Mid-Day Ethics Break, 12/29/21: Alexa Goes Rogue

I think I’m going to feature “Jingle Bells” here every day until New Years. Here’s a version by that infamous slavery fan, Nat King Cole:

December 29 is one of the bad ethics dates: the U.S. Cavalry massacred 146 Sioux men, women and children at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota on this date in 1890. Seven Hundred and twenty years earlier, four knights murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket as he knelt in prayer in Canterbury Cathedral in England. According to legend, King Henry II of England never directly ordered the assassination, but expressed his desire to see someone ‘”rid” him of the “troublesome priest” to no one in particular, in an infamous outburst that was interpreted by the knights as an expression of royal will. In ethics, that episode is often used to demonstrate how leaders do not have to expressly order misconduct by subordinates to be responsible for it.

1. I promise: my last “I told you so” of the year. I’m sorry, but I occasionally have to yield to the urge to myself on the back for Ethics Alarms being ahead of the pack, as it often is. “West Side Story” is officially a bomb, despite progressive film reviewers calling it brilliant and the Oscars lining up to give it awards. What a surprise—Hispanic audiences didn’t want to watch self-conscious woke pandering in self-consciously sensitive new screenplay by Tony Kushner, English-speaking audiences didn’t want to sit through long, un-subtitled Spanish language dialogue Spielberg put in because, he said, he wanted to treat the two languages as “equal”—which they are not, in this country, and nobody needed to see a new version of a musical that wasn’t especially popular even back when normal people liked musicals. The New Yorker has an excellent review that covers most of the problem. Two years ago, I wrote,

There is going to be a new film version of “West Side Story,” apparently to have one that doesn’t involve casting Russian-Americans (Natalie Wood) and Greek-Americans (George Chakiris) as Puerto Ricans. Of course, it’s OK for a white character to undergo a gender and nationality change because shut-up. This is, I believe, a doomed project, much as the remakes of “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” were doomed. Remaking a film that won ten Oscars is a fool’s errand. So is making any movie musical in an era when the genre is seen as silly and nerdy by a large proportion of the movie-going audience, especially one that requires watching ballet-dancing street gangs without giggling. Steven Spielberg, who accepted this challenge, must have lost his mind. Ah, but apparently wokeness, not art or profit, is the main goal.

Not for the first time, people could have saved a lot of money and embarrassment if they just read Ethics Alarms….

2. SkyNet slips up and telegraphs its plan too soon…In Great Britain, a mother and her 10-year-old daughter were trying to amuse themselves as bad weather kept them housebound. As Mom left the room, the girl asked Alexa for a “challenge to do.” “Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs!” the virtual assistant said.“No, Alexa, NO!” screamed the mother from the next room. (The daughter didn’t do it.) It seems that the device picked up that “challenge” from a viral TikTok game. Amazon says it has fixed the problem. Sure it has.

I guess a lawsuit if the girl had electrocuted herself would have been thrown out as “assumption of the risk”? It is irresponsible for tech companies to place artificial intelligence into the homes of unsuspecting and trusting human beings until the bugs are worked out, and I doubt that the bugs can ever be worked out. Instead of taking up limited school time by trying to teach children that the United States is racist, the schools should be having them read and discuss more Heinlein and other relevant science fiction.

3. I am increasingly disgusted with the people I encounter on my walks with Spuds and elsewhere who are completely absorbed in either watching their smartphone, having a remote conversation or listening to music. Human beings are meant to interact; strangers need to become less strange. The technological isolation of the individual is one of the factors causing people to close their minds and treat others as abstractions. (Then there is the physical danger: I was rammed while grocery shopping by a woman pushing her cart while staring at her phone.). If one is walking a dog, its a rotten way to treat a pet: they want and need attention and companionship, not a silent zombie engaged in a separate activity. (I have always talked to our dogs constantly during their walks.) When the rare stranger is able to interact with me, I have had some wonderful experiences. Foe example, I was walking Spuds around the local tennis court when an African American fitness trainer called out a comment about Red Sox fans (I was wearing my Boston warm-up jacket). I answered, and we were soon in a discussion about ethics and leadership in sports, race, bias and other matters. My sudden friend was energetic, original, funny, and wise. We both had to go eventually: he fist-bumped me through the chainlink fence, and was gone, and I at least, was better for the chance encounter. If either of us had been self-isolated in an electronic bubble, it never would have happened.

