Articles by: Erik Stayton

Science, The Only Frontier?

Science, The Only Frontier?

  As I was re-reading Vannevar Bush’s Science, The Endless Frontier, I was struck by the way that a shortage of scientists was being conceptualized in the US in the aftermath of World War II, in relation to how similar concerns about national innovation, economic growth, and the future of work are being conceptualized today. As a local example, I need only look so far as how MIT is reorganizing the freshman experience, trying to rethink what an undergraduate student at a science-and-engineering-oriented institution should come out knowing and being able to do. In this context, it seems a good […]

Aritificial Intelligence Ethics: Too Many Paperclips

Ethical AI. This has begun to become a buzzword in computer science circles. Big names in technology are throwing their weight behind the idea. There are a number of new research projects devoted to it, including a portion of MIT’s new IQ initiative. It even got a mention by former president Barack Obama.  But it isn’t clear what ethics for AI would look like. Nick Bostrom, in Superintelligence, presents one of the standard versions of this issue:  the paperclip-producing AI told to optimize paperclip production, that goes on to kill humanity in the service of producing as many paperclips as […]

Your Surveillance Fortune . . .

As part of the MIT Day of Action, Michelle Spektor and I came up with some facts, tips, and “fortunes” about surveillance and privacy to give out to passers by. The fortunes are, I think, the most interesting and thought provoking, so I am putting those up here. They range from the anodyne to the genuinely disturbing, but I think do a good job to capture some of the potential problems of a culture of pervasive surveillance by a wide variety of private, as well as governmental, actors. If you have your own idea for a surveillance fortune, add it […]

Science and Society Carnival @ MIT Day of Action

Provocation: Is science political? Scholars who study the practice of science and the social impacts of science and technology have long recognized that science does have political dimensions. Research in biology impacts how we define and value people. Basic research in physics and chemistry has led both to helpful new products and serious threats to human health and wellbeing. The findings of climate science may contribute to the reshaping of economies and day to day life for billions globally. On the technical side, Melvin Kranzberg’s enigmatic statement highlights a key problem for our times: “Technology is neither good nor bad; […]

The Relevance of STS in Industry, Part 1: On Critique

In conversations with several people in the general STS field, I have informally provided my perspective on the importance of philosophies from STS (and H and A, for that matter, our other component disciplines here) to the production of new technological artifacts. Among these sometimes unwitting interlocutors is Shreeharsh Kelkar, who suggested, perhaps a year ago, that I might post about these ideas. And it seems like it may be useful for myself and for others to put them into writing in a rather more concrete, if still informal, way. Figuring out how to achieve this fusion of technological research […]

On the Promise of AlphaGo

On the Promise of AlphaGo

  Games are an old venue for the development of AI programs, and have been part of the AI repertoire since the beginnings of the field. Turing wrote about games in his 1948 paper “Intelligent Machinery,” in which he suggested chess, noughts and crosses, bridge, and poker as among the games to teach machines. Why the focus on games that foreground disembodied mental activity? Because a “thinking machine” constructed in the image of a man would be “a tremendous undertaking” and therefore would be “altogether too slow and impractical” a research project (p. 39). Minksy, in the introduction to the […]

Colin Milburn – Inside Out: Videogames and the Technological Impulse

Colin Milburn – Inside Out: Videogames and the Technological Impulse

A “Liveblog” of Colin Milburn’s STS colloquium presentation, March 14, 2016. Compiled by Erik Stayton with the help of Mitali Thakor and anonymous others. The discussant was Emily Wanderer.   Hanna Shell: She welcomes us to the first STS Colloquium of the Spring 2016 season. Colin shared with us chapters of his book. Before she moves on to introducing Colin, she notes that Emily is an STS graduate and welcomes her back. Colin is the Gary Snyder Chair in Science and the Humanities at UC Davis, where he holds affiliations in STS, Cinema and Media Studies, and English — “he […]

A Few Thoughts on the Recent Google Car “Crash”

A Few Thoughts on the Recent Google Car “Crash”

As someone who studies automated vehicles, I have had a number of people send me links about the recently publicized “first” at-fault Google car crash (see this article for example). This is actually a really interesting situation, and presents a good moment to comment on a couple of important issues. First: As I wrote about in my M.S. thesis last spring, the notion of responsibility becomes more difficult to pin down in distributed and hybrid systems of humans and machines. Around this time, the frequency of Google car accidents came to light, with the inevitable comparisons to human accident rates […]