Writing 09: Intellectual Property

I think that intellectual property should be protected. Someone took the time to create a concept, and should be entitled to everything that results from it such as profit, etc. However, the issue is that there is no real way to control how this concept is distributed. When it comes to DVDs, they are ripped and sold. When it comes to software programs, music, movies, etc, they are pirated online. There are too many ways in which intellectual property rights can be violated. I think this will not be solved solely by law, but also by innovation. The fact that are law system regarding this seems to not be able to make it stop to any real degree, we have to resort to actually implementing something that limits people’s ability to pirate or lowers their willingness to pirate. For example, Netflix is one of the leading causes why movies and other entertainment isn’t pirated as much anymore. It is because they offered such a service that made pirating unappealing because of the security issue that inherently comes with it. They created something that deterred people from pirating. Pirating is already illegal, but it took a legitimate good service in order to get people to stop pirating. Laws are ineffective when it comes to this. However, not everyone can invent a service such that it makes people not want to pirate. This is why I believe that the distributor of the intellectual property should build in security somehow into the product. If it’s a DVD, make a system such that it cannot be ripped. For example, creating a disc reading software that’s the only software that can read the (encrypted) disc, and give no option to rip it. This would make it a lot harder to rip the DVD, which would decrease the amount of people engaging in this activity. However, I do believe that laws are effective when it comes to encouraging people to create something. For example, patents. I believe that patents are beneficial for society. I believe that one of the effects of patents is that the products that result from patents are of higher quality than products that are made by a bigger company that stole the idea from a startup. The reason being, if a small company makes something, it has to be truly great if the company is going to succeed. It is their only product, so it better be good. On the other hand, if there were no patents, a big company can step in at anytime, copy the product, but only work on it enough such that it is sell-able, and that’s it. The company could simply use its existing customer base to help that product take off, instead of gaining new clients solely based off of the product. So, since inventors have this protection that allows them a certain amount of time to be the only ones working on an upcoming product, I think it encourages people to try to create something without worrying too much that their efforts will be futile.

Writing 07: Online Censorship

I believe that artificial intelligence is something that should be embraced. We can fear it, but in the end, artificial intelligence will be more and more prevalent in society, so we should be ready for the changes that it will bring about. I believe that there will be many areas of application where artificial intelligence will be more readily accepted, and other areas where it will be more questionable. For example, I can foresee a future in which elderly people in retirement homes might be given a robot that learned how that specific person likes to interact. This is a possible solution for the sad reality that many people in those homes are lonely. Many people can point to the positives and negatives, but every decision has a positive and a negative. We should focus on minimizing the negatives rather than having no solution to a problem. I suppose this was a weird example, but it serves to highlight the (unforeseen) variety of areas that artificial intelligence can and will be applied to. The fact that we lack human power in some industries, can be addressed by artificial intelligence, and this is a good thing. In other areas, artificial intelligence is replacing the already available manpower for the sake of profit. I think that this is not a problem, but as we saw in the readings, there will be a disproportionate redistribution of wealth, which therein lies the problem. We should be happy that computers are minimizing the amount of physical labor that humans have to do, but also address the negative consequences of this change, which our economy is not built to solve on its own. There will be big changes in policy in the near future as artificial intelligence grows and effects society more and more. It will especially get tricky, I think, when people make robots whose intention is not to replace a human doing a physical task, but a human doing an emotional task. Can a human marry a robot, if he/she really likes the robot’s personality (software)? I think this is a question we will have to answer at some point, because neural networks are based on neural networks in biology. As computers’ neural networks develop (AKA become more similar to biology), we will eventually run to a point where even though they may not be materially the same, they work the same or almost the same, to the point where they will be indistinguishable. Thus, computers and humans will have neural networks with the same capabilities, and robots will be able to carry out more than just physical tasks. This is the part of robots that I fear the most. Will they be able to run for political office? What if they CAN run for political office. What if robots do take over, but not in a brutal massacre way. What if they take over the very structure that we have made in order to keep us running as a civilization. What if, in the same way that we may fear speaking back to certain people, we fear speaking back to a robot? Will we need counseling for people who have robot problems? Of course, if these things were to happen, they wouldn’t happen overnight. They would be a series of small changes in policy that expands the domain in which robots are able to operate, and thus, have “freedom.” Many small decisions add up. The same way we have loopholes in law, there will be loopholes that people will use to place robots in situations that no one explicitly prohibited, but the law allows for it. I think that the only way to combat this is to have even more people who are watchful of how robots are used. In the end, humans make the laws. If we wanted such a future to be reality, we will find a way to do it. However, the only thing that stops us from doing that, are people who oppose that. In the end, this is a tricky topic, and so many bad scenarios can play out, but also, just as many positive ones can play out if we are cognizant of how we handle this situation at every step of its development.

