Journal

Today was a productive day spent working at home, at the Coffee Bar in the Mission, and at a friend’s house. I sent out a few letters of recommendation for colleagues to graduate schools, did some residential design work, and worked on curriculum planning for Stanford. On days in which I don’t go work in South Bay I need to more actively get out of the apartment and work in focused environments like coffee shops, or with friends, to maximize my productivity. Sometimes it’s literally just the fact that coffee shops disincentivize me from getting up to pee that allow me to get in the zone of work. Or that others around me are focused.

I read an article on Slate titled “Self-Driving Cars Will Make Organ Shortages Even Worse”. TL;DR (look up sources in original article, I don’t have time to check):

  • ~6,500 Americans die waiting for organ transplant each year, and number is already expected to rise due to increased incidence of chronic diseases
  • 35,000+ people killed each year on American roads, trending upwards
  • 1 in 5 organ donations come from victim of vehicular accident
  • ~94% of motor-vehicle accidents involve some kind of driver error
  • (Federal government has a goal to get to zero highway depths in next 30 years)
  • Though above data is not exactly right, we can expect self-driving cars to make a significant dent in road deaths, leading to a significant dent in available organs for donation, leading to a significant increase in deaths of people on the organ waiting list. There are no specific numbers, but my intuition is that we’re talking on the order of thousands more dying on waiting lists over the next 30 years if self-driving cars are introduced to mass market. But I also intuit that this is relative to hundreds of thousands of vehicle deaths prevented over the same time span. So basically the article title is misleading us to think that the connection between self-driving cars and organ shortages is of significance. Actually the author is using this hook to then discuss organ donation policy, i.e. various ways in which we can go ahead and deal with the waiting list problem, regardless of self-driving cars.
  • Major fears concerning loosened organ donation policy: exploitation of minorities and poor, commercialization
  • Plenty of evidence that exploitation and commercialization already happens under current system
  • Recommended policies: “presumed consent” on DMV card, which should increase organ donations no matter what (not just from vehicle deaths), cooling-off period, compensation limited to fixed payments or to benefit packages

Besides the comment above about the non-sequitur of the article, I thought the data and ideas presented in the article were pretty interesting. At least the superficial linking of two separate topics, AI and organ donation, allowed me to consider both in the same ethical framework. I believe there’s basically no ethical problem with the overall adoption of self-driving cars as it will definitely increase well-being just through the sheer reduction in vehicle deaths due to human error (with the effect on organ donations being negligible in relation). There’s really no logical reason to worry about reduction in organ donations, because for a death to have been prevented by vehicular accident you’re already starting at +1 life, and you have a <100% chance of causing another death on the waiting list, so you’re bound to be positive in your overall calculus (other interesting conditions may be non-negligible but my prediction is that they are not, overall). Note that there still are ethical problems within the self-driving car system for the programmers, which I have discussed with a friend who programs self-driving cars, and will discuss on this blog at a later time.

In other news, Congress will vote tomorrow on a motion by House Republicans to curtail the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics. The NYT article leans way liberal in the title and introduction of the article, later qualifying that Republicans are offering a replacement Complaint Review and explaining much more of the controversial history of the OCE. Based on what I have read, it seems like the key difference will be a reduction in independent power to issue and investigate complaints. It seems like what remains, the House Ethics Committee, can be set up to protect the interests of those in power, namely Republicans. My intuition is that this is yet another example of intellectual dishonesty, with House Republicans disguising self-interest under political fluff. I can’t imagine a Democratic-controlled House making the same motion.

UPDATE 1/3: Looks like, with an irony that will certainly continue to define 2017, Trump has scared the Republicans into pulling the plan, citing poor prioritization.

On my music playlist today: Nicolar Jaar’s “History Lesson” and Typhoon’s “Post Script”.

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