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In the Wake of Fake News, Several Universities Including MIT and Harvard Introduce New Course On Ethics and Regulation of AI (nytimes.com) 177

The medical profession has an ethic: First, do no harm. Silicon Valley has an ethos: Build it first and ask for forgiveness later. Now, in the wake of fake news and other troubles at tech companies, universities that helped produce some of Silicon Valley's top technologists are hustling to bring a more medicine-like morality to computer science, the New York Times reporter. From the report: This semester, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are jointly offering a new course on the ethics and regulation of artificial intelligence. The University of Texas at Austin just introduced a course titled "Ethical Foundations of Computer Science" -- with the idea of eventually requiring it for all computer science majors. And at Stanford University, the academic heart of the industry, three professors and a research fellow are developing a computer science ethics course for next year. They hope several hundred students will enroll. The idea is to train the next generation of technologists and policymakers to consider the ramifications of innovations -- like autonomous weapons or self-driving cars -- before those products go on sale.
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In the Wake of Fake News, Several Universities Including MIT and Harvard Introduce New Course On Ethics and Regulation of AI

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  • Obvious question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@AAAtpno ... inus threevowels> on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @10:17AM (#56115183) Homepage

    Has it even been proven that "fake news" is really an issue? I saw the shenanigans that Russia got up to on facebook and have a hard time believing that influenced anyone to vote differently than they otherwise might have.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @10:25AM (#56115219)

      I saw the shenanigans that Russia got up to on facebook and have a hard time believing that influenced anyone to vote differently than they otherwise might have.

      They didn't influence anything. It's pure scapegoating and deflection by the losers. The republicans were ready to do the same if they had lost. This whole "fake news" shtick is nothing more than the quest for control of mass media in its confrontation with an open internet

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Seriously, who marked this -1? I'm a conservative, but this is entirely true. Remember Trump and his claims of "hacking the election" when he thought he'd lose and the Dems claiming that our election couldn't be hacked? That was the Rs bracing for scapegoating. The reason why the whole thing is funny for those of us with a memory longer than a gold fish is that it was the Rs preping with "ther election were haxor'd!!!!!!" when they thought they were going to fail with the D's claiming it was impossible,

    • Wait a minute. Are you suggesting that fake news is fake news?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Ever see what people share on fake news. Just yesterday, stuff like NAACP wants to destroy all Civil War monuments (which Snopes showed as false, as it was only one person who was a member that said that.) Or, Oprah wanting to kill all old people (again, false.)

      Fake news is very common, especially from the right. Oftentimes, it is something with a tiny grain of truth, wrapped up in a boulder sized turd.

      I do know it influenced other people I know to vote the way they did, when they quoted propaganda from

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Shotgun ( 30919 )

        Especially from the right, huh?

        So it is not fake news when claiming that the Mueller investigation has been productive. Four indictments the last I heard. Three of them were for activities that happened years before Trump announced he was running for president, and one for an operative lying to the FBI about something he did that was not only legal, but could reasonably be considered a critical part of his job.

        Pull your pants up, AC. Your bias is showing.

        • If it hasn't been productive, why would Nunes want a memo released from classified information that implies (but does not actually state) unprofessional things about the investigation? I have no direct knowledge of how productive it's being, and I won't until it's wrapped up, and neither will you, but it looks like it's making some people nervous.

    • Thatâ(TM)s because most people are insulated from idiots. I would have a hard time believing people fell for that crap, too, except I live in the Midwest and I saw it first hand.

      The real kicker was when a coworker insisted I watch this Fox News story accusing Hilary Clinton of murder. It was not just the fact that Russia threw fake stories up on Facebook. The problem was they conservative news outlets ran with them, citing each other in ways that made them sound authoritative.

      Of course, as soon as this

      • I can't agree more. It is so easy to discount crackpot shit, until you meet it in real life.

