Information Ethics

The Doctor-Knows-Best NHS Foundation Trust: a Business Proposal for the Health Secretary

By Charles Foster

Informed consent, in practice, is a bad joke. It’s a notion created by lawyers, and like many such notions it bears little relationship to the concerns that real humans have when they’re left to themselves, but it creates many artificial, lucrative, and expensive concerns.

Of course there are a few clinical situations where it is important that the patient reflects deeply and independently on the risks and benefits of the possible options, and there are a few people (I hope never to meet them: they would be icily un-Falstaffian) whose sole ethical lodestone is their own neatly and indelibly drafted life-plan. But those situations and those people are fortunately rare. Continue reading

Regulating The Untapped Trove Of Brain Data

Written by Stephen Rainey and Christoph Bublitz

Increasing use of brain data, either from research contexts, medical device use, or in the growing consumer brain-tech sector raises privacy concerns. Some already call for international regulation, especially as consumer neurotech is about to enter the market more widely. In this post, we wish to look at the regulation of brain data under the GDPR and suggest a modified understanding to provide better protection of such data.

In medicine, the use of brain-reading devices is increasing, e.g. Brain-Computer-Interfaces that afford communication, control of neural or motor prostheses. But there is also a range of non-medical applications devices in development, for applications from gaming to the workplace.

Currently marketed ones, e.g. by Emotiv, Neurosky, are not yet widespread, which might be owing to a lack of apps or issues with ease of use, or perhaps just a lack of perceived need. However, various tech companies have announced their entrance to the field, and have invested significant sums. Kernel, a three year old multi-million dollar company based in Los Angeles, wants to ‘hack the human brain’. More recently, they are joined by Facebook, who want to develop a means of controlling devices directly with data derived from the brain (to be developed by their not-at-all-sinister sounding ‘Building 8’ group). Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s ‘Neuralink’ is a venture which aims to ‘merge the brain with AI’ by means of a ‘wizard hat for the brain’. Whatever that means, it’s likely to be based in recording and stimulating the brain.

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The Gulf Between Japanese and English Google Image Search

By Anri Asagumo, Oxford Uehiro/St Cross Scholar, (with input from Dr Tom Douglas and Dr Carissa Veliz)

 

Trigger Warning: This article deals with sexual violence, which could be potentially upsetting for some people.

Although Google claims in its policy that it restricts promotion of adult-oriented content, there is a district in the online world where their policy implementation seems loose: Google image search in the Japanese language. If one looks up ‘reipu’, a Japanese word for rape on Google, the screen fills up with a heap of explicit thumbnails of porn movies, manga, and pictures of women being raped by men. The short descriptions of the thumbnails are repugnant: ‘Raping a girl at my first workplace’, ‘Raping a junior high-school girl’, ’Raping cute girls’, ‘Raping a female lawyer’, ‘Raping a girl in a toilet’. As if rape in itself were not repulsive enough, many descriptions go even further, implying child rape. Similar results show up with ‘reipu sareta; I was raped’. It is strikingly different from the world of English Google image search, in which the top images usually send strong messages of support for victims and zero-tolerance for sexual offenders. Another example of how the Japanese Google world is different from that of English is ‘Roshia-jin; Russian people’. Searching in Japanese yields 17 pictures of young, beautiful Russian women, while searching in English returns pictures of people of different age and sex. Continue reading

The Dangers of Biography

By Charles Foster

A friend of mine has written a brilliant and justly celebrated biography. I am worried about her, and about her readers.

The biography is brilliant and engaging precisely because of the degree of rapport the author has established with her subject, and the rapport she brokers between her subject and her readers. What is the cost of that rapport?

My friend has had to keep the company of her (dead) subject for years. Her book is an invitation to others to keep that company for hours. Two ethical questions arise. Continue reading

Listen Carefully

Written by Stephen Rainey, and Jason Walsh

Rhetoric about free speech as under attack is an enduring point of discussion across the media. It appears on the political agenda, in various degrees of concreteness and abstraction. By some definitions, free speech amounts to an unrestrained liberty to say whatever one pleases. On others, it’s carefully framed to exclude types of speech centrally intended to cause harm.

At the same time, more than ever the physical environment is a focus of both public and political attention. Following the BBC’s ‘Blue Planet Two’ documentary series, for instance, a huge impetus gathered around the risk of micro-plastics to our water supply, and, indeed, how plastics in general damage the environment. As with many such issues people have been happy to act. Following, belatedly, Ireland’s example, plastic bag use has plummeted in the UK, helped along by the introduction of a tax.

