‘A moral dilemma’: Tech startups wrestled with taking coronavirus bailout loans

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Some startup founders hesitated to apply for the SBA’s PPP loans because they feared Main Street businesses may need them more. Now, the pot of money has run out.

In the past few weeks, Silicon Valley startups have grappled with a confusing, ethical quandary: whether to take money from the government to weather the economic downturn brought on by coronavirus.

Congress passed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, which included $349 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses to help avoid laying off employees. The Paycheck Protection Program, as it’s called, is run through the Small Business Administration, and the loan applications are processed by banks like Bank of America or Silicon Valley Bank. The SBA will forgive the loans if the recipient uses the money to help keep all its employees on the payroll for eight weeks.

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What are the ethical consequences of immortality technology?

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Detail from The Fountain of Youth (1546) by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Courtesy Wikipedia

Immortality has gone secular. Unhooked from the realm of gods and angels, it’s now the subject of serious investment – both intellectual and financial – by philosophers, scientists and the Silicon Valley set. Several hundred people have already chosen to be ‘cryopreserved’ in preference to simply dying, as they wait for science to catch up and give them a second shot at life. But if we treat death as a problem, what are the ethical implications of the highly speculative ‘solutions’ being mooted?

Of course, we don’t currently have the means of achieving human immortality, nor is it clear that we ever will. But two hypothetical options have so far attracted the most interest and attention: rejuvenation technology, and mind uploading.

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AI Ethics: Seven Traps

 

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The question of how to ensure that technological innovation in machine learning and artificial intelligence leads to ethically desirable—or, more minimally, ethically defensible—impacts on society has generated much public debate in recent years. Most of these discussions have been accompanied by a strong sense of urgency: as more and more studies about algorithmic bias have shown, the risk that emerging technologies will not only reflect, but also exacerbate structural injustice in society is significant.

So which ethical principles ought to govern machine learning systems in order to prevent morally and politically objectionable outcomes? In other words: what is AI Ethics? And indeed, “is ethical AI even possible?”, as a recent New York Times article asks?

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A study on driverless car ethics offers a troubling look into our values

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To figure out how autonomous vehicles should respond during potentially fatal collisions, a group of scientists set out to learn what decisions human drivers would make.

The first time Azim Shariff met Iyad Rahwan—the first real time, after communicating with him by phone and e-mail—was in a driverless car. It was November, 2012, and Rahwan, a thirty-four-year-old professor of computing and information science, was researching artificial intelligence at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a university in Abu Dhabi. He was eager to explore how concepts within psychology—including social networks and collective reasoning—might inform machine learning, but there were few psychologists working in the U.A.E. Shariff, a thirty-one-year-old with wild hair and expressive eyebrows, was teaching psychology at New York University’s campus in Abu Dhabi; he guesses that he was one of four research psychologists in the region at the time, an estimate that Rahwan told me “doesn’t sound like an exaggeration.” Rahwan cold-e-mailed Shariff and invited him to visit his research group.

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Inside the very big, very controversial business of dog cloning

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Recently born clones share an incubator.

Barbra Streisand is not alone. At a South Korean laboratory, a once-disgraced doctor is replicating hundreds of deceased pets for the rich and famous. It’s made for more than a few questions of bioethics.

The surgeon is a showman. Scrubbed in and surrounded by his surgical team, a lavalier mike clipped to his mask, he gestures broadly as he describes the C-section he is about to perform to a handful of rapt students watching from behind a plexiglass wall. Still narrating, he steps over to a steel operating table where the expectant mother is stretched out, fully anesthetized. All but her lower stomach is discreetly covered by a crisp green cloth. The surgeon makes a quick incision in her belly. His assistants tug gingerly on clamps that pull back the flaps of tissue on either side of the cut. The surgeon slips two gloved fingers inside the widening hole, then his entire hand. An EKG monitor shows the mother’s heart beating in steady pulses.

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Should software engineers care about ethics

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It’s time for engineers to hold themselves accountable.

In his essay, “Design’s Lost Generation,” Mike Monteiro describes how he shocked a crowd of designers at a San Francisco tech conference by suggesting design — like medicine, law, and even driving — should be regulated:

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The Pirate Bay is secretly running a Bitcoin miner in the background, increasing your CPU usage

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When it comes to the Pirate Bay, it’s usually movie studios, music producers and software creators that get annoyed with the site — you know, copyright and all that. But in an interesting twist it is now users who find themselves irked by — and disappointed in — the most famous torrent site in the world.

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Why we must teach morality to robots

Every week comes a new warning that robots are taking over our jobs. People have become troubled by the question of how robots will learn ethics, if they do take over our work and our planet.

As early on as the 1960s Isaac Asimov came up with the ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ outlining moral rules they should abide by. More recently there has been official guidance from the British Standards Institute advising designers how to create ethical robots, which is meant to avoid them taking over the world.

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The Future of Zoos: Challenges Force Zoos to Change in Big Ways

For a mother escorting her kids through the Philadelphia Zoo, it was a close encounter of the ferocious kind. Directly in front of her as she strolled down the zoo’s main walkway was a Siberian tiger, a 400-plus-lb. carnivore capable of tearing apart a wild antelope. But rather than panic, the family laughed. The tiger was out of its lair, but its pathway was at a safe, meshed-in distance from onlookers, and after a few moments of looking around, the tiger moved on.

The tiger’s trail, dubbed Big Cat Crossing, is part of a bigger initiative called Zoo360 that has changed the way humans and animals experience the nation’s oldest zoo. There’s no question the experience is compelling for the humans. On a recent visit, I watched children drop their lunches in awe of white-faced saki monkeys hanging out in the trees. I witnessed one couple stop midconversation when a gorilla lumbered overhead, and saw more than a few families startled by the appearance of a large cat that seemed eerily close to them. But the bigger impact of Zoo360, says its chief operating officer, Andrew Baker, may be its effort to transform the experience of animals in captivity.

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Do Robots and AI Deserve Rights?

When it comes to robot-human relations, the conversation typically centers on the welfare of the sentient. Science fiction paints us as petrified by our own creations; fears of a bot planet have influenced everything from Asimov’s “Laws of Robotics” to HAL 9000’s homicidal impulses to Skynet’s global genocide.

These human-centric anxieties are understandable. However, as our assorted bots and bits gain skills and personalities, should they be afforded some form of protection from us? It’s a question people are starting to seriously ponder.

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