Why Does Rice Play Texas or Does the Tech Press Dream of Free Electric Sheep?
I’m always glad that we have tech writers at mainstream media operations to show us the way in the complex moral choices that have troubled writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick. There is no greater example of this than Ben Sisario’s reporting “NPR Intern Gets an Earful After Blogging About 11,000 Songs, Almost None Paid For”.
Yes, moms and dads out there will be relieved to get this trenchant guidance from a New York Times reporter:
Educating young people about the consequences of their economic decisions is a vital part of living in a free market and a democratic society. But history has shown that heavy-handed moral arguments about music — or any other form of online entertainment, for that matter — are seldom effective. That is largely because convenience trumps any other consideration. Also, as the NPR story demonstrates, the moral dimensions of copyright law aren’t always cut and dried.
Mr. Sisario’s reporting is, of course, mostly about David Lowery’s post on The Trichordist blog that’s gotten some attention. (In fact, it has received “hundreds of thousands” of readers according to a tweet from the blog and a quick search for mentions of the post returns what for my purposes is an endless stream of tweets sharing the link to Lowery’s post–99% very positive by quick MTP math.)
Unfortunately–I would think–Mr. Sisario’s reporting proves too much. Anyone who can assert–a factual statement, by the way, apparently not a quote–that “convenience” is an excuse for ignoring “heavy handed moral arguments” may need to go home and reexamine their life. He goes on to say that the NPR person’s appeal for “…convenience sounds like a wish for convenience and legitimacy all in one. If the music and technology industries can make those ideas line up, there may be no need for appeals to morality.”
Ah. I see. If it’s easy to lead an ethical life, then there’s no need for appeals to morality because convenience trumps every other consideration.
Now be sure you bring that up in other discussions of machine ethics. Like drone attacks. I’m sure Mr. Sisario will expect the programmer of the drone to be responsible for how the drone is programmed if it does some nasty thing that Mr. Sisario doesn’t like. Will he be willing to buy “convenience [or the great god Scale in tech speak] trumps every other consideration” when the result of the machine’s evil is not the destruction of artists’ lives but the relative effectiveness of an on the loop drone putting a missile on a target (perhaps even a target of the drone’s choosing)? I can’t wait to hear his principled argument for why the two ought to be distinguished because I don’t think there is anything particularly slippery about that slope.
Where do they find these people?