It’s not my fault, my brain implant made me do it

File 20180329 189810 cbug78.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Probes that can transmit electricity inside the skull raise questions about personal autonomy and responsibility.
Hellerhoff, CC BY-SA

By Laura Y. Cabrera, Michigan State University and Jennifer Carter-Johnson, Michigan State University

Mr. B loves Johnny Cash, except when he doesn’t. Mr. X has watched his doctors morph into Italian chefs right before his eyes.

The link between the two? Both Mr. B and Mr. X received deep brain stimulation (DBS), a procedure involving an implant that sends electric impulses to specific targets in the brain to alter neural activity. While brain implants aim to treat neural dysfunction, cases like these demonstrate that they may influence an individual’s perception of the world and behavior in undesired ways.

Mr. B received DBS as treatment for his severe obsessive compulsive disorder. He’d never been a music lover until, under DBS, he developed a distinct and entirely new music preference for Johnny Cash. When the device was turned off, the preference disappeared.

Mr. X, an epilepsy patient, received DBS as part of an investigation to locate the origin of his seizures. During DBS, he hallucinated that doctors became chefs with aprons before the stimulation ended and the scene faded.

In both of these real-world cases, DBS clearly triggered the changed perception. And that introduces a host of thorny questions. As neurotechnologies like this become more common, the behaviors of people with DBS and other kinds of brain implants might challenge current societal views on responsibility.

Lawyers, philosophers and ethicists have labored to define the conditions under which individuals are to be judged legally and morally responsible for their actions. The brain is generally regarded as the center of control, rational thinking and emotion – it orchestrates people’s actions and behaviors. As such, the brain is key to agency, autonomy and responsibility.

Where does responsibility lie if a person acts under the influence of their brain implant? As a neuroethicist and a legal expert, we suggest that society should start grappling with these questions now, before they must be decided in a court of law.

[Read more…]

Are today’s teenagers smarter and better than we think?


Tara Parker-Pope writes:

Today’s teenagers have been raised on cellphones and social media. Should we worry about them or just get out of their way?

A recent wave of student protests around the country has provided a close-up view of Generation Z in action, and many adults have been surprised. While there has been much hand-wringing about this cohort, also called iGen or the Post-Millennials, the stereotype of a disengaged, entitled and social-media-addicted generation doesn’t match the poised, media-savvy and inclusive young people leading the protests and gracing magazine covers.

There’s 18-year-old Emma González, whose shaved head, impassioned speeches and torn jeans have made her the iconic face of the #NeverAgain movement, which developed after the 17 shooting deaths in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Naomi Wadler, just 11, became an overnight sensation after confidently telling a national television audience she represented “African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper.” David Hogg, a high school senior at Stoneman Douglas, has weathered numerous personal attacks with the disciplined calm of a seasoned politician.

Sure, these kids could be outliers. But plenty of adolescent researchers believe they are not.

“I think we must contemplate that technology is having the exact opposite effect than we perceived,” said Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult.” “We see the negatives of not going outside, can’t look people in the eye, don’t have to go through the effort of making a phone call. There are ways we see the deficiencies that social media has offered, but there are obviously tremendous upsides and positives as well.” [Continue reading…]

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Attack on Atlanta one of the most sustained and consequential cyberattacks ever mounted against a major American city

The New York Times reports:

The City of Atlanta’s 8,000 employees got the word on Tuesday that they had been waiting for: It was O.K. to turn their computers on.

But as the city government’s desktops, hard drives and printers flickered back to life for the first time in five days, residents still could not pay their traffic tickets or water bills online, or report potholes or graffiti on a city website. Travelers at the world’s busiest airport still could not use the free Wi-Fi.

Atlanta’s municipal government has been brought to its knees since Thursday morning by a ransomware attack — one of the most sustained and consequential cyberattacks ever mounted against a major American city.

The digital extortion aimed at Atlanta, which security experts have linked to a shadowy hacking crew known for its careful selection of targets, laid bare once again the vulnerabilities of governments as they rely on computer networks for day-to-day operations. In a ransomware attack, malicious software cripples a victim’s computer or network and blocks access to important data until a ransom is paid to unlock it.

“We are dealing with a hostage situation,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said this week.

The assault on Atlanta, the core of a metropolitan area of about 6 million people, represented a serious escalation from other recent cyberattacks on American cities, like one last year in Dallas where hackers gained the ability to set off tornado sirens in the middle of the night. [Continue reading…]

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‘Weapons of math destruction’: The era of blind faith in big data must end

 

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China’s new frontiers in dystopian tech

Rene Chun writes:

Dystopia starts with 23.6 inches of toilet paper. That’s how much the dispensers at the entrance of the public restrooms at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven dole out in a program involving facial-recognition scanners—part of the president’s “Toilet Revolution,” which seeks to modernize public toilets. Want more? Forget it. If you go back to the scanner before nine minutes are up, it will recognize you and issue this terse refusal: “Please try again later.”