There are always those few who just don’t care but, when it comes to our shared natural spaces, we’re generally pretty good at reacting. Be it taxing plastic bags, switching to paper straws, or supporting pedestrianisation of polluted areas, there is the chance for open conversations about the spaces we must share. Environmental awareness and anti-pollution attitudes are as close to shared politics as we might get, at least in terms of what’s at stake. Can the same be said for the informational environment that we share? Continue reading

Evil Online and the Moral Fog

The following is based on a brief presentation at the launch of Evil Online, by Dean Cocking and Jeroen van den Hoven and published by Wiley-Blackwell, in Bendigo, Australia, on 20 September 2018. It was an honour and a pleasure to be invited to speak, and I thank Dean for the opportunity. Continue reading

Ethical AI Kills Too: An Assement of the Lords Report on AI in the UK

Hazem Zohny and Julian Savulescu
Cross-posted with the Oxford Martin School

Developing AI that does not eventually take over humanity or turn the world into a dystopian nightmare is a challenge. It also has an interesting effect on philosophy, and in particular ethics: suddenly, a great deal of the millennia-long debates on the good and the bad, the fair and unfair, need to be concluded and programmed into machines. Does the autonomous car in an unavoidable collision swerve to avoid killing five pedestrians at the cost of its passenger’s life? And what exactly counts as unfair discrimination or privacy violation when “Big Data” suggests an individual is, say, a likely criminal?

The recent House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Committee’s report acknowledges the centrality of ethics to AI front and centre. It engages thoughtfully with a wide range of issues: algorithmic bias, the monopolised control of data by large tech companies, the disruptive effects of AI on industries, and its implications for education, healthcare, and weaponry.

Many of these are economic and technical challenges. For instance, the report notes Google’s continued inability to fix its visual identification algorithms, which it emerged three years ago could not distinguish between gorillas and black people. For now, the company simply does not allow users of Google Photos to search for gorillas.

But many of the challenges are also ethical – in fact, central to the report is that while the UK is unlikely to lead globally in the technical development of AI, it can lead the way in putting ethics at the centre of AI’s development and use.

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Facebook, Big Data, and the Trust of the Public

By Mackenzie Graham

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg recently appeared before members of the United States Congress to address his company’s involvement in the harvesting and improper distribution of approximately 87 million Facebook profiles —about 1 million of them British— to data collecting app Cambridge Analytica. In brief, Cambridge Analytica is a British political consulting firm, which uses online user data (like Facebook profiles), to construct profiles of subjects, which can then be used for what it calls ‘behavioural micro-targeting’; advertisements tailored to the recipient based on their internet activity. In 2016, Cambridge Analytica was contracted by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, as well as the ‘Leave EU’ campaign prior to Britain’s referendum to leave the European Union.

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Guest Post: Cambridge Analytica: You Can Have My Money but Not My Vote

Emily Feng-Gu, Medical Student, Monash University

When news broke that Facebook data from 50 million American users had been harvested and misused, and that Facebook had kept silent about it for two years, the 17th of March 2018 became a bad day for the mega-corporation. In the week following what became known as the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook’s market value fell by around $80 billion. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg came under intense scrutiny and criticism, the #DeleteFacebook movement was born, and the incident received wide media coverage. Elon Musk, the tech billionare and founder of Tesla, was one high profile deleter. Facebook, however, is only one morally questionable half of the story.

Cambridge Analytica was allegedly involved in influencing the outcomes of several high-profile elections, including the 2016 US election, the 2016 Brexit referendum, and the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. Its methods involve data mining and analysis to more precisely tailor campaign materials to audiences and, as whistle blower Christopher Wylie put it, ‘target their inner demons.’1 The practice, known as ‘micro-targeting’, has become more common in the digital age of politics and aims to influence swing voter behaviour by using data and information to hone in on fears, anxieties, or attitudes which campaigns can use to their advantage. This was one of techniques used in Trump’s campaign, targeting the 50 million unsuspecting Americans whose Facebook data was misused. Further adding to the ethical unease, the company was founded by Republican key players Steve Bannon, later to become Trump’s chief strategist, and billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer.

There are two broad issues raised by the incident.

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Can We Trust Research in Science and Medicine?

By Brian D. Earp  (@briandavidearp)

Readers of the Practical Ethics Blog might be interested in this series of short videos in which I discuss some of the major ongoing problems with research ethics and publication integrity in science and medicine. How much of the published literature is trustworthy? Why is peer review such a poor quality control mechanism? How can we judge whether someone is really an expert in a scientific area? What happens when empirical research gets polarized? Most of these are short – just a few minutes. Links below:

Why most published research probably is false

The politicization of science and the problem of expertise

Science’s publication bias problem – why negative results are important

Getting beyond accusations of being either “pro-science” or “anti-science”

Are we all scientific experts now? When to be skeptical about scientific claims, and when to defer to experts

Predatory open access publishers and why peer review is broken

The future of scientific peer review

Sloppy science going on at the CDC and WHO

Dogmas in science – how do they form?

Please note: this post will be cross-published with the Journal of Medical Ethics Blog.

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