        I had a friend and a girlfriend (now very ex-) who were 9/11 truthers. They were both convinced the WTC towers collapsed from demolition charges, the planes which hit them and the pentagon may or may not have even existed, and thought the "loose change" video was an accurate description of what happened.

        Their "evidence" for the demolition charges was "that's what it looks like." I don't want to even get started on

      • The real kicker was when a coworker insisted I watch this Fox News story accusing Hilary Clinton of murder..

        But you have to admit there has been a lot of people dying that either knew the Clinton or was able to testify against them.

        • A lot of people have died who knew me. That's got to be suspicious, right?

          • 50 is a lot, two of the Secret Service Agent who were on her protection detail died in a friendly fire incident. I don't know if she had anything to do with them, I know I don't want to be around her or know her. there is some bad juju somewhere.

    • The existence of fake news is just a symptom - the cause is that there is a large fraction of the population that doesn't care if their news is fake, so long as it aligns with their views, because they prefer that over real news that doesn't. There will always be "fake news" in the presence of widespread, mainstreamed conspiracy nuttery. That's basically all "fake news" is - infowars/prisonplanet thinking and writing gone mainstream.

      If you try to erase it from every website out there, it will fall back to c

      • by doom ( 14564 )

        ... the cause is that there is a large fraction of the population that doesn't care if their news is fake, so long as it aligns with their views,

        Yeah, like 100%.

      • The value of facts is a moral and philosophical position. It is part of a religious framework that values truth and rational capacity of human being to known.
        Modern liberalism has ensured that any discussion about actual facts or the value of truth and rational thought has been banished from the educational system under the guise of 'freedom of religion' There is no longer any such things as 'facts' that lead to 'truth' there is only 'your truth' and 'my truth' and both are to be equally valued. Trumps

        • The value of facts is independent of religion. Scientists tend to be atheists and irreligious, but nobody values facts more. Lots of people who claim to be devoutly religious have the utmost disdain for any facts that don't agree with their prejudices. You're making that part up.

          I grew up in a US educational system, and so did my son. Neither of us experienced anything like what you claim. There are different points of view (which liberals approve of), not different facts.

          US educational systems ar

    • Well if you looked at the pooling, Trump while being behind in the polls had small peaks where he was ahead, then it would go back down. Right before the election his poling was approaching Clinton due to increase talk about reopening the email server investigation.
      Now normally this is just a slap in the wrist type of violation, because we were electing a president not a CIO.
      What the fake news did was amplify the real news making small stories big ones, by taking real stories putting them out of context an

      • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @11:17AM (#56115549)

        Now normally this is just a slap in the wrist type of violation, because we were electing a president not a CIO.

        Well, no. If any random Federal employee had done that with classified emails, he'd have been fired, as a minimum, and quite likely sent to jail. The government takes mishandling of classified documents seriously....

        • If any random Federal employee had done that with classified emails, he'd have been fired, as a minimum, and quite likely sent to jail.

          Being fired is a possibility, as is losing one's security clearance, temporarily or permanently. There was one case I saw of an agreement to plead guilty of a misdemeanor, but that was dropped and the person involved didn't get a criminal record. (Misdemeanors can result in some jail time, but not prison time, and very often don't involve any detainment.)

          I looked arou

      • . The solid Reds (~40%) will vote for Trump and the solid Blues (~40%) will vote for Clinton.

        Minor nit. There were a lot of solid Blues who voted for Bernie and whom did NOT vote for Clinton.

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @12:12PM (#56115899)

        Well if you looked at the pooling,

        Polls have systematic biases. For instance, Democrats are more willing to participate in polls.

      • No, negligent handling of classified information is a felony. not a slap on the wrist felony, but a go to pound you in the ass Prison felony. And that assumes it was purely accidental that classified information made it onto over 100 email conversations.

