Friday, July 31, 2009

Registration, travel subsidies, people links

The PAIT Planning Committee has made substantial progress in preparing for the workshop. At our main Web site, you can now find
  • The workshop registration form (PDF format)
  • The policy and application form (the latter in PDF) for travel subsidies to make it a bit easier for members of underrepresented groups in science and engineering to participate in the workshop
  • Links to many people with an interest in ethical issues associated with pervasive computing, autonomous systems, ubicomp, ambient intelligence, and the like
If you'd like your name added to the list, please let me know. I'm also interested in adding to the list of meetings and educational efforts on that same page; please send along any relevant links.

Keep posted for more updates!

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Swedish tourists miss island due to GPS typo"

A July 28 story from the Associated Press relates how a couple wanting to drive to the island of Capri misspelled the name in their GPS and wound up "some 400 miles (660 kilometers) away in the northern industrial town of Carpi."

Sometimes technology is only as smart as its users. How sophsticated would an AI have to be to have prevented this mishap?

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Robots in Wired

The July 22 issue of Wired has an article on robot ethics - "Robo-Ethicists Want to Revamp Asimov's 3 Laws." As robots become more common in everyday settings and more people interact with them, there will certainly be more problems; it's just a fact of scale. But as robots get more sophisticated, as well as more common, novel problems are likely to arise, too.

One of the intriguing issues raised in this article concerns liability. Right now, if a product fails to perform as it should (automobile tires that fall apart at high speeds, for example), the manufacturer is liable for the damage. But at some point robots will be able to take actions that their designers and manufacturers have not foreseen and could not have predicted. Will the robot itself be liable for damages? Will the manufacturer? Or will there be some kind of shared liability? What would be the best approach?

Thanks to Colin Allen (a member of the PAIT Planning Committee) for bringing this article to my attention.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

AI on Wall Street

A recent article in the New York Times describes "high-frequency trading," a new system for trading stocks that depends on high-powered computers that "execute millions of orders a second and scan dozens of public and private marketplaces simultaneously. They can spot trends before other investors can blink, changing orders and strategies within milliseconds."

According to the article, only a handful of traders currently have access to these tools, giving them an edge in electronic trading. They are able to spot trends and act on them so quickly and in such large scale that it's possible for a trader (that is, and AI trader) to buy in-demand shares and almost immediately sell them to slower traders at a profit.

This use of artificial intelligence is not as glamorous as warrior robots, but it may have the potential to change the behavior of markets, not to mention create an uneven playing field based on access to this technology. The immediate changes are obviously welcomed by the traders who can indulge in high-frequency trading, but what are the ramifications down the road?

Thanks to Colin Allen (a member of the PAIT Planning Committee) for bringing this article to my attention.

Ken Pimple, PAIT project director.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man"

A recent article in the New York Times concerns "leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and roboticists who met at the Asilomar Conference Grounds" to debate "whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload."

According to the article, the scholars expressed concerns about how advances in AI might be used by criminals, whether smart machines might take jobs away from people, and the likelihood that emerging technologies will "force humans to learn to live with machines that increasingly copy human behaviors."

These worries sound very familiar to me. What useful technology cannot be used by criminals (think robbers and pantyhose)? Major technological changes have always taken jobs from people, and many also create new jobs. And although we don't encounter many machines today that copy human behaviors, we have adapted to more social changes than I can hope to name.

I don't know how well this article reflects the actual meeting, but I suspect (and hope) that the actual conversations were more than cliches. I suppose that the devil is in the details, and the New York Times probably isn't the place to look for a detailed discussion of complex social and technological issues. But this is the kind of coverage that advances in AI and pervasive technologies tends to get in the popular media, which suggests that it shapes public understanding of these issues. One challenge facing this group of scholars - and everyone involved in the PAIT project - is coping with these broad-brush and somewhat shallow portrayals of the issues.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Friday, July 24, 2009

Welcome to PAIT!

"Ethical Guidance for Research and Application of Pervasive and Autonomous Information Technology (PAIT)" is a two-day workshop to be held on March 3-4, 2010.

The workshop will precede the annual meeting of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, which will begin on Thursday, March 4, 2010 at the historical Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza in Cincinnati, Ohio.

For background information on the workshop, see

Watch this space for news about the workshop and activities leading up to it. If you would like to be added to our mailing list for occasional updates, please send me an e-mail message.

Kenneth D. Pimple, Ph.D., PAIT project director