Category Archives: ethics

LEGO serious play and Arizona State University’s nanotechnology* ethics and society project*

Arizona State University (ASU) is receiving a $200,000 grant for undergraduates to ‘play seriously’ according to an April 10, 2014 news item on Azonano,

ASU undergraduates have the opportunity to enroll in a challenging course this fall, designed to re-introduce the act of play as a problem-solving technique. The course is offered as part of the larger project, Cross-disciplinary Education in Social and Ethical Aspects of Nanotechnology, which received nearly $200,000 from the National Science Foundation’s Nano Undergraduate Education program.

An April 6, 2014 ASU news release, which originated the news item, provides more details (Note: Links have been removed),

The project is the brainchild of Camilla Nørgaard Jensen, a doctoral scholar in the ASU Herberger Institute’s design, environment and the arts doctoral program. Participants will use an approach called LEGO Serious Play to solve what Jensen calls “nano-conundrums” – ethical dilemmas arising in the field of nanotechnology.

“LEGO Serious Play is an engaging vehicle that helps to create a level playing field, fostering shared conversation and exchange of multiple perspectives,” said Jensen, a trained LEGO Serious Play facilitator. “This creates an environment for reflection and critical deliberation of complex decisions and their future impacts.”

LEGO Serious Play methods are often used by businesses to strategize and encourage creative thinking. In ASU’s project, students will use LEGO bricks to build metaphorical models, share and discuss their creations, and then adapt and respond to feedback received by other students. The expectation is that this activity will help students learn to think and communicate “outside the box” – literally and figuratively – about their work and its long-term societal effects.

This project was piloted, from the news release (Note: A link has been removed),

Fifteen engineering students enrolled in the Grand Challenge Scholar Program participated in a Feb. 24 [20??] pilot workshop to test project strategies. Comments from students included, “I experienced my ideas coming to life as I built the model,” and “I gained a perspective as to how ideas cannot take place entirely in the head.” These anecdotal outcomes confirmed the team’s assumptions that play and physical activity can enhance the formation and communication of ideas.

This is a cross-disciplinary effort (from the news release),

“Technology is a creative and collaborative process,” said Seager [Thomas Seager, an associate professor and Lincoln Fellow of Ethics and Sustainability in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment], who is principal investigator for the grant. “I want a classroom that will unlock technology creativity, in which students from every discipline can be creative. For me, overcoming obstacles to communication is just the first step.”

Seager’s work teaching ethical reasoning skills to science and engineering graduate students will help inform the project. Selin’s [Cynthia Selin, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability and the Center for Nanotechnology in Society] research on the social implications of new technologies, and Hannah’s [Mark Hannah, an assistant professor in the rhetoric and composition program in the ASU Department of English] expertise in professional and technical communication will facilitate the dialogue-based approach to understanding the communication responsibilities of transdisciplinary teams working in nanotechnology. A steering committee of 12 senior advisers is helping to guide the project’s progress.

“Being a new scientific field that involves very complex trade-offs and risk when it comes to implementation, the subject of ethics in nanoscience is best addressed in a transdisciplinary setting. When problems are too complex to be solved by one discipline alone, the approach needs to go beyond the disciplinary silos,” said Jensen.

“As we train the next generation of students to understand the opportunities and responsibilities involved in creating and using emerging technologies that have the potential to benefit society, we need to advance our capacity to teach diverse stakeholders how to communicate effectively,” said Jensen.

I last wrote about play and nanotechnology in an Aug. 2, 2013 posting about training teachers how to introduce nanotechnology to middle schoolers. As for ASU, they’ve had a rich week with regard to funding, in an April 8, 2014 posting, i described a $5M grant for a multi-university project, the Life Cycle of Nanomaterials Network headquartered at ASU.

* Added ‘o’ to the nantechnology so it now reads correctly as nanotechnology and added a space between the words ‘society’ and ‘project’ in the head for this post.

Surprise: telepresent Ed Snowden at TED 2014′s Session 2: Retrospect

The first session (Retrospect) this morning held a few surprises, i.e, unexpected speakers, Brian Greene and Ed Snowden (whistleblower re: extensive and [illegal or nonlegal?] surveillance by the US National Security Agency [NSA]). I’m not sure how Snowden fits into the session theme of Retrospect but I think that’s less the point than the sheer breathtaking surprise and his topic’s importance to current public discourse around much of the globe.

