Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Nov 6, 2015 in Stuff You Should Know

Robotic Cars Face Experimental Ethics

A couple of years ago, btw brought you a story about driverless cars. Spearheaded by Google X, the experimental division of the giant technology company, the Self-Driving Car (SDC) is equipped with “lidar” (a blending of the words “light” and “radar”). Lidar is a type of technology that measures distance with lasers. The cars can maintain speed, keep a safe distance behind another vehicle, and properly identify signage, including traffic lights and stop signs. The cars have yet to be tested in inclement weather and have some challenges responding appropriately to debris, but the development team continues to work out those kinks.

Rear view of traffic jam in Los Angeles, California

Los Angeles traffic jam; Credit: ©TIM MCCAIG/E+/Getty Images.

As autonomous cars become more developed, the questions proposed become more complicated. One issue being considered by the makers of robotic automobiles is how to program vehicles in the event of an unavoidable crash. For instance, if the car unexpectedly finds itself heading into a crowd of people, should it be programmed to steer into a nearby wall that would save many lives but likely kill the driver? What if the driven vehicle contained children? These are the kinds of questions researchers at Amazon are facing today.

What Do You Think? If faced with one of the ethical dilemma presented above, how confident are you in your ability to make a decision? What would it be? Provide details.

More Confederate Flags Come Down

The controversy surrounding the symbolic meaning of the Confederate flag is long and complicated. It was further intensified this past summer when a shooting in a South Carolina church brought the controversy to the national media once more. In response, South Carolina legislature passed a law to remove the Confederate Flag from the lawn of the State House. In a public statement, South Carolina’s governor Nikki Haley said that the state believed in both tradition as well as respect. She said that the flag would be taken down with dignity and put in a rightful place (a military museum).

Since then, several southern universities have followed suit and removed the Confederate flag from its property. The most recent is the University of Mississippi (known as Ole Miss) and the University of Southern Mississippi. The arguments for and against removing the flag come from longstanding positions about what the Confederate symbol (often referred to as “stars and bars”) stands for. Those who support flying the flag generally believe that it symbolizes southern pride and a historical heritage. Those opposed to public display of the flag believe it is a form of enduring racism.

In 2001, the state of Georgia successfully passed legislature changing the design of its state flag from “stars and bars” to one with the state seal as well as a representation of both U.S. and Georgia flags from the past. In 2002, governor Sonny Perdue campaigned (and won the election) by proposing that the citizens of Georgia choose a new flag in a state referendum. The new design restored some of its historic elements.

What Do You Think? Do some more research into the supporters and opposition to flying the Confederate flag in the south. With whom do you agree? Give a detailed reason.

Dip in National Math Test Scores

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a project of the federal government designed to provide data on student achievement across the United States. Dubbed “the nation’s report card,” the NAEP administers assessments in reading, writing, mathematics and science. Not all students are tested, just a random selection of students in 4th, 8th and 12th grade. Unlike individual states’ assessment, participation in the NAEP is voluntary. The results are intended to aid policymakers in developing ways to improve education.

Last month, the Department of Education released the latest scores, which showed a decline in math scores for the first time since 1990. The reasons for the lowered scores can be explained in many different ways. Some critics blame the problem on the Common Core State Standards–an educational initiative recently adopted in more than 40 states but criticized heavily in the media and across the country. Another concern is the widening achievement gap between students of differing races and socioeconomic classes. In a recent address, President Obama urged officials to administer fewer tests but also acknowledged the government’s own role in the problem.

Dig Deeper Have you or anyone you know ever been selected to take the NAEP? If so, what was your (or his or her) experience? If not, ask your teacher what he or she knows about the test and record the answer.

Latest News in Congress

Last month, btw told you about the sudden resignation of Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner. Less than a month later, it was announced that Republican Paul Ryan (Republican from Wisconsin) will take over as the highest-ranking member of the House of Representatives (and second in line to the presidency, behind the vice president). Ryan, 45, was Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate during the 2012 election. In taking over as speaker, Ryan called for a “return to order,” saying that Republicans have not been solving problems, but adding to them.

In other news, Congress recently passed HR 1314, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. The two-year agreement will fund the government through the end of the 2017 fiscal year and will delay another government shutdown. Part of the deal raised the limit on national debt and provided an additional $80 billion to the budget. Lawmakers worked together, mostly as both sides wish to focus more attention on the upcoming presidential election. President Obama signed the bill, saying it was, “a signal of how Washington should work.”

Dig Deeper John Boehner told the press that the bill was an effort to “clean out the barn” for Ryan. Do some research and find out what you think he meant by that and record your answer.