Saturday, March 28, 2015

Social responsibility and detecting depression

I usually post what I think are interesting project ideas on this blog. This is an exception – I have no answers, but do have what I think is an interesting question. The tragic death of nearly 150 passengers and crew in the crash of Germanwings flight 4U9525 was the trigger that set me thinking. The allegation that the co-pilot might have intentionally crashed the plane raises the question: can we detect such risks in advance and possibly prevent them? CNN was discussing if there should be cameras in aircraft cockpits, but someone pointed out they are unlikely to help in preventing crashes; they can only help in the investigation that follows the crash.

Let me leave behind the specific incident of 4U9525. We don’t know enough about it to discuss it any further.

The more general question is about people who carry critical responsibilities – surgeons who handle very tricky operations, pilots, people whose staff carry a box with nuclear trigger buttons on them, and those who sit in cold, underground bunkers waiting for a signal to launch missiles. I would also add to this lot millions of car and bus drivers whose actions/in-actions can cause deaths. What if they had been in bar fight the night before, or if their girlfriend had told them to get lost, or if a doctor had told them that he would like them to take a test for early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. These situations are very personal ones. Only people very close to the individual know about them in time to prevent tragic developments – people like the spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, doctor, etc. 

Is there a role we can visualize for people very close to a person carrying critical responsibilities in protecting him/her, along with protecting hundreds or thousands who may be endangered by an act of desperation? As an example, ask yourself this: if you were a pilot, does your spouse have a social responsibility to avoid your doing something desperate? Or does your right to privacy override your spouse’s social responsibility? Can a loner carry a critical responsibility, or is it better for anyone carrying a major responsibility to have the support of a few trusted people? How would information about risks be shared and what privacy safeguards would be possible?

I do not know the answers, but you should think and ideally write about this topic. Students of technology do not usually face questions like this, but an education in science or technology cannot be complete without some attention to issues like this. Another possibility is collaboration between people who could put together an app to facilitate sensitive messages, and people interested in experiments in psychology, to do collaborative work to gain insight into this question. This suggestion brings to my mind a Wikipedia article I had read years ago  That article alerts one to the risks on psychological experimentation involving human beings and their behavior under conditions of extreme stress.  

1 comment:

Srinivasan Ramani said...

Killer pilot's ex-girlfriend says he shared chilling prophecy