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Ask Slashdot: Ambitious Yet Ethical Software Jobs? 559

Posted by timothy
from the all-depends-on-what-your-ethics-say dept.
First time accepted submitter hwaccaly writes "I'm a mid-career developer with a fair amount of experience working on data-intensive, mathematically ambitious software projects for fun — things like physics and systems simulations, written mostly in CUDA, targeted at Tesla GPUs and small clusters. Ideally, I'd like to get paid for this kind of work, but I've found little call for these skills outside of the financial and defense industries. My conscience won't allow me to accept money from either. The medical/pharmaceutical industries undoubtedly require complex software, but the unavoidable animal testing at the end of the pipeline probably lifts its body count higher even than the defense industry's. And academia pays in degrees, not dollars. So what's left? Do any ethical businesses have a pressing need for high-performance computing, or is it basically a hobbyist niche?"
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Ask Slashdot: Ambitious Yet Ethical Software Jobs?

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  • Ex-Gaming (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dcollins (135727) on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:30AM (#40280279) Homepage

    Fifteen years ago I was happy to be in the games industry and saying, "Isn't it nice to have a job for smart technical people that can't possibly be of any use to the military", but now even that's not the case. Plus the industry is wildly volatile and not great or long-term working conditions.

    • Re: Ex-Military (Score:5, Informative)

      by rwa2 (4391) * on Monday June 11, 2012 @04:34AM (#40280775) Homepage Journal

      Heh, don't feel so bad working for the military, a lot of the R&D stuff they do makes sense. Training sims keep their people coordinated without burning resources in live-fire exercises. A lot of their command and control mentality is actually flipping the old hierarchy upside down and pushing the "power to the edge" where the people on the front lines are getting more information and making decisions themselves. Yeah, part of the military exists to employ people to push around our neighbors as part of some political circus, but that's not the part you'll be dealing with or even supporting in any conceivable way.

      That said, after saving up a chunk of money I moved out of the military-industrial hotbed and took a job in the gaming industry on an edutainment sim. Yes, the volatility sucks, but I'm having a lot of fun and get to work on more interesting projects which I have much greater personal control over.

      Inevitably, I expect the gaming industry to use me up and spit me out, so I kinda expect to start freelancing in green technology development in the future. I'm not exactly sure in the specifics, but I am certain that there's a ton of inefficiency in the way people live and work, and a maybe a decent pile of ethical money to be made optimizing the human environmental condition once people realize it won't be so cheap / easy to simply expand and sprawl to get it "for free"

    • Re:Ex-Gaming (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Hentes (2461350) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:48AM (#40281123)

      Also, with his type of reasoning game development is unethical because it causes violent behavior. This is just shallow generalisation, not every project funded by the military is for killing people, not every financial institution is unethical and not every medical development requires animal testing (if you are writing software you will most likely work on the gadgets not the new medications).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by asylumx (881307)

        game development is unethical because it causes violent behavior

        You realize there are two assumptions there rather than one, right?

        1. Causing violent behavior is unethical (which I think is the one you were going for)
        2. Game development causes violent behavior -- I'm not sure you thought about this one. Perhaps you meant the games themselves cause violent behavior, which is something that has been argued to death and most recent studies have shown that it is not the case. However, it sounds more like

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ebuck (585470)

      If you feel the military is inheritly evil, go to a country that doesn't have one.

      The military is comprised of a couple million citizens. You should remind yourself that those people come home, drink milk and eat vegetables too. I doubt that dairy farmers or vegetable farmers are concerned with supporting the military. Who are you to discriminate against a few million people, just because you have an issue with the majority of your population permitting or demanding that a few hundred people put them in

      • Re:Ex-Gaming (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JerkBoB (7130) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:22AM (#40282479)

        Certainly the military doesn't have to do any particular mission overseas; however, if it does no missions overseas, eventually it will be doing such missions within the State.

        Ugh. You know, I was mostly with you up until that. Really? You are rolling out the old "if we don't fight them overseas we'll be fighting them at home" chestnut? What if, I dunno, we didn't do things to provoke them in the first place? Have you really bought into the BS rationalization that it's because "they hate our freedoms"?

        I come from a military family. Father, both brothers. I chose a different path, but I'm very sympathetic to and have much respect for those who choose to serve. I don't, however, accept bullshit rationalizations from the war-mongers who stand to profit (financially or politically) from never-ending conflict. You really think OBL and Al-Qaeda were that much of a threat before we made them so? Believe what you want, the rise of OBL was at least what those in the intelligence community call "blow-back", if not something more orchestrated by those who saw the decline of the USSR as a threat to the defense industry money train.

