Static electricity is a ubiquitous part of everyday life. It’s all around us, sometimes funny and obvious, as when it makes your hair stand on end, sometimes hidden and useful, as when harnessed by the electronics in your cellphone. The dry winter months are high season for an annoying downside of static electricity – electric discharges like tiny lightning zaps whenever you touch door knobs or warm blankets fresh from the clothes dryer. Continue reading Static electricity’s tiny sparks→
In December 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) denied an easement that would have permitted the company Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) to complete one of the final segments of the 1,100-mile Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which seeks to connect the oil fields of North Dakota with terminals and refineries in Illinois.
The denial of ACE’s easement is undoubtedly a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux. The tribe and its allies in the #NoDAPL movement opposed the pipeline over risks to water quality, the destruction of cultural heritage and the injustice of, once again, having to make sacrifices for the economic gains of others. David Archambault II, chair of the tribe, thanked those who had been gathering for months at the construction site, saying their “purpose had been served,” and that they may leave now.
As an indigenous scholar and activist, I agree that the water protectors’ underlying causes in this high-profile resistance have not been addressed – even if ETP truly halts all construction. Here are five developments people should consider as the incoming Trump administration takes power.
1. Tribal consultation requirements need to be reformed.
In its December memo, the ACE said it did not violate its duty to consult tribes in advance. Moreover, in ruling against the tribe, which had sought an injunction to halt construction, district judge James Boasberg documented the many efforts ACE made to reach out to the tribe as well as efforts of the pipeline builders to avoid damaging places of cultural and historical significance.
Yet nonetheless, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s territory was targeted for the pipeline instead of an area closer to Bismarck, North Dakota, which speaks to the need for reform of tribal consultation policies.
In my personal review and interpretation of ACE’s specific tribal consultation policy and the related Executive Order 13175, I believe agencies can fulfill the duty to consult with tribes without really giving them a fair opportunity for free, prior and informed consent. Some scholars argue that Section 106 policy of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires impacts on cultural heritage to be considered, is not designed to fairly consider tribes’ interests.
Finally, when I reviewed Judge Boasberg’s opinion, what stands out to me are the multiple times when the tribe expressed objections and concerns to ACE and also ETP. Nevertheless, the agency and business interests kept pushing on. This is despite what should have been widely known about the significance of a 1868 treaty area for the tribe and its involvement in a 2012 resolution against future pipelines.
Morally speaking, I believe current tribal consultation policies lack strong enough support for the right to free, prior and informed consent and fail to protect sufficiently religious freedom and cultural integrity. Legally speaking, the U.S. has a long way to make up for a range of unlawful actions, from breaking treaties to swindling indigenous trust assets. In my view, basic respect for the Standing Rock’s treaty rights over the years would have made the current situation unlikely. Such respect would have also, speaking more speculatively, put many tribes in stronger positions, both economically and in terms of government capacity, to negotiate and track the actions of powerful corporations and U.S. agencies.
The ACE did issue a statement in November acknowledging historic “dispossessions of lands” as a factor being weighed, yet it is unclear whether this view will ultimately be used to build improvements into current tribal consultation policies.
2. Tribes everywhere are pressured by extractive industries.
Pipelines, mining, drilling, refining and other extractive and industrial projects continue to try to enter tribal lands and waters around the country.
Reportedly, some of the options on the table involve privatization of tribal lands, echoing historic allotment and termination policies that sounded good from a U.S. capitalist mindset but that ultimately devastated many Native American economies through weakening tribal governmental sovereignty against the economic interests of U.S. settlers.
4. It is unclear the extent to which the #NoDAPL movement educated anyone.
The failure of U.S. public and private education and many media outlets to consistently cover indigenous histories and current issues means that potential allies of indigenous peoples do not have much background in relevant areas – everything from treaty rights to indigenous activism, to federal Indian law (and its limits), to indigenous religious and cultural values.
While many allies are able to send money or show up for what they understand as “direct action,” they do not know how they can advocate for indigenous peoples beyond the rare highly public issues. They do not, for example, seek to regularly pressure their political leaders to reform the U.S. government’s duty to consult with tribes before construction projects. Or they are not aware of indigenous peoples facing similar struggles to that of Standing Rock who are living right next door to them.