Snowden is mostly focused on PRISM (from its Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

PRISM is a clandestine mass electronic surveillance data mining program launched in 2007 by the National Security Agency (NSA), with participation from an unknown date by the British equivalent agency, GCHQ.[1][2][3] PRISM is a government code name for a data-collection effort known officially by the SIGAD US-984XN.[4][5] The Prism program collects stored Internet communications based on demands made to Internet companies such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc. under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to turn over any data that match court-approved search terms.[6] The NSA can use these Prism requests to target communications that were encrypted when they traveled across the Internet backbone, to focus on stored data that telecommunication filtering systems discarded earlier,[7][8] and to get data that is easier to handle, among other things.[9]

He also described Boundless Informant in response to a question from the session co-moderator, Chris Anderson (from its Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

Boundless Informant or BOUNDLESSINFORMANT is a big data analysis and data visualization tool used by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). It gives NSA managers summaries of the NSA’s world wide data collection activities by counting metadata.[1] The existence of this tool was disclosed by documents leaked by Edward Snowden, who worked at the NSA for the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.[2]

Anderson asks Snowden, “Why should we care [about increased surveillance]? After all we’re not doing anything wrong.” Snowden response notes that we have a right to privacy and that our actions can be misinterpreted or used against us at any time, present or future.

Anderson mentions Dick Cheney and Snowden notes that Cheney has in the past made some overblown comments about Assange which he (Cheney) now dismisses in the face of what he now considers to be Snowden’s greater trespass.

Snowden is now commenting on the NSA’s attempt to undermine internet security by misleading their partners. He again makes a plea for privacy. He also notes that US security has largely been defensive, i.e., protection against other countries’ attempts to get US secrets. These latest programmes change US security from a defensive strategy to an offensive strategy (football metaphor). These changes have been made without public scrutiny.

Anderson asks Snowden about his personal safety.  His response (more or less), “I go to sleep every morning thinking about what I can do to help the American people. … I’m happy to do what I can.”

Anderson asks the audience members whether they think Snowden’s was a reckless act or an heroic act. Some hands go up for reckless, more hands go up for heroic, and many hands remain still.

Snowden, “We need to keep the internet safe for us and if we don’t act we will lose our freedom.”

Anderson asks Tim Berners-Lee to come up to the stage and the discussion turns to his (Berners-Lee) proposal for a Magna Carta for the internet.

Tim Berners-Lee biography from his Wikipedia entry,

Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, FRS, FREng, FRSA, DFBCS (born 8 June 1955), also known as “TimBL”, is a British computer scientist, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. He made a proposal for an information management system in March 1989,[4] and he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet sometime around mid November.[5][6][7][8][9]

Berners-Lee is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the Web’s continued development. He is also the founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, and is a senior researcher and holder of the Founders Chair at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).[10] He is a director of the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI),[11] and a member of the advisory board of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence.[12][13]

The Magna Carta (from its Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

Magna Carta (Latin for Great Charter),[1] also called Magna Carta Libertatum or The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, is an Angevin charter originally issued in Latin in June 1215. It was sealed under oath by King John at Runnymede, on the bank of the River Thames near Windsor, England at June 15, 1215.[2]

Magna Carta was the first document forced onto a King of England by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights.

The charter is widely known throughout the English speaking world as an important part of the protracted historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in England and beyond.

When asked by Anderson if he would return to the US if given amnesty, Snowden says yes as long as he can continue his work. He’s not willing to trade his work of bringing these issues to the public forefront in order to go home again.

Ethical nano in Second Life

Isn’t Second Life dead? Apparently not.

While you won’t be able to attend the live event online, there will be free access to the nano and ethics discussion held on July 20, 2012, from 1 pm to 4 pm EDT at the Terasem Island Conference Center in Second Life. The question and speakers were (from the July 20, 2012 event posting on the Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence website,

What should be the ethical constraints on nanotechnology?

Speakers include:

  • Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D. — “Geoethical Rules for Nanotechnological Advances”
  • Peter Wicks — “Nanotechnology and the Environment: Enemies or Allies?”
  • Alex Wissner-Gross, Ph.D. — “Physically Programmable Surfaces”

The workshop is an exchange of scholarly views on uses of lifesaving nanotechnologies, including the impacts on people, accessibility, monitoring compliance with ethical norms.

I think if you check out the Terasem Island Conference Center in Second Life (SLURL), you will be able to access the archived discussion.

Nano events

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) has a couple of events coming up later this month. The first one is this coming Thurs., Jan. 8, 2009 ‘Synthetic Biology: Is Ethics A Showstopper? from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm EST. The event features two speakers, Arthur Caplan, an ethicist from the University of Pennsylvania, and Andrew Maynard, the chief science advisor for PEN. They request an RSVP, if you are attending in person. Go here for more details and/or to RSVP. Or you can view the webcast live or later. Their other event is on Weds.,  Jan. 14, 2009 and is called ‘Nanotech and Your Daily Vitamins’. The time for this event is 9:30 am – 10:30 am EST. The featured speakers, William B. Schultz and Lisa Barclay, are the authors of a report for PEN about the FDA and how it can address issues surrounding dietary supplements that use nanomaterials. For more details about the event and/or to RSVP, go here. There is also the webcast option. There is a link to the report from the event page but you have to log in to view it (as of Jan.6.09).

Nanotech BC is cancelling its Jan. 15, 2009 breakfast speaker event. Meanwhile, Nanotech BC organizers are preparing for the second Cascadia Symposium on April 20 – 21, 2009 at the Bayshore. They’ve gone for a larger venue (250 people) than last year’s. No other details are available yet.