        Don't be so naive. Invading Afghanistan as a response to 9/11 mostly made sense; they were harboring the bad guys who did it, and the mission was pretty clear -- turn over the rocks (with high kinetics) to squash the bugs. Iraq was straight-up bullshit. I understand the need for those on the ground to make their sacrifices mean something, but wanting to believe something doesn't make it true. Don't dishonor their memories by accepting the crap being fed to us by the mil-ind machine.

        "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." -- (former FIVE-star) General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 17 Jan 1961

  • Medical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:33AM (#40280289)

    Just a though bu if you are working in the medical industry on something that is killing people today then might not your body count actually be negative? Yes, I can see what you are talking about with animal testing leading to death from your work, but lets assume what you are working on ends up saving lives. Lets say in testing 10000 mice have to be killed to ensure the results from your work are correct (yeah that sucks, no one wants to kill animals) but if that leads to something that helps save peoples lives for the foreseeable future I'd argue that it could easily save more than 10000 people. so treating all lives as equal you are still coming out positive

    • Re:Medical (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:45AM (#40280347)

      The universe can only be experienced through a single life, no more, no less, so the destruction of any one life is the destruction of an entire universe of experience. For that reason, the "badness" of that death is infinite.

      10,000 x -infinity + 10,000 x infinity = NaN.

      Simple subtraction falls short of capturing the destruction of 10,000 lives.

      But on the other hand, they're mice, and they were just going to poop on mazes anyway.

      • Fallacious step (Score:3, Interesting)

        by srussia (884021)

        The universe can only be experienced through a single life, no more, no less, so the destruction of any one life is the destruction of an entire universe of experience. For that reason, the "badness" of that death is infinite.

        Taking the two implicit premises as true (infinity of the universe and uniqueness of experience), the "infinity of experience" conclusion is fallacious. The universe may be infinite, but any one person's experience is not necessarily so. In fact, I would tend to think personal experiences are finite and unequal.

      • by Talderas (1212466)

        On the other hand, lab mice are bred and raises explicitly for the purposes of lab testing. In fact, without lab testing, these animals would not exist in the first place. There's not much need for pet mice that are conditioned to get cancer.

        This is the ultimate reason why I ignore PETA. The animals which I use on a frequent basis or are used to humanity's benefit on a frequent basis tend to be domesticated, raised for some consumptive use for humanity, and would otherwise quickly die out in the wild.

        If PET

    • Re:Medical (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mwvdlee (775178) on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:58AM (#40280415) Homepage

      Animal testing isn't the first step in medical research, it's the last step before human trials.
      Do any of those "ethical" people want to take the place of those animals or do they think other humans should take that risk?

      • Re:Medical (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Monday June 11, 2012 @03:11AM (#40280461)

        Also, the needs of animal testing are generally reduced by the availability of high-performance computing anyway. Animal testing is expensive and difficult to get approval for - much of the goal of simulation (which is the type of thing you use HPC for) is to reduce your need for it.

        • Re:Medical (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Surt (22457) on Monday June 11, 2012 @04:19AM (#40280723) Homepage Journal

          Mod parent up. I was just coming to point this out too. I did neural simulation software at the beginning of my career. The explicit goal of the project was to reduce the need for carving up mouse brains. There are lots of projects like that out there. Go find one.

          • ... but we still arn't 100% sure of how neurons work so while simulating them in a computer might be useful for AI I fail to see how it can be at all useful for medical tests.

            • by fartrader (323244) on Monday June 11, 2012 @07:33AM (#40281637)

              ... but we still arn't 100% sure of how neurons work so while simulating them in a computer might be useful for AI I fail to see how it can be at all useful for medical tests.

              Partial understanding can still be tasked for useful work. As an example I give you the entire field of Physics.

          • Re:Medical (Score:5, Informative)

            by WayfinderSteve (2659663) on Monday June 11, 2012 @11:47AM (#40284331)
            Joined Slashdot just to post on this thread. No longer a lurker! 20 years IT, working with health systems for 6. Healthcare desperately needs math and physics gurus, and you will get respect in this industry. The data sets are finally large enough to need your expertise. I've worked on projects with meteorologists looking at boundary detection and then anatomy matching in 3D imaging data sets, We've done Gaussian curvature in mitral valve deformation. I've got another project looking at quality outcomes using mathemateticians we hired away from Oxford and Trondheim universities. Some of these are startups, some are nationally funded research projects. Some blur that line. All are ethical, in sense of first do no harm. In the tougher issue of weighing intentional harm vs capability, it's good the be surrounded by people who consider that their life's work. As those projects come up, each is evaluated and risk/harm is openly discussed. I love this environment, and love that occasionaly I get to run stats to show interventions prompted by new data modelling techniques saved lives over the traditional standard of care. You can make a difference, please do so.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Other humans ALREADY take that risk, in so-called 'clinical trials'. 'Clinical trials' are actually HUMAN experiments - because an astonishing 92% of drugs FAIL human experiments - after passing animal experiments.