5. US colonialism is not over.
All these points I have just made are really just by-products of one key point: DAPL is not over because many people in the U.S. assume that it is acceptable to keep pushing tribes to make sacrifices for U.S.-endorsed business interests, whether these interests profit individuals or are portrayed as being in the national interest.
From an indigenous perspective, it is deeply frustrating to witness, generation after generation, a U.S. parasitism that continues to build the U.S. economy through infringing more and more on indigenous lands and waters, as we see from many ongoing energy and water projects detailed above.
Why is the underlying assumption always that indigenous peoples must sacrifice their cultures, economies and political self-determination for the sake of the aspirations of businesses and U.S. national interests? This question poses a significant problem for the ethics of DAPL even if it were absolutely certain that the pipeline is far safer, in many respects, than oil transport by rail.
It remains possible that the two-year-long Environmental Impact Assessment will not ultimately respect the involvement of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Or perhaps ETP will just keep building the pipeline and deal with the financial or legal consequences.
Regardless, tribes everywhere, this year and into the future, will face broken treaty rights, inadequate consultation, uphill battles against rich companies and federal and state agencies whose goals and procedures ultimately do not take to heart indigenous values, histories and sovereignty.
Kyle Powys Whyte does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Every year as daylight dwindles and trees go bare, debates arise over the morality of hunting. Hunters see the act of stalking and killing deer, ducks, moose and other quarry as humane, necessary and natural, and thus as ethical. Critics respond that hunting is a cruel and useless act that one should be ashamed to carry out. Continue reading Is hunting moral? A philosopher unpacks the question→
President Obama gave environmental advocates a Christmas present when he announced in late December that he was banning oil and gas drilling in huge swaths of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. This action “indefinitely” protects almost 120 million acres of ecologically important and highly sensitive marine environments from the risks of oil spills and other industrial impacts.
President Obama acted boldly to conserve important ecological resources and solidify his environmental legacy. But by making creative use of an obscure provision of a 1953 law, Obama ignited a legal and political firestorm.
Republicans and oil industry trade groups are threatening to challenge the ban in court or through legislation. They also contend that the Trump administration can act directly to reverse it. But a close reading of the law suggests that it could be difficult to undo Obama’s sweeping act.
The power to withdraw
Congress passed the law now known as the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act in 1953 to assert federal control over submerged lands that lie more then three miles offshore, beyond state coastal waters. Section 12(a) of the law authorizes the president to “withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”
Starting in 1960 with the Eisenhower administration, six presidents from both parties have used this power. Most withdrawals were time-limited, but some were long-term. For example, in 1990 President George H. W. Bush permanently banned oil and gas development in California’s Monterey Bay, which later became a national marine sanctuary.
President Obama used section 12(a) in 2014 to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the most productive wild salmon fisheries in the world. In 2015 he took the same step for approximately 9.8 million acres in the biologically rich Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
Obama’s latest action bars energy production in 115 million more acres of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas – an area known as the “Arctic Ring of Life” because of its importance to Inupiat Peoples who have lived there for millennia. The order also withdraws 3.8 million acres off the Atlantic Coast from Norfolk, Virginia to Canada, including several unique and largely unexplored coral canyons.
Why Obama acted
In a Presidential Memorandum on the Arctic withdrawals, Obama provided three reasons for his action. First, he asserted, these areas have irreplaceable value for marine mammals, other wildlife, wildlife habitat, scientific research and Alaska Native subsistence use. Second, they are extremely vulnerable to oil spills. Finally, drilling for oil and responding to spills in Arctic waters poses unique logistical, operational, safety and scientific challenges.
In ordering the Atlantic withdrawals, Obama cited his responsibility to “ensure that the unique resources associated with these canyons remain available for future generations.”
Market forces support Obama’s action. Royal Dutch Shell stopped drilling in the Chukchi Sea in 2015 after spending US$7 billion and drilling in what proved to be a dry hole. Since 2008 the Interior Department has canceled or withdrawn a number of sales in Alaskan waters due to low demand. Shell, ConocoPhillips, Statoil, Chevron, BP and Exxon have all to some degree abandoned offshore Arctic drilling.