China is rife with face-scanning technology worthy of Black Mirror. Don’t even think about jaywalking in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province. Last year, traffic-management authorities there started using facial recognition to crack down. When a camera mounted above one of 50 of the city’s busiest intersections detects a jaywalker, it snaps several photos and records a video of the violation. The photos appear on an overhead screen so the offender can see that he or she has been busted, then are cross-checked with the images in a regional police database. Within 20 minutes, snippets of the perp’s ID number and home address are displayed on the crosswalk screen. The offender can choose among three options: a 20-yuan fine (about $3), a half-hour course in traffic rules, or 20 minutes spent assisting police in controlling traffic. Police have also been known to post names and photos of jaywalkers on social media.

The system seems to be working: Since last May, the number of jaywalking violations at one of Jinan’s major intersections has plummeted from 200 a day to 20. Cities in the provinces of Fujian, Jiangsu, and Guangdong are also using facial-recognition software to catch and shame jaywalkers.

Across the country, other applications of the technology are proliferating. [Continue reading…]

Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens

Wired reports:

On June 14, 2014, the State Council of China published an ominous-sounding document called “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System”. In the way of Chinese policy documents, it was a lengthy and rather dry affair, but it contained a radical idea. What if there was a national trust score that rated the kind of citizen you were?

Imagine a world where many of your daily activities were constantly monitored and evaluated: what you buy at the shops and online; where you are at any given time; who your friends are and how you interact with them; how many hours you spend watching content or playing video games; and what bills and taxes you pay (or not). It’s not hard to picture, because most of that already happens, thanks to all those data-collecting behemoths like Google, Facebook and Instagram or health-tracking apps such as Fitbit. But now imagine a system where all these behaviours are rated as either positive or negative and distilled into a single number, according to rules set by the government. That would create your Citizen Score and it would tell everyone whether or not you were trustworthy. Plus, your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date.

A futuristic vision of Big Brother out of control? No, it’s already getting underway in China, where the government is developing the Social Credit System (SCS) to rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens. The Chinese government is pitching the system as a desirable way to measure and enhance “trust” nationwide and to build a culture of “sincerity”. As the policy states, “It will forge a public opinion environment where keeping trust is glorious. It will strengthen sincerity in government affairs, commercial sincerity, social sincerity and the construction of judicial credibility.”

Others are less sanguine about its wider purpose. “It is very ambitious in both depth and scope, including scrutinising individual behaviour and what books people are reading. It’s Amazon’s consumer tracking with an Orwellian political twist,” is how Johan Lagerkvist, a Chinese internet specialist at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, described the social credit system. Rogier Creemers, a post-doctoral scholar specialising in Chinese law and governance at the Van Vollenhoven Institute at Leiden University, who published a comprehensive translation of the plan, compared it to “Yelp reviews with the nanny state watching over your shoulder”.

For now, technically, participating in China’s Citizen Scores is voluntary. But by 2020 it will be mandatory. The behaviour of every single citizen and legal person (which includes every company or other entity)in China will be rated and ranked, whether they like it or not. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports:

China said it will begin applying its so-called social credit system to flights and trains and stop people who have committed misdeeds from taking such transport for up to a year.

People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains, according to two statements issued on the National Development and Reform Commission’s website on Friday. [Continue reading…]

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China wants to shape the global future of artificial intelligence

MIT Technology Review reports:

China isn’t just investing heavily in AI—its experts aim to set the global standards for the technology as well.

Academics, industry researchers, and government experts gathered in Beijing last November to discuss AI policy issues. The resulting document, published in Chinese recently, shows that the country’s experts are thinking in detail about the technology’s potential impact. Together with the Chinese government’s strategic plan for AI, it also suggests that China plans to play a role in setting technical standards for AI going forward.

Chinese companies would be required to adhere to these standards, and as the technology spreads globally, this could help China influence the technology’s course. Indeed, big Chinese companies including Tencent and Alibaba are rapidly adding AI capabilities to their cloud offerings and selling those services overseas (see “Inside the Chinese lab that wants to wire the world with AI”).

“[The Chinese government] sees standardization not only as a way to provide competitiveness for their companies, but also as a way to go from being a follower to setting the pace,” says Jeffrey Ding, a student at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute who studies China’s nascent AI industry, and who translated the report. The government’s plan cites the way US standards bodies have influenced the development of the internet, expressing a desire to avoid having the same thing happen with AI.

China’s booming AI industry and massive government investment in the technology have raised fears in the US and elsewhere that the nation will overtake international rivals in a fundamentally important technology. In truth, it may be possible for both the US and the Chinese economies to benefit from AI. But there may be more rivalry when it comes to influencing the spread of the technology worldwide.

