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Cyber-ethicist discuss technology's threat to humans

February 8, 2018

“When technology goes wrong it can go catastrophically wrong,” said Dr. Joseph Bottum, associate professor of philosophy at Dakota State University. Case in point is the erroneous missile alert in Hawaii on Jan. 13 which “caused millions of people to run in fear of their lives,” he said.

Bottum spoke about this and other examples of “immoral” technology on the Feb. 6 “In the Moment” with host Lori Walsh on South Dakota Public Broadcasting. The concept was also the theme for a column he wrote in the Weekly Standard, on January 24, 2018, a piece titled “The Immorality of Bad Software Design.” The Weekly Standard is an opinion magazine based in Washington, D.C.

Bottum feels it is the responsibility of programmers “to ask themselves what works, what is good and what is bad,” he said. In the case of the Hawaii incident, the alert system software “failed the first requirement of such software [and] the minor effort necessary to make a mistake was dramatically out of proportion to the major consequences that follow.”

Bottum will discuss threats to human nature posed by new technologies in a talk titled “The Science of Boldly Going Where We’ve Gone Before” on February 15 at DSU. The “We are Rising” series presentation will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in Room 201 of the Karl Mundt Library. The event is free and open to the public; refreshments will be served.