Question: Is the United States finished as a free country? Lately, I have seen a lot of people in my circles claim that the United States as a free country is dead and done, that tyranny advances each day and it's not isolated, it's everywhere. These are mostly reactions to articles reporting seeming home invasions by police, the FBI's forensic hair match scandal, and other government abuses. The common claim is that the United States now has an inherently corrupt justice system where policemen can end the lives of citizens with impunity and get away with it. My inner skeptic makes me feel that, while this is evidence of a lot of bad things that shouldn't be tolerated, the reaction itself seems disproportionate. While there are systemic problems, I have the impression that it is not all-pervasive and not hopeless. Then again, that could be also my inner optimist trying to tell myself that things are not as bad as they first appear. What is your take on the current climate of the United States? Do you think it is as finished as others claim it is? What kind of tools could you recommend for someone to use in gauging the state of the country more accurately?
Question: Should I pursue a career that interests me even if I don't have much aptitude for it? I have a strong interest in the field of bioengineering for what it can potentially accomplish. However, in my own estimation, I have little aptitude for hard science and seriously doubt whether I can succeed academically in the areas necessary to enter the field. This self-assessment is based on my academic history, life accomplishments, and aptitude test results. Should I try to pursue this career against the odds anyway, or should I accept that I don't have the intellectual capability to do so?
Question: How would the poor obtain medical care in a free society? In your May 12th, 2013 show, you discussed how EMTALA – the law that obliges emergency rooms and doctors to treat patients, regardless of ability to pay – violates the rights of doctors and results in worse care for the poor. But what is the alternative? How would the poor and indigent get medical care – if at all – in a society without government welfare programs? What if charity wasn't sufficient?
Question: Should revenge porn be illegal? Apparently, it is increasingly common after a break-up for a person to share sexual pictures or videos of his/her former lover that were taken while in the relationship. Some people think that sharing sexual images intended to be kept private should be illegal, while others argue that such "revenge porn" is protected speech. Which view is right? Should the consent of all parties be required for the posting of sexual imagery?
Question: How should nuisance limits be set for new technology? Often new technologies initially involve negative side effects, and sometimes those side effects impact even those who didn't choose to use the new technology. Here's an example: supersonic flight. Supersonic aircraft are generally noisier than slower aircraft – they lay down a sonic boom when they fly over. In the US, supersonic travel has been banned outright since the 1960s due to concerns about boom noise. There's technology to help quiet the aircraft, but no one knows how much "quiet" (and political muscle) it will take to reverse this ban – and as a result we're still trundling around at 1960s speeds. But this is only one example. Many other technologies (such as fossil fuels) initially have some physical impact even on those who choose not to adopt, until they advance sufficiently that the impact is immaterial. In a free society, how should these technologies be allowed to develop? What restrictions should be placed, and how? How does one objectively determine, for instance, how much noise pollution from aircraft or smoke from a train constitutes a rights violation?
Question: Would the government of a free society issue bans or otherwise regulate activities dangerous to bystanders? At the turn of the 20th century it was common to use cyanide gas to fumigate buildings. Although it was well-known that cyanide gas was extremely poisonous and alternatives were available, its use continued and resulted in a number of accidental deaths due to the gas traveling through cracks in walls and even in plumbing. With the development of better toxicology practices, these deaths were more frequently recognized for what they were and at the end of summer in 1825 the NYC government banned its use. In this and other situations, it was recognized that the substance in question was extremely poisonous and could only be handled with the most extreme care – care that was rarely demonstrated. The question is this: Should the government step in and ban the substance from general use or should it simply stand by and wait for people to die and prosecute the users for manslaughter? Or is there another option?
Summary: Most people have seen cool medical imaging devices such as CT and MRI scanners on TV shows. But what do those machines really do? Advanced medical imaging has revolutionized patient care in the past 25 years, allowing doctors to make diagnoses more accurately, quickly, and safely than ever before. Radiologist Dr. Paul Hsieh discussed the basics of modern radiology (x-rays, MRI, ultrasound, and nuclear medicine), how these different tests work, what they show about the human body, and how they help doctors take better care of patients.
Question: Is it wrong to suggest that a crime victim should have taken greater precautions? My wife and I were discussing the recent iCloud data breach in which a hacker stole and published nude photos of hundreds of female celebrities. I made the comment that while the hacker's actions were despicable, at the same time I thought the celebrities were stupid to have trusted iCloud to protect the privacy of their photos in the first place. My wife balked at this, saying that this amounts to blaming the victim, and is no better than saying a woman who is raped was stupid for wearing a short skirt, or for drinking alcohol. But I see it as being more akin to saying a person whose bag was stolen from their car was stupid for leaving the door unlocked. Do comments of this sort really amount to 'blaming the victim'? Is it proper or improper to make such comments? Does my level of expertise or the victim's level of expertise make any difference? (As a computer engineer, I am very aware of the dangers of the cloud, whereas your average celebrity would probably be clueless about it.) Intuitively, I feel like the comments would be improper in my wife's example, proper in my example, and I'm unsure about the data breach itself. But I'm struggling to identify what the defining characteristics are for each case. What's the right approach here?