Low oil prices coupled with high drilling costs make business success in the region a risky prospect. Lloyd’s of London forecast this scenario in a 2012 report that called offshore drilling in the Arctic “a unique and hard-to-manage risk.”
What happens next?
Critics of President Obama’s action, including the state of Alaska and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say they may challenge Obama’s order in court, in hopes that the Trump administration will opt not to defend it. But environmental groups, which hailed Obama’s action, will seek to intervene in any such lawsuit.
Moreover, to demonstrate that they have standing to sue, plaintiffs would have to show that they have suffered or face imminent injury; that this harm was caused by Obama’s action; and that it can be redressed by the court. Market conditions will make this very difficult.
The Energy Information Administration currently projects that crude oil prices, which averaged about $43 per barrel through 2016, will rise to only about $52 per barrel in 2017. Whether these areas will ever be commercially viable is an open question, especially since rapid changes are taking place in the electricity and transportation sectors, and other coastal areas are open for leasing in Alaska’s near-shore waters and the Gulf of Mexico.
Alternatively, Donald Trump could issue his own memorandum in office seeking to cancel Obama’s. However, section 12(a) does not provide any authority for presidents to revoke actions by their predecessors. It delegates authority to presidents to withdraw land unconditionally. Once they take this step, only Congress can undo it.
This issue has never been litigated. Opponents can be expected to argue that Obama’s use of section 12(a) in this manner is unconstitutional because it violates the so-called “nondelegation doctrine,” which basically holds that Congress cannot delegate legislative functions to the executive branch without articulating some “intelligible principles.”
However, one could argue that Obama’s action was based on an articulation of intelligible principles gleaned from the stated policies of the OCSLA, which recognizes that the “the outer Continental Shelf is a vital national resource reserve held by the Federal Government for the public.” The law expressly recognizes both the energy and environmental values of the OCS. Thus President Obama’s decision reflects a considered judgment that the national interest is best served by protecting the unique natural resources of these areas, while at the same time weaning the nation from its dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.
The section 12(a) authority is similar in some respects to the authority granted by the Antiquities Act, which authorizes the president to “reserve parcels of land as a part of [a] national monument.” Like the OCSLA, the Antiquities Act does not authorize subsequent presidents to undo the designations of their predecessors. Obama has also used this power extensively – most recently, last week when he designated two new national monuments in Utah and Nevada totaling 1.65 million acres.
Some laws do include language that allows such actions to be revoked. Examples include the Forest Service Organic Administration Act, under which most national forests were established, and the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which sets out policies for managing multiple-use public lands. The fact that Congress chose not to include revocation language in the OCSLA indicates that it did not intend to provide such power.
What can the new Congress do?
Under Article IV of the Constitution, Congress has plenary authority to dispose of federal property as it sees fit. This would include the authority to open these areas to leasing for energy development. Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation are considering introducing legislation to override Obama’s drilling ban. But Democrats could filibuster to block any such move, and Republicans – who will hold a 52-48 margin in the Senate – would need 60 votes to stop them.
On the other hand, Congress may be content to let President-elect Trump make the first move and see how it goes in court. If Trump attempts to reverse the withdrawal, environmental groups contesting his decision would face some of the same obstacles as an industry challenge to Obama’s action. It could be especially challenging for environmental groups to show that the claim is “ripe” for judicial review, at least until a post-Obama administration acts to actually open up these areas for leasing. That may not occur for some time, given the weak market for the oil in these regions.
In the meantime, this decision is a fitting capstone for a president who has done everything within his power to confront the existential threat of climate change and rationally move the nation and the world onto a safer and more sustainable path.
Patrick Parenteau does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
In 2017, the Trump administration will likely continue and expand the Obama administration’s focus on removing immigrants convicted of crimes. Whether Trump will break ground for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico is far less certain.
Ramping up immigration enforcement by focusing on the criminal justice pipeline for removals has proven to be an efficient strategy. Immigrants in jail are not hard to find. And, removing criminals raises far fewer civil rights concerns than, for example, locating and removing laborers through the use of workplace raids.
