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Don't Get Distracted

Caleb Hearth
February 17, 2018

Don't Get Distracted

In 2011, with a team of interns at a Department of Defense contractor, Caleb created a Wi-Fi geolocation app to locate hotspots. It could find the location in 3D space of every hotspot near you in seconds. His team made formulas to model signal strength and probable distances. They used machine learning to optimize completion time and accuracy. He was so caught up in the details that it took months to see it would be used to kill people. What do we do when we discover that we're building something immoral or unethical? How can we think through the uses of our software to avoid this problem entirely?

To actually see this talk, which does in fact have mostly empty slides, visit https://calebhearth.com/talks/dont-get-distracted.

Caleb Hearth

February 17, 2018

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  1. “As developers, we are often one of the last lines

    of defense against potentially dangerous and unethical practices. We’re approaching a time where software will drive the vehicle that transports your family to soccer practice. There are already AI programs that help doctors diagnose disease. It’s not hard to imagine them recommending prescription drugs soon, too. The more software continues to take over every aspect of our lives, the more important it will be for us to take a stand and ensure that our ethics are ever-present in our code. Since that day, I always try to think twice about the effects of my code before I write it. I hope that you will too.
  2. “This program denies ride requests to users who are violating

    our terms of service — whether that's people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret 'stings' meant to entrap drivers.
  3. “Well-intended actions, including those that accomplish assigned duties, may lead

    to harm unexpectedly. In such an event the responsible person or persons are obligated to undo or mitigate the negative consequences as much as possible. One way to avoid unintentional harm is to carefully consider potential impacts on all those affected by decisions made during design and implementation.
  4. Kumail Nanjiani @kumailn 4:56 PM - 1 Nov 2017 Thread:

    I know there's a lot of scary stuff in the world rn, but this is something I've been thinking about that I can't get out of my head.
  5. Kumail Nanjiani @kumailn 4:57 PM - 1 Nov 2017 As

    a cast member on a show about tech, our job entails visiting tech companies/conferences etc. We meet ppl eager to show off new tech.
  6. Kumail Nanjiani @kumailn Often we'll see tech that is scary.

    I don't mean weapons etc. I mean altering video, tech that violates privacy, stuff w obv ethical issues. 4:59 PM - 1 Nov 2017
  7. Kumail Nanjiani 4:59 PM - 1 Nov 2017 And we'll

    bring up our concerns to them. We are realizing that ZERO consideration seems to be given to the ethical implications of tech. @kumailn
  8. Kumail Nanjiani 5:00 PM - 1 Nov 2017 They don't

    even have a pat rehearsed answer. They are shocked at being asked. Which means nobody is asking those questions. @kumailn
  9. Kumail Nanjiani 5:10 PM - 1 Nov 2017 "We're not

    making it for that reason but the way ppl choose to use it isn't our fault. Safeguard will develop." But tech is moving so fast. @kumailn
  10. Kumail Nanjiani @kumailn 5:11 PM - 1 Nov 2017 That

    there is no way humanity or laws can keep up. We don't even know how to deal with open death threats online. Kumail Nanjiani @kumailn
  11. Kumail Nanjiani 5:12 PM - 1 Nov 2017 Only "Can

    we do this?" Never "should we do this? We've seen that same blasé attitude in how Twitter or Facebook deal w abuse/fake news. @kumailn
  12. Kumail Nanjiani 5:12 PM - 1 Nov 2017 Tech has

    the capacity to destroy us. We see the negative effect of social media. & no ethical considerations are going into dev of tech. @kumailn
  13. Kumail Nanjiani @kumailn 5:13 PM - 1 Nov 2017 You

    can't put this stuff back in the box. Once it's out there, it's out there. And there are no guardians. It's terrifying. The end. Kumail Nanjiani @kumailn