        More likely it was intentional to move the information from the classified networks to her private (off the record) email server that was not classified but on the open internet. That is intentional mishandling of classified information. Another Felony.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PopeRatzo ( 965947 )

      I saw the shenanigans that Russia got up to on facebook and have a hard time believing that influenced anyone to vote differently than they otherwise might have.

      To sway the election, they only had to influence a few tens of thousands of people. If you don't believe there are tens of thousands of Americans who can be influenced by nonsense, I suggest googling, "Church of Scientology".

      In related news, just over an hour ago, the United States Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who was appointed by

      • Influencing a few tens of thousands of people is easy, Influencing a few tens of thousands of the right people is orders of magnitude more difficult.

        • Influencing a few tens of thousands of people is easy, Influencing a few tens of thousands of the right people is orders of magnitude more difficult.

          That's why you automate.

    • Has it even been proven that "fake news" is really an issue?

      Did anyone else notice that the article never mentions fake news at all? It's ethical dilemmas like autonomous weapons, not fake news, which would make adding "fake news" to the title fake news itself.

    • Yes I have to agree with you, when I saw the quality of the Russian propaganda all I could think is "My how the Mighty have fallen!"

    • by Whibla ( 210729 )

      Has it even been proven that "fake news" is really an issue?

      For certain values of 'proof', to my mind the answer is yes, absolutely.

      As a simple example consider the case of the banking crisis of 2008. Who was responsible for this trashing of the economies of most, if not all, first world liberal democracies? Bankers, you say?

      Who ended up getting blamed by the media and, consequently, Joe Public? Immigrants, the poor and unemployed, and the working classes. Oh sure, the bankers were in there too, as a group and a couple of individuals, but not for long. Who ended up

    • Read Slashdot for a while. There's a lot of people who believe fake news around here.

  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @10:20AM (#56115191) Journal

    Do they have an "Ethics in Physics" class required for people who might design nuclear weapons?

    Or an "Ethics in Chemistry" for those who might design mundane explosives or chemical weapons?

    Or an "Ethics in Biomedical Engineering" for those who may eventually build killer cyborgs?

    Yes, I'm saying this is silly.
    Ethics is ethics, and if you're going to REQUIRE it, require it of everyone - I think our entire culture could use a good shot of ethics.

    • "Ethics" - as in, it's "ethical" to prevent the spread of truthful media that otherwise would lean anti-authoritarian and thus conservative. How...Orwellian

    • It makes you think something else is going on here, especially considering three different universities decided to offer it at the same time.
    • It's not teaching basic ethical principles, it is getting would be creators some practice looking for undesirable consequences and ways the tools might be misused. Real world examples specific to the focus of the course are a great help here. Also likely an interesting discussion on where a creator's responsibilities lie. If you make a hammer for example, knowing full well that someone somewhere will crack a skull with it, are you ethically bound to change the design? I would say no, but students would bene
    • Yes. I don't know any engineering school that doesn't require an ethics class.
      • I went to a mid-tier state university 20 years ago, and we had a required course about computers and ethics. Then again, the primary reason for having it was to fulfill the university's ethics requirement without needing to take a pointless intro class from the Philosophy department.
    • Do they have an "Ethics in Physics" class required for people who might design nuclear weapons?

      Yeah, it's called laws and regulations. Those who actually are working in nuclear weapons design have gone through a considerable background investigation, and agreed to work within the legal parameters they've been given.

      Or an "Ethics in Chemistry" for those who might design mundane explosives or chemical weapons?

      See above. Also see the "F" in ATF.

      Or an "Ethics in Biomedical Engineering" for those who may eventually build killer cyborgs?

      Hippocrates was thinking about this problem about 2,000 years ago. See Hippocratic Oath.

      Yes, I'm saying this is silly. Ethics is ethics, and if you're going to REQUIRE it, require it of everyone - I think our entire culture could use a good shot of ethics.