Writing 06: Corporate Conscience

I think corporations should be expected to have the same ethical and moral obligations and responsibilities as a person. However, the reason is one that may not be expected. I believe that much progress is done by those who defy the rules, and are fortunate enough to not get punished for doing so. Their actions show the world that the rules are wrong or need to be updated. How will we ever evolve if no one challenges the current state of the world? Fortunately or unfortunately, we need people who challenge the norms in order for us to adapt. I still think we need rules in place for “damage control.” If we had no standards for corporations, they would all do crazy things for profit (crazy = uncontrollable), and we wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. However, with some rules, we have the power to either let them advance (change our rules) or stop them (enforce our rules). So from that perspective, the corporation is serving to advance our rules by showing us how limiting/broken they are. My overall perspective, I think, is the belief that things resolve themselves in the long run. Either a corporation is allowed to continue what it is doing and we update our rules, or we stop them and they update their tactics. Kind of like biology, where bacteria makes the immune system stronger, corporations that break the rules make the rules stronger. However, what we cannot do is allow the bacteria to overpower the immune system, so we need some rules. Some of the readings mention the extent of Facebook’s and Google’s reach in society. These are very valid points, and as I see it, these are companies that are running on not entirely ethical means… by our standard of ethics. However, they operate under different circumstances than we can see, and maybe what they are doing is ethical in their eyes. The only true way that we can debate on something is on its overall outcome, because we may be better to better quantify it, rather than talking about abstract concepts. So, these companies are in the state of either updating themselves or updating our rules. The very nature of rules is a hindrance to innovation. Rules can be viewed as a structure that must not be touched or disturbed in any way. It is completely inconsiderate of the outside world. It will not move… until it has to. It will only move when the outside world keeps banging on it, which is a sign that something is off about the structure and we have to review it. The very nature of rules is to not move. The nature of innovation is to mix and match things in ways that were never done before. At some point, one idea will come along that does many great things but is at odds with the law in one way or another. At this point, one of the two has to move. This is how society advances.

Writing 05: Privacy vs Security

In a country where there are hundreds of millions of people, and millions coming in per year, I understand the need for the government to somehow be able to see what we do online. The internet, in my opinion, is becoming somewhat of an area that is free from rules, so to speak. You can essentially do anything you want, so long as you stay hidden under a VPN or by any other means. This brings into question, should this be the case? Should there exist an entire world where the government cannot lay down the law? I think this is a tricky situation because while we may not be too opposed to the idea of the government enforcing the law, we also don’t want to give the government too much leeway in which they may be able to abuse their newly founded powers. The government has a history of targeting whoever they deem to be malicious, but the problem is, there is no objective way of enforcing who is malicious and who is not; if the government says you are, then you are and they will paint you in such light. For this reason, I think that we have to shift from watching people all the time to only watching them when they do something wrong. However, it is impossible to predict the future and know when someone is going to break the law, so the government has to be watching in one form or another. One idea is that we could have traffic going through the government, but the source of the traffic is hidden, and only when the traffic is revealed to break the law, then the source of the traffic is revealed. This way, the government would not be able to distort innocent online activity into malicious activity because the online activity would not trigger the switch that would reveal your identity. Furthermore, there should be some kind of randomization, such that once the source of one content is revealed, the stream is shuffled so that the government cannot track the source once that instance is over. This would ensure that they cannot spy on anyone, because they would lose track of the stream that they are looking for. Furthermore, the government would not be able to issue subpoenas that force the surveillance agency to give up lawful online activity about any particular individual, because if the activity was lawful then the source is encrypted and they wouldn’t know how to get it anyway. It was mentioned in one of the readings that Apple has complied with the government in unlocking people’s Iphones if they believe that the person’s Iphone has unlawful activity. The government would no longer be able to do that, if such a service is implemented. If they want to truly only track people that break the law, I see this as one possibility that is better than an absolute Big Brother. Of course, every possibility has potential to be abused, but this very much mitigates that.