        Thus proving that animal experiments do not predict human outcomes, and are only done in order to let the pharmaceutical industry off the hook when NINETY TWO PERCENT of their drugs fail in human experiments, and a large number of those that finally get onto the market also FAIL and have to be wit

        • Re:Medical (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Lurker2288 (995635) on Monday June 11, 2012 @09:29AM (#40282547)

          This is wrong, I'm afraid.

          First off, given the boundless evil and greed of Big Pharma, one wonders why they'd continue to spend money on animal trials if they achieve nothing more than the production of plausible deniability for the inevitable failures in clinial development. Given that they already blame their failures on the complexities of biology and the difficult regulatory environment, the benefit produced by pointing at animal test results seems pretty slim. How does your scenario work? "Well, shareholders, it's true that we've spent $50 billion this year and only put one new drug on the market, while we've had to withdraw three old drugs for unforeseen side effects, but, in our defense, we injected it into bunnies first and that seemed to work okay." Really, is that how you imagine it?

          Second, do you by chance know how many potential compounds fail in animal testing before they even make it into people? If you start with 1000 compounds, and 900 are disqualified by preclinical testing (which includes animal testing) before the remaining hundred enter human trials, that's still a pretty substantial benefit. Indeed, that's about the proportion of compounds which are dropped prior to Phase 1, although the statistics I've seen don't break out animal testing specifically. The alternative to testing in animals, barring significant advances in computational predictive methods, would be to test each of those thousand compounds in people with minimal prior knowledge of safety. So for someone so concerned about animal welfare you're shockingly cavalier about the well-being of other human beings.

          I wonder, do you resolve this apparent paradox by actually putting your own health and safety on the line by volunteering for Phase 1 studies? Do you keep your morals unsullied by refusing to take any medication which was tested in animals? Or are you a hypocrite in addition to being utterly ignorant?

    • by jandersen (462034)

      May I be controversial and point out that saving lives on an overpopulated planet may in itself not be ethical?

      No, of course I don't think we should let people just die; and I think it is possible to perform animal experiments in an ethical way. But I think we need a major rethinking and refocusing of our perspectives. Things like religiously based notions about "the sanctity of life" and the perhaps equally religious notion of "the sanctity of the profit margin" are poor guidelines for any research, and th

      • by busyqth (2566075)

        May I be controversial and point out that saving lives on an overpopulated planet may in itself not be ethical?

        What in the world is the word "ethical" supposed to mean in this case?

        • by jandersen (462034)

          Well, first of all, this is intended to be controversial, thus has to be taken with a grain or two of salt. I wanted to provoke people to try to think before automatically talking about "ethical", because I feel too many don't.

          But to answer your question - is it necessarily always ethical to save lives, no matter the price? We know what the logical consequence is going to be, if we keep crowding the planet more and more: population crash at some point; and the populations grow even in the industrialised nat

  • You consider it unethical to do any computing work for the financial, medical, or pharmaceutical industries? But yet you want a job with a high salary? I think your ethical determinations need some reconsideration.
  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pal (16076) on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:35AM (#40280309)
    Huh? The academy doesn't pay people? Medical research is a net negative? Maybe you could make some money doing character consulting for an upcoming season of Portlandia.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:37AM (#40280321)

    There's a new industry with opportunities pertaining to your expertise right now...

    the exciting world of Bitcoins! :D

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:40AM (#40280331)

    Every business or venture has its positives and negatives. The defense industry of course kills people. On the other hand, if we had no military it would not be long before some enterprising country decided that they could annex ours whether we liked it or not. The medical industry of course tests on animals. On the other hand, it preserves human life and perhaps someday -- yours. The gaming industry -- wow, what a waste of time that is. People sitting in front of their computers or televisions when they could be out saving the world -- literally. Perhaps inventing some new power source, medicine, or helping some new immigrant to learn English. On the other hand, just think of all the "blood minerals" that are used to make your hardware you use to code with.

    Perhaps the only "ethical" business is to go be a gardener. (And to be frank, I could do that for the rest of my life happily.) On the other hand, I'm not sure the "weeds" would agree.

  • by zerotorr (729953) on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:47AM (#40280355)
    No, because all that computing is being done on machines using rare-earth blood minerals mined in Africa, or composed of parts machined in sweat shops in China. Seriously, if you're going to claim that level of ethicality, you should be farming your own veggies in a self sufficient, carbon neutral commune.
    • by dintech (998802)

      veggies in a self sufficient, carbon neutral commune.

      Fascist! He's fruitarian! []

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        veggies in a self sufficient, carbon neutral commune.