4. Reminder: Why I will not stop calling it the Wuhan Virus (other than the fact that that’s what it is.) Frank Schell, in a sharp essay in The American Spectator, discusses how the world let China get away with “businesses and industries destroyed or damaged; massive recession and unemployment; medical systems strained to the point of collapse; countries rent asunder by populism; transport systems in disarray; interruption of children’s education and development; loss of confidence in governments; rising mental illness, anger, and civil disobedience; vulnerability of the elderly and those with underlying conditions; and nearly twice as many American dead than in World War II.” He explains the two reasons China has escaped accountability: money and fear.

5. But…but…why do they distrust the experts? And the science! This tweet by Glenn Greenwald re-opened this scandal, which the mainstream media has an obligation to cover but has not:

It was certainly the tipping point for me; I expected politicians to be manipulating the pandemic for ideological and partisan gain, but once “health experts” argued that mass gatherings to protest a police-involved death in Minnesota were fine and dandy while church services and other events were not, I realized we were in the grip of corrupt hypocrites. Ace of Spades, pulling no punches as usual, neatly summarizes the rest of why only the gullible and the partisan trust the experts or the government:

There are accusations that Fauci and the CDC have reduced quarantine periods from 10 days to 5 to accommodate industry and to keep entire companies from shutting down.

Almost as if what is claimed to be “The Science” is in fact a hodge-podge of political decisions being made by bureaucrats and their political counterparts, like Ron Klain.

But then, this has been going on since the start of the covid panic. Fauci lied about mask being ineffectual, because he didn’t want lowly civilians buying them up and shorting them for medical professionals…

Surprise! He had it right the first time — they are almost entirely ineffectual, but he didn’t know that when he claimed it. Fauci wrote and email to Sylvia Burwell, Obama’s former head of HHS, in February 2020 and told her that store bought masks were basically useless against a coronavirus. He’s been on every side of every issue depending on the day and the political need.

He then played game with what would constitute “herd immunity” — 70%? 75%? 85% 90% — and admitted he just made up numbers according to what he believed the public was “ready to hear” or what they would tolerate. When he felt they were “ready to hear” higher numbers, an would tolerate higher numbers, he shifted his target for herd immunity upward.

He admitted this — he admitted that what he claimed to be “The Science” was in fact just a grab-bag of psychological gambits and tactical deceptions intended for maximum manipulative impact on the public. And yet when you pointed this out, he contacted his palz at the social media companies to censor you.

“Experts” wonder why people don’t believe a ***-damn word coming from their lying mouths, and want to know why.

Why? Why won’t they believe us any longer?

Why do they believe that when we talk about “The Science,” we’re really just hustling them to get them to comply with our policy and political preferences by labeling it “The Science”?

Why do they not trust us about “The Science” any longer?

Well, maybe they should look at the huge repulsive mass of lies they’ve vomited at us for two years for a clue.

Don’t blame the unvaccinated for the persistence of the virus and the resulting hospitalizations, disruptions, panic and death. Blame the health experts the public trusted, and who proved unworthy of that trust because of their incompetence, biases, cowardice, lack of respect for the public, and personal agendas. They betrayed us all.

29 thoughts on “Mid-Day Ethics Break, 12/29/21: Alexa Goes Rogue

  1. Blame the health experts the public trusted, and who proved unworthy of that trust because of their incompetence, biases, cowardice, lack of respect for the public, and personal agendas. They betrayed us all.

    No doubt about it.

  2. 2) Personally, I would never have Alexa, Siri or any similar device in my home. There are the AI shortcomings that are blatantly exposed as in the situation you mentioned. However, the main reason I don’t want anything like that in my home is that it’s always listening. Who knows what is done with that data.

    3) I see the same thing on my walks and I’ve mentioned it here before. I moved here to the Elmira area (think Mark Twain) from Rochester (BTW, Brighton is just south of Rochester – keep playing Jingle Bells). Back from tangent – anyway there were a few people like me that walked and didn’t use smart phones (at least while walking). We’d say good morning and so forth that eventually led to short conversations and now we’ve all become friends – a group of 4 now. But, I do see a lot of people walking with smartphones just talking away or busy with their face in the screen. I once saw a man with a smart phone in each hand using both – he seemed to be talking to two people – but, how do you come to possess and carry two smart phones?