      Every major company I've ever worked for has a mandatory ethics policy, along with training, which has existed for decades. It already IS required of everyone, so

    • I certainly agree. We tend to think of ethics as a class for philosophy majors, but it should be studied by everyone. While many curricula require an ethics class tailored for them, such as medical ethics or business ethics, these classes can be problematic. Medical ethics tends to focus on the entirely bogus âoeethics of careâ while business ethics tends to devolve into ethical egoism.

      As for the hard sciences, I think an ethics class focused on the Kurt Vonnegut nove Cats Cradle would be ideal.

    • I have a degree in Computer Science and yes, I had to take an ethics in technology class. I found it rather interesting too. This was long before Facebook and Social Media though so I imagine the class has changed quite a bit.
    • by gnunick ( 701343 )

      Do they have an "Ethics in Physics" class required for people who might design nuclear weapons?

      Or an "Ethics in Chemistry" for those who might design mundane explosives or chemical weapons?

      ...

      Yes, absolutely. Ethics was a requirement for my B.S. in Chemistry, over 20 years ago. I don't know how widespread that requirement was or is, or whether a deeper focus on ethics is required for post-graduate Chemistry studies.

      But it should be required for everyone, whether or not they have an interest in science. And it certainly should be a requirement for Chemistry, Physics, (perhaps most of all) Biotech, Computer Science... and in fact all sciences; they all have the potential to discover or invent tru

  • The idea is to train the next generation of technologists and policymakers to consider the ramifications of innovations

    Easy, just send them to /. to read all the posts by debbie downers

  • by adosch ( 1397357 ) on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @10:24AM (#56115215)

    I commend MIT, as an elite academic institution who gets a ton of top-talent world-wide, putting a buzzy ethics topic in the computer science world for AI. But isn't a bit contradictory to think, without really any facts in my end, but I guess a healthy crop of MIT grad's exist in Silicon Valley, and surely may not be the big names in the social startups we have today, but probably have a good engineering and intellectual hand in all of it.

    I think Silicon Valley in it's entirety should now be the ones taking that alma mater course being offered. At scale, they are the very ones TO abuse it (and already are, by magnitudes that we don't even publicly know about). Sure, this is like teaching kids today that contact American football is dangerous and concussions cause CTE, but didn't we know all along without an acronym like CTE that getting your head knocked-the-fuck around, you're going to get messed up? I think this is just a I-told-you-so shit that Bezos has been preaching about the last few years.

    • Maybe it's just a way to get people interested in an ethics class. Generally they tend to be the type of class that most of the students don't take very seriously, because who the hell really has the perspective to at 20 years old. It's a class that everyone will agree should be in the curriculum, but is probably utterly useless in whether it actually does anything. It's pretty easy to get everyone in class to nod their heads about what is or isn't ethical, but turn them loose in the real world and give the
      • This is exactly the problem actually. You can have a class with a goal of making people think about ethics but you can't teach people to be ethical. That's a decision they will make on their own based on their own calculation of risk versus reward. It's the same way with trying to teach people critical thinking skills. You can tell them how to think critically but whether they do it or not is dependent on them wanting to put in the extra effort.
  • I think a course about the ethics of AI is a great idea. But aren't Ethics and Critical Thinking classes already requirements? They were when I was at University, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

    If they aren't fundamental requirements at every college, the system has failed.

  • Wrong Target (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tsqr ( 808554 ) on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @10:34AM (#56115271)

    You don't need to teach ethics to CS majors. You need to teach ethics to Business majors.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
      The movie Billy Madison perfectly demonstrated the well known fact that business ethics inevitably ends with someone pulling out a gun.
    • Judging by their propensity to join radicalized groups at a greater rate than other professions, it is maybe engineers who need ethics the most.

      As for business majors, we both know that ethics is wasted on narcissists and people with borderline personality disorder. Wouldn't help.

    • by Subm ( 79417 )

      > You don't need to teach ethics to CS majors. You need to teach ethics to Business majors.

      Such as the founders of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple, the companies most invading our privacy and lobbying the government to do more?

