated Datastore, There's People in my Software, and Sci-Fi for Ethics

  1. write-gooda naive `lint’ for English prose.
  2. cockroachdba scalable, geo-replicated, transactional datastore from a team that includes the person who built Spanner for Google. Spanner requires atomic clocks, cockroach does not (which has corresponding performance consequences). (via Wired)
  3. The Deep Convergence of Networks, Software, and Peopleas we wire up our digital products increasingly with interconnected networks, their nature is increasingly a product of the responses that come back from those networks. The experience cannot be wholly represented in mock prototypes that are coded to respond in predictable ways, or even using a set of preset random responses. The power of the application is seeing the emergent behaviour of the system, and recognizing that you are a participant in that emergent behaviour. (via Tim O’Reilly)
  4. An Ethics Class for Inventors, via Sci-Fi“Reading science fiction is kind of like ethics class for inventors,” says Brueckner. Traditionally, technology schools ask ‘how do we build it?’ This class asks a different question: ‘should we?’
Comments: 2
Four short links: 17 July 2014

Four short links: 17 July 2014

Software Ethics, Learning Challenges, Workplace Harassment, and Logging for Postmortems

  1. Misjudgements Will Drive Social Trials Underground (Nature) — 34 ethicists write to explain why they see Facebook’s mood-influence trials as not an egregious breach of either ethics or law. Notable: No one knows whether exposure to a stream of baby announcements, job promotions and humble brags makes Facebook’s one billion users sadder or happier. The exposure is a social experiment in which users become guinea pigs, but the effects will not be known unless they are studied.[…] But the extreme response to this study, some of which seems to have been made without full understanding of what it entailed or what legal and ethical standards require, could result in such research being done in secret or not at all. Compare wisdom of the ethicists to wisdom of the crowd. (via Kate Crawford)
  2. Problem-Free Activity in the Mathematics Classroom (PDF) — interesting not just for the bland crap work we make kids do, but for the summary of five types of need that stimulate learning: for certainty (“which of the two is right?”), for causality (“did X cause Y?”, “what will happen next?”), for computation (“how much will it cost?”, “how long will it take?”), for communication and persuasion (“it’s more fun when we work on this together”, “let me show you why I’m right!”), and for connection and structuring (“that can’t be right, it goes against all I know!”, “ah, that makes sense because …”). (via Kathy Sierra)
  3. Survey of Academic Field Experiences (PLoSone) — Our survey revealed that conducting research in the field exposes scientists to a number of negative experiences as targets and as bystanders. The experiences described by our respondents ranged from inadvertent alienating behavior, to unwanted verbal and physical sexual advances, to, most troublingly, sexual assault including rape. is immediately followed by These proportions of respondents experiencing harassment are generally consistent with other studies of workplace harassment in other professional settings. This will change when men’s behaviour and expectations change. Male readers, do your part: don’t harass and don’t tolerate it. This message brought to you from future generations who will wonder how the hell we turned a blind eye to it.
  4. sentry (github) — a realtime, platform-agnostic error logging and aggregation platform. It specializes in monitoring errors and extracting all the information needed to do a proper post-mortem without any of the hassle of the standard user feedback loop.
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Four short links: 4 July 2014

Deleted Transparency, Retro Theme, MPA Suckage, and Ultrasonic Comms

  1. The Flipside of the Right To Be Forgotten (Business Insider) — deletion requests were granted for a former politician who wanted to remove links to a news article about his behavior when previously in office – so that he can have a clean slate when running for a new position – and a man who was convicted of possessing child sexual abuse imagery.
  2. BOOTSTRA.386 — gorgeously retro theme for Bootstrap.
  3. Multi-Process Architectures Suck — detailed and painful look at the computational complexity and costs of multiprocess architectures.
  4. Chromecast Ultrasonic CommsIn the new system, Chromecast owners first allow support for nearby devices. A nearby device then requests access to the Chromecast, and the Chromecast plays an ultrasonic sound through the connected TV’s speakers. The sound is then picked up by the microphone in the device, which allows it to pair with the TV. (via Greg Linden)
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Four short links: 2 July 2014

Four short links: 2 July 2014

Facebook Research, Mountain Game, Dollar Vans, and Eigenmorality

  1. Experimental Evidence of Massive-scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks — I suspect many more people have expressed an opinion on the research than have read the research.
  2. Mountain — a new game in which you are (wait for it) a mountain. From the creator of the fake game in Her. (via Chris McDowall)
  3. NYC’s Dollar Vans (New Yorker) — New York’s unofficial shuttles, called “dollar vans” in some neighborhoods, make up a thriving transportation system that operates where the subway and buses don’t. A somewhat invisible economy. (via Seb Chan)
  4. Eigenmorality — caution: linear algebra and morality, two subjects that many programmers struggle with. (via Pete Warden)
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Expect no, but fight for yes

At the end of the day, there are no rules, only guidelines.

Editor’s note: this is the transcript of DJ Patil’s commencement address to the 2014 graduating class at UC Santa Cruz’s Jack Baskin School of Engineering; it is published here with permission.

DJ_Patil_and_dad

DJ Patil with his father. Photo: courtesy of DJ Patil.

Thank you, Dean Ramirez and the distinguished faculty here today. And thank you to all the friends and family who have come out to celebrate this day. Thank you all for being here.

But most importantly: you. The Class of 2014. I gotta tell you guys: you look awesome. Downright amazing.

Now, I recognize that I’m the person standing between you and a selfie with your diploma, so I’m going to do my best to keep it short. And to start, I’m going to start with a confession: ever since Professor Getoor reached out and asked me if I’d be willing to do this, I’ve been dreading it. I mean really, really dreading it. I mean like as in final-exam-in-compilers dreading it. Read more…

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