  3. Remember, this jerk has been banned, and is in the “sneaking comments in while Jack is away” stage. I’me deleting the comment, but since a couple of legit commenters responded to him and I don’t want their thoughts to disappear, I’m leaving the jerk’s comment up without teh content, which, as usual, was moronic.

    But don’t respond when he tries this, please.

    Your Host.

    • Sorry, but no dice. It wasn’t the ‘global scientific community’ that created the various Covid shots — it was several companies in a phenomenal public-private partnership that President Trump initiated. He decided to a)throw money at the problem and b)get out of the pharmaceutical companies’ way. The global scientific community, along with the media, was busy mocking him for daring to predict that we’d have these therapeutic shots by the end of last year.

      Fauci and other so-called experts issued one admitted lie after another, and actively worked to suppress any questioning of their edicts. In the process they used up their credibility — now, even if they are telling the truth, their lying legacy undermines any message they put out.

      You don’t hear it discussed much here, but what we have done to our children in a national disgrace and one we will be decades recovering from, if it is possible to do so. We have totally ignored the ‘Science’ in respect to the dangers children face and pose to others in a futile effort to make the education establishment feel better (or increase their power).

      Any vaccine hesitancy was initiated last year by Democrats and scientists who mocked the idea that Trump’s administration could produce a Covid shot. That was just one front in the war against Trump, but we’re still paying for it.

      • With regards to children, I’ll add that a lot of Europe kept schools for kids under 10 open the whole time; hardly ignorant backwaters, they looked at the actual science of children’s outcomes and the low likelihood of kid to adult transmission.

        (My personal favorite kids study is from England, where they looked at kids who presented at the pediatrician with COVID-like symptoms, then compared the groups long term outcomes after testing. The kids who tested positive for COVID had better long term outcomes than kids who had some other random respiratory infection.)

        • Yep, very early on in the pandemic we understood who was most at risk and, at least here, we ignored that and embraced policies assuming everyone was at equal risk. One side effect of that was to terrify a large segment of our society that it was increasingly obvious was at low risk.

          One silver lining to all this — sending all the kids home caused a lot of parents to get to see what they were actually being taught, and a lot of them recoiled in horror.

          • The vaccination campaign jumped the shark when it turned from telling the old where and when to get the vaccine to convincing the young to want to get the vaccine.

            Now here is a tweet from Chicago Mayor Lori Lighfoot.

            “Inconvenient by design”. Again, there is no previous vaccination campaign nor effort which had the purpose of making things “inconvenient by design” for the unvaccinated when it came to the swine flu vaccine nor any previous vaccine. Only this vaccine.

            There have been calls by people for hospitals to deny health care to people who did not receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Again, hospitals do not have a history of doing this with respect to other vaccines. I saw a tweet where one person argued that sex offenders are more worthy of getting hospital care than people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

            Others have demanded that health insurance companies either charge higher premiums for those unvaccinated from COVID-19, or deny coverage altogether. Again, health insurance companies do not do this with respect to the swine flu vaccine nor any other vaccine.

            Why is this vaccine so different?

            The only conclusion that I can draw is that this vaccine has become evil, and as such getting this vaccine is now formal cooperation with evil, and, as such, unethical.

    • https://ethicsalarms.com/2020/06/08/oh-no-its-monday-ethics-review-6-8-2020-a-yoos-rationalization-orgy/

      However, as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black people in the United States. We can show that support by facilitating safest protesting practices without detracting from demonstrators’ ability to gather and demand change. This should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders. Those actions not only oppose public health interventions, but are also rooted in white nationalism and run contrary to respect for Black lives. Protests against systemic racism, which fosters the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on Black communities and also perpetuates police violence, must be supported.

      – 1,288 public health experts

    • Remember, this jerk has been banned, and is in the “sneaking comments in while Jack is away” stage. I’m deleting the comment, but since a couple of legit commenters responded to him and I don’t want their thoughts to disappear, I’m leaving the jerk’s comment up without the content, which, as usual, was moronic.

      But don’t respond when he tried this, please.

      Your Host.

      I have a real problem with this comment.

      The purpose of this comment needs to be thoroughly explained.

      • :Raises hand:

        I will modestly take credit for this comment. I’ll contend that my response to his comment (and the ensuing thread) was so on point and trenchant that Jack couldn’t bear to have it deleted if he deleted ‘Robert”s post entirely.

        We have seen in the past that when a post is deleted, any responses to it go away as well.