        Fascist! He's fruitarian! []

        What, he eats the children of plants, who toil day and night making oxygen for him to breathe!!?

        How barbaric!

        • Children? No, my friend; he eats the bits where the children are made. Eww.
    • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Monday June 11, 2012 @07:33AM (#40281643) Homepage

      Agreed. Interestingly, a lot of processing work in medicine is working toward eliminating animal testing, by better simulating physics and correlating similar chemicals with known results, ultimately reducing the amount of animal testing that's necessary to produce a safe drug. Animals (including the human kind) are still involved, though, and will be for a very long time.

      As for finance, I don't actually see any ethical problems here. Some bankers did things that sounded good on paper and matched all known criteria for something where gain outweighed risk, but those formulas didn't anticipate the combined effect of everybody doing the same thing at once. Was it a mistake? Yes. Did some bankers realize they were doing something wrong, and do nothing? Indeed they did. Does that make the entire industry a wretched hive of scum and villainy? Not really, despite Slashdot's vocal opinion of those "evil bastard bankers".

      As the saying goes, you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelette. Every industry has its distasteful activities, and every industry is trying to eliminate them, albeit in a large-scale, disorganized, and very slow way. Why not help them move forward to a world of more ethical practices, rather than just hiding from the problem and assuming that anyone will care about your silent and ineffectual protest? As another saying goes, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

  • Come work for us (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:47AM (#40280357)

    We are a very socially conscious company which uses GPU's for video encoding -

  • About medical... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Genda (560240) <> on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:48AM (#40280359) Journal

    There is tons of medical and biological heavy lifting with computers that would prevent animal testing and perhaps prevent the need for double blind medical trials (meaning we wouldn't have to give placebos to critically ill people, and potentially save twice as many people.) Everything from advances in protein modeling and dramatic breakthroughs in analyzing DNA to DNA/RNA origami (designed and implemented first in computers) that will almost certain provide exciting new cures to everything from cancer to autoimmune diseases.

    I agree big Pharma is a nasty business, but there are plenty of places where you can make a meaningful contribution to the human condition and at the same time exercise your frontal lobes.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:50AM (#40280369)

    You drink the same water. Eat the same food. Consume the same energy.

    This all has a price. You think you're a more moral man then Einstein?

    Do you know what the first man to discover fire said?


    There is a price. Ambition has it's price. I'm not saying you should be unethical. I'm saying defense work, animal testing, etc aren't unethical. If our people didn't do it then where would we be? Imagine if the US never had defense contractors or scientists and engineers that contributed to the defense industry. What would the soldier go into battle with? Either a sharped stick and loin cloth. Or more likely we'd be forced to buy weapons from an extra national third party and be beholden to their whim whenever we engaged in war.

    And what of testing on animals. What medical breakthroughs were only possible because of animal testing? Ask a biologist, a doctor, or any other stripe of medical expert what our medicine would look like without animal testing.

    And why do we do animal testing? Because we consider it more ethical then doing it on people. Which is the alternative. Do you want to be the white rat in cage 1173?

    Look, I don't want to attack your world view or suggest you need to do things you disagree with... What I am saying is that you benefit from these things every day of your life. I don't understand how people can look down their nose at these methods while at the same time voluntarily benefiting from the consequences.

    Would you torture a lab rat to save your mother's life? I mean... torture it. I'm talking live vivisections... Ideally with no anesthesia. Simply bolt it's limbs to the to a board. This is to save your mother's life. I would. I'd take alternative paths if there were better options. But if it was a straight up choice between torturing a little animal and a human being dying. I choose human life every time.

    Am I an evil person for making this calculation? Are the millions of men and women that have made this calcuation for generations evil? You eat evil every day. You drink it. You live in an evil society that is part of an evil civilization then. Because my view on this matter is the default setting for our whole civilization going back thousands of years.

    In all our long history I'm not sure if we've ever come across another society that believed as you did... that put these things above their own survival. Consider that that is odd because we've encountered many societies and civilizations. That we've never encountered one with your values implies one of two things. Either human beings are genetically predisposed to not value that view. Or any society that does embrace that view dies out. In the end the second would become the first... so perhaps it's all the same.

    In any case, if I were you... and I'm not... I would find a field in which you are challenged and valued. Obviously don't go working for demons, but possibly tone down your standards to something a bit more practical. You are not living in a world of saints. We're simply people. We're not entirely good or bad. We simply are. Try to accept that without holding people to unreasonable standards.

    • by SpudB0y (617458) on Monday June 11, 2012 @03:04AM (#40280429)

      Thank you.

    • You think you're a more moral man then Einstein?

      When discussing Ethics, Schrödinger's Quantum Cat should be applied (and at the same time, not applied). The issue is so quantumly entangled that you will end up being both simultaneously Ethical and Unethical.

