Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive.

World’s first ethical guidelines for driverless cars

Anne says: Last month the German government released ethical guidelines for autonomous (driverless) cars – the first government in the world to do this.

Reading through the press releases and the analysis from experts, a number of issues stood out for me:

  • Instead of using the Trolley Dilemma as the scenario for decision-making – it acknowledges that programmed software will struggle to identify people by age, gender etc. and treats all people as equal with an emphasis on harm minimisation.
  • An underpinning principle accepts that accidents will happen, however, the target is to reduce or improve on the level of human-controlled accidents (current state).
  • Humans will still have the ultimate control – sitting in the driver’s seat. However, drivers will need to be licensed to be in control of a driverless car.
  • All cars will have a Black Box – that will record and identify who was in control, when – perhaps a process that addresses any insurance claims.
  • Guidelines will enable German car manufacturers to proceed with design and development – taking an important step for commercial viability.
  • The acknowledgement that the guidelines are a starting position with a review date in 2 years. Iterations are expected as scenarios arise that require additional consideration.

At the launch of the report, German Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, Alexander Dobrindt, said:

In the era of the digital revolution and self-learning systems, human-machine interaction raises new ethical questions. Automated and connected driving is the most recent innovation where this interaction is to be found across the board. The Ethics Commission at the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure has performed absolutely pioneering work in this field and developed the first guidelines in the world for automated driving. We are now going to implement these guidelines – and in doing so we will remain at the forefront of Mobility 4.0 worldwide.

The Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure’s Ethics Commission comprised 14 academics and experts from the disciplines of ethics, law and technology. Among these were transport experts, legal experts, information scientists, engineers, philosophers, theologians, consumer protection representatives as well as representatives of associations and companies.

It would be a novel experience to expect our current political framework in Australia to produce an ethical report of this standard.


Link to the report (in English).

A Game You Can Control With Your Mind

Jakkii says: When I first read this piece, I must confess to finding the whole idea creepy. As I pondered it more, I realised I was probably being super ableist – we have been working on developing machine “mind control” techniques to help improve the lives of people with significant physical disabilities for quite some time, and that’s very obviously not creepy. Things like virtual typing for tetraplegics, or robotic hand exoskeletons to regain movement.

However, there’s something so science fiction-y about technology you control with your mind that the inherent creep factor remains – after all it’s not like most science fiction films or novels go so well. Even ones not set in dystopian futures.

And yet, recent advances in the area of neurotechnology are profound, and wildly fascinating. It might not surprise you to learn one of the people jumping on the bandwagon in this space is Elon Musk, with the company he founded in 2016, called Neuralink. It’s not yet clear what Neuralink is building, exactly, but according to their website:

Neuralink is developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.

Other neurotechnology companies have a more demonstrable vision, companies like Neurable who developed ‘Awakening,’ the article’s prototype-game subject.

‘Awakening’ requires a VR headset supplemented with sensors that use EEG to control your actions within the game. The capabilities are limited right now – you can only lift an object inside the game if you are looking directly at it – but the possibilities are mind boggling. The article suggests we “imagine a brain interface for rapidly typing on a smartphone,” and while that sounds great (especially for those amongst us with RSI), it doesn’t take much of a leap to wonder how much further we might go with brain-machine interfaces in the future. Will we one day control our entire home with our thoughts? How far might those brainwaves reach? Could we turn off the iron from the air if we suddenly remember mid-flight that we didn’t do it before we rushed out the door for our flight?

And how might this play out in the workplace? Will we think our emails instead of typing them? For that matter, would the machine merely play intermediary, downloading our thought-email directly into the brain of the recipient? And will we still be able to reject the (usually) passive aggressive request for a ‘read receipt’?

Perhaps ultimately we will have to face the big question: where will man end, and machine begin?


If you’re ready to go down the rabbit hole with further reading on brain-machine interfaces, this long read is a good primer

Why do women bully each other at work? Research suggests that conditions in the workplace might be to blame

Nat says: I saw the title of this article and my curiosity piqued. The best and worst bosses I have worked for in my career have been female, and the bad ones were nothing short of being bullies. I remember on one occassion in my early 20s when a senior female director made me sit on a broken chair next to her as she pointed out items in a document that I had supposedly ‘done wrong’.  The broken chair had me almost at floor level as she hovered over me. At the time I knew a power play was going on as this particular director had a reputation in the organisation, and more than one colleague had made a formal bullying and harassment claim against her. But then I think about the amazing female bosses I’ve had as well; ones where even our male colleagues bowed down to their prowess. How can the range of female leadership and co-working experiences vary so much among women?

