Technology in Wartime: Part 6

What Would a Socially-Responsible Computer Scientist Do?

The last session was probably the most philosophical of them all. Jeff Ubois is working on archiving and access solutions for Intelligent Television. He brought up the question of what kinds of materials should be archived? Should we keep the most vulgar and violent photos and videos to show how bad it is? How does this violate the people in the photos, or their friends and family? Should there be “dark archives” where this kind of stuff is stored but not accessible to the public for long periods of time?

Barbara Simons, an expert on electronic voting, tried to convince us to go back to paper voting. I’m not convinced that paper voting is without flaws either. I think we really need some sort of check and balance system so that we can make sure things are working. I think that voting should produce paper and electronic results. The electronic results are sent into the central accounting office, while the paper votes are counted locally and then the results called in to make sure that they match up. Too large of a discrepancy would automatically force a recount. This is where it is important that the software and hardware be extremely robust.

Terry Winograd, a professor of CS at Stanford, talked about the ethical implications of taking government money to do classified research. He seems to think that more universities should turn down government funding. This sparked an interesting debate with the first speaker, Ronald Arkin, who does research for the government. I spoke with Ron after the talk because I had enjoyed his talk, but also because I think that he is doing a good thing with his research of ethics in autonomous systems.

To me, the ethics of taking government funding is similar to my battle with the Catholic church. Do I stay in the church and try to change how they treat women, of do I leave the church on principal? That was a really tough decision for me. On one hand, I feel that I should stay in the church and fight for women’s rights. Instead, I left the church in protest of their unequal treatment of women. People who are considering taking government funding have a similar choice to make.


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