Writing 04: Whistleblowing

I believe that disasters are disasters, and they’ll happen. Disasters aren’t that bad when no one’s life is at stake. If people’s lives are at stake, and it is known, measures would be taken to carefully evaluate the situation. With Challenger, this was the case. The engineers used the term ‘acceptable risk’ to create a balance between the risk at hand and the consequences of that risk. There is room for acceptable risk. However, the circumstances at the time were certainly not anything that they’ve seen before, thus, the risk should not have been classified as an acceptable risk. I think that if the circumstances at the time were the same ones that they’ve seen before, then they should have classified the risk as an acceptable one. If this acceptable risk somehow still resulted in an explosion, it would have been justified. There is literally no way to make sure that anything is 100% risk free. Driving to work is a risk. Going down the stairs is a risk. However, these are acceptable, since there is only so much we can do to prevent the risk of something going wrong. However, the Challenger situation is not similar in this regard. They did virtually nothing to minimize the risk. On the note of Roger Boisjoly whistleblowing, I believe that it is a personal decision that you have to make. I don’t think that there is an objective universal answer to the question of whether or not we should whistleblow. I think it depends on the situation, and, very much, on the very person who is doing the whistleblowing. Whistleblowing has many implications on one’s life, that may extend beyond the organization that that person blew the whistle on. Roger was ostracized even when he went back home for what he did. Therefore, when deciding on whether or not someone should blow the whistle, you should also take into account whether or not the person would be able to handle the implications of such actions. It is not fair that someone’s life has to get screwed up all for the sake of telling the truth. In a perfect world, the whistleblower is respected even after the fact. However, we are not in a perfect world, and have to consider these very real repercussions. If someone knows that them blowing the whistle would cause them to lose a hold of their lives, they should NOT blow the whistle. For example, if they have a family to support, and them blowing the whistle leads to them never getting a job again, they should not blow the whistle. If the person may not be able to handle the emotional and mental strain of blowing the whistle, such that they may get PTSD, as was the case with Boisjoly, they should NOT blow the whistle. However, if the potential whistleblower is okay with these possible scenarios, they should blow the whistle. This is why I believe that the decision on whether or not to blow the whistle depends on the factors exterior to the person (how many people are being impacted, how bad is it) just as much as it depends on the person themselves (can I handle it, is it worth it for me).

