Advertisement

Editor’s note: This is part I in the two-part series Top 10 Ethical Dilemmas in Science for 2018. Please click here for part II.

The John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values at the University of Notre Dame has released its annual list of emerging ethical dilemmas and policy issues in science and technology for 2018. This year, the list is decidedly slanted, as it was compiled by those participating in a course at Notre Dame titled, “Man and Machine: Humanity, Technology and the Future.”

Still, the list is important as science, technology and society look—and move—ahead.

“The annual list is designed to get people thinking about the ethics of potentially controversial technology, but the 2018 list shows many of these issues are already here,” the school said in a press release.

Let’s take a closer look at the 2018 list:

1. A digital app store for your genome

In July 2017, Helix debuted its online platform, banking on the notion that the 23andMe generation would value a relatively inexpensive, digitized way to interact with their genome. Founded in 2015 with $100 million from Illumina, Helix is a hub for genetic sequencing apps for your computer or mobile device. For an initial $80, Helix sequences the most important part of your genome, the exome. That information is digitized and stored by Helix, which parcels out pieces of the information to third-party companies selling apps through the hub.

Then Helix works on a pay-as-you-go basis. You want to know what your genome says about your sleep patterns—buy this app. You want to know about your ancestry—buy that app. The consumer advantage lies in the fact that a genome only needs to be sequenced once, and then since it’s shared across so many apps, the possibilities become nearly endless.

2. A robot priest and monk

For years now, employees in warehouses and call centers have been fearful of robots taking over their jobs, especially as artificial intelligence technology continues to advance. Now, a new group may be fearful: clergy members.

Japan’s SoftBank Group designed the humanoid robot Pepper in 2015. In 2017, Pepper “became” a Buddhist monk. The robot donned a Buddhist monk’s robe and chanted Buddhist sutras at funerals in an effort to provide a less expensive alternative to human priests. Dying in Japan can cost tens of millions of yen overall, and aging demographics have hit the country hard. According to The Japan Times, funeral business Nissei Eco has programmed Pepper to recite sutras from four major Japanese Buddhist sects. The firm hopes to charge around ¥50,000 for its services—significantly less than the cash offerings typically made to Buddhist priests.

So, would you want a robot priest presiding over your loved ones funeral?

3. Emotion-sensing facial recognition

Technology company Affectiva wants to know how you feel when you spend money—and wants to help businesses understand how you feel as well. Spun out of the MIT Media Lab in 2009, Affectiva says more than 1,500 brands already use the technology to measure consumer emotion responses to digital content.

For example, Mars Inc.—maker of M&Ms—used Affectiva to evaluate if the company’s advertising evoked the intended emotion of consumers, and if their emotional response to the ad could predict sales. Meanwhile, for CBS Network, Affectiva’s Affdex for Market Research solution gathered over 200 participants’ spontaneous facial reactions, via webcam, and analyzed their emotional responses to a 60-minute drama TV show.

Of course, in the long-run, privacy is a concern. But, as Notre Dame points out, “We’re on camera all the time when we shop, so is this really any different from what we’ve already been living with?”

4. Ransomware

Ransomware is certainly not a new idea, but it did take on a new life in 2017. Last year, companies and individuals paid out millions and millions of dollars to cyber criminals who were holding their data “random” after a hacking incident. Incidents like WannaCry, which ended up costing up to a billion dollars, became household names.

A ransomware attack on Ukraine disabled computers at banks, government agencies, energy companies, supermarkets, railways and telecommunications providers. Hospitals in England shut down for a day in May when attackers demanded $300 worth of Bitcoin, the online currency that can’t be tracked. A police department in Dallas lost years of evidence after a Russian cyberattack. And so on and so on.

According to Notre Dame, “Google found evidence that attackers have made about $25 million over the last two years, enough to make it a profitable business venture. A more pessimistic look at the data suggests it’s more like a billion dollar business.”

5. Texting and driving

Automobile accident fatality rates have increased dramatically in the last two years, with mobile phone use most likely the culprit. Between texting while driving, or using apps like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or other games, there is plenty to distract drivers who insist on using their phone while on the road.

The company Cellebrite, a mobile forensic company most well-known for cracking the encryption on the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists, has come up with a solution for texting and driving.

Cellebrite has developed the “Textalyzer,” would give police officers the ability to access a driver’s phone after a crash or traffic infraction to see if they were using the device in the time leading up to the crash. The officer would plug the Textalyzer into the driver’s cell phone and retrieve a history of what they’ve been up to. While context of texts and searches will not be accessible to officers, data about what apps have been used, when, and for how long, will be.

New York is currently studying the device for possible implementation. If the state chooses to use Textalyzer, New York will be the first state to do so.

Advertisement
Advertisement