An Algorithmic and Social Introduction to Computer Science (CSC-105 2000S)

Pick your favorite (of 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8), or which ever one you find the most intriguing, and come up with a couple questions/personal opinions/grievances regarding a particular scenario.


Scenario #6

When it comes to the law, there are strict guidelines that have been established. Either something is legal by virtue of the law or illegal. What the American judicial system serves is to interpret that law and implement necessary actions accordingly. The question posed in the sixth scenario asks if an expert system (judge) can replace a human judge.

The bottom line is that all expert systems are bound to be faulty. I believe that this has come to be accepted by most in the scientific community. The purpose of such systems are to aid humans make decisions. Unfortunately, people have decided to rely on them heavily, despite their unproven success. I suppose that if we were to implement an expert system, the American judicial system would be a good place for it. Unlike building specifications (scenario #4), the legal system is always subject to interpretation. Given the same information, one judge can rule differently than another judge. Besides, given the current situation of scenario #6, it seems that such a system cannot make things any worse. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and that is why an expert system would be the best choice, regardless of any faults it may possess.

One flaw that that could have added some spice to this scenario is the possibility of database errors. We have already discussed issues of privacy and databases. So we know the potential chaos that can occur through the use of a central database.


The scenario that really interested me was number 6, the one that dealt with an expert system being used to sentence criminals. First of all, this is really something that doesn't have anything to do with computers, but relates to what I've been talking about in my other classes so it totally made me mad: The whole notion that "fairness" means being judged by someone 'exactly' like you according to some arbitrary identity--"a perfect system: reformed alcoholic or drug-addicted judges to try cases involving substance abusers, Vietnam veterans to judge other Vietnam veterans, and so on" (pg. 242)--is totally bogus. At first, our "liberal multiculturalist" sides might say "but only a ____ can truly understand a ____," but trust me, it takes us somewhere we don't want to go when we start assuming that people are going to think a certain way or be sympathetic to a certain cause or person because of their identities. Equal representation is one thing, but we shouldn't expect any consistent ideology.

Now that I've got that little diatribe out of the way, I'll move on to more relevant issues. I think that the idea of the "techno-fix" is a really useful one. Not that we shouldn't try to find new or innovative uses for technology, and not that people are innately unbiased or anything (quite the opposite), but I don't think technology can give us anything better than we've got in this situation. Sure, it could give us something more consistent, which might seem better, but as F&M point out, this would probably just be more consistent bias. Plus, some people might argue that inconsistency, or at least the some amount of latitude to consider relevant circumstances, actually has the potential to increase justice rather than decrease it. I don't know, the system is messed up, and I bet some people _would_ get 'fairer' sentencing with a computer, but I think that's a reason to try and improve the system and the society that perpetuates it, not just impose and automatically trust some "techno-fix." I almost can't believe F&M ask the question "Is it that, as a society, we have failed to provide the social conditions necessary for people to hope and to raise their horizon beyond the next meal, the next day...?" I mean, hello!? My answer to that can be nothing but an eighties-inflected "DUH!" Of course, even if this is true, some people would say that we need to do both--try and fix society but use an expert system "in the mean time." Once again, I see the logic of that, but I just feel like people, even with all of their fallibility, are a better choice in this case.



I thought that this senario about the AIDS patients and insurance company techniques was the most intriguing. I think this is because I again must side with the individual over society. Society doesn't need to know about "a threat in it's midst." Individuals deserve, supposedly in this country, a right to the pursuit of happiness, and in a world where they are harrassed based on some things that can be described as both invasive and ridiculous (work gossip? please.) their quality of life would inevitably be constricted. Society needs to deal with protecting themselves instead of expecting others to do it for them. When someone is sick, they deserve compassion at the least, not paternalistic abuse. And society should take safe sex precautions and blood-work-hospital precautions--and then they will have less risk of contracting AIDS. Abusing individuals with an illness won't get us anywhere but backwards. We can't allow a society of uninformed and reactionary people to direct decisions like this. AIDS isn't a social illness, it's an individual one--and there are plenty of people who got the disease through no fault of their own that don't deserve to be uninsured or harrassed for the remainder of their lives because they "threaten society." Society does alot to threaten itself--such is life--so I think we ought to stop blaming individuals and persecuting them by invading their privacy. Of course, I don't care about the interests of private insurance companies, just like they don't really care about mine. I hope they have to pay out for creating themselves in the first place. Medicine should not be an issue of money, but of preserving human life.


With regard to scenario #8: I don't know what the code of ethics with regard to conducting psychotherapy in this manner is, but it seems to me that if both parties enter into such therapy consensually, there shouldn't really be a problem. In Dr. Schimmel's case, it didn't appear that he had any fraudulent intentions; it seemed that he carefully screened his patients and conducted therapy via email in a manner comparable to how he might conduct such therapy in person.

