Last week the German government published a commissioned study on how it depends on software and services vendors (local copy). The day after the publication, Cathrin Schaer of ZDnet called to ask for my thoughts on the study and digital sovereignty for Germany: Is it even possible? Cathrin’s resulting article picked up some of our discussion, but I wanted to take the time here to elaborate on my thoughts.Continue reading “Digital Sovereignty for Germany?”
I just submitted the following short position statement on how to work with ML / KI techniques in software engineering. This is a statement on using such techniques for the engineering of software, not in the software itself, which is a (not completely, but mostly) separate issue.
ML / KI techniques can be use in software development to assist the human engineer. Properly applied, they can make engineers more productive by helping them focus on understanding and solving the human problem behind the software to be developed (essential complexity) and by freeing them from getting distracted by technical implementation details (accidental complexity).Continue reading “Position Statement on the Use of ML / KI Techniques in Software Engineering For the adesso Hochschulbeirat”
I have a strong aversion against letting people drag their feet from being responsible for their actions. I feel particularly strongly about this when delegating work to machines, which are not able to act using an appropriate moral value system. Starting a car and letting an autonomous driving unit take over is one such example: When faced with an impossible situation (run over an old lady or three children or commit suicide), it still has to be the driver’s decision and not a machine’s.
Ever since autonomous driving became a hot topic, I’ve tried to sell to our automotive industry partners the idea of a project to build a moral machine in autonomous driving. My definition of a moral machine (there are others) is:
There is wisdom in the second amendment of the constitution of the United States of America. A key motivation was to allow people to defend themselves against an oppressive government. Back when it was formulated, self-defense meant bearing firearms, which seems quaint today given that a government could came after you with tanks and drones. So, beyond a narrow U.S. legal interpretation, the amendment needs interpretation in a modern context. As such, it is of relevance to the world at large.
What does the right to self-defense against a potentially oppressive government mean?
You may have seen the video below by Boston Dynamics. It shows a robot dog dancing to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars. It is fun and funny to watch, but people also expressed serious worries about robot inroads into human behavior. However, there is no explanation by Boston Dynamics and it is not at all clear whether this is a simple magic trick created to fool the onlookers or real artificial intelligence (AI) progress.
Not surprisingly, this huddling panel at the 2018 Berlin Open Data Day came to no specific conclusion, just different opinions on business models and who should earn what income.
Some nuggets of insight: Leave it to public institutions to decide for themselves — open data should be freely available, otherwise some commercial business models break down — cities should be neutral to startups and establish collaborations for everyone’s benefit — leave it to companies to generate value from open data and they will give back #muwhaha — don’t monetarize open data at all — if users don’t pay, public institutions won’t have the funds to provide open data — open data should be considered public infrastructure and follow established practices — the data belongs to the public anyway — selling data is too expensive for a city.
In related news, some cheap laughs for public institution bashing from one panelist. Personally, I find this less than helpful.
One amusing quote from another panelist:
In theory, we all agree, in practice, we do not.
I guess more sustainability research is needed.
German student magazine Unicum (Beruf) asked for a quote on the impact that IT and the software industry is having on everyone’s job, so here it is:
Die IT verändert die Arbeitsweisen in vielen Berufen. Initial galt dies nur für die IT-Branche selbst und hier insbesondere für die Softwareentwicklung, inzwischen aber sind deren Arbeitsweisen auch in nicht-IT-Unternehmen und Fachabteilungen angekommen. Von der inzwischen ubiquitären Email und der elektronischen Text- und Tabellenverarbeitung über Text-Messaging hin zu heutigen Formen dezentraler entkoppelter Zusammenarbeit wie sie Dienste wie git und GitHub ermöglichen. Aber nicht nur spezifische Software beinflusst die Arbeitswelt, Unternehmen folgen häufig auch den Metaphern der Softwarewelt und wollen heutzutage “agil” sein, wie von der agilen Softwareentwicklung seit 20 Jahren vorgelebt.
The quote or whatever they’ll make of it will appear in an upcoming Unicum issue.
You might also like my paper on the open source developer career.
A friend’s post alerted me to the potential overreach of copyright and commercial law when it comes to the human body. The particular post was about tattoo artists who tried to make money of sport professionals who had integrated the tattoos into their professional persona: The company who had bought the tattoo artists’ designs claims that the copyright to the art extends to the performances of professionals showing the art. Hence they wanted money for any performance, here as part of the professionals appearing in video games.
It is easy to extend this to high-tech. The consequences could be dire, if the enhanced human body would become subject to overreaching intellectual property rights held by companies. Imagine a pacemaker for your heart that has only been licensed to you and you lack the necessary data and rights to make it work over time. I’m sure some company will come up with a pacemaker that needs to get a license key every year or so from the company’s license server. Would the company let the person die, if he or she fails to pay the annual license fee? In case you wonder whether anyone would accept such a pacemaker into their heart (pun intended): Just imagine being poor enough to not be able to pay for the medical procedure. Or imagine requiring a particularly innovative pacemaker function that only this one manufacturer offers and you can’t pay for the perpetual license.
If this seems far-fetched, you should note that this is already happening in other contexts. For example, John Deere, a leading manufacturer of tractors and other farming equipment is only leasing its tractors and the software to farmers. John Deere argues that farmers don’t own the tractor and its data any longer, John Deere remains the owner. As a consequence, all data from the farmers’ tractors is planned to end up in John Deere data centers and farmers who don’t keep paying might be cut of their equipment and its data.
The Internet and interconnectedness is making it happen. It is indeed time to clarify ownership and limits of ownership, in particular when it comes to the human body and its rights. Indeed an interesting time for lawyers (and everyone else).
With self-driving cars in our near future, I’ve seen more and more articles about the moral dilemma of what the car should do when faced with an impossible decision, for example, to either kill a grandmother or drive into a flock of children. In my mind, the pundits are getting it all wrong; the underlying assumption that humans can abdicate responsibility to machines and the car’s behavior must be predictable is plain wrong.