Rensselaer for Ethics in Science, Engineering, and Technology

Wed, December 11, 2:30 PM in Folsom Libary Rm. 353B

Topics:

  • Last meeting:

    • London banning Uber
    • The implications of the “gig economy” on established employers w salaries and benefits
    • The near impossibility for Uber drivers or any contractors to form a legally-protected union
    • How the logic of capitalism can corrupt potential social goods. E.g., AirBnB had the potential to reduce waste by getting occupants for unoccupied realty but instead, landlords started evicting tenants because AirBnB is more profitable than rent
    • The video game industry and virtual reality subsuming real reality
    • Black Mirror is required viewing for next semester's RESET meetings
    • The nature of addiction. How addiction is viewed and categorized based on socioeconomic status. Socially productive ways of handling addiction (e.g., free drugs and needles to prevent people from endangering themselves)
  • This meeting:

    • What are some initiatives RESET can take on at RPI? Potentially: guest speakers, public forums, pushing for curriculum change (e.g., machine learning classes having a unit on algorithmic bias), alternative career fair.
    • How can RESET coordinate with other student groups across the country?
      • Would allow coordination of strikes, petitions, boycotts similiar to the Palantir protests across 16 colleges.
      • Create a national push for curriculum change in STEM education.
      • Allow students from different colleges to work together on issues of shared interest (e.g., women in STEM, cybersecurity, genetic technology)
      • Plan local or national meetups and events.
      • Unify the voice of students in STEM and future STEM workers, researchers, policy-makers.
    • Known groups or people from other colleges that have similar objectives or values with RESET that may be interested in an intercollegiate group.

#meetings

Wed, December 4, 2:30 PM in Folsom Libary Rm. 353B

Topics:

  • Last meeting:

    • Cult-like co-living spaces in Silicon Valley where you live with your co-workers and work all the time.
    • Ideology of work and progress in the U.S.
    • Passionate and hard workers at tech companies (all companies for that matter) having no say when their company is sold and dissolved
    • More democratic ways of organizing a business: employee ownership, employee management, employee elections of management, etc.
    • Employee's lives not reflecting the success of their employer
    • Do we want a world that errs in favor of the owners and the business or errs in favor of the workers?
    • Is market freedom real freedom?
    • The elections woo! Cool fringe candidates and lame mainstream candidates
    • Growing disconnect between the generations and their desire for meaningful change despite older (boomer) generations being comfortable with the status quo
    • Racism...there's a lot of it
  • This meeting:

    • What is the role of students (STEM or otherwise) in the direction of the tech industry? Is the growing awareness of the ethical issues in science and technology creating a generation of future STEM professionals that will reform and use tech for the better? Or will they recreate the conditions that exist today?
    • Is the “build a billion-dollar company in your garage” dream gone? Are the realities of Silicon Valley becoming more apparent to young people?
    • How should students today voice their opinion on misuses and abuses of science and technology? Protests? Clubs? Open letters? Unionizing? Has this happened and is any of it effective?
    • What is a better direction for students to take STEM to? Are more democratic workplaces going to replace the hierarchical ones that dominate in Silicon Valley?
    • How can colleges and professors better educate students on these realities? Why are they so often left out?

#meetings

Wed, November 20, 2:30 PM in Folsom Libary Rm. 353B

Topics:

  • Last meeting:

    • Started off talking about our recent poster defacement and the attitude of some scientists and engineers to innovate for the sake of innovation.
    • Brief tangent on vaping and the economic reasons why state governments want people smoking again.
    • Bill Gates. Whether he actually “earned” 109 billion dollars.
    • The nature of money at that scale. Bill Gates was only worth $50 billion when he left Microsoft but has doubled his net worth because money makes money.
    • Billionaires having “nothing better to do” than spend their money on rocket ships and sex islands.
    • The cabal of billionaire pedophiles that run the world cough jeffrey epstein didn't kill himself cough cough
    • The Democratic primaries.
    • We only briefly talked about restructuring business to mitigate this greed and abuse but all we could conclude was it's hard to go against the forces of capital that run the world.
  • This meeting:

    • Now that we have diagnosed the problems with large tech companies (and billionaires), what are some productive ways of restructuring them that can bring about ethical progress?
    • Is there a way of reconciling a company's profit motive with worker satisfaction and empowerment? Can there be a democratic shift at these companies that gives employees larger decision-making power? Are these shifts already occurring?
    • Big tech companies have contracts and leverage with our government and the governments of other (sometimes authoritarian) countries. This diplomacy is done at the management level of companies and employees may disagree with the politics. This occurred at Google when they had a contract with the Chinese government to sell it a censored search engine. Employees voiced their opinion and it worked. Should dissenting employees at other companies use this as a model? Are there more effective ways?
    • The role of these companies in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions is not negligible and people are starting to demand change. Where should this change come from: government regulation, corporate decisions, employee opinion, all three? Can this strategy work for other ethical concerns like data harvesting and surveillance?
    • How do consumers of the products of these companies voice their opinion and call for change? Would consumer advocacy groups be enough or are there better strategies?
    • Who should decide how new technologies are used? Automation can benefit corporations and consumers but at the cost of workers. Genetic technology could improve healthcare at the cost of privacy. How do we reconcile competing interests?

