Is the people's car a good idea?

The Indian Tata corporation have presented their new car the Tata Nano at a car show in New Delhi. The car is being described as as a people’s car due to it’s low price (100,000 rupees or $2,500). It will go on sale later this year. The main market for the car is to provide cheap motor transportation to developing countries. The Nano is a four-door five-seater car with no extras (no air conditioning, electric windows or power steering) and has a 33bhp, 624cc, engine at the rear.


Simply looking at the specs above make me concerned. I would not like to be among the five people in this car when it gets hit by a truck.

Is producing a cheap people’s car really a good idea? While I am pretty sure that Tata Motors will sell lots of cars I did not mean this question as a risk analysis in a business venture.

Considering the experiences of all highly motorized countries the car has caused plenty of trouble. The implementation of a personalised transport technology means that it will become a natural part of the infrastructure. It will be used and the costs to the environment in the forms of pollution and overcrowding will be felt.

In addition to this the personal car has also changed the way in which we organize ourselves socially. Were we choose to work, live and socialize depends very much upon the transportation possibilities around us.
But is it fair for someone living in a motorized community to preach the environment and social change? Sure these are the downsides to adding to the amount of cars on the roads. But what about the needs of the people to travel in countries where cars are today an un-affordable luxury? Should the motorized societies be allowed to preach to the non-motorized from the driver seats of our SUV’s?

(via BBC online)


Most human differences can be overcome, but there is one unbridgeable divide. The world is split between people who play golf and people who don’t. Each faction regards the other as an alien lifeform. One is astonished that any human fails to see that life without golf is not worth living. The other watches grown men in two-tone shoes dragging a bag of sticks round Tellytubbyland, and shakes its collective head with incredulity.

One of the best writers in the fields of injustice is George Monbiot. He dares to ask the questions most of us prefer to avoid. He then takes the answers to their logical conclusion. These traits have earned him praise and criticism. For my part he is one of the most important journalist/writers of our time. In a recent column he picks an easy target environmentalism and golf and explains simply and logically the negative effects of the sport.

One study suggests that an 18-hole course requires, on average, 22 tonnes of chemical treatments (mostly pesticides) every year: seven times the rate per hectare for industrial farming(22). Another shows higher rates of some cancers, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (which has been associated with certain pesticides(23)), among golf course superintendents(24). Courses consume staggering amounts of water(25). Many of them are built on diverse and important habitats, such as rainforests or wetlands. In some countries people have been violently evicted to make way for them.The problem is particularly acute in South East and East Asia, where golf is big business, and land rights and the environment are often ignored by governments. There are hundreds of accounts of battles between peasant farmers or indigenous people and golf course developers. In one case in the Philippines in 2000, two farmers resisting a course planned for their lands were mutilated and dismembered then shot dead(26).

Read the whole article Playing it Rough (originally published in the Guardian 16th October 2007) at

Plagiarism Saga

Following the embarrassing case of plagiarism at my university (Göteborg) has turned into a long process (here, here, here and here).

The brief outline of the case is that a researcher acting as a supervisor for a mastes thesis used some of the students work in a conference paper without referencing the work of the students. Apparently the students were mentioned in the oral presentation of the paper. Not that this matters.

May 2005: The conference when the paper was presented.

November 2005: The plagiarism is addressed by the Faculty, unsure what they actually did probably just decided to send the errand on to the ethics committee.

May 2006: A split ethics committee is not in agreement and send the case on to the National Science Council (Vetenskapsrådet)

March 2007: National Science Council reaches the conclusion that the researcher had behaved in an unethical manner by plagiarising student essays.

June 2007: The expert group at the Science council reach the same conclusion.

September 2007: The Human Resources Committee at Göteborg University is the body with the power to punish the researcher for her actions is unable to act since the university failed to notify the researcher, in writing, that disciplinary actions could be taken. This notification must take place within two years of the waking of the errand.  This means that since nobody at the university bothered to notify the researcher in writing during the past two year no disciplinary actions can be taken.

This situation has been handled incredibly badly….

Birds Return

In May last year I wrote about the pictures of birds which began appearing around central Göteborg. An example of this was this Jackdaw


The birds gave me an idea and I went out on bird-spotting expeditions and posted my pictures on flickr. Since I only have a free account the birds on flickr cannot be seen anymore – but the good news is that the whole thing further developed my interest in street art.

In a few comments left on this blog today the birdmen of Göteborg, John Skoog and Eric Berglin, (check out their own pictures) tip me off that they will soon be releasing a new publication of some sort (?) – check out their website.

Seafood is Politics

Eat fish, don’t eat fish, don’t eat cod, eat salmon, shellfish is bad, or good. Giant prawns help developing countries or screw up the environment.

Fish is confusing. Since I don’t eat meat or poulty fish is the main source of food confusion. It should be easier since I don’t have to worry about so may foodstuffs… its not I am confused and I have, I admit, been avoiding the issue.

Some help in this tangle of issues is the the booklet Fish Dish: Exposing the Unacceptable Face of Seafood published by the WWF (2006).

  • Illegal fishing
  • Overfishing
  • Wasteful fishing
  • Unselective fishing
  • Destructive fishing
  • Unfair fishing

The text does not make life easier but it does inform in a brutally honest way. Treat your next plate of sushi with respect – read Fish Dish.
(Via Lunkens Blog)

Regulating Violence

Is the regulation of violence in video/computer games censorship? Or is it a question of protecting the innocent? Naturally paternalism in all forms includes a “pappa knows best” attitude however there are cases of censorship/control/paternalism which we can accept and other forms which we tend to react against.