      You might as well conjure up an enraged Werner Heisenberg armed with an ethical/unethical electric mosquito swatter. Although he thinks he knows where that ethical/unethical mosquito is, every time he tries to swat it, the little bastard changes position, momentum, spin, polarization, etc. So

      • Open the box.

        Is the cat alive or dead.

        F' predicting whether it will be or not. Is it.

        Are you a more moral man then Einstein?

        Yes or no?

        We are not gods. We're human beings. We are meat, bone, and will. If you set unreasonable standards for us in this universe... you will only kill us all if we try to meet them.

        If you want to destroy yourself... do it. I will stay alive. If that means strapping some rats to a board and torturing them to learn secrets that will keep people I love alive. So be it. But I won't ea

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Always remember your place may fly, the universe is billions of years old and will continue for billions more. Greed is not the only measure of success and far more likely to be a trap rather than a reward. Ambition contribute more to life than consume from it, all things are balance, it would seem unwise to allow ambition to leave a negative balance. In a may fly existence, that regardless of how great the perceived impact upon the living universe it will disappear as if it never ever happened and yet wha

    • by slart42 (694765)

      In any case, if I were you... and I'm not... I would find a field in which you are challenged and valued. Obviously don't go working for demons, but possibly tone down your standards to something a bit more practical. You are not living in a world of saints. We're simply people. We're not entirely good or bad. We simply are. Try to accept that without holding people to unreasonable standards.

      The question is, however, what are "reasonable standards"? Where do you draw the line? And this is very hard to tell because the lines are always blurry. The submitter said he does not want to work for the defense industry and you argue that defense is net positive. The thing is, it's hard to tell, and totally pov. Is working for a weapons smuggler selling weapons to Taliban fighters ethical? If you believe that the Taliban are the good side, then probably. Is doing software consulting as a contractor for a

    • The presence of evil does not imply it's necessity.

      While it's possible that animal testing has contributed to medical science in the past, these days it's mostly done in the name of developing pharmaceutical products of dubious social value. I would propose to you that by your equation, any such testing would be highly unethical. Especially when you consider that a lot of the drugs developed ultimately do more harm than good.

      While your position about defense projects might make sense historically, it's hard

    • by Nutria (679911)

      What I am saying is that you benefit from these things every day of your life. I don't understand how people can look down their nose at these methods while at the same time voluntarily benefiting from the consequences.

      George Orwell said it best, I think, before WW2:

      Pacifists are people who haven't faced the unpleasant facts of life, either economically or politically; if they did face those facts, they wouldn't be pacifists for long.


      Rightly hating violence, [pacifists] do not wish to recognise that it is integral to modern society and that their own fine feelings and noble attitudes are all the fruit of injustice backed up by force. They do not want to learn where their incomes come from.

  • You could try designing Bitcoin mining rigs (no, I'm serious), but I doubt you could do much software improvement over existing mining software.

    Unless you consider that "the financial industry" (which would be bizarre).

  • basically producing food is the only field you left out for yourself, but even that food might be used by the military and most definitely it will be put to some financial use. I don't think with your current ethical rules you could even be building fluid simulations for industry.. or even drag simulations for F1 racers.

    you could try to do art though.

  • A couple of thoughts (Score:5, Informative)

    by DeathToBill (601486) on Monday June 11, 2012 @02:54AM (#40280393) Journal

    Meteorology (and earth sciences more generally). Mostly public sector and academic, but there is some private-sector work going on too. Things like forecasting energy output of wind farms tends to be private-sector and involves lots of modelling and number crunching. Similar goes for mining / geology, depending on your ethical view of that.

    While being an academic "pays in degrees, not dollars," doing contract work for academic can be rewarding. Most academics are pretty clueless about statistics and are happy to pay someone else goodish rates to do the statistics for them. While it's probably not the HPC wonderland you're after, it will bring you into contact with very diverse research areas and probably involves at least some crunching of big data sets.

  • How is fiddling with computers "ethical" when there are people -- and apparently much more important than people, animals -- in the world who don't live perfect, utopian lives? Shouldn't you be out growing organic crops to feed the homeless? Or to feed to rats and bunnies?

    You can't hug a child with Euclidean arms! (But you can let a child die of a preventable disease because there's no way to test the vaccine.)

    If you're looking for a job, try searching for "CUDA" AND "Must be extremely full

  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) on Monday June 11, 2012 @03:07AM (#40280441)
    You said you did 3d simulations and you're good at physics.

