Podcast: The Altered State

July 13, 2016. Listen on Soundcloud. This podcast from “Flash Forward” explores the physical and ethical reasons for and against legalizing various pharmaceutical products, including performance enhancing drugs and illegal drugs such as marijuana and...

How to Be Good: Why You Can’t Teach Human Values to Artificial Intelligence

April 2016: Read article in Slate. Artificially intelligent machines will soon be in situations where they have to make values-based decisions. For example, if a self-driving car must make a choice between protecting its passengers or pedestrians, the programmers of the self-driving vehicle must give it a definite answer. The question is not whether machines can be made to obey human values but which humans ought to decide those values. Ultimately, what gives Western, well-off, white male cisgender scientists the right to determine how the machine encodes and develops human...

The Dark Side of World-Changing Technologies

February 15, 2016: Read article in Huffington Post Tech. “There are numerous novel technologies that will change society and empower individuals — but they have a dark side that’s all too frequently overlooked…We know all too well that technical expertise doesn’t guarantee balanced rationality… The rising empowerment of tech-savvy groups or individuals with bio and cybertechnology will pose an intractable challenge to governments and aggravate the tension between freedom, privacy and...

When Extinction Is a Humanitarian Cause

February 17, 2016: Read article in MIT Technology Review. Humans have driven species to extinction through our hunger, our ignorance, our desire for economic growth, and our indifference. Will one species of mosquito be the first we eliminate for humanitarian...

First Monkeys with Autism Created in China

January 25, 2015: Read article in MIT Technology Review. Scientists in China say they used genetic engineering to create monkeys with a version of autism, and they now plan to attempt to reverse the symptoms by erasing the genetic error in live animals using new genome-editing technologies such as CRISPR. They hope that this work will one day lead to a cure for autism and change the way we study human disabilities. However, their research raises several ethical questions related to genetic engineering and animal welfare, as well as practical considerations over how accurate a model of autism their genetically engineered monkeys...

Do Sperm Banks ‘Work in Eugenics?’

January 28, 2016: Read article in the Genetic Literacy Project. Vanessa Smith, a representative of the London Sperm Bank recently gave a press conference following allegations of discrimination. The sperm bank rejected a dyslexic donor, as dyslexia is one of many disqualifying neurological conditions for sperm donations. Speaking on behalf of the company, Smith said, “We are looking for someone who is medically clear of infectious diseases and genetic issues that may possibly be passed on to any resulting child.” She also claimed, “We definitely don’t work in eugenics.” She may mean something like, “In the popular mind, ‘eugenics’ is associated with Nazis, an association we wish to avoid.” But to shape future children, based on a policy that describes human variation as disease, is by definition...