In reality, female relationships in the workplace are just one example of our in-gender conflict. I have always wondered why ‘women hate women’, as supposedly sisters are said to have the most volatile of all human relationships. In the shared article, a Boston psychologist even claims that:

Women and girls are less willing than men and boys to cooperate with lower-status individuals of the same gender; more likely to dissolve same-gender friendships; and more willing to socially exclude one another. [There is] a similar pattern in apes. Male chimpanzees groom one another more than females do, and frequently work together to hunt or patrol borders. Female chimps are much less likely to form coalitions, and have even been spotted forcing themselves between a female rival and her mate in the throes of copulation.

Hostility among women in the workplace can, as the article suggests, be related to the nature of work and the level of competition; for example law firms, or occupations where a rise to the top is competitive and cut-throat. Interestingly, the article also claims that the longer a woman has been in the workforce, the less likely she will want a female boss. For me personally, I think gender is somewhat fallacious as context, personality and the type of relationship you have with either a boss or co-worker can influence your working relationship with them regardless of their gender.

In the workplace, I have mainly had female bosses, but in my university career such as in my honours, masters and now PhD research, I have always had male supervisors. Depending on the context, there are times when I have preferred working with women and other times when I have preferred working with men. It is curious, nevertheless, as to why women-to-women hostility draws a lot of attention, especially when most of the world’s popular sporting competitions, and our politicians who wage war, are predominately based on male-to-male rivalry. The same in-gender conflict is also true for men, so maybe we should look at this relationship as much as we scrutinise female ones.


The Rising Stars Of Social Media: An Interview With The Obama White House Team

“…it is fascinating to hear about… just how much history was made during his eight years in office.”

Emilio says: They’re the dream team in social media responsible for supporting “the first social media president”, the admirable Barack Obama.

In this casual chat with Social Paradigm Shifters, the dream team of Alex Wall (@alexbwall), Laura Miller (@Ms_LauraMiller) and Tanya Somanader (@somanader) shared insider stories on the transformation of what used to be a bureaucratic traditional communications practice into a powerful digital-social strategy that allowed the White House to connect with people directly.

As well as setting up the famous @POTUS Twitter account, some of the cool, innovative things they did included: setting up YouTube interviews instead of the regular press interviews, and doing Facebook Live as well Buzzfeed videos with President Obama.

Three things strike me in their stories:

  • The importance of having full support of the leader of the organisation. Obama believed in the power of digital and social media. He hired a team responsible for digital, empowered everyone in the team and gave them open access to himself. There was total buy-in from the top-down with resources, training and open collaboration (some crazy ideas were put to the table!).
  • Diversity in the team. They made sure they hired people from different backgrounds, beliefs and perspectives. This ensured they captured every sentiment of the diverse American population.
  • Authenticity and the importance of being open with everyone in the team and with the public. As Laura pointed out, “everybody has the right to be informed, everybody is capable to be informed and we treated the American people that they wanted to be informed… we didn’t just rely on reporters to be the middleground in all of it”.

It’s such a far cry from how Trump, the 45th US President, uses social media to broadcast his government policies compressed hastily in 140 characters at 3am.

Listen to the podcast for more insights about the workings of the former White House team whose incredible work made a US president so accessible to the people.


Instagram flaw lets hackers sell celebrities’ data at $10 a pop

Joel says: All you need is ten bucks to get in touch with Taylor Swift, thanks to an Instagram data leak.

A seller on the darknet was able to harvest the email addresses and phone numbers of up to 500 celebrities by way of a bug in the popular photo-focused social network. The flaw let hackers steal a user’s credentials and was patched after researchers with Kaspersky Lab warned Instagram on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, contact info for hundreds of celebrities is now for sale on the darknet via a searchable database, at $10 per query, researchers from security company RepKnight discovered. The sellers are going by the name Doxagram, a combination of Instagram and “doxxing,” a term for dumping someone’s private info or documents online.

Instagram were quick to fix the flaw that made this possible on Wednesday, and are working with law enforcement to investigate the people behind Doxagram. Although the flaw has been fixed, this group still possess the stolen information.

Instagram have released a statement reiterating that no passwords have been stolen, but acknowledge that the stolen information could lead to phishing attacks and privacy breaches.

Even if you’re not a celebrity, now might be a good time to change your Instagram and other passwords.


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