Reverse Engineering the Brain and the ELIZA Effect: Is Believability Ethical?


Pet Society, Tamagotchi, Milo

Over winter break this past year, I went to a conference in Chicago for Graduate and Faculty Christians. I found myself having to choose between the Engineering track and the Math track (I went with Engineering). At the conference were some well known researchers, such as Fred Brooks and Francis Collins.  It seemed, to me (at least), that this conference would be quite the unique experience (…and I can now say that I’ve sung hymns with a room full of engineers). I mean, how often do we encounter a large gathering of the intersection between Christians and Professors? … I digress; however, within the community of Christian “intellectuals,” there were some interesting presentations on non-religious research. In particular, was a talk titled, “Discerning Technology or Hippocratic Engineering.”

In his introduction, the speaker uses Spore as an example to demonstrate how we’ve managed to take recreate life within technology. He quotes, “SPORE isn’t a game for re-educating the intelligent design proponents of the present; it’s a game for inspiring the intelligent designers of the future.” At such an unusual conference, I gladly found myself at a session where 5 of the first 7 slides were celebrating video games. This leads the speaker into a discussion of “Technology Assessment, an implicit mandate.” He asks the question, should we be creating technologies just because we can?, giving quite a number of interesting cases and scenarios to consider (and concludes with a few under-explained tables and figures– “Base vectors of technological progress” and the “Environmentally Responsible Product Assessment Matrix” for example.) Overall, there was one point that remained unsettling for me….

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