SU Faculty Finds: What to Read in December

At SU, our faculty members are always discovering great content that sparks fascinating discussions among ourselves and with those of you who attend our programs. Here are a few of the items that had us buzzing this month!

Chinese Researcher Claims First Gene-Edited Babies

The news that the first acknowledged births of children who underwent gene editing as embryos has shaken scientists and non-scientists alike. This article from AP was the first long-form reporting about the study and the births (MIT Tech Review had broken the story a few days earlier). I cannot overemphasize the importance of this rapidly developing story. Like many of my colleagues, I am deeply concerned about the ethics surrounding how and why this experiment was carried out—and the lack of transparency surrounding it. This moment is crucial: how do we picture the future of humanity as a species, how do we make that future a positive reality, and who gets to decide? I expect this story to evolve rapidly as new details emerge.

A Manifesto For Renewing Liberalism and The Economist at 175

This stirring pair of essays showcases the hard-hitting, insightful, and actionable journalism that has kept me reading The Economist for the last decade. Yes, under the predominant liberal paradigm, the world is a far better place to live in now than it was 500, 100, or even 50 years ago, as this first essay points out. But that trajectory of abundance is under direct threat from all sides: from fear of an uncertain (and radically different) future, from the rise of autocracy, and most of all from complacency from people from all walks of life and all over the world. Calls to action in this second essay span technology, immigration, trade, taxes, lifetime learning, social welfare initiatives such as universal basic income, political structures, military capabilities, and free speech. “A complacent liberal is a failing liberal,” claims this essay. I intend to rise to that challenge, both professionally and personally. Do you?

Purple light

Self-driving Car Dilemmas Reveal That Moral Choices Are Not Universal

A recent scientific investigation published in Nature crowdsourced quantitative data from around the world to answer a crucial and timely question: how should autonomous vehicles be programmed to make moral, “human” decisions? This accompanying news article highlights the ethical, moral, and regulatory quagmire surrounding such a Moral Machine—as well as the cultural and geographical considerations that complicate issues further. How will vehicles choose who to save? Is there only one right answer, or are some answers more “right” than others? And who gets to decide? I was particularly fascinated by the sheer scale of the dataset analyzed here: 40 million data points sourced from millions of people from 233 countries. Data + science + ethics = future design strategies.

Managing The Unintended Consequences of Technology

Sometimes we get so excited about progress that we neglect to slow down and do the hard thinking about what else progress will bring (Cambridge Analytica, anyone?). In this article, my colleague Aaron Frank shares some of his learnings from the first annual conference about the Unintended Consequences of Technology. I particularly valued his reporting of insights and action-oriented solutions that should change the conversation from “how do we fix this mess?” to “how do we design for the best possible future?”

The Man Behind The Internet of Animals

This News Feature from Nature includes so many of the things that I love with a passion: conservation, the International Space Station, a crazy dream, near disaster, international collaboration, teeny sensors—plus songbirds, Ebola, and semi-feral goats (oh my!). Forget the Internet of Things. With a setup like that, how could you not read about a man who has dedicated his life to creating an Internet of Animals?