My One Assignment

One assignment to finish it all, One assigment to stress them; One assignment to bring them all and to graduation guide them.

This semester I had a course about Smart Cities, which I then discovered was better named Smart Citizens, according to my professor Ken Bauer. I could not agree more, making a city smart while keeping the citizens dumb sounds like a very unfortunate dystopia for us citizens. Having a smart city doesn’t do too much good if their citizens are not actually smart.

Talking a little bit more about the class, at the beginning my team, which is Hermes, Miguel and I, were supposed to work with a team from the University of Alberta in a joint project, however we came into a disagreement because all we were going to do was the front-end part of their project, which we didn’t really feel like doing and the three of us weren’t very familiarized with front-end developing.

With this I learned about the differences there can be when working as a team in the professional environment, of course in this case our professor Ken was nice enough to support us in our decision of not working with the UA team, however in other circumstances or perhaps with another professor, things could have been different. If this was a project the company we work at put us in charge of doing we probably could not have said no that easily, we may have even been fired for refusing to work on the project, since it is supposed to be our job. I hope I don’t get stuck in a job working with technologies I am not even interested in using, although I believe it is quite possible it happens at one point or the other of my professional career.

Since this happened, we decided to work on our project which still involved gamification, which was the aspect the UA team wanted to work with from the beginning, but focused for the Tec community. What we decided to was an app where Tec students can earn badges for assisting to events and participating in sports team and cultural activities, creating a resume of extracurricular activities. Since there are a lot of companies that look forward to applicants having passions other than academic stuff, we believe this could be useful. We would also like to get Tec involved for possible rewards to outstanding students.

Something that makes me sad is that when thinking about smart citizens is that when I think about a citizen being smart, I think about a citizen being smart enough to not be taken advantage of, be it by other citizens or by the government in charge of the city. This semester I wrote an essay about the ethical aspects of government surveillance in the modern days through the use of technology, particularly in communications, including phone calls and internet traffic. In it I talk about how government surveillance has become a necessary evil to mantain national security in this complex world we live in, however a limit must exist in how much of our privacy we are willing to give up and check if all these surveillance is really giving the results we would expect in exchange for the constant breaches to the privacy of millions of people. External institutions that regulate how much access the government has to our private information must exist in order to try and preserve as much of our privacy as possible, you can read my essay (in spanish) here.

Related to surveillance, we also talked about how data is now everywhere and used by everyone, our own data is used without our permission by big corporations in order to gain more profits. “Digital intelligence is neither inherently virtuous nor corrupt; however, as efficient as these technologies may be, we must continue to critically reflect upon the type of city we want.” This is very tied to the lack of ethics in the current tech industry, most programmers, I must say that including myself, view users as some kind of dumb entity that will be interacting with our system, granting us some input for us to process and spurting out something for them. I feel there needs to be a class specifically dedicated to professional ethics in the software industry, because there are some classes that do show some code of ethics, like the ACM one, but they just turn into another topic in the course that will be forgotten by students the next semester. Companies need to realize that algorithms making decisions that affect the life of millions of people greatly, need some kind of regulation to ensure their effectiveness, as well as some kind of control that prevents bias, because no matter how impartial one as a developer tries to be, we all have biases and preferences that have grown into us as we have grown up. We must really take into account the ethical dilemma of creating new technologies that may affect the lives of people these days, as new technologies becoming more and more entangled in our daily lives.

Internet freedom is at risk, every day, tech companies gather our information left and right, they supposedly do so to make our experience using their services better, but what happens when the government orders these companies to give them full access to all of their user’s data? Privacy is violated.

I believe that there is lack of ethics in general, not only in the software community, but in all the industry that is in charge of handling user data and possibly sensitive information.

“The most overarching and important is the Kantian idea of respect for the dignity of the person. When the self can be technologically invaded without permission and even often without the knowledge of the person, dignity and liberty are diminished.”  (Marx, 1998, 21).

In the last classes we also talked about surveillance and data privacy a lot, I believe this class was very focused on this and I really liked it since I had other classes where I was also talking about these topics. I also wrote about the US government surveilling its arab communities and about how Facebook can already predict a lot of your data without having it directly available with a fair amount of accuracy.

References:

AI used to unredact FBI documents

Internet Freedom in a Surveillance World

Marx, G. (1998). An Ethics for The New Surveillance.The Information Society, MIT. Obtained from: http://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/ncolin5.html

Smart Surveillance

Smart Citizens – Week 8

Should This Exist? – A question the software industry should must ask itself

 

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