“I think this is the first technology area where China has a real chance to set the rules of the game,” says Ding. [Continue reading…]

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MIT project claims nuclear fusion power will be on the grid within 15 years

The Guardian reports:

The dream of nuclear fusion is on the brink of being realised, according to a major new US initiative that says it will put fusion power on the grid within 15 years.

The project, a collaboration between scientists at MIT and a private company, will take a radically different approach to other efforts to transform fusion from an expensive science experiment into a viable commercial energy source. The team intend to use a new class of high-temperature superconductors they predict will allow them to create the world’s first fusion reactor that produces more energy than needs to be put in to get the fusion reaction going.

Bob Mumgaard, CEO of the private company Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which has attracted $50 million in support of this effort from the Italian energy company Eni, said: “The aspiration is to have a working power plant in time to combat climate change. We think we have the science, speed and scale to put carbon-free fusion power on the grid in 15 years.”

The promise of fusion is huge: it represents a zero-carbon, combustion-free source of energy. The problem is that until now every fusion experiment has operated on an energy deficit, making it useless as a form of electricity generation. Decades of disappointment in the field has led to the joke that fusion is the energy of the future – and always will be. [Continue reading…]

Fast Company reports:

If the plans go as expected and fusion power plants can finally be constructed, the resulting power would be cheaper than fossil fuels. “We know that for fusion to make a difference . . . it has to be economically competitive,” says Mumgaard. “The exciting part about this technology is that by shrinking the scale and keeping the power the same, we make more ‘power per stuff,’ which makes it much more likely to be economically competitive. The types of materials that are in this are materials that are commodities, and if you add up those materials you get a cost of electricity that undercuts existing energy prices.”

Of course, that’s assuming that everything goes as expected. But some other experts, like Michael Zarnstorff, deputy director for research at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, say that the technology is feasible to create within a short timeline. Zarnstorff also says that the growing number of other startups in nuclear fusion, which have received funding from investors like Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos, signals that the industry as a whole could be close to functioning technology.

“In the U.S., what typically happens is that when the science gets to a certain stage you start having startup companies who will try and close the gap,” he says. “You see this in all the energy technologies . . . people are judging that you’re close enough that they’re willing to put their own money into it to try and make a system that will work and can be made commercial. And this is what we’re starting to see.” [Continue reading…]

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How solar, wind and hydro could power the world, at lower cost

RenewEconomy reports:

Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson and colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley and Aalborg University in Denmark have updated and expanded their analysis on how the world – well, at lest 139 countries – could be powered entirely by solar, wind and hydro resources.

The study, whose earlier version caused controversy and a strident critique by rival academics, now includes further modelling and a range of scenarios that include hydrogen storage, heat pumps and battery storage, the newly arrived technology du jour which is changing many assumptions about future energy markets.

Where this study – published this week in Renewable Energy – goes further than others is that it lays out three different methods of not just providing 100 per cent renewables for electricity, but also for heating and cooling, for transportation, and even agriculture, forestry and fishing.

In short, the Jacobson team is proposing to electrify the world, and doing it through three main renewable energy sources: solar, wind and hydro.

It says it can do this at a comparable cost, even slightly cheaper, than business as usual (fossil fuels), and at just one-quarter of the cost if you dial in savings from avoided fossil fuel damage to the environment and health. [Continue reading…]

The Supreme Court case that could give tech giants more power

Lina M. Khan writes:

Big tech platforms — Amazon, Facebook, Google — control a large and growing share of our commerce and communications, and the scope and degree of their dominance poses real hazards. A bipartisan consensus has formed around this idea. Senator Elizabeth Warren has charged tech giants with using their heft to “snuff out competition,” and even Senator Ted Cruz — usually a foe of government regulation — recently warned of their “unprecedented” size and power. While the potential tools for redressing the harms vary, a growing chorus is calling for the use of antitrust law.

But the decision in a case currently before the Supreme Court could block off that path, by effectively shielding big tech platforms from serious antitrust scrutiny. On Monday the Court heard Ohio v. American Express, a case centering on a technical but critical question about how to analyze harmful conduct by firms that serve multiple groups of users. Though the case concerns the credit card industry, it could have sweeping ramifications for the way in which antitrust law gets applied generally, especially with regards to the tech giants.

The case was first brought by the Justice Department against American Express, Visa, and Mastercard for imposing anticompetitive restrictions on merchants. The credit card industry is a classic case of oligopoly. Despite involving millions of merchants and hundreds of millions of cardholders, the credit card business is controlled by four firms. Merchants who need payment networks lack any real bargaining power and have been stuck paying high rates to the oligopoly — steeper costs that ultimately get passed on to consumers. [Continue reading…]

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