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Exploring Ethics

In conjunction with the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology, the Fleet Science Center welcomes guests to encounter science from an ethical viewpoint. Held on the first Wednesday of the month, from October through June, this ongoing series brings the public and scientists together to explore how science and technology can best serve society. Through forums, projects and resources, the Ethics Center gives stakeholders an opportunity to share perspectives on the ethical implications of new developments in science and technology. Each event includes an opportunity for the audience to share thoughts and questions with guest speakers. The Exploring Ethics forums welcome anyone who is open to learning new ideas and listening to viewpoints that are different from their own.

Events are currently held online.

Click here to access the live-stream. 

Upcoming Events:


Time: 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Click here to access the live-stream

The Deep Learning Revolution

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a branch of engineering that has traditionally ignored brains, but recent advances in biologically-inspired deep learning have dramatically changed AI and made it possible to solve difficult problems in vision, planning and natural language.  If you talk to Alexa or use Google Translate, you have experienced deep learning in action.  This new technology opens a Pandora’s box of problems that we must confront regarding privacy, bias and jobs.

Speaker :

Terry Sejnowski, Ph.D.,

Francis Crick Professor Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and Professor of Biology and Computer Science and Engineering and Director of the Institute for Neural Computation at the University of California, San Diego.

The long-range goal of Dr. Sejnowski’s research is to understand the computational resources of brains and to build linking principles from brain to behavior using computational models.  Dr. Sejnowski has published over 500 scientific papers and 12 books, including The Deep Learning Revolution in 2018. He received the Wright Prize for Interdisciplinary research in 1996, the Hebb Prize from the International Neural Network Society in 1999, and the IEEE Neural Network Pioneer Award in 2002.  He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Inventors.

JUNE  - POSTPONED - stay tuned for a new date!

Autonomous Bias Detection in a world of Sensational Headlines

In a world of clickbait news, it is hard for people to receive objective information without reacting emotionally to provocative text. This talk will outline how VeriCrypt autonomously measures objectivity in news from 30,000 providers using Artificial Intelligence.

Tamara will talk about the ethical issues of doing this work and the steps they take to mitigate the effects of human bias. She will specifically discuss the role of blockchain, the power of automation, the challenges of validating algorithms, and navigating human biases. VeriCrypt equips news providers with tools to make objective content, for a future with a higher standard of news.

Speaker Bio:

Tamara Zubatiy, CEO Vericrypt

Tamara Zubatiy is the CEO and co-founder of VeriCrypt, a technology company based in San Diego, California. VeriCrypt is a platform which autonomously aggregates news from 30,000 sources, analyzes contents for bias, and provides readers helpful ratings in the VeriCrypt newsfeed. It is also used by news providers and other businesses to internally validate content pre-publication. Tamara is currently pursuing her PhD at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Human Centered Computing. Her advisor is Dr. Elizabeth Mynatt, the principal investigator of the Everyday Computing Lab. In 2018, she received her BS in Cognitive Science at the University of California San Diego with Distinction and Departmental Honors. Tamara is also a certified yoga instructor, plant based chef and voracious reader of nonfiction.



Protecting Privacy While Sharing Biomedical Data for Machine Learning

Even though “de-identified,” patient data can still sometimes be revealed by attackers. The focus of this program will include technical and policy measures that might better protect the privacy of electronic health records (EHRs) when they are used for machine learning. The approach to be discussed includes multivariate models computed in a decentralized fashion for a large clinical data research network, and how to collaborate in developing sound methods to protect patient privacy. Sharing according to patient instructions is one important way to conduct responsible machine learning. This presentation will include results from a recent study on patient-controlled electronic healthcare data sharing.

Speaker Bio:

Lucila Ohno- Machado, MD, MBA, PhD, Professor of Medicine. Chair, UC San Diego Health, Department of Biomedical Informatics, and Associate Dean for Informatics and Technology.

Lucila Ohno-Machado, MD, MBA, PhD received her medical degree from the University of São Paulo and her doctoral degree in medical information sciences and computer science from Stanford. She is Associate Dean for Informatics and Technology, and the founding chair of the Health System Department of Biomedical Informatics at UCSD, where she leads a group of faculty with diverse backgrounds in medicine, nursing, informatics, and computer science. Also, she is the PI for the California Precision Medicine Consortium for the NIH All of Us Research Program. Prior to her current position, she was faculty at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and at the MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Dr. Ohno-Machado is an elected fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and the American Society for Clinical Investigation. She serves as editor-in-chief for the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association since 2011. She directs the patient-centered Scalable National Network for Effectiveness Research funded by PCORI (and previously AHRQ), a clinical data research network with over 24 million patients and 14 health systems, as well as the NIH/BD2K-funded Data Discovery Index Consortium. She was one of the founders of UC-Research eXchange, a clinical data research network that connected the data warehouses of the five University of California medical centers. She was the director of the NIH-funded National Center for Biomedical Computing iDASH (integrating Data for Analysis, ‘anonymization,’ and Sharing) based at UCSD with collaborators in multiple institutions. iDASH funded collaborations involving study of consent for data and biospecimen sharing in underserved and under-represented populations.

View videos of past lectures here.

Past Topics

Interests of Society or Rights of Individuals? Promises and Challenges of Social Media and Big Data
Social media and big data can have important practical applications in public health, disaster management, transportation, and urban planning. Data scientists are using machine learning algorithms, computer vision, and natural language processing to collect and analyze social media data (such as Facebook and YouTube) and environmental sensor/camera data to study human communications and movements. These big data technologies can be powerful tools to predict short-term future events, such as flu outbreaks, severe air pollution, traffic congestion, the weather, and patterns of disaster evacuation. At the same time, these technologies monitor users’ digital footprints, opinions and geolocations. Join us to discuss challenges in social media analytics, including data noise and biases, fake news, and data privacy.