The forms of Internet censorship (more here) displayed by states such as China and Saudi Arabia are usually criticized as forms of censorship unacceptable in democratic societies while they themselves argue the need to protect their cultures and citizens against the corrupting influences online. It is, it may seem, a question of perspectives.

Then what of the regulation of violent computer games? Are computer games supposed to be seen as forms of speech to be protected? Or are we on a dangerous slippery slope when we start excluding forms of speech? The New York Times has an article showing that the US courts tend to find laws against computer game unconstitutional.

Considering the US approach to Free Expression this is not surprising. The European approach – in particular the French, German and Scandinavian models could not be as clear cut in this question. This only means that the US is against censorship and feels the cost of this decision is worth it, while many other jurisdictions feel that the damage caused by this extreme acceptance of free expression may cause discomfort and hardship to individuals and groups beyond the eventual benefits of the speech.

The ever eloquent Judge Posner is quoted in the article:

“Violence has always been and remains a central interest of humankind and a recurrent, even obsessive theme of culture both high and low,” he wrote. “It engages the interest of children from an early age, as anyone familiar with the classic fairy tales collected by Grimm, Andersen, and Perrault are aware. To shield children right up to the age of 18 from exposure to violent descriptions and images would not only be quixotic, but deforming; it would leave them unequipped to cope with the world as we know it.”

The problem is that there is often great value (moral rather than economic) in quixotic pursuits and the practice of subjecting people to hardships in order to prepare them for eventual future hardships is really only useful in military training and never a satisfactory way of raising children.

Ethicomp 2008

The 10th ETHICOMP conference will be held at the University of Pavia, Mantua, Italy and will have the theme Living, Working and Learning beyond Technology.

For more information and the full Call for Papers to the 10th ETHICOMP conference go here. The dates to remember are:

1 July 2007 – Call for papers
22 February 2008 – Latest date to submit abstracts to
11 April 2008 – Authors informed of programme committee decisions
27 June 2008 – Last date for receipt of full papers from authors (electronic version)
24 September to 26 September 2008 – ETHICOMP 2008, University of Pavia, Mantua, Italy

Bottled Water

Ever held a plastic bottle of water in your hand and wonder why you are drinking imported water? Or why I just paid for a plastic bottle filled with tap water? I often do. I know that there is a guilty story waiting to be uncovered but I tend to try not to think about it. I look for arguments that the water I am drinking is healthier than the soft drinks I used to prefer.

Via Boing Boing comes some of the ugly secrets in an article on Fast Company called Message in a Bottle. Some of the ugly truths we are trying to avoid hearing are:

  • Last year, we spent more on Poland Spring, Fiji Water, Evian, Aquafina, and Dasani than we spent on iPods or movie tickets–$15 billion. It will be $16 billion this year.
  • In the United States alone we transport 1 billion bottles of water around a week…One out of six people in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water.
  • In Fiji, a state-of-the-art factory spins out more than a million bottles a day of the hippest bottled water on the U.S. market today, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have safe, reliable drinking water.
  • You can buy a half- liter Evian for $1.35–17 ounces of water imported from France for pocket change. That water seems cheap, but only because we aren’t paying attention…If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35.
  • 24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi for our convenience.

Naturally there is a trend to counteract the bottled water industry and the water sellers are working hard to maintain that they are connected to health and purity rather than environmental decay.

It is hard to understand why people believe that water imported from another country is a healthy choice. It is strange to think that people are prepared to pay dearly for tap water in a plastic bottle.

There are other issues such as the waste left behind, the health effects of the plastic traces in the water, the transport costs on the environment and the privatization of water…

This is definitely another area where we should be more critical.

DNA & Racial Profiling

The Register reports that by 2010 (only three more years) half of all British black males will be included in the police DNA database.

Government figures show there are 244,695 black British males on the DNA database, said the Libdems in a statement today. Using government estimates that there will be 4.5 million people on the DNA database in three years, official predictions of population growth and ethnicity, the Libdems have predicted that there will be 288,652 black males on the database.

That’s 51.9 per cent of black males and 68 per cent of black males of an “arrestable age”.

There is, already, 45 per cent of the black British male population on the DNA database, according to the Libdem numbers.

The fact that the technology is neutral (a questionable assertion at best) does not mean that the effects of the uses of technology will be fair and equitable.

Robot Ethics

Some people seem not to be able to find anything to write about. Me on the other hand I am stuck with the problem of finding too many things fascinating. The topic of Robot Ethics is one which I would love to have time to engage in. I was reminded of this by the Humlab Blog

Peter Asaro will present a lecture on â??Robot Ethicsâ?? in the HUMlab.

This lecture will be an overview of his research at the HUMlab on Robot Ethics, particularly on the ethics of military robots. Peter is one of the new Postdoctoral Fellows at the HUMlab and the Department of Philosophy.

His film Love Machine will be shown in HUMlab at 15:30 on this Friday, June 1.
This is part of the â??Love, War & Robots Film Seriesâ??

Love Machine flyer

Love Machine (2001), directed by Peter Asaro, 110 min,

My fascination with robot ethics is the border between man and machine. When does a machine become complex enough to be granted rights on its own? Some may argue that no matter how sophisticated the software the machine will always be a machine. Fair point. But what happens when we begin to mix tissue in the machine. What happens when we begin to put more foreign objects into the human body. At what stage will the limits between man and machine become blurred enough for us to seriously discuss the limits of the man/machine dichotomy.

I have used some of these questions in my computer ethics courses but I never seem to have the time to explore this more deeply.