Obviously, not everyone is a Dr. Schimmel, and odds are that there would be alot of therapists out there who might be out to scam his or her patients. But then, that's a decision that each individual seeking therapy has to make. If a person thinks it's a good idea to enter into on-line psychotherapy, or whatever you want to call it, shouldn't he or she have the freedom to do so? Whether one considers such a decision as idiotic or practical/useful is beside the point. I'm certainly not advocating that on-line/email therapy should be the new face of psychiatric treatment or anything. I would just make the point that if this kind of therapy were to become an option, people should have the freedom to decide for themselves whether it is something that might be beneficial for them.


First, I don't believe most psychotherapist have a guarantee on their work therefore I see little correlation between the effectiveness of psychotherapy and ethically responsibility. Is it ethically responsible to claim to be able to help someone and fail miserably? No, probably not. To give someone the promise of hope and never intent to satisfy their needs is not ethically responsible. To give someone the promise of hope and fully attempt to help them to satisfy their needs regardless of success is ethically responsible.

Then the issue becomes is face-to-face contact necessary to satisfy the obligation of a psychotherapist to intent to help someone? I think so. Most of communication is non-verbal. Pressing keys and sending email is generally rational. The psychotherapist is catching a tiny sliver of the pertinent information on a patient. Can a psychotherapist conclude anything with that small window of information? Of course, but the conclusion will never be as complete as if the psychotherapist met with the patient. The best possible care should be provided if possible.

The psychotherapist, in the example, deals with relatively minor traumas. The psychotherapist recognizes that his/her abilities are limited. How limited are the abilities? Considering ELIZA can ask somewhat intelligence questions with a shorter response time than a psychotherapist, I would recommend the patient in need of minor help download ELIZA from the internet. ELIZA doesn't promise much and gives the patient the attention they are after.

In the end, if I was paid to respond to emails, I would probably respond too. Is it the fault of the psychotherapist to take advantage of naive individuals? Maybe the individuals want to be taken advantage of or the requests are a cry for attention? Regardless, there are better alternatives to email therapy.


We talked about this scenario (#6) a little in class the other day, but I think it is a good one to discuss, especially if the authorities are serious about implimenting such a system (i.e. expert systems will determine the length of a sentense in the event of a conviction). At first this doesn't seem like a bad idea, and it would save a lot of time (and money). But if you think about it, there are so many other factors that may weigh into the decision. What I don't like about it is the fact that it makes all its decisions based on previous cases - it won't make new "landmark" judgements itself, so we would therefore not be improving our legal system.

The book gives an example of a psychotic judge and the effect that would have. I don't think that's the issue here - if judges are already incompetent, it is the fault of the legal system for hiring them. But, I think, that a human judge and a computer judge could work together in most cases. I would be a lot more comfortable to start small and see how it goes first (e.g. in small claims court or something) before I would start letting computers decide murder cases. In any case, the computer would constantly have to be updated with new information.


I guess since I'm leaning toward becoming a Psych major some day I'll talk about the ethical dilemmas of Dr. Schimmel of Upper Gansk (where do they come up with these names?). I think this is very interesting, and, cool enough, I've had so many different classes that address at least indirectly this kind of thing that I think I can yak about it for a minute at least. I'm a person who believes in personal ethical values. If you claim to adhere to any kind of ethical system, like Dr. Schimmel with that of his home country, then he SHOULD BE binded by that ethical system no matter where he is. Should there be some form of international ethical committee now that e-commerce is so pervasive? I think so. However, I think of this as more a personal issue than a Psychology one or an ethical one, because Dr. Schimmel, however aware he is of what he should and shouldn't do and how that applies, should not do something just because he can. I guess this kind of says that I tend to blame people for their own actions and beliefs and what-not, but hey, that's just me I guess.


I thought this one was worth commenting on because I wondered about some of the moral implications of it, mainly, what were they? I think it's interesting that we expect doctors to be objective in their treatment - they are not allowed to say "I disagree with this patient's views on life, so I have problems with treating her." While I definitely think every person should have access to an equal level of health care, it is also in the interests of the doctor to be able to treat patients in a work environment that is pleasing to them.

As for the role of computers, I think the type of therapy described in this scenario is acceptable. Given the trends of our society, I don't think it is wrong to receive treatment from a licensed professional through email. This assumes a lot of things (communication of the problem is clear, the patient is aware of the limitations of email vs. conversation, all methods used by the doctor are clearly laid out at the beginning etc.) but in its pure form it seems like it would be beneficial. If the doctor can expand his practice and enrich the lives of more people through the use of electronic means, there shouldn't be a moral objection to the practice.


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