    Bare with me: It isn't CYC, but something based on CYC, I forget the actual name. The premise is that you use a 3d simulation to be imagination space for the AI. You need to write an effective physics simulation and database objects into it. If you write an effective 3d imagination space, you could then talk to the 3d imagination space in natural language. The next step is writing vision/laser detection and other senses to read in the real world and simplify it to the imagination space. Once you got something that can turn its environment into something it can think about and do tasks, you have AI. AI isn't some complex and unable to be understood idea where a machine has thoughts like a human, it can be made like a program that just follows orders. Sure once you had AI, you could fake a personality such as by setting coefficients for desiring to do different tasks.

    This project would be a lifetime en devour though. I'd be doing it myself if I had enough resources to survive on for the rest of my life. Alas, I need to try and make video games for the short term, so I can have a shot at having it made to do this science work.

    I'd aim small to begin with:

    3d imagination space, I'd work with as elementary as objects as I could:
    Rectangle block

    Then I would build complex objects out of them. Just this exercise in and of itself could lead to better and bigger things.

    Even though it would be many years down the line, the same goes for when you do vision/laser range finding senses to detect the world:
    You'd have a really elementary room, like factories. Modern day robots do vision detection, but on a limited number of things to view: Holes to put screws in mainly. So start with just a room with some spheres and blocks in it, and see if the AI can properly observe what is going on. You don't even need a body, just observe what happens in the room.

    To me, AI seems very ambitious, but at least there is a plan to do it. Some people can't even grasp that AI is doable. But it is.
    A: Write an imagination space that understands natural language.
    B: Do vision detection algorithms that map real world objects to imagination space.
    C: Have someone build for you a robot that performs any number of functions, slap the AI in, and you're set.

    Mind you imagination space and vision detection algorithms might take a man 50 years to do on his own if he is even capable of doing them at all. You'd really think someone like DARPA or something would be working on this and crank it out in 20 years with a crack team of programmers. And hey maybe they are for all we know:P
  • There is a lot of modelling you can do on water levels that uses rainfall, erosion, climate models. This modelling is not just useful for academics, but also useful for governments that want to improve their water management.

    You could go and model the decline of rain forests. There are many agencies that keep track of this. These are not acadamic jobs either.

    And of course you could go into modelling the climate or dynamics of ecosystems (how do amounts of organisms change in time).

    All of these topics are ve

  • Mechanical simulations in:
    Heat and CFD
    FEM for mechanical resistance of parts

    Dynamic programming/operational research

    Electrical simulations (antennas, or just circuit simulations)

  • Hope you don't want to have kids.

  • is the hype in medical and industrial devices. it involves datamining techniques to discover and report a possible future fault in a device. the end effect is tha for example a CT scanner has 99% uptime and a much lower chance of something going wrong during a patient scan. This stuff is being implemented for assembly lines offshore wind farms, AC units, airplanes, pretty much anything...

  • by AtlanticCarbon (760109) on Monday June 11, 2012 @03:27AM (#40280533)

    You say academia pays in degrees, not dollars. Obviously, academics get paid by universities. Why not look into areas of pure science where computing could be helpful?

    If you're looking for butt-loads of money then it's probably time to get off your ethical high-horse anyway.

  • Complex (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SuurMyy (1003853) on Monday June 11, 2012 @03:29AM (#40280537) Homepage

    It very hard not to be part of the problem. I struggle with this myself. It might be better to work for a co-operative or a non-profit, but they are often low-pay. If that's not an option, perhaps you can start a company or a co-operative yourself. Not wanting to go there, it's probably better to work for a small company than a large one, because the larger they get the more corrupt and less innovative they often are.

    How about medical devices? Things that help and monitor old people and of that kind? Or some inventions to help traffic flows or some other kind of streamlining that actually make things better? You could also consider competing with existing companies that are taking a cut from something and just making it better and taking a smaller cut. That would leave more money for the consumers or governments or whoever is paying for the cut.

    Small companies and startups often work on new innovative things and not all of their inventions are evil. They are often better working places in other ways as well. However, it's almost impossible to find a company that can only do good things. The economy is interconnected and there is almost no way of escaping the things that many do and it's quite likely that your company needs to work w/companies that aren't as high-minded as you might be.

    There are many variables to this thing and nothing is perfect. When considering the environmental impact, human/labour/animal rights and not ripping off your customers and actually creating something of social value it gets so complicated that you cannot expect to find anything that would be completely satisfactory. Try to look for a lesser evil, a local maximum, if you will and then work to try to make it just a bit better.

    And finally, it would actually help if you moved into a country that spends its taxes to build a better society rather than its military. Get a job in Scandinavia, for example. Just doing that would address many of things mentioned above, because we actually have useful laws up here, a working democracy where environmental issues are addressed and labour rights are honoured.