#meetings

Wed, November 13, 2:30 PM in Folsom Libary Rm. 353B

Topics:

  • Last meeting:

    • Our conversation about the Big Three tech companies quickly diverted to one about whether a company can ever be “ethical.”
    • Even if the people who start and work at a company are good and are trying to do the right thing because the system companies exist within rewards selfishness, that is inevitably going to be the predominant behavior of companies.
    • Ethically-minded companies with tangible goals for social good still need to make a profit thus equate profit and social good.
    • Food is a social construct.
    • So is money.
    • The rise of private armies.
  • This meeting:

    • Now that we have diagnosed the problems with large tech companies, what are some productive ways of restructuring them that can bring about ethical progress?
    • Is there a way of reconciling a company's profit motive with worker satisfaction and empowerment? Can there be a democratic shift at these companies that gives employees larger decision-making power? Are these shifts already occurring?
    • Big tech companies have contracts and leverage with our government and the governments of other (sometimes authoritarian) countries. This diplomacy is done at the management level of companies and employees may disagree with the politics. This occurred at Google when they had a contract with the Chinese government to sell it a censored search engine. Employees voiced their opinion and it worked. Should dissenting employees at other companies use this as a model? Are there more effective ways?
    • The role of these companies in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions is not negligible and people are starting to demand change. Where should this change come from: government regulation, corporate decisions, employee opinion, all three? Can this strategy work for other ethical concerns like data harvesting and surveillance?
    • How do consumers of the products of these companies voice their opinion and call for change? Would consumer advocacy groups be enough or are there better strategies?
    • Who should decide how new technologies are used? Automation can benefit corporations and consumers but at the cost of workers. Genetic technology could improve healthcare at the cost of privacy. How do we reconcile competing interests?

#meetings

Wed, November 6, 2:30 PM in Folsom Libary Rm. 353B

Topics:

  • Last meeting:

    • A realistic picture of automation. How things may not be fully automated any time soon but might be semi-automated and require human supervision.
    • Displaced workers. Truck drivers, McDonald's employees, teachers, office workers. All being automated or with the potential to be automated.
    • Competing interests of new technologies: corporations interest in wealth, politicians interest in public welfare (just kidding wealth), and workers interest in not being replaced
    • Automated tools in education and the potential for human isolation
    • Automated assault drones and what an all-out automated war with Canada may look like
    • The reason we don't like RPI's administration (we had to indoctrinate the freshmen in the group)
  • This meeting:

    • Have the Tech giants gotten too large and why? What can be done to reduce their power and influence? Do traditional monopoly laws apply?
    • Facebook likes to stress that it is only a platform and not responsible for the content posted on it. However, with over 2 billion users and it being the primary source of news for many people, they have become inextricably linked to the political system. What are their responsibilities in this position? How can they better regulate content? Is there a happy medium between a Facebook free-for-all and government censorship?
    • Amazon ships millions of packages a day at the expense of warehouse employees and delivery drivers. They have actively worked to prevent these workers from unionizing or even demanding meaningful change. How can this change?
    • Google regularly collaborates with authoritarian governments to sell censored versions of their tools. Often, Google has more leverage with foreign governments than the U.S.'s own government. Are we trending towards techno-diplomacy instead of typical foreign relations? What does a world where Google negotiates ceasefires and treaties look like?
    • Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have contracts with the military and other agencies of the DoD. Third-party contracts are nothing new in defense but does the tremendous size and influence of these companies in other fields make the situation different?
    • Amazon is becoming a one-stop-shop for all consumer goods, internet services, and surveillance equipment giving them leverage over the government, the economy, and American citizens. Is this undemocratic? Is this inevitable with America's economy? If not, how do we limit Amazon?

#meetings

Wed, October 30, 2:30 PM in Folsom Library Rm. 353B

Topics

  • Last meeting:

    • Changing narratives in climate change denial.
    • Top-down versus bottom-up approaches in combating climate change
    • Inevitability of technocratic band-aids. E.g., carbon scrubbing, space mirrors, and air-conditioned bio-domes
    • Peoples' movements like Extinction Rebellion effectively shutting down cities
  • This meeting:

    • What does the pace of automation look like? Past experts predicted that nearly all labor would be automated by now and current experts have made similar predictions for 2030, 2050, etc. What's a more realistic way of looking at automation?
    • What kind of jobs will be impacted? Manual labor comes to mind but what about creative and professional work? Wouldn't an automated doctor with access to millions of medical records that it can scan be better than a human doctor? Wouldn't a neural network that can go through millions of generations of songs produce better music?
    • What will happen to manual labor? The transportation industry is the second largest employer in the United States. Self-driving cars could affect millions of drivers.
    • What about office work? Will a larger proportion of office workers' time be spent training programs to do their jobs?
    • What will the economy look like when most American citizens are unemployable? How do we need to change our attitudes and societal structures to accommodate mass unemployment?
    • Who benefits from automation? The workers or the owners?

#meetings

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.