Immigrants with criminal arrest records and convictions have few political allies and defenders. Resistance to their removal has not been as great as resistance to removing other groups of immigrants, such as undocumented college students.
That may explain why Donald Trump began his presidential campaign by claiming that Mexico was sending criminals to the United States, and promising to deport them en masse.
To increase crime-based removals, the Trump administration will probably seek greater state and local assistance in federal immigration enforcement. Under President Obama, these efforts led to the removal of a disproportionate number of Latino immigrants. My scholarship sheds light on how Trump’s immigration proposals may similarly affect Latinos.
‘Latino removal system’
President Obama’s administration prioritized removing immigrants who had been convicted of crimes. However, the U.S. criminal justice system is notorious for producing racially disparate results. African-Americans and Latinos continue to be disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated as they have throughout U.S. history, as described in Michelle Alexander’s powerful book “The New Jim Crow.”
As a result, the U.S. immigrant removal system yields similarly unequal results.
The Obama administration created programs that allowed state criminal justice systems to directly feed immigrants into the federal immigration removal system. That, in turn, made it possible for his administration to set removal records. In some years as many as 400,000 people were removed. During the eight years of his presidency, more than 2.5 million noncitizens were deported – more than during any other U.S. presidency.
Under a program called Secure Communities, state and local law enforcement agencies shared arrest information with federal immigration authorities, and detained immigrant criminal offenders. Criminal offenders were then taken into custody by federal immigration authorities. In November 2014, the Obama administration replaced Secure Communities with the Priority Enforcement Program, which was somewhat narrower in scope.
Today, more than 95 percent of removals in the United States are of Latino noncitizens, despite the fact that the total immigrant population in the United States is much more diverse. Latino immigrants comprise only about 50 percent of lawful immigrants, and around 70 percent of undocumented ones. Because removals are so heavily skewed toward Latinos, some refer to the modern U.S. removal system as the “Latino removal system.”
Mandating state and local assistance
Trump is likely to encounter the same resistance that Obama did in working with state and local governments on immigration enforcement.
The Trump administration may seek to mandate state and local assistance in federal immigration enforcement. To do so, it might challenge “sanctuary cities,” as Donald Trump has done rhetorically. However, there is no firm definition of what sanctuary cities are – only the suggestion that they are not fully cooperating in enforcing immigration laws. Trump has threatened to defund such cities, a step that would seemingly require congressional authorization.
If Congress were to pass such legislation, state and local governments may be able to challenge it as infringing on the constitutionally protected authority of the states.
Needless to say, any challenge to sanctuary cities is likely to meet formidable resistance from some quarters. The California legislature already has been preparing a game plan for a showdown with the Trump administration on immigration enforcement. For example, legislators have proposed legislation that would limit information sharing with the federal government about immigrants.
Some state and local law enforcement leaders worry that immigrants lose trust in local police when they are perceived to be deeply involved in federal immigration enforcement. Loss of trust, in turn, can reduce the willingness of immigrants to help authorities combat crime. This concerns local police who say they need the cooperation of all people in the community, including lawful and undocumented immigrants, in reporting crime and aiding criminal prosecutions.
To that end, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order 40 limits police inquiry into the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses and suspects. The idea is to separate criminal law enforcement from federal immigration enforcement. Such separation is consistent with the Supreme Court’s finding in Arizona v. United States in 2012 that the federal government has the authority to admit and remove immigrants. And, ordinary law enforcement primarily is handled by local law enforcement agencies.
The new administration will also need to grapple with how local police involvement in immigration enforcement impacts the civil rights of Latinos. Such impacts are real. This year, a federal court found the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department in Arizona, in the guise of assisting federal immigration enforcement, had engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination.
These civil rights abuses show the potential costs of state and local law enforcement assistance in federal immigration enforcement efforts. The same risks will exist for the new Trump administration in 2017.
Kevin Johnson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Many of us will start out the New Year by making a list of resolutions – changes we want to make to be happier such as eating better, volunteering more often, being a more attentive spouse, and so on. But, as we know, we will often fail. After a few failures we will typically give up and go back to our old habits.
