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Comment Re:It's how you define the 'utility function' (Score 1) 609

Counter-aguments to policy proposals would also fall under the same rules. So for example the idea of putting everyone in jail would easily be shot down by someone explaining that this would destroy economic output (and individual liberty, and many other things obviously). Neither the argument for the proposal, nor the counter-argument against it, need to be based on religious texts.

Comment Re:It's how you define the 'utility function' (Score 1) 609

Actually I have read the Old Testament. Sorry to say but I would not want to be part of a society based on its teachings. Have you ever read the Book of Deuteronomy? I honestly think that many ideas in it are morally disgusting.

Religion doesn't need to provide the basis for any policy argument. The Old Testament isn't entirely bad, but any good social policy that it describes can be justified without resorting to "it's good because this book says so". If a policy argument is entirely based on the Talmud, then we've got a problem.

Comment Re:It's how you define the 'utility function' (Score 4, Interesting) 609

The same thing holds true for public policy. Do you want "most lives saved?" Do you want "greatest economic output?" Do you want "Least tax burden?"

So independent of any other consideration, there is huge judgement and therefore huge variation when trying to conduct 'rational policy' by what you choose as your utility function.

It sure would be nice to have a universal utility function for all public policy. But in the meantime, what if we just said that any of those (lives saved, economic output, lower tax burden) are an acceptable foundation for you to base an argument on, but "because my ancient book of sacred texts says so" isn't?

This wouldn't lead to 100% logical consistency in policy, but it would surely be an improvement over the current system, don't you think?

Comment Re:Still better than the status quo (Score 1) 451

The exploitability thing is an interesting problem, but that's not what the article is about. It specifically talks about a "no-win situation" where the car has to choose between innocent pedestrians and innocent passengers. It also has a well-defined definition of ethics - utilitarian - which they found matches up well with what most of their survey respondents consider to be ethical.

I never said that nothing could go wrong, I said that the problem raised by the article is a non-problem.

Comment Still better than the status quo (Score 1) 451

So most people think that it's good to sacrifice a passenger in order to save many pedestrians, but they wouldn't want the car to sacrifice them. It's clear then that if they were the driver in their own car, they would choose to save themselves rather than the 10 pedestrians they are about to mow down.

There are two future possibilities then:

1. Self-driving cars will sacrifice the driver, which means they will be programmed to be more ethical than they are today.
2. Self-driving cars will sacrifice the pedestrians, which is the same as what drivers do today.

Either way we're not any worse off, so what's the problem?

Comment Re:Whut? (Score 4, Informative) 365

No!

The P position in an automatic gearbox engages what is known as a "parking pawl". The handbrake is the primary brake, and the parking pawl is the secondary brake, in case the handbrake fails.

Parking pawls are flimsy, and constant use will wear out transmission components, making it even more dangerous to rely on. Use your handbrake!

Comment Re:Guns (Score 1) 1718

Actually they do protect Paris, a lot. Mass shootings don't happen nearly every day in France, but they do in the US.

I think the source of your confusion is that you're comparing two countries by looking at two rare events that were both essentially statistical anomalies. France's firearm-related death rate is 2.83 per 100,000 people per year, vs 10.54 in the US. And their overall murder rate is also less than a third of what it is here.

Comment Re:Luddites? (Score 1) 1052

Japan's birth rate is actually the same as Italy and Spain and a lot of other European countries, which don't really have the whole salaryman culture of Japan. It's also not that much lower than lower than the EU average.

I don't think any developed nation knows how to solve this problem yet. They all seem to have a birth rate of less than 2 children per woman, which is obviously not enough keep a stable population. But most countries are willing to accept a certain amount of immigration, which will make up for a low birth rate. Japan is not willing to do this, and that's why their population is declining.

Comment Re:Same thing as democracy (Score 1) 436

Anyone who has the capability to break this would-be law (reimplementing an API) also has the technical capability to understand it, and therefore consent to it. Those who don't, don't need to worry about it. I don't think this is a problem, and there are many branches of the law where this is the case, especially in specialized areas.

For example there are laws around the minimum legal tread depth on car tires. Someone who does not have any experience of driving might not understand that there's a relationship between tread depth and water dispersion, but any driver who intentionally lets his or her tires go bald is being irresponsible. When someone takes on a technical activity, it's their responsibility to also educate themselves on the risks involved, and the branch of law that applies to that activity.

Comment Re:I'm on oracle's side on this (Score 2) 436

The entire software industry would grind to a halt if a copyright on APIs were enforced. Do you think someone should be able to sue Oracle for using SQL as the interface to their DBMS? Or using the Unix API in Solaris? Solaris ships with a C/C++ compiler and I'm pretty sure Sun/Oracle "stole" the APIs from AT&T and UCB. I don't see how this is any different from Android.

Comment Re:Same thing as democracy (Score 1) 436

Very rarely do democracies require citizens to actually make detailed decisions about how a country is run(*). We usually get people to vote on something much more general - which politicians get into office - and then we let them handle things without micromanaging them. If they fuck up, we get pissed off and vote for someone else in the next cycle.

This jury on the other hand is being asked to decide the outcome of a single case. The case is fairly technical, or at least more technical than the general public is able to understand.

There are better ways to do it. We could be more selective in the jury selection process, and ensure that the jury consists of technical people. Or we could have expert witnesses instruct the jury on how to make findings of facts.

But we shouldn't just throw our hands up and say that it's "the worst of all systems except every other system". It's easy enough to identify problems with the system in general, and this case in particular, and then propose solutions.

* Yes, I'm aware that there are some places (e.g. California) that have people vote directly on little things, but this tends to lead to bad results (the state is almost broke and a lot of the cities have dysfunctional politics).

Comment Re:just to be pedantic ... (Score 1) 234

Even if they don't observe a correlation between brain cancer and mobile phone use, it could be the case that mobile phones cause cancer, and some other cause of cancer was removed from society that caused an equal drop in cancer rates. So it's technically true; the absence of correlation in this study does not rule out causation.

Comment Revenue != size (Score 1) 109

Amazon is the last in a long line of middlemen that make up a supply chain. Anyone who is silly enough to measure companies by revenue is naturally going to have a bias that makes them think that retailers are "bigger" than manufacturing and engineering companies. What matters isn't the revenue that passes through a company, but the profit that they get to keep.

I'm not trying to put down Amazon - they're a very successful company and probably one day they'll be bigger than Microsoft. But not today.

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