What we can learn from a morally corrupt Nazi
July 28, 2020
(4 min read)
(4 min read)
Josef Mengele, also known as the "Angel of Death", certainly deserves a place in Hell's hall of fame. One of the foremost "doctors" in the Nazi concentration camps, Mengele performed deadly experiments on prisoners,to research identical twins, heterochromia iridum, dwarfs, and the disabled. A heartless monster, he would smile and hand children sweets as he selected them for trials. He would amputate healthy limbs, inject prisoners with harmful chemicals, and send subjects to the gas chambers after he had no more use for them. His research was focused on proving the superiority of the Aryan race by examining the effects genetics. He was ultimately responsible for the deaths of possibly thousands of victims through cruel punishments and callous experimenting. Even in death, (he escaped punishment by fleeing to South America), he never expressed remorse for his actions.
Mengele also received two doctorates, one in anthropology and the other in medicine. He wrote his thesis on the cleft lip, which would be considered normal today. While he was definitely taught much about the sciences, it is certain that he lacked moral instruction and a personal conscience. One must wonder how many teachers or professors taught him their craft without instilling in him the idea that science should only be used for the good of humanity. He is not alone. There are skilled chemists who make drugs that ruin lives, talented physicists who are working to make nuclear weapons for terrorists, and capable computer scientists who steal information and help to censor the internet. A true education is not complete without the learning of how to apply the knowledge gained.
In my experience at the US Earth Science Organization's national camp, the director, Mr. Tailer, relayed the same story, and was determined that none of us would go the way of Mengele. He insisted that we all write "Earth Systems Pledges", where we devoted ourselves to using our knowledge and skills to serve the Earth and its people. This was my pledge:
I, Enoch Luk, pledge to use my knowledge of Earth Systems as well as my creativity and expanding skill set in computer/data science and machine learning to create innovations that will encourage the world to cease the zero-sum games and instead work together to overcome a fast approaching doomsday by our own hand. I hope to develop artificial intelligence to help humanity reach that goal, whether it be by machine learning models that can accurately predict future conditions of our geosphere, or self-learning autonomous building systems that can save energy and reduce waste. These will help us to better prepare disaster mitigation and shrink our appalling carbon footprint. I believe that both technology and personal responsibility are crucial in saving our home, so even as I try to solve such problems by invention I will also buy, eat, and use with conservation in mind.
In addition to combating climate change, I also believe that we as a human race, at this moment, have the responsibility of making sure that the incredibly powerful potential of artificial intelligence does not become our downfall. While evil computer brains from Terminator seem far from reality, we have seen that deep learning programs have begun to show signs of bias in regards to computer vision or data collection, and learn hateful behavior from the internet.
It is imperative to locate and remove biases in data collection methods and algorithms that may become embedded in intelligent systems in the future, before it is too late. The over-quoted Uncle Ben from Spiderman once said, "With great power comes great responsibility". Nowadays, enormous datasets are available for public use, and anyone sitting at home with a computer and sci-kit learn installed possesses "great power". Only by keeping our humanity at the forefront of our minds and devoting our lives to to the betterment of society will we be able to wield this power to save ourselves from destruction
Thoughts - on science and our world