Why is it so hard to stick to resolutions that require us to make effective or lasting changes?
I would argue the problem isn’t that we try and we fail –– the problem is how we treat ourselves when we fail. I study self-compassion, and my research and that of others show that how we relate to personal failure – with kindness or harsh self-judgment – is incredibly important for building resilience.
From early childhood, we are taught how we must succeed at all costs. What most of us aren’t taught is how to fail successfully so we can change and grow.
One of the best ways to deal with failure is to have self-compassion.
What exactly is self-compassion?
I define self-compassion as having three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring, understanding, and supportive toward ourselves when we fail or make mistakes rather than being harshly critical or judgmental.
Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, and connecting our own flawed condition to the shared human condition so we can have greater perspective on our shortcomings.
Mindfulness involves being aware of the pain associated with failure in a clear and balanced manner so that we neither ignore nor obsess about our faults. The three together combine to create a self-compassionate frame of mind.
If self-compassion is so good for us, why aren’t we kinder to ourselves?
Perhaps the biggest block to self-compassion is the belief that it will undermine our motivation. In parenting circles we no longer hold to the adage “spare the rod spoil the child.” When it comes to our own selves, however, many of us think that sparing the rod of harsh self-criticism will turn us into lazy, self-indulgent ne’er-do-wells. This theme constantly comes up in the workshops I teach.
Of course, the dynamics that go into motivating our children and motivating ourselves are quite similar. Let’s say your teenage son were to come home with a failing English grade. You have two ways to motivate him to try harder and do better next time.
You could admonish him and tell him how stupid he is and that you are ashamed of him. The other is, knowing how upset he is, you could give him a hug and gently ask him how you could support him in doing better next time. This type of caring, encouraging response would help your son maintain his self-confidence and feel emotionally supported. The same goes for how we respond to ourselves when we fail.
How does self-compassion increase motivation?
A growing body of research indicates that self-compassion is linked to greater motivation. Self-compassion has been associated with increased personal initiative –– the desire to reach one’s full potential.
Self-compassionate people are also more likely to adopt “mastery goals”, which focus on learning and mastering material to increase competence, and less likely to adopt “performance goals,” which are primarily concerned with succeeding to make a favorable impression on others.
In one study, participants were asked to recall a recent action they felt guilty about – cheating on an exam, lying to a romantic partner, saying something harmful, etc. –– something that still made them feel bad when they thought about it.
Next, they were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. In the self-compassion condition, participants were instructed to write to themselves for three minutes from the perspective of a compassionate and understanding friend.
The second condition had people write about all their positive qualities, and the third about a hobby they enjoyed. These two control conditions helped to differentiate self-compassion from positive self-talk and positive mood in general.
The researchers found that participants who were helped to be self-compassionate about their recent transgressions reported being more motivated to apologize for the harm done and more committed to not repeating the behavior than those in the control conditions.
Sustaining motivation through kindness
Another study in this same series of experiments explored whether self-compassion would directly translate into greater efforts to learn after failure. Students were given a difficult vocabulary test they all did poorly on.
One group of students were given an instruction to be self-compassionate about their failure. The instruction said,
“If you had difficulty with the test you just took, you’re not alone. It’s common for students to have difficulty with tests like this. If you feel bad about how you did, try not to be too hard on yourself.”
Another group was given a self-esteem boost, which said,
“If you had difficulty with the test you just took, try not to feel bad about yourself — you must be intelligent if you got into Berkeley!”
A third group of participants were given no additional instructions.
The students were next told that they would receive a second vocabulary test, and were given a list of words and definitions they could study for as long as they wanted before taking it. Study time was used as a measure of improvement motivation.
The students who were told to be self-compassionate after failing the first test spent more time studying than those in the other two conditions. Study time was linked to how well participants actually performed on the test. These findings suggest that being kind to yourself when you fail or make mistakes gives you the emotional support needed to try your best, and to keep trying even when discouraged.
Kindness is the engine that drives us to keep trying even after we fall flat on our face. So this New Year, when you make and inevitably break your resolutions, instead of beating yourself up and then giving up, try being kind to yourself. In the long run you’ll be more likely to succeed.
