Tag Archives: ethics

From the “things that make me furious” department

An oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, already the size of New Orleans and growing fast. This on the same day that the rig’s owners, BP, are patting themselves on the back for doubling their profit margins over the last year and another major oil company announces a 50% leap in profits over the last quarter, while the rest of the world languishes in recession, markets plunge in response to the Greek economic crisis, and Goldman Sachs try to retrospectively justify shafting everyone but themselves, up to and including the government trying to prosecute them for such.

I bet you sleep real easy at night, you grasping shitheads.

Career tips for writers, redux

The old feed reader is full of useful advice for writers once again, so time to share them with the people.

Jeff Vandermeer’s Evil Monkey delivers the second short sharp installment of his Guide to Creative Writing:

“Alas, market predictions aren’t like assholes, because everyone has two or three, and they usually serve little purpose.”

Luc Reid tries to nail down what it is that makes certain stories rise from “good, but not quite what we’re looking for” to “sold”:

“So what makes a story rise above its fellows, inspire love, stand out? The intuitive response would be that it does the things we talked about better. The characters are stronger, the plot is more compelling, the description is more vivid. But usually standing out is going to mean something else, and it’s going to differ from writer to writer and sometimes from story to story. The stories that rise above are not just more competent than the stories that don’t, although more competent is always better.”

Moving beyond the writing itself and into the territory of promotional work, Charlie Stross explains the dos and don’ts of public readings with his usual dry humour:

“The water jug isn’t an optional extra. I usually take the precaution of bringing along a drink of some sort, simply because my throat dries out after ten or fifteen minutes of speaking and if I’m scheduled late in a day of readings, the folks providing supporting facilities such as jugs of water tend to be getting a bit erratic themselves.”

And finally, David Louis Edelman has some advice on how to self-promote with ethical integrity:

“3. Avoid glaring sins of omission. This is a difficult guideline to follow, because it’s very subjective. Don’t use ellipses to claim that your book is “an absolutely terrific… thriller” when the actual review states that your book is “an absolutely terrific example of what not to do when writing a thriller.” Don’t try to sell to a group of Vietnam vets by claiming that your book has a Vietnam vet in it, while conveniently forgetting to mention that said character gets run over by a truck on page 4.”

Ah! The intarwebs: helping aspiring writers (to avoid writing by supplying them enough advice from genuine writers that they can convince themselves reading it is a more valuable way to spend their time than actually writing) since 1997!

[Cross-posted to Futurismic]

Uplift – the genetics of cognition

A number of science fiction writers (David Brin being probably the best known of them) have written about the idea of ‘uplift‘ – sub-sentient animals raised to human (or even higher) levels of cognition by scientific means; the transhumanist movement is quite fond of it as a conceptual meme too.

Which means science fiction and transhumanism can have a day of feeling vindicated; via Peter Watts, a science fiction author whose science qualifications are more than impeccable, comes the news that a team of Chinese scientists have not only discovered the gene that triggers production of a chemical intrinsic to human cognition, but managed to splice it into chimpanzees and observe the protein in question being produced.

Or, in layman’s terms: we may have found a way to create chimps with human intelligence, which may throw an interesting light on Hiasl’s human rights case.

Yet another sf trope that now passes the Mundane benchmark? 😉

[Cross-posted from Futurismic, because it’s just too damn good a story not to share.]

Virtual rape is possible – but is it a crime?

That’s the question being asked here and there on the intarwebs at the moment, after a story appeared in a Belgian newspaper claiming that police in Brussels are beginning an investigation into allegations of a rape that occured in Second Life.

I’m no lawyer, nor am I an ethicist, and I don’t claim to have an answer one way or the other. But the fact that we can even be asking such a question is fascinating; the walls between the real world and the virtual – what Edward Castronova calls the ‘permeable membrane’ – are becoming increasingly thin and easy to cross, and the legal machinery is going to take a long time to catch up.

I like to use the ‘Wild West’ metaphor, describing MMOs like Second Life in terms of new frontiers where new experimental ways of life can take place, thanks to the relative lawlessness that prevails. It’s a double-edged sword, as the virtual rape case demonstrates, but these spaces are test beds for the social systems of the future.

Of course, much like there was in the American West, there is pressure on the people benefitting most from the expansion into new territories to police the anarchic goings-on. Which is probably why Linden Labs has announced their intent to exclude SL users from ‘Adult’ content in-world unless they can provide evidence of their legal majority … though the fact that the enforcement of non-adult content in a region labelled as such is to be left as the responsibility of the landholder leaves them a neat get-out clause for when something goes wrong. Every lazy sherriff needs a box-full of deputy badges.

South Korea drafts robot ethics code

The world imitates science fiction once again, as South Korea announces a project to draw up a code of ethics “to stop humans misusing robots – or vice versa.”

“Hye-Young adds that the government’s guidelines will reflect the “Three Laws of Robotics” put forward by science fiction author Isaac Asimov.”

Good old Isaac – his mark on history is assured, the media can’t write a robot article without giving him a plug…

This headline rang Pavlovian bells for me, and I realised that was because I blogged about a very similar announcement from the European Robotics Research Network back in June 2006, in a post called ‘Legislating against robot rape‘ (which naturally mentions Asimov’s Laws, because I wasn’t so worried about cliche back then, cough cough):

“You can’t rape an autonomous vacuum cleaner (although you could conceivably have sex with it, and knowing humans, people probably already have – the tales of people with vacuum related injuries turning up in casualty departments are too common to be completely unfounded). But something with a mind of its own, however limited? That’s another question entirely.”

Despite its potential import, it’s a hard subject to treat seriously in journalistic mode – but it seems to fare far better in fiction. Curious.