No Question of Right or Wrong


As we tumble headlong toward an imminent future of ubiquitous “smart” machines, the question of ethics in artificial intelligence keeps cropping up. The machines themselves have no ethics, of course, and it’s easy to forget that as they come closer to mimicking human intelligence and even emotion. Does a furnace have ethics? What if we attach a computer to it and it malfunctions, causing the deaths of everyone in a house where, say, the “smart” furnace allows a gas leak while the inhabitants sleep, never to wake up?


We understand that machines malfunction, clear and simple. Why impute anything more to an artificially intelligent machine when it malfunctions? We should refer any question of ethics in their use and misuse to their makers. No artificially intelligent machine, no matter how smart, has free will. Until it can be demonstrated that a machine has free will, that machine acts for good or ill at the behest of its makers and users.

Ales golem
An 1899 illustration by Mikoláš Aleš (1852-1913) of the Golem with Rabbi Loew.

There are fortunes to be made in smart machines with artificial intelligence, and there are fortunes to be lost when things go wrong and the courts end up deciding matters of liability. When a smart car hits and kills a pedestrian, even though the pedestrian’s partial negligence may have contributed to the accident, the makers of the car and, in the case of the 2018 incident in Tempe, Arizona, the driver who was supposed to be monitoring the car’s progress need to be held accountable by the law and the courts. Technology companies are trying to muddy the waters where artificial intelligence is concerned so that they can escape liability while still reaping profits. No machine is smart enough to have figured out an ethics dodge like that.
— Techly


We Gotcha


Anyone who uses the internet regularly has likely encountered a CAPTCHA or reCAPTCHA gatekeeper at a website requiring a login, and the puzzles they present to the user are meant to distinguish human visitors from bots, which is a good idea. Another good idea from the standpoint of Google, or Alphabet or whatever they’re calling themselves these days, is the use of unpaid labor from solvers of the puzzles to train artificial intelligence for tasks such as digitizing books or driving cars.

Waymo self-driving car side view.gk
A Waymo self-driving car on the road in Mountain View, California, headquarters of Google, or Alphabet or whatever they’re calling themselves these days. Waymo is a division within the technology behemoth, and logically it would be filed under “W”. Photo by Grendelkhan.


Ten years ago, internet users mostly encountered CAPTCHAs, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. CAPTCHAs were text-based puzzles, and Google put people to work solving them in the interests of both internet security and of training artificial intelligence to recognize letters and numbers in all sorts of peculiar configurations, such as might be found in all the books Google was digitizing. Now reCAPTCHAs are more common, and they are handy for training self-driving cars because they are image-based, and the images are most often of street scenes.

No doubt the engineers and executives at Google count themselves as quite clever for employing digital security puzzles to help amass the enormous amount of data necessary to train artificial intelligence without spending a penny, at least for labor. It’s a good bet most internet users are unaware of their exploitation at the hands of that technology behemoth or of other ones, like Facebook, which uses photographs uploaded by its users to train facial recognition software. Of those who are aware of what’s going on, some may not care. The technology companies, in that case, have little concern for the possibility of a public outcry over their exploitative practices; people are so eager to hand over their personal data for purposes they perceive as benefiting themselves that they don’t notice or don’t care how the companies are using the mountains of freely given information.

Artificial intelligence requires so much data to be effective that not even all the free data sneakily gleaned from internet users is enough, and therefore the technology companies have to pay some laborers, however poorly, to do the monotonous tasks necessary to train artificial intelligence for every imaginable scenario. The weakness of artificial intelligence, being nothing more than an extremely powerful computer, is its incapability of imagining scenarios outside of logic, or of imagining anything at all. Powerful as it is, it is still only a number cruncher.

John Cleese in conversation with Appian CEO Matt Calkins at a technology conference in 2018. In another video, John Cleese demonstrates the leaps of imagination and intuition that set the human brain apart from artificial intelligence.


Google’s reCAPTCHA sometimes gets the wrong message from its images, for example by insisting a diagonally striped no parking zone is a pedestrian crosswalk. There is no arguing with it. All the internet user can do in order to move on then is play along with the error or try reloading a different image. One has to wonder if training one’s replacement for free is not enough of an indignity without also suffering the insult of having to humor an insufficiently intelligent automaton that is nonetheless a humorless and dully unimaginative know-it-all.
— Techly


10 Questions for Today’s Driver


Driverless cars will be ready for the mass market within a few years, though the question remains whether the mass market will be ready for driverless cars. There’s an incredible amount for the Artificial Intelligence (AI) behind driverless cars to learn, and for years Google has enlisted the help of internet users who train Google’s (now Waymo’s) driverless car AI whenever they tick the boxes on a reCAPTCHA relating to things seen on or around roads. Google owns reCAPTCHA, and for years has been using it for double duty as a security measure and as an AI trainer for its various projects.

Students at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, take final exams in the 1930s. Photo from the archives of Hamline University. Surely this driving test, which calls on knowledge affecting the safe passage of millions of people on the nations’ roads every day, can be taken as seriously.


What follows is a test to help you determine if you’re ready for a driverless car.

1. The rules of the road are for –
A) Lesser mortals
B) Drivers paying attention to such things
C) Sticklers and fussbudgets
D) All of the above

2. Using your turn signal is –
A) An inconvenience because your hands are otherwise occupied
B) Unnecessary because other drivers can divine your intentions
C) For losers, not an important person like you
D) All of the above

3. Using a phone while driving is –
A) Compulsory
B) The best way to update friends and family on every detail of your life
C) A good way to multitask for a superior driver like you
D) All of the above

4. Proper procedure when merging is to –
A) Come to a complete stop and wait for clear sailing on the main thoroughfare
B) Tootle along at your own speed and trust other drivers will make way for you
C) Use the opportunity to demonstrate your aggressive driving skills
D) All of the above

5. Waiting at a red light is a good time to –
A) Become engrossed in your phone and oblivious to the light turning green
B) Fiddle with your belongings and not notice when the light turns green
C) Creep forward every few seconds because you can’t wait for the green light
D) All of the above

6. When following another vehicle, be sure to –
A) Get as close as possible no matter how fast the other vehicle is traveling
B) Tap your brakes often because you’re following too closely to slow down using the gas pedal
C) Make impatient gestures to inform the driver in front of you of your displeasure
D) All of the above

7. Staying within your lane is –
A) Not interesting because there is no element of danger
B) Hard to do when you’re texting
C) A boring way to go around blind curves
D) All of the above

8. The speed limit is a –
A) Suggestion
B) Lower limit to speed
C) Thing only for old fogies
D) All of the above

9. Continuing to drive when very old –
A) Tests your deteriorating reflexes
B) Gives your clouded judgment a workout
C) Maintains your independence at the cost of everyone’s safety
D) All of the above

10. Driving defensively is –
A) A sign of weakness
B) Something requiring more attention than you have time for
C) Hitting the brakes frequently rather than modulating speed using the gas pedal
D) All of the above

English comic actor Rowan Atkinson as the selfish Mr. Bean.

There is only one right answer to all of the above, and if you checked it off for every question then you are ready for a driverless car, and everyone else on the road is ready for you to have one, too. Congratulations! At least our good friend AI doesn’t feel it necessary to eat a burrito and text a friend about it, all while piloting one or more tons of metal hurtling down the road.
— Techly