Kristin Neff does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Edition #1003 Today we take a look at the raging battle for the soul of the new economy. The age of working at the factory for decades before retiring with a pension and gold watch is well behind us but what’s coming next? A world where everyone is completely on their own, scraping together work one gig at a time? Or an economy of worker-owners who are compensated fully for their labor and have a voice in the direction of their companies? Be part of the show! Leave a message at 202-999-3991
The U.S. economy has grown dramatically over the long run. GDP has increased by one-third since the beginning of the 21st century, even after adjusting for inflation.
However, capitalist economies do not simply grow steadily larger. Instead, their long-term growth is periodically punctured by downturns.
The record of all economic ups and downs over the last century and a half shows the U.S. economy has experienced 33 recessions. This means recessions occur roughly once every five years.
Our present economic expansion has lasted far longer than five years. The Great Recession ended in June 2009, about seven and half years ago. Even though many indicators look amazing today, if history is any guide, we are due for another economic downturn.
The group does not use two quarters of falling GDP as their guide, a common rule of thumb journalists and others employ to describe recessions. That’s in part because GDP figures are often revised by the U.S. government. Deciding when a country is or is not in a recession based on numbers that are constantly moving is not sensible.
The three longer booms all occurred since John Glenn orbited the Earth. The third-longest expansion started in 1982 and lasted close to eight years. The second-longest began in 1961 and lasted a bit less than nine years. The longest expansion we’ve experienced started in 1991 and lasted a decade, until the dot-com bubble burst in 2001.
This means that the current period of growth is entering the economic history books as something special. In just a few months it will overtake the 1982 boom and become the third-longest U.S. expansion on record.
Economic theories, such as works by economist Hyman Minsky, explain that the longer an expansion continues, the more likely a recession becomes.
The length of an expansion matters because banks lower their lending standards over time. At the end of very long expansions, banks and finance companies are willing to lend to almost anyone because they become overly optimistic. Some of this willingness to lend carelessly is currently seen in U.S. car loans.
In Minsky models the economy is like a game of musical chairs at a party. Everyone has a wonderful time until the music stops and everyone wants to sit down simultaneously. Then suddenly “the euphoria becomes a panic, the boom becomes a slump.”
Whatever the reasons that expansions end, the fact that the U.S. has never had an expansion that lasted longer than a decade does not bode well for the current one lasting much longer.
What should you do?
No individual has the power to stop a recession. However, by planning you can mitigate the impact an economic downturn has on you and your family.
Right now most people are enjoying good economic times. They will not last forever. Save some money now. Pay down credit card debt and other loans. Give yourself a financial cushion that will protect you in the event of an economic downturn.
How much you need to save depends on your risk tolerance. One guide is that over the past century and a half, the typical recession has lasted less than 1.5 years.
Recessions do not come like clockwork, however. The data suggest no clear pattern of how long expansions last. But since only three expansions since the 1850s have beaten the one we are currently living through, it’s best not to be overconfident that the current one will continue forever.
Instead, make some plans now to mitigate the next downturn. Even if I am wrong, the worst thing that will happen is that you will have less debt and more money saved. Is that so bad?
Jay L. Zagorsky does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Autonomous technologies are rapidly spreading beyond the transportation sector, into health care, advanced cyberdefense and even autonomous weapons. In 2017, we’ll have to decide whether we can trust these technologies. That’s going to be much harder than we might expect.
Trust is complex and varied, but also a key part of our lives. We often trust technology based on predictability: I trust something if I know what it will do in a particular situation, even if I don’t know why. For example, I trust my computer because I know how it will function, including when it will break down. I stop trusting if it starts to behave differently or surprisingly.
In contrast, my trust in my wife is based on understanding her beliefs, values and personality. More generally, interpersonal trust does not involve knowing exactly what the other person will do – my wife certainly surprises me sometimes! – but rather why they act as they do. And of course, we can trust someone (or something) in both ways, if we know both what they will do and why.
I have been exploring possible bases for our trust in self-driving cars and other autonomous technology from both ethical and psychological perspectives. These are devices, so predictability might seem like the key. Because of their autonomy, however, we need to consider the importance and value – and the challenge – of learning to trust them in the way we trust other human beings.
