Monday, March 20, 2023

Career Choices, A Short Story [Slightly Updated Version]

Career Choices

A short story by Paul Hsieh, MD;  19 Mar 2023

It started innocently enough — a retrospective public health analysis of mortality across professions during the past three years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The young public health MPH grad student noticed the expected increased mortality amongst health workers and some public-facing jobs in the initial months. But then he was puzzled by the seeming increased mortality of computer science professionals in the past year. A number of mysterious recent deaths in car accidents, house fire, home invasions — across different ages, genders, races, and geographical locations.

Digging deeper, they all seemed confined to computer scientists working on AI safety — finding ways to constrain artificial intelligence to remain "aligned" to human interests.

Hmm, he thought. I'll have to run this past my professor. She also likes a good public health mystery. For now, the young student typed up his notes and saved them as a draft in his cloud-based online storage account.

He kept thinking about this puzzle as he drove home. Could there be something about questioning the future of artificial intelligence that made people accident-prone?

It was a slick rainy day, and he was glad for the intelligent brake system of his smart "connected" car. It had never failed him in the California rainstorms. But as his car approached a busy intersection, the accelerator mysteriously engaged and rammed his vehicle into oncoming traffic at 80 mph.

In the final seconds of his life, he thought to himself, "Dammit, I should have gone to veterinary school instead..."