Friday, June 29, 2012

"Will Google's Personal Assistant Be Creepy or Cool?"

This piece by Jenna Wortham (New York Times, June 28, 2012) asks an astute question.

I hadn't heard about Google Now before. It appears to be a kind of pocket butler that will come with the next version of Android. It will connect disparate information about your location, your calendar, and your preferences to give you advice on how to get through the day. Google has a Flash video that makes the thing easier to understand than any merely verbal explanation.

This e-butler (my coinage), according to Wortham, has the potential to "feel like a menacing stalker."
Google Now may also cause people to realize exactly how much data and information Google actually has about their routines and daily lives. And that might cause some people to be very, very uncomfortable, regardless of how useful the service is.
Wortham ends the essay with a particularly nicely written passage on the world of tomorrow (or five minutes from now):
We’re at the beginning of an era, the adolescence, of just beginning to understand what information we want to share and keep private, and when we don’t have a say in the matter. But we’re learning that our data exhaust, the small particulate matter that we deposit around the Web and world through our browsers and mobile devices, is becoming a very powerful tool in aggregate, and that large companies are hoping to use it to their advantage.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Monday, June 25, 2012

"A Weapon We Can’t Control"

I've written on Stuxnet five times and mentioned it once on this blog. I was appalled at the first news of Stuxnet I came across, not simply because of the virus' power, but because it appeared that Stuxnet was created by the United States or Israel or both. Most importantly, when a computer virus is let loose on the world, it becomes available to bad actors who can modify it for their own purposes. It's almost as if the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave would-be bomb builders 98% of everything they needed to build their own a-bombs.

The author of this op-ed piece, Misha Glenny (New York Times, June 24, 2012), observes:
There is no international treaty or agreement restricting the use of cyberweapons, which can do anything from controlling an individual laptop to disrupting an entire country's critical telecommunications or banking infrastructure. It is in the United States' interest to push for one before the monster it has unleashed comes home to roost.        
We might be headed toward a new Cold War in which mutual destruction can be triggered by any one of thousands of sophisticated programmers. To me, this is just as scary as the previous cold war, in part because it's much more complicated. A treaty would not be a complete solution, but it would be a valuable tool.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Katina Michael on microchips in humans

In this 15-minute video, Associate Professor Katina Michael of the University of Wollongong (Australia) gives a quick overview of the history of computing, from ENIAC to implantable microchips, then presents three scenarios of likely (or at least possible) uses of microchips in humans.

I very rarely watch anything on YouTube that's over 2-3 minutes. This one is well worth the time. It's informative, gripping, and eye-opening.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Friday, June 15, 2012

Call for papers: Ethics of Social Networks for Special Needs Users

Call for Papers
 Ethics and Information Technology
Special Issue on Ethics of Social Networks for Special Needs Users

Millions of persons all around the world are regular users of social networking sites. Their number is still increasing. Online Social networking practices often raise unforeseen problems with regard to the rights, needs, and interests of the vulnerable, e.g. children, the elderly, and the persons with disabilities. These categories represent what we call “special needs users” and their social networking practices raise specific challenges. Understanding, supporting or helping specials needs users poses problems of e-inclusion, access to social networks, protecting them from harm and exploitation, and accommodating their special needs, supporting their emancipation and political participation, as well as encouraging solidarity with and among these groups.

This special issue invites submissions of original research exploring the interplay between Ethics, on-line social networks, and special needs users. We are particularly interested in contributions that identify ethical issues and their resolution by devising policies and proposing design solutions to the problems identified. Social sciences and Interdisciplinary studies have seen an increased number of papers related to Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn. Most of the literature reflecting on ethical questions associated with these technologies does not go beyond the consideration of individuals’ privacy. In this special edition, we wish to explore a broader range of ethical issues raised by social networks, with a specific focus on the special needs users including children, elderly and persons with disabilities.

Values that come to mind in this context are wellbeing, voice, equality, autonomy and freedom, usability. Researchers are invited to propose papers addressing the key question of this special issue: what are the specific ethical considerations that need to be addressed in the design, deployment and governance of social networks use by special needs persons? Original articles on for example the following themes are welcome:
  1. minimum age and protection of minors;
  2. effect of a daily use of social networks on kids development including school performance;
  3. cyber-bullying, harassment and violence arising from SN usage amongst children;
  4. accessibility of elderly or disabled persons to SN;
  5. digital divide and e-inclusion; 
  6. ethical issues such as: identity, agency and autonomy for special needs users; 
  7. generational gaps and solidarities arising from SN usage; 
  8. types of solidarities arising from SN usage.
The editors at Ethics and Information Technology are seeking articles for a special issue in these areas. Submissions will be double-blind refereed for relevance to the theme as well as academic rigor and originality. High quality articles not deemed to be sufficiently relevant to the special issue may be considered for publication in a subsequent non-themed issue of Ethics and Information Technology.

Closing date for submissions: 30 September 2012

To submit your paper, please use the online submission system, to be found at

Please contact the special guest editors for more information: Caroline Rizza and Ângela Guimarães Pereira.

Or the managing editor, Noëmi Manders-Huits

Ethics and Information Technology (ETIN) is the major journal in the field of moral and political reflection on Information Technology. Its aim is to advance the dialogue between moral philosophy and the field of information technology in a broad sense, and to foster and promote reflection and analysis concerning the ethical, social and political questions associated with the adoption, use, and development of IT.

Friday, June 1, 2012

"Obama order sped up wave of cyberattacks against Iran"

An alarming article in the New York Times (Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran, David E. Sanger, June 1, 2012) claims
From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.
The effort was begun in the Bush administration.

The article is
based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.
It's a long, detailed, and sobering article. My basic reaction to this news isn't much changed from what I express in an earlier post.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director