Autonomy and predictability
We want our technologies, including self-driving cars, to behave in ways we can predict and expect. Of course, these systems can be quite sensitive to the context, including other vehicles, pedestrians, weather conditions and so forth. In general, though, we might expect that a self-driving car that is repeatedly placed in the same environment should presumably behave similarly each time. But in what sense would these highly predictable cars be autonomous, rather than merely automatic?
There havebeenmany different attempts to defineautonomy, but they all have this in common: Autonomous systems can make their own (substantive) decisions and plans, and thereby can act differently than expected.
In fact, one reason to employ autonomy (as distinct from automation) is precisely that those systems can pursue unexpected and surprising, though justifiable, courses of action. For example, DeepMind’s AlphaGo won the second game of its recent Go series against Lee Sedol in part because of a move that no human player would ever make, but was nonetheless the right move. But those same surprises make it difficult to establish predictability-based trust. Strong trust based solely on predictability is arguably possible only for automated or automatic systems, precisely because they are predictable (assuming the system functions normally).
Of course, other people frequently surprise us, and yet we can trust them to a remarkable degree, even giving them life-and-death power over ourselves. Soldiers trust their comrades in complex, hostile environments; a patient trusts her surgeon to excise a tumor; and in a more mundane vein, my wife trusts me to drive safely. This interpersonal trust enables us to embrace the surprises, so perhaps we could develop something like interpersonal trust in self-driving cars?
In general, interpersonal trust requires an understanding of why someone acted in a particular way, even if you can’t predict the exact decision. My wife might not know exactly how I will drive, but she knows the kinds of reasoning I use when I’m driving. And it is actually relatively easy to understand why someone else does something, precisely because we all think and reason roughly similarly, though with different “raw ingredients” – our beliefs, desires and experiences.
In fact, we continually and unconsciously make inferences about other people’s beliefs and desires based on their actions, in large part by assuming that they think, reason and decide roughly as we do. All of these inferences and reasoning based on our shared (human) cognition enable us to understand someone else’s reasons, and thereby build interpersonal trust over time.
Thinking like people?
Autonomous technologies – self-driving cars, in particular – do not think and decide like people. There have been efforts, both past and recent, to develop computer systems that think and reason like humans. However, one consistent theme of machine learning over the past two decades has been the enormous gains made precisely by not requiring our artificial intelligence systems to operate in human-like ways. Instead, machine learning algorithms and systems such as AlphaGo have often been able to outperform human experts by focusing on specific, localized problems, and then solving them quite differently than humans do.
As a result, attempts to interpret an autonomous technology in terms of human-like beliefs and desires can go spectacularly awry. When a human driver sees a ball in the road, most of us automatically slow down significantly, to avoid hitting a child who might be chasing after it. If we are riding in an autonomous car and see a ball roll into the street, we expect the car to recognize it, and to be prepared to stop for running children. The car might, however, see only an obstacle to be avoided. If it swerves without slowing, the humans on board might be alarmed – and a kid might be in danger.
Our inferences about the “beliefs” and “desires” of a self-driving car will almost surely be erroneous in important ways, precisely because the car doesn’t have any human-like beliefs or desires. We cannot develop interpersonal trust in a self-driving car simply by watching it drive, as we will not correctly infer the whys behind its actions.
Of course, society or marketplace customers could insist en masse that self-driving cars have human-like (psychological) features, precisely so we could understand and develop interpersonal trust in them. This strategy would give a whole new meaning to “human-centered design,” since the systems would be designed specifically so their actions are interpretable by humans. But it would also require including novel algorithms and techniques in the self-driving car, all of which would represent a massive change from current research and development strategies for self-driving cars and other autonomous technologies.
Self-driving cars have the potential to radically reshape our transportation infrastructure in many beneficial ways, but only if we can trust them enough to actually use them. And ironically, the very feature that makes self-driving cars valuable – their flexible, autonomous decision-making across diverse situations – is exactly what makes it hard to trust them.
David Danks does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Source: The Conversation
Fighting Corporate Socialism Since Reagan Confused Catsup and Trees