4 min read

Deontology, Diversity, and Dodgy Algorithms

Deontology, Diversity, and Dodgy Algorithms
Cyborg surgeons unite!

This week we look at purpose and a darker future for surgery.

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Research Round-up

Recent research throws light on how we perceive sacrifice, react to diversity initiatives, and judge algorithmic bias, revealing some fascinating insights about how we make moral judgments.

Firstly, it seems we have a strong preference for people high in purpose – doing what's right, even if it leads to a less-than-ideal outcome. We judge individuals who act with purpose as more moral and predictable than those who make utilitarian choices for the greater good, even when it results in harm. In fact, it seems that it’s the predictability that drives this preference, which aligns with my own research on the importance of trust in social interactions.

It turns out that this tension between purpose and utility plays out even at the level of whole organizations. For example, the "business case for diversity”, emphasizing its impact on performance, can backfire if organizations are perceived as acting solely in their self-interest and not with a truly inclusive purpose. Perversely, this can make underrepresented groups less likely to engage with the organization.

But what if it’s machines making the choices rather than people? While we might expect outrage against discriminatory algorithms, we're actually less likely to complain about biased algorithms compared to biased humans, perhaps because we attribute less harmful intent to AI.

Whether we're judging individuals or institutions, understanding the underlying motivations allows us to coordinate our actions in an uncertain world.


The automation paradox boosts productivity but hollows out future expertise.

Over the last 40 years as much as 70% of the changes in U.S. wages are due to automation displacing workers in routine tasks. While productivity might increase in the short-term, the long-term impact is lower wages and reduced economic mobility as workers are deskilled.

An example can be found in the surgical suite of tomorrow. Robotic surgical tools are making surgeons more efficient, even as they are turning surgical trainees into spectators, robbing them of the hands-on experience they need to become skilled surgeons.

We must stop looking to AI and robotics purely as a source of efficiency and automation. These tools shouldn’t just speed up productivity—they should accelerate human development.

Weekly Indulgence

Someone said something very nice about my recent talk in LA:

“In all the years that I have worked on Parent Education and done speaker bookings, I have never received such an overwhelming response to any speaker. I've certainly never had anyone complain that a speaker event was ‘way too short’, but this seems to be the unanimous feedback of everyone who came that night. I'm thrilled that Dr. Ming's work resonated so strongly with the community and I hope we can invite her back in the future.”

(btw — “way too short”: the event was 1 hour, I spoke for 2, and then answered questions until security kicked us out to shut down the building)

Stage & Screen

Find more upcoming talks, interviews, and other events on my Events Page.

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SciFi, Fantasy, & Me

I know I’ve already plugged Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he’s putting out some of the most engaging epic science fiction (and fantasy!) that I’ve read recently. So, this week I’m recommending Shards of Earth, an old school expansive space opera. It delivers on what I love about that genre: engaging mysteries, big stakes, fascinating alien cultures, and much intrigue. It’s not as conceptually provocative as The Children of Earth, but I tore through all three books in the series regrettably quickly and would love to read more.

Vivienne L'Ecuyer Ming

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