Writing 03: Diversity in Computing and Technology

I think the computing and technology community should not work towards creating a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive community, but I highly disagree with the way in which things are being done. We are trying to balance out everything, down to the ratio between different people that are in the bathroom at the same time. There will naturally be unevenness in certain areas of computing, such as what people are attracted to what teams in a big company. For example, I learned about a certain person who was visually impaired, and he went to work at Google and joined the team that works on accessibility. No one complained that he chose that team, because it was his own interest. No one tried to encourage him to go to another team just because they needed a blind person for quota purposes. What I think we should work on is making the people who are already in computing and technology not feel discriminated against or harassed. So, there is a difference between encouraging people to join, and making them feel safe. We need to work on the second one before we can focus on the first one. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise. We would be inviting people into a space that they wouldn’t feel comfortable in, just so that we meet the numbers. James Damore spoke about certain groups being more suited for certain things. Instead of trying to force a reality that doesn’t exist, just accept it and use it to understand reality more. For example, people say the bar has been lowered for minorities. I 100% agree. However, just because the bar was lowered doesn’t mean minorities are less capable. If a minority has a lower test score, it may have more to say about his training than his capabilities. For example, I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household. If there was a copy of me, except that that person speaks English at home, you would and should expect that on average, I will score lower. So, me scoring lower is a result of uneven preparation, not so much a difference in capabilities. This is what I mean when I say, accept reality and use it to understand reality. I accept that the bar has been lowered. Then I ask myself, “why?” Then I answer that question to get the full picture. Again, this is on average. This is not to say that every single minority that walks in the door will be less prepared than the majority, but on average, yes they will be. So, I think we should not force things, and accept them as they are in order to solve the issues in a realistic manner. I read an article that stated that external biases are less pronounced nowadays, but internal biases are just as strong. This is because we aren’t having the real conversations that allow us to target these internal biases. We are shamed into not sharing out opinions, which is why we don’t externalize them, we just internalize them. However, this does not solve the issue, it only makes it harder to be addressed properly. The only way to have this is to have true conversations where people can accept facts and not see them as an offense, but as an attribute that they can use to understand themselves, their situation, and the world.

Writing 01: Identity

I do not consider myself similar to what people imagine when they hear the words “computer programmer.” As was evident in the class, when people hear these words, they think of people locked in their rooms, trying to hack into someone’s computer or account of some sort. For me, computer science is something that I am very passionate about, but it is not the only thing that I am passionate about. I am a very social person, which may come as a surprise to some, who are used to seeing us always alone on our computers. However, I do manifest the stereotype that I am always on my computer, but that doesn’t change the fact that I actually like talking to people. This computer science identity makes a large part of who I am, but when you mix it in with the fact that I am a Latino and come from a poor neighborhood, it makes it hard to find a place where I fit in. There are not many poor students that go to college, and out of that chunk, not many of them are Latino, and out of the tiny chunk that are Latino, there are not too many that go into computer science. For this reason, it’s hard to find a place both at school and back home. However, I think this impacts how the world sees me because many people are fascinated. My family is fascinated that I am a computer scientist, and (some) people at the University are fascinated by where I come from. So, no total common ground at either end, but at least people are interested. I recognize that I am privileged by having a great household, which I think is very fundamental to success. However, what I’ve accomplished or gotten has been through pure hard work, dedication, and perseverance. So, I grew up underprivileged in that I did not necessarily have the resources that many people around the country had, but I did have one great privilege in that my parents and family were amazing. I emphasize this because many households are toxic, which impedes children from succeeding in society. The levels of privilege obviously matter to me, because someone who doesn’t work that hard can still go to a great university because of their resources, and someone who does work hard may not go to college at all because they lack resources. For example, I had a friend that had to work while in high school because things weren’t so good at home, which ended up making him tired at school and therefore he did not perform that great. So for me, being a Notre Dame Computer Science and Engineering graduate means carrying the torch for the people who come from places where I come from, but could not get to where I am because of the circumstances. It’s to show to the world that there are people out there who are capable. I may be the one graduating, but there are many people who deserve recognition as well.

