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The Week in Ideas (3/4)

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  March 4, 2013 11:24 AM

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Should we put robots on trial?: Leon Neyfakh on how the rise of robots poses challenges to our legal system. Robots are growing increasingly sophisticated—they drive cars, pilot drones, perform stock trades. But as they grow more sophisticated, they take on something approaching agency, and their legal standing becomes harder to determine. This, as Neyfakh writes, raises a number of important questions: “Would holding a robot criminally liable for murder really be productive, or would doing so mean absolving negligent manufacturers and owners? Does it matter what the humans who designed the robot intended? And if an individual robot crosses a line, is simply pulling one plug enough or should it affect all the other robots of its make and model?

America’s borders, porous from the start: Political scientist Peter Andreas on how a better historical understanding of America’s borders should change the way we should think about the current immigration debate. Andreas explains that our borders have always been porous and, in fact, are more secure today than ever before. He also shows that in past immigration crises, policymakers have had to face up to the reality of immigration on the ground. He writes that previous immigration crises have followed this pattern: “Illegal settlement, intense (and sometimes violent) resistance to central government authority, and finally official resignation to the reality that illegal movement had created.” A similar story is playing out today and Andreas argues the immigration debate might be less caustic were legislators and the public more aware that we’ve been here before.

10 ways of looking at Woodrow Wilson: Jordan Michael Smith on debates about the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, who assumed the presidency 100 years ago today. Smith explains that Wilson has been invoked to represent numerous causes and blamed for a range of problems over the years. His different (sometimes contradictory) reputations have included being known as, “Savior of Europe,” “Hero of the Third World,” “Political failure,” “Anti-communist hysteric,” and “Iraq War architect.”

Plus: Kevin Lewis on how teenagers don’t change their sexual behavior in response to parental notification laws around abortion; how gay men and straight women are natural confidants; and how kids who attend more diverse colleges go on to earn more money.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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