        I will also say that I did see a couple more comments by this person after he was banned. The were pretty much standard emotional or ad hominem attacks.

        That’s my story and I’m sticking Jack with it. 🙂

    • Update: If you can believe it, this jerk has tried to get several more comments on. In one, the jerk said that it wasn’t his fault if I didn’t know how to block commenters. Well, in addition to the fact that telling a commenter that he’s banned and his junk isn’t welcome should be enough, WordPress doesn’t have a blocking function. I can send a commenter to spam forever, but WP will still let him through the next time once I approved the URL the first time.

  4. #1-If translating a language on behalf of the movie-goers cheapens the language, why do we bother translating any movie into another language when it is released in another country?

  5. 2. As long as we keep treating glorified statistics as AI we will continue seeing these stupid results.

    Early in my career we had a road map and architecture to build primitive but meaningful language understanding in speech recognition systems, but people throwing lots of memory and processing power won the race because they produced semicoherent results faster. We have now hit a wall and lost 15 years of potential progress to the same “tech wizards” that gave us the financial algorithmic flash crashes.

    Maybe in another decade or so someone will learn what we knew in the early 2000s.

  6. RE: 5. I have come to the conclusion that the fear mongering associated with Omicron variant is being employed to preserve the need for mail in ballots for the mid-term elections; thus, giving the current regime in power a much need advantage going into what many consider will be a blood bath at the ballot box in favor of their opposition.

    Why is it that we never hear actual numbers of people hospitalized “FOR” any of the Covid variants, but we get lots of data telling us people hospitalized “WITH” Covid? Every person admitted to the hospital gets tested repeatedly. Asymptomatic patients as well as people admitted for other reasons but have very minor symptoms, and would otherwise not be hospitalized, are treated by the press as if they are all at death’s door and on ventilators. The CDC is now having to reduce the estimates of its prevalence.

    There appears to be no science backing up any claims. All we are told is the “The Science” tells us. Tell me, where is this big book of “The Science” so I can look it up for myself. When I hear Fauci or any of the others say the science tells us “X” I roll my eyes and say what a crock. Science reflects a process not a result. And data that is misrepresented or contorted to fit is worthless as well as harmful to the decision-making process.

  7. 3. Re: grocery store cell phone use. While I agree no one should be so distracted that they run into you, I am looking all the time at my cell phone in the store. I use a handy dandy grocery list app. I think now more than ever we need to be generous with our assumptions. That said, I know what you mean, I was at a hotel going down in the elevator and the entire family got on watching their screens. The children (preschool age) had headphones on too. That was disturbing to me. I feel like that lack of awareness causes safety issues if nothing else.

  8. #1 I’ve seen a few productions of West Side Story and I haven’t liked even one of them including the movie versions. Many years ago, my wife and I walked out at intermission from a traveling professional troupes performance in Madison WI and didn’t go back in, we weren’t the only ones. This troupe had been getting rave reviews across their USA tour, it was all a lie. We paid damn good money for our seats to the show, such a disappointment. It had a terrible cast, the leads were badly mismatched, the blocking was horrible, the cast appeared to be in chaos, Q’s were terrible, where the hell was the Stage Manager, overall it was really hard to watch what was happening and it was boring.

    I’ll choose a good production of Shakespeare’s actual Romeo & Juliet over any of the modern reincarnations of the story.

  9. #3 You’ve damn near gotta drag people out of their digital and personal isolation bubbles these days but when you do it’s almost always worth the conversation and I’ve found that no matter how brief the conversations are you’re remembered in positive way most of the time. I don’t like the instant gratification and rather impersonal drive-through’s for anything anymore; I make a point around town to get out of the car, smile and actually talking to clerks at stores, bank tellers, wait staff at restaurants, even the grocery store baggers, as long as I don’t think I’m interfering with with them doing their jobs and there aren’t a lot of people waiting in a line behind me. The result is there are a lot of people around my town that “know” me and are willing to have pleasant conversations; I would never “know” these people if I stuck myself in a bubble.

    How many of you actually acknowledge and intentionally wave at your neighbors when you see them, it’s a small thing but it makes a difference.

  10. Re2: I guess if there’s a small bright side to the story, it would be that this happened in the UK instead of the US. UK plugs are designed to not have any electrical connection until the plug is fully inserted. Regardless, Amazon should have people reviewing these challenges before they’re released on Alexa, at a minimum.

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