Should Cars be Programmed to Make Life or Death Decisions?

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.

Here is how one pundit explains the problem:
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Should Children Learn to Code?

According to the WordPress summary of my site, the most popular post in 2014 was “Should You Learn to Code?”, beating out the perennial favorite “The Single-Vendor Commercial Open Source Business Model”. Obviously, the broader the interest, the more readers.

This morning I read about the call by a German politician to introduce mandatory programming courses into elementary (primary) school. The idea is that being able to program is such a basic culture technique these days that kids should learn it early on.

In my prior piece on learning to code, I answered mostly in the negative. If you are an adult and don’t aim for a career in programming, don’t bother. With children, the story is quite different: I agree that children should learn to program, but as a boost to early acquisition of abstraction skills, and not for programming skills in themselves.

Let me explain.

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Sexist Ads Alive and Well in 2015

I just saw an advertisement for software from an anti-virus company, homepage pictured below. The ad showed the woman flirting with the man (licking her lips, sliding her finger along the rim of the glass) while an overlaid text box was saying: “You don’t have to understand it, you just have to install it.” The man was intently talking to her.

Ignoring the derogatory depiction of the woman as a dummy, what I never understood about ads like this: Who are they marketing to? It can’t be women, can it? So they are marketing to men, suggesting men feel good when explaining something to women where they assume they don’t understand much about it? And how does the sexual innuendo help?

Should You Learn to Code?

The U.S. president Barack Obama wants to learn programming and so does former New York City major Michael Bloomberg. Germany’s chancelor Angela Merkel does not, but reports tell us that her cell phone connection was spied on by the U.S.A. As long as it doesn’t turn out to specifically have been Barrack Obama’s code which cracked Angela Merkel’s cell phone, I’ll stay out of politics and focus on the question: Should you learn to code?

The short answer: No. Don’t waste your time.

The long answer: It depends on your age and your goals.

The confusion arises from different goals you might have for learning how to program. I see the following possible reasons one might want to learn coding:

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Assumption About Longevity and Its Consequences

If you have run into me recently, I may have bugged you with the following question:

Given the rapid pace of development in medical technology, I expect my generation to live to 100 years of age. A child being born today may live to the age of 250 years of age. Under this assumption, what health issues do I need to watch out for most to achieve that age?

I have little scientific fact to backup the assumption; it is based solely on my perception of the acceleration in medical technology today. Once you make the assumption that the average life span may be growing rapidly, you start to wonder how to take advantage of it. Or, put another way: What are the parts of your body should you be caring for most?

For example, I see three layers:

  1. Mechanical stuff. If you have a bad knee, I expect that this will be fully fixable within the next 10-20 years or so. It seems to me to be a purely mechanical issue.
  2. Systemic stuff. More difficult to fix, if anything goes wrong, are systemic issues, for example, arthritis or a bad lung. It is not clear to me how easily this can be fixed.
  3. The brain. At the high end sits the brain. Things that can go wrong are illnesses like Alzheimer or Parkinson, but also loss of energy to live. How to avoid those?

These are all hypotheses, but the question is real. What are the most difficult things for medical technology to tackle and how to avoid that they’l become a problem once we are starting to live longer and longer lives?

Call for Proposals: 2nd Open Data Dialog

November 18-19, 2013, Berlin

“Open data has the potential to transform society, government and the economy, from how we travel to work to how we decide to vote,” declared Rufus Pollock, co-founder of Open Knowledge Foundation, at the 1st International Open Data Dialog, which took place in December 2012 in Berlin.

With this year’s motto THINK OPEN, THINK BUSINESS the Dialog emphasizes the high potential of Open Data for businesses. The dialog likes to challenge our view that open data is not only a matter for administration, but also for enterprises, NGOs and science. No one will be able to take this step on his own. Administrations, economies, and societies must come together to open up the potential of data.

As in the past year, we invite all free thinkers from industry, civil society, government and research institutes to join the dialog and to share your ideas and projects with other open data enthusiasts. We invite you to give your ideas, approaches or results for example on, but not excluding: Opening, transforming or visualizing data – Data research or journalism – Data to support transparency and participation – Open data platforms and tools – Data-intensive services and applications – Secure integration of open, closed and private data – Business cases and legal settings.

We are seeking proposals for presentations, demonstrations, workshops and tutorials for the 2nd Open Data Dialog, November 18-19, 2013.

Sumission Deadline: July 15, 2013

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Call for Participation: OC13 – Open Commons Kongress in Linz, Austria, 2013-05-14

Please consider participating in the Open Commons Kongress, OC13, in Linz, Austria (I’m on the advisory board.) More information below (in German). [DR]

OC13 – Open Commons Kongress

14.05.2013, 9:00 – 16:30 Uhr

Wissensturm Linz, Austria

Lernen und Leben mit digitalen Gemeingütern

Zum zweiten Mal veranstaltet die Johannes Kepler Universität Linz und die Open Commons Region Linz den Open Commons Kongress. Der heurige Titel lautet “OC13: Lernen und Leben mit digitalen Gemeingütern”. Die Veranstaltung findet am Dienstag, 14. Mai im Wissensturm statt.

Read on…

Looking Back on One Year of Public Policy Consulting

2012 was the year when I first did some serious public policy consulting. I found it quite informative to see how politicians work and what the impact of lobbyists is.

I’m a professor of computer science at a German technical university. I also have an M.B.A. from Stanford. I consult on open source, software development, and the software industry. I’m also a civil servant of the state of Bavaria in Germany. Thus, I try to maintain a policy-neutral stance, consulting on mechanism more than on policy. The German people elect politicians, politicians choose policy, and I help politicians choose and define mechanisms that will turn those policies into reality.

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Revamping German Copyright Law #EIDG

The German Enquete commission “Internet and Digital Society” is a multilateral commission instituted by the German parliament to discuss and make recommendations on, well, Internet and digital society. I’m a member of an expert advisory council for one of the parties involved in the commission. I received the following catalog of questions and thought I’d share the questions here and maybe we can have a good discussion. For international readers, it may be helpful to read Wikipedia on German copyright law. So, here are the questions.

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My Position on Privacy (Seven Things About Me)

Stormy Peters recently tagged me to post seven items about my life. This is a “viral” pyramid scheme; you are supposed to write these seven items and then tag seven other people to do the same. It is not the first time I got such a request; I also got tagged on Facebook to post 25 items about my life, and in general it is quite tempting to let your personal thoughts hang out on a blog like this.

I usually ignore such requests for reasons of privacy. Everything you do or say on the Internet can be used at some future point in time. The saying “on the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog” is completely wrong; on the Internet anyone with enough resources cannot only know you are a dog but can also know everything about you down to hereditary diseases—even things you may not know yourself. Or, as Scott McNealy is famous for saying: “You have no privacy. Get over it.”

Here then seven things about my take at privacy in the Internet age:

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