    People should vote w/their feet and this doesn't only go for companies, it goes for countries, as well. I dunno if you have a family, but we actually have free schools and universities up here as well as free health care and so forth, but naturally you have to pay taxes to pay for them. However, your overall quality of life is much better this way and the societies are much better because of lower income disparity. How does a 37.5 hour work week sound to you like and actually getting paid for overtime? How about a 5 week vacation? The list goes on and on. I doubt making a few dollars more actually makes the equation more profitable, overall.

    If you further consider that I belong to a union and I'm a member of a red/green left alliance party and this makes me no less valued at my workplace you should come to see how different things can be. It is normal to belong to a labour union up here.

  • I fail to see why it would be unethical to work for a pharmaceutical company. Drugs improve the quality of people's lives and save them outright in some instances. Even if there is animal testing involved, the immediate question is does the availability of high quality modelling tools reduce the amount of testing required on live subjects. My guess is that it would. Therefore what's unethical about that? And pharmaceuticals are only one aspect of medicine. I'm sure there is plenty of need for physic s simul
  • People who look for oil or shale use hpc all that but then you'd probably consider that bad.
  • The medical/pharmaceutical industries undoubtedly require complex software, but the unavoidable animal testing at the end of the pipeline probably lifts its body count higher even than the defense industry's.

    Animal testing has saved human lives for decades. People against animal testing say that we can use computer models to test drugs. Where, exactly, do they think the data for those computer models are going to come from? It doesn't magic itself into existence.

    And that's not even mentioning that the co

  • 1) There are medical projects whose explicit aim is to reduce the need for animal model testing.
    2) Academia pays pretty well in CS. Your salary there will have 6 figures and start with 2, maybe 3 if you're sufficiently talented. You won't make a ton more than that unless you get lucky at a startup or go into finance. As far as I've seen, neither medical nor defense actually pays better than academia.

  • Perhaps you could develop a third-party library for video games, something that uses CPU and (optionally) GPU as well, be it physics, game AI, or graphics related. You could develop it as a hobby like before and later see how sales go.

    For example, I have seen SpeedTree [] licensed in many games including AA+ titles, so they must make some money. A planet engine providing huge, planet-sized playgrounds would be another example. Or, if you don't want to avoid graphics altogether you could write a massive, highly

  • by DontScotty (978874) on Monday June 11, 2012 @04:47AM (#40280837) Homepage Journal

    "My conscience won't allow me to accept money from either."

    Um - you realize you are using a computer with components from a sweatshop and unpaid foreign labor - right?

  • I think you should consider the specific company and not the whole industry when rating ethics. There are many important, ethically sound jobs in defence/money/medical industries. And there are certainly inethical stuff going on in industries that are typically considered ethical safe.
  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Monday June 11, 2012 @04:52AM (#40280867) Homepage

    Either you need to find a suitable Boinc project that you can contribute to or lower your standards a bit.

    Just be aware that CUDA programming is useful for many businesses, but the problem is to sell it to them. Of course - you can't just say CUDA, you need to sell it in a way that actually is tasty to the general bean-counter and manager.

    And even doing jobs for the medical industry and defense industry can be a good record to have in your CV. Not all projects are aimed at killing people or animal testing. Some of the applications you may be asked to develop may actually lower the amount of animal testing or kills.

  • Ethical Dilemma (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HarryatRock (1494393) <> on Monday June 11, 2012 @04:59AM (#40280895) Journal

    I faced this very question right at the start of my IT career, in 1968. I had been absolutely against arms manufacture, but was given a chance to move from chemistry/thermodynamics (working in the development of domestic gas burners) to a programming job in aerospace. I have loved aeroplanes since I was 5, an avid SF reader, and going from a "budget" of 30 minutes of mainframe time per week (that was FORTRAN so included compile, test, run) to being 100% programming in technical problems was like being invited to the best party ever. I was going to have to accept a small pay cut, but that didn't matter a bit. Then I realized that every line of code would be used for military aircraft as much or more than for civil projects. It was a long night of the soul, but I decided to take the job. I am so glad I did, not least because I found that most of the military people (real aircrew) were the real anti-war guys. They were the ones most concerned about reducing "collateral damage", and pushing for more accurate delivery of - well - death.
    I think we did a good job. Today's wars are still terrible, but compared with conflicts such as WW2 they are actually more controlled, especially when hi-tech systems are used. I am older and wiser now, and doubt that we will ever see an end to war, but I do believe that armed conflict is getting "cleaner", at least when developed countries are involved. If we get more precise systems then we should be able to bring conflicts to a quicker end, with less damage to civilian areas and the environment.
    So my advice is to reflect on the outcome of improving technology by better simulation and then decide on each job offer as it comes. This is true whatever area you look at, the arms industry is investing in "non-lethal" systems, the drug companies in simulation and "in vitro" testing, so both of these provide chances for really good jobs in which you can make a positive difference to the world.
    I suspect that this might lose me some karma, but I think that gaming is probably the least ethical area (killing things should never be fun, even in a virtual world), and I personally would never work in the financial sector, but then that's the ethical dilemma we all face.