Question: Should "net neutrality" be law? Lately, many people on the left have been advocating for "net neutrality." What is it? What would its effects be? What are the arguments for and against it? If it shouldn't be law, might private "net neutrality" be a good thing?
Question: Should I care about future generations? People often claim that we should act for the sake of future generations, particularly regarding environmental concerns. Is that rational? Why should I care what happens to people after I am dead? Why should I work for the benefit of people who cannot possibly benefit my life and who aren't even known, let alone of value, to me?
Summary: How does censorship work in China? What can ordinary people access or not? What is the Chinese government most concerned to conceal? What are the consequences of speaking out? What do ordinary people think of the censorship? Robert Garmong, an American living and working in China, answered these questions and more.
Question: Is it morally wrong to 'root' or 'jailbreak' your own electronic devices? Maybe I'm just too stupid or lazy to read through all the legal-ese that comes with these devices, so I don't know whether technically a customer is contractually obligated not to do it. But I know that companies try to design their products so that people can't easily "root" or "jailbreak" them, and clever people find ways to do it. Is doing so a theft of intellectual property?
Question: Should Distributed Denial of Service (a.k.a. DDoS) attacks be illegal? DDoS computer attacks are illegal in the United Kingdom. Are such attacks analogous to convincing people to send many letters to an organization or to calling on the phone repeatedly, thereby crippling its infrastructure? Or are they more like trespassing on property? How should the law deal with them?
Summary: What do online marketing companies know about you? How do they gather data? Should you be alarmed by that? If so, what tools can help you protect your privacy online?
Question: How is American culture better today better than people think? I've heard lots of depressing claims about the abysmal state of American culture lately, particularly since Obama won the election. You've disputed that, arguing that America is better in its fundamentals that many people think. What are some of those overlooked but positive American values? How can they be leveraged for cultural and political change?
Question: Is it moral to post information on security flaws that can help criminals better commit crimes? Some people publish information on how to pick locks or how to bypass computer password protection programs. Yes, sometimes this information might be used by good people to better protect themselves, but it's likely that criminals will use it to commit crimes, perhaps crimes that they'd not have attempted otherwise. Can the person posting the information rightly say, "This information can be used for both good or bad purposes, and I'm not morally responsible for what someone else chooses to do with it"?
Question: Does respecting intellectual property require me to re-purchase my music collection lost due to hard drive failure? Over the years I have purchased quite a bit of digital music and have built quite a large library. Recently, due to a computer crash and lack of backup, a large segment of that library was erased. Since I paid for all of the music that was lost, I would like to restore it, whether by copying from my friends or by downloading illegal copies from the internet. But I am not entirely sure what I have the right to do based on my original purchases. What do you think?
Question: Do you have the right to privacy with respect to information that I can gather about you from observation of you while I'm on my own property? For instance, if I have technology that allows me to gather photons or sound waves that you emit from your property while I'm sitting on my property next door, can I post that information on YouTube or Facebook? For example, imagine that I have an infrared video of your activities emitted through your bedroom wall or the audio of your personal phone conversation that can be detected by sensitive microphones from 100 yards away. Have I violated your rights by gathering and publicizing information you've chosen to allow to be broadcast to anyone who can detect it with the right equipment?
Question: Is artificial intelligence possible? Can consciousness be created on a purely logical system such as a computer? Might consciousness and even free will somehow "emerge" out of a purely logical system? Also, what do you think of the "Turing Test" as a test of intelligence?
Question: Should SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) be supported or opposed? SOPA was recently introduced to the US House of Representatives, then shelved temporarily, and many people are urging businesses and their representatives to oppose it. Would the bill promote prosperity and creativity by protecting copyright? Or does it justify internet censorship and cripple free access of information through online media?
Question: Should the "Do Not Call" Registry exist? The National Do Not Call Registry was established in 2003, and it's run by the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. Is this legitimate? Does a person have a right not to be called by solicitors and other unwanted persons? Given that there was no real attempt to come up with a private, market-based solution for the issue of unwanted solicitations, was this a legitimate case of "market failure"? Should advocates of free markets put themselves on the "Do Not Call" list and/or report violators thereof? Why shouldn't a person just hang up?
Question: Is it immoral to reverse-engineer a product? Is it wrong to take apart a product, improve it, and then sell this new product to others (or use it for yourself)? Is this considered theft or just productive work?
Question: Is it proper (and sensible) for parents to "spy" on their children? Amid the recent controversy over the iPhone's location tracking database, I realized that some enterprising parents might use it to surreptitiously track their teenager's whereabouts. In most cases, I'd assume the parents have good intentions in doing so. Is this responsible parenting – or an invasion of the child's privacy?
Question: How should I deal with the idea of man-made global warming? What is the proper approach to the whole idea? I can't decide on my own whether it's true or false without educating myself in climatology. And how should I treat others who believe in it just because many university professors do?