Tuesday, November 12, 2019

How do artificial intelligence, the American power grid, capital punishment, tariffs against autocracies, the theat of nuclear war, and medical ethics inter-relate.

   Artificial intelligence can be a great step forward, but it can also be used for nefarious purposes and complex computer systems can be vulnerable to attack.  

   The use of facial recognition and all of the tracking done through cell phones, social media, and financial transactions is being used in China to create a “personal social credit score.” The Chinese government can control where you live,work, and travel, where your children go to school, and limit your freedom of expression and religion. 

   The use of coercive power has led to the development of nuclear weapons and a foreign policy of mutual assured destruction.  A combination of brinkmanship and computer controlled response times for nuclear weapons measured in minutes now threatens not only self-destruction, but also the destruction of most of the foundations of life on earth. 

   An electromagnetic pulse attack (EMP) via a high altitude nuclear detonation or a cyberattack could destroy the Amercan electrical power grid. The loss of power, communication, and transportation would lead to total chaos and threaten survival.

   Most autocratic government use capital punishment or the threat of capital punishment to maintain control. This is the company that we keep with our continued use of the death sentence. 

   China, Russia, Iran, and their proxies in North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela have nothing in common except their common goal to overthrow the Western liberal tradition and make the world safe for autocracies.  The tariffs are thus about much more than the economy. 

   Max Weber described government as having a monopoly on coercive force. That coercive power can be used to suppress individual freedoms. Terror tactics, with the use the asymmetrical power of torture, killing, and destruction, can also be used also by anacrhists and non-governmental groups for political purposes.

   We now live in a pluralistic global community with access to weapons of mass destruction. There is a need to pay attention to diversity, but because we are very tribal there is also a need to recognize what we share in common.  Medical ethics are based on a respect for life, understood as a respect for our individual personal dignity and our common humanity. Medical ethics also understand human nature to be multidimensional which leads toward what has been described as a balance of consciousness, a reflective equilibrium, or a parliament of the mind. Medical ethics in this context provide some coherence to moral and political philosophy.  They are one source of an applied moral philosophy that can provide cross-cultural understanding and enable ethical dialogue. In a political context, medical ethics at least have the capacity for accommodation in a pluralistic global community without coercion or alienation.  


Fast Company

Amnesty International

The Far Center

The Far Center

Paper given at the World Congress of Philosophy in Beijing

James Rutherford, MD