  • by beachdog (690633) on Monday June 11, 2012 @05:11AM (#40280937) Journal

    One interesting aspect of your post is the way you have summarized your ethical restrictions and constraints.

    Another interesting aspect of your post is the implied view that you feel many jobs are available to you and these jobs are not OK because of your ethical restrictions.

    The Slashdot editorial format is very limited but it sounds like you are using ethics as a way to wall yourself off from several classes of employment.

    I would say, revisit your ethical ideas. Ethics is more than a process to wall yourself off from the ambiguities and pain of the world. Ethics is a search for truth. Search is a verb. Go to job interviews, find out all about the kind of projects you might work on. Continue your search for truth.

  • by urusan (1755332) on Monday June 11, 2012 @06:01AM (#40281205)

    I suppose this is due to having practically zero time to explain yourself, but your ethics seems almost arbitrary. I can see one wanting to avoid military work due to the possibility that your work might kill people, but what's wrong with finance and medicine? Several other people in the thread have brought up medicine, but I haven't seen any defense of finance.

    Now yes, I know that much finance work out there today is pretty nasty, especially stuff like HFT. That said, finance doesn't have to be unethical. It's not an inherently bad thing. At its core, finance is about bringing people together so they can do more together than they could do apart. Good investment changes lives for the better, and is much more reliable than charity because there are many more people willing to lend money than give it outright.

    For instance, my mother is a small business owner, doing what she loves for a living. Without enough capital to have started her business, she never would have gotten off the ground and thus would be stuck in some dead end job she hates, and at this point we would have lost our home as my father's income fell dramatically soon after we moved here.

    Not all finance work is unethical, it's just a matter of finding a financial institution that tries to do ethical work. I've heard some good things about the field of microfinance. [] I'm not sure how HPC fits into that particular subfield, but I'd imagine the various microfinance players can use algorithmic work just like any other financial institution.

    By the will never find a job where you are not hurting people in some way. Military kills. Medicine has errors and experimentation. Finance must be hard on hopeless cases so others in need may be helped with limited resources and they need to support themselves somehow. Entertainment saps peoples' time and money. Engineering has failures, like bridge collapses and airplane crashes. Mining involves worker deaths, environmental damage, and often exploitation of locals. Agriculture massacres animals, puts bad things into peoples' bodies, and causes environmental damage. Academia comes pretty close to being harmless, but the things you think up may have massive implications (after all, atomic bombs came out of academia) and the resources you consume could help elsewhere. Even charities have administrative waste and need to constantly find people to extract money out of. It doesn't matter what the field is, you'll be doing harm to someone in some way. In this kind of situation, you can't focus excessively on the have to look at the balance between the good you are doing and the bad you are doing. Ethically you should strive to have the most positive impact when both good and bad are taken into consideration.

    One last thing, you also need to keep in mind that people naturally get paid better when they do unethical work for someone. Doing clearly unethical things is a downside for most people, so the market price for such work is higher in much the same way that the market price is higher for work that is undesirable for other reasons (like jobs where one is in danger or away from home for extended time periods). Lower worker supply drives up the price of labor. So don't look at the high wages given by those need you to do unethical things for them and think you can get paid the same for ethical work. Look for someone doing ethical work that can use your skills first and deal with wages later...they will be lower. If ethics are really important to you then you will be happier in such a job even at a lower wage. The feel-good of doing ethical work is part of your compensation.

    In any case, if my argument didn't change your mind...what about working for one of the national laboratories? I was considering working for ORNL due to academic connections I had and they seem to pay a lot better than ordinary academia while doing lots of academic-type work. They also have amazing

  • by fartrader (323244) on Monday June 11, 2012 @08:00AM (#40281795)

    I believe for you its likely to remain a hobbyist niche - high performance computing is of course of value to many, many industries but you have placed a constraint on it that makes it difficult to satisfy what otherwise would be an easy to meet requirement. I'm not sure how far your ethical framework extends, but the hints in your OP suggest that its extremely important to you - that is something worthy of respect as you have placed limits on your own development / personal income for matters of principle. May I suggest the following: Go to a more niche site that deals in your field and ask the same question - you are likely to get more specific answers, and perhaps a satisfactory outcome to your dilemma. Also AskSlashdot is like wrapping yourself in deer meat and wandering into a wolf den - you may find the answers discouraging (although I have seen some great posts this time around). I wish you all the best in your hunt.

"Card readers? We don't need no stinking card readers." -- Peter da Silva (at the National Academy of Sciencies, 1965, in a particularly vivid fantasy)