      Several of them still have most of the control of their companies.

      • > You don't need to teach ethics to CS majors. You need to teach ethics to Business majors.

        Such as the founders of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple, the companies most invading our privacy and lobbying the government to do more?

        Several of them still have most of the control of their companies.

        Most of them don't have degrees.

        • by tsqr ( 808554 )

          Founders are only relevant if they're still running the companies. Look at the current crop of CEOs:

          Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year, but Harvard has given him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree last year.

          Google: Sundar Pichai earned an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

          Microsoft: Satya Nadella earned an MBA from University of Chicago.

          Apple: Tim Cook earned an MBA from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.

  • "The medical profession has an ethic: First, do no harm".

    That looks like a reference to part of the Hippocratic Oath. Honoured, regrettably, in the breech these days.

    "Medical Care Is 3rd Leading Cause of Death in U.S."
    https://chriskresser.com/medic... [chriskresser.com]

    Admittedly that dates from about ten years ago. I expect the butcher's bill has grown since.

  • Hustling is the perfect word to use because this is absolutely that...a hustle. Teach ethics by acting ethically. Universities are where a much more sinister and impactful "fake news" starts.
  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Tuesday February 13, 2018 @11:55AM (#56115817)

    Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.

    The fact that they just added 'for AI' means they are just cashing in. This is just like all the patent trolls that added 'on the Internet' on existing ones to "create" a new one.

    Ethics is the same regardless if it is done by an AI or by a human. Why, you ask? Well, that is explained in a Ethics class. Not just a subset of Ethics, like Ethics for AI or Ethics for Women or Ethics on the Internet.

    If there is a difference in ethics for AI and for non-AI I would like to hear it.

    • Ethics is a pretty wide field, covering all aspects of human behavior in its way. As none of us are capable of (say) analyzing on the fly all the effects of our decisions and summing the positive and negative results, we need to put thought into general guidelines. Therefore, we get ethics for journalists, ethics for businesspeople, ethics for engineers, etc., which are generally accepted principles of ethics applied to more concrete situations. (Not that everyone behaves ethically.) Different areas br

  • ...since a lot of the people in control of these places didn't graduate.

  • When conservatives accuse CNN of fake news, they mean CNN caught red-handed deliberately lying.

    When liberals speak of "fake news" they mean anything that does not fit their agenda.

    Don't believe me? Care to explain why PragerU videos are being restricted by Google?

    Who Will Google Silence Next
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giNJwXiktZ0

    • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )

      When liberals accuse CNN of fake news, they mean CNN caught red-handed deliberately lying.

      When Trumpites speak of "fake news" they mean anything that does not fit their agenda.

      FTFY. Really [politifact.com], you shouldn't have picked a topic that is so easily refuted [fortune.com].

  • "Technology is not neutral," said Professor Sahami, who formerly worked at Google as a senior research scientist. "The choices that get made in building technology then have social ramifications."

    But those choices are almost always based on the predicted social ramifications. Granted, that social ramification is often "doing it this way will cause people to spend more money on our product or service" but you know what you're doing when you make those choices.

    Tech is neutral. Your goals that you use tech to

    • Guns and Nuclear bombs are tech. Tech is neutral, the people who use it aren't and the gun runners are not with out responsibility, Weather or not it is 'moral' responsibility requires you first believe morals exists.

  • ethical decisions first require a moral context to be formed.

    For instance, if I provide you with drugs that prevent you from reproducing. Am I harming your reproductive system? What I force the drugs on you?
    What if i provide you with 'treatment' that makes you blind? when you suffer from a psychosis that causes you mental pain that you are not blind?
    What about surgery where I cut off pieces of you to make you look like a sex you are not. Does that harm you?
    How about if I help you 'pass from pain to death' .

  • I was required to study computer ethics at the University of Notre Dame in the 1980's. Good to see Harvard and MIT coming around.

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