Writing 02: Hiring Process

I personally believe that the hiring process as of now isn’t as bad. I believe it all comes down to preparation and work experience. A company wants to hire the person who is most fit for the job. There is no way to tell who is most fit for the job, unless each person is evaluated. Here is where the article “Hiring is Broken And Yours Is Too” says that the problem is. It talks about how every hiring tactic has downfalls. To me, this is no surprise. When we hire, we are essentially trying to evaluate the person’s fit for the job. The only way to fully understand a person is to be the person and have lived the person’s life. All hiring tactics are essentially shortcuts where we try to get the relevant aspects of the person, and evaluate that. Here is where the problem lies. Shortcuts work for most cases, but there will always be the few who don’t make it past the evaluation because the evaluation can’t encapsulate every scenario. It’s like code; code that has been written and has no way to handle edge cases. It’s just life: nothing is perfect. What we can complain about I believe is when a company deliberately does not try to hire in a way that is fair to the candidate. All we can do is hope for the best, but not expect perfect. Personally, the hiring process has been amazing. I was asked technical questions through the phone, coded it live through a Google Doc, and talked throughout the whole process until I got to a solution or until time ran out. This seemed reasonable to me, because I knew beforehand that I was going to be tested this way, therefore, I prepared. However, I do recognize that the company that I applied to does have a lot more resources to put into making the hiring as easy and fair as possible, which other smaller companies might not have. Still, I believe that the hiring process overall is good. However, I did apply to a small company once that they gave me what was basically homework. The homework took me a few hours, but a few hours of a school week is a long time to have to sacrifice just for a chance that the employer say yes. Imaging if I had to do that for every company that I applied to. This would be impossible. So, this is one hiring tactic is one that I do not appreciate, and the same can be said for anything that takes too much time and is particular to one company. I personally believe that a viable option is a mix of past projects and live coding. Not everyone gets the live coding correct, such as the man who wrote a software that is fundamental to Facebook, but was still not hired because he was not able to reverse a linked list. Live coding gives no credit to personal projects, which should receive merit. However, there is the issue of discriminating against people with families. However, personal projects do still deserve merit, so I still think it should be a combination of the two, or either or.

Writing 00: Responsibility

  1. I almost always use The Duty Framework. However, many times for me, doing what’s right means sacrificing myself. As stated in the article A Framework For Making Ethical Decisions, “However, this framework also has its limitations. First, it can appear cold and impersonal, in that it might require actions which are known to produce harms, even though they are strictly in keeping with a particular moral rule.” In the context that I am using it, the “action that is known to produce harms,” is me sacrificing myself. So, if constantly doing what’s right means sacrificing myself in a way that invites the situation to be repeated over and over, thus, constant sacrificing, I switch to The Virtue Framework, where I choose the action that best represents the kind of person that I want to be. I also switch to the Virtue Framework when there are many right actions in The Duty Framework, so again, I choose the action that requires the virtues that I value most.
  2. These frameworks can be applied to my future career in engineering because we can question what we are doing: are we doing it for personal gains (money), or for the common good? Just as this question can be asked, we can also ask many more questions. Computer science is a field that is relevant almost everywhere in today’s society. Thus, there are many areas that it is applicable to, so we may have to think more carefully about what we are actually doing.
  3. Besides the talent of coding, I’ve developed the talent of being able to lead things. I was able to start a band, and perform on stage by myself, and have an overall presence here on campus. This is simply because Notre Dame puts students in a position where they have many opportunities and resources to essentially do and experiment with that they want. The problem however, is that not many students go out and take on challenges/risks, and therefore do not grow much in the area of leadership and taking charge. I have gone out of my way many times and put myself in uncomfortable situations so many times that I’m almost more comfortable being in uncomfortable situations that in comfortable ones.
  4. One ethical challenge that I see with computing and technology is drawing the line between letting nature take its course and letting technology alter it, if the course is deemed undesirable. For example, genetics. We will get to the point, if we aren’t there already, where we will be able to alter the genes so that a fetus will evolve in a way that we desire. Thus, we will essentially be able to choose our babies based on our preferences. Is this moral? Arguments can be made such as: Why is it bad to be able to have control over how our babies turn out? How is that worse than having no control at all? Wouldn’t that strengthen our society? On the other hand, we can argue that the relationship between parents and children will change, as children will be seen more as an asset that the parents have control over, both physically and possibly in many other areas. So, valid points on both parts, but they each focusing on different aspects, on biological, one social. Which has precedence?