Speaker bio:How bad are E-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes have become popular and widely used so fast that the safety testing on them is practically non-existent. While researchers rush to define the toxicities and potential health effects of e-cigarettes, should we be advising everyone against these nicotine delivery devices? Or should we try to be positive and hopeful, in case e-cigarettes have fewer adverse health effects relative to conventional tobacco cigarettes, and thus advise current smokers to switch to e-cigs as a harm reduction strategy? Beyond that, what are the risks of the different e-cig flavors and types of devices? Is vaping caffeine and THC more or less dangerous than vaping nicotine? What are the specific dangers of e-cig use for children, teenagers and young adults? 

Your Genetic Privacy in the Big Data Era
In the United States, privacy is considered a fundamental right. Yet today our activities are followed to a degree unfathomable not long ago by way of cell phones, online behaviors, and more. As genomic technologies continue to expand, another avenue now exists by which we may potentially be scrutinized: DNA sequence. Our genetic information contains our most private details, but we leave it everywhere and share the sequence closely with dozens or even hundreds of relatives. In this talk we will discuss ways in which our DNA may “escape” from our control, what can actually be done with the sequence, and whether there is cause for concern.

If Researchers Find A Tumor, Should They Tell You?
Research imaging studies, including MRI and CT scans, may provide different information than the imaging performed for clinical care. For instance, a liver MRI using research sequences could be more sensitive at detecting tumors than a standard study. As a result, a patient might no longer qualify for surgery according to the research study. However, information derived from research sequences may not be clinically accurate. Hence the need to conduct a thorough investigation and compare against a gold standard (e.g. a surgical result). Should patients and physicians be made aware of research results if they are not verifiably accurate?

What is in the air we breathe?
The atmosphere is composed of gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Other gases are present at much lower concentrations and include ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde, just to name a few. Besides these gases, there is something else in the air we breathe: tiny microscopic particles called aerosols. This talk will focus on any liquid or solid particles that are suspended in the air, which is the definition of an aerosol. These tiny particles come from many sources (not just the aerosol that comes from spray cans) and can impact the Earth’s climate and human health in ways we are just starting to understand. In this talk, we'll explore the air we breathe in both indoor and outdoor environments, focusing on some of the newest research findings that have been recently published.

Emerging Ethics Challenges for Experimental Social Science
New experimental and big data research have generated unexpected ethical challenges for social scientists. Historically, these disciplines have been largely observational involving the passive collection of existing information and data. More recently, social scientists have embraced experimental methods to study a wide variety of social, policy, and political questions. This experimental revolution has created a new set of ethical problems and a backlash against social science experiments. Especially challenging are the popular field experiments - experiments conducted on a massive scale, without any informed consent, often affecting larger societies or systems. For example, scientists might send surreptitious political advertisements and affect an election outcome. We will examine the new issues, examine the perspective of subjects and societies, and discuss the way social scientists are working to build new norms of research.

How is your heart doing? Just look!
Recent developments in medical imaging, especially modern CT scanner, now make it possible to make extremely accurate pictures of the human heart in less than one heartbeat.  This non-invasive, non-expensive imaging method can produce an accurate picture of cardiovascular health.  Heart disease kills more people each year than any other disease.  We are presented with an interesting problem for medicine: should we all look to see how our own heart is doing? Is it beneficial to us?  Can we afford to do this?  Many countries are now addressing this question in order to establish their new national health policies.

Re-constructing brains in the lab to revolutionize neuroscience
Cerebral organoids, also known as mini-brains, are tridimensional self-organized structures derived from stem cells that resemble the early stages of the human embryonic brain. This new tool allows researchers to explore fundamental neurodevelopmental steps otherwise inaccessible in utero experimentally. Dr. Muotri will explain how mini brains are generated in his lab and how this strategy can create novel therapeutical insights on neurogenetic disorders, such as autism. He will also describe the use of mini-brains to explore the uniqueness of the human brain compared to other extinct species, such as the Neanderthals. Limitations and ethical concerns surrounding this exciting technology will be discussed.

My Brain Made Me Buy It? The Neuroethics of Advertising
The consumer neuroscience industry is entering its second decade and continuing to grow thanks to increased acceptance by advertisers looking to better understand consumers’ preferences and decision making. However, more questions and concerns are being raised as advertising techniques challenge social and ethical boundaries. Dr. Carl Marci, Chief Neuroscientist at Nielsen, will address the ethical concerns related to consumer neuroscience including issues around privacy, informed consent, and consumer autonomy in decision making. Drs. Read Montague, Tech Carilion Research Institute, and Uma Karmarkar, University of California, San Diego, will further discuss the ethical concerns surrounding attempts to predict consumer behavior.

Ethical Boundaries of Research with Human Embryos
Since stem cells were first cultured from human embryos in 1998, the ethical considerations surrounding this technology have been widely debated, leading to establishment of specific limits on how this research is conducted and funded.  However, not all important scientific advances over the past twenty years have been fully addressed in this initial ethical framework.  Some of these advances include: 1) the ability to generate, from skin cells, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which closely resemble stem cells derived from an embryo; 2) the establishment of methods that enable culture of human embryos in the dish up to the current 2-week limit; 3) the ability to generate 3-parent human embryos by somatic cell nuclear transfer or mitochondrial replacement therapy, allowing reversal of devastating diseases caused by mitochondrial gene mutations; and 4) the derivation of placental stem cells from human embryos. Join us for this program to learn more about these scientific advances, to discuss the implications of these discoveries for improvement for human health, and to consider how ethical norms can best be integrated into research and practice.



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