Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Ethical Constraints on a Corporation Without Humans

Hal 9000The buzz over the appearance by IBM’s computer, Watson, on Jeopardy last week has me thinking about the capacities of computers.

Could a computer run a company, and if so what would we want to say about the ethical constraints on such a company? Well, one obvious worry is that ethics requires exercising judgment. Stanley Fish, in an editorial in the NY Times a couple of days ago (“What Did Watson the Computer Do?“) argues that while computers (from laptops on up through to Watson) are very good at is following rules. What they’re bad at, Fish points out, is adapting to new situations and figuring out whether the current situation is a valid exception to the rule.

So, let’s imagine a corporation without humans. It’s not science fiction, and it’s not far-fetched. I don’t know of any in operation today, but they’re certainly possible. There are some corporations today that, while they currently do have significant human personnel, could likely survive and continue to generate revenue for at least several days without human intervention. For example, basically any company that sells a product that can be bought and shipped via the Internet, such as ebooks or music files, can operate for at least a while without humans. (If you’re skeptical about that, please accept it for now, for the sake of argument.)

So imagine a guy named Dave sets up a company selling audio books. He builds a website, which allows customers to search, find the books they want, pay online, and receive the audio book as a download. Maybe he has a web-roaming software ‘bot looking around the web to find out which print books are popular enough for his online store to feature, and maybe even a decent piece of text-to-voice software to generate the voice files, without the need for human input.

Now, as long as Dave is around, monitoring the system, we’re likely to say that Daves “is” the company, and the computer is a tool he uses. And any ethical questions about the company’s conduct should be addressed to Dave. But what if Dave dies? The computer system would keep on chugging along, making money (barring failures of hardware or software). What ethical questions does such an autonomous electronic corporation pose? If the computer harms no one, and violates no rights, is it acting “ethically”, or does that notion require the kind of judgment that Fish says is impossible for computers? Would this robo-corporation have ethical obligations, or is the very idea of a non-human construct having ethical obligations nonsense? And if it’s nonsense, then does it make sense for corporations to have obligations, or are a corporation’s obligations merely the obligations of the persons that make it work?

Ethics of Inefficiency

The current way of thinking seems to imply that small-scale production is the way to go. Of course, for much of the 20th century, small-scale production was a sign of affluence: only the wealthy could afford to have a craftsman dedicate hours, perhaps days, to the task of custom-making an item just for them. Today, everyone from yuppies to hippies is clamoring for just that, in their rush to grab for things perceived as local and green and anti-commercial. We don’t want multinationals to get between us and the skilled hands that make our loafers, and we want no agrifood giants mediating our relationship with the farmer who lovingly raised the goats that gave the milk that made the cheese. We want our business small, and indie. We want our consumer goods “bespoke,” and “artisanal.”

And the reason for this seems to be some vague impression that those kinds of businesses, and those kinds of products, are somehow more ethical. And in some cases, along some ethical dimensions, that may be true. But if anyone thinks that products produced by a small, local artisan are likely to be environmentally superior, well excuse me for being just a tiny bit skeptical.

This vague association of the small with the ethical misses the fundamental truth that, when it comes to production methods, size brings efficiency. Mass production tends to be efficient in its use of energy, materials, and labour. There are of course tradeoffs and exceptions: it’s entirely possible for a factory mass-producing something to be highly efficient in the use of labour, but to be highly inefficient in the use of, say, water — especially if water is had at no cost. But generally, mass production is efficient; that’s its raison d’etre. Consider: a local tailor spending an entire day hand-stitching a jacket has to use, to begin with, an entire day’s worth of energy to light and heat his workshop. Alternatively, the same jacket could be made in a garment factory in a matter of minutes, using a few minutes’ worth, rather than an entire day’s worth, of energy.

Now that’s not a blanket endorsement of all mass production. It’s entirely possible for production processes to be set up so that they are highly efficient in their use of whatever resource is particularly costly, and highly inefficient in its use of whatever happens to be cheap, regardless of the ethics of doing so. Note also that mass-produced goods tend to cater to the lowest common denominator. It should also be noted that assembly lines may tend to result in repetitive strain injuries among workers — and, if you believe some critics, in feelings of alienation as the worker whose job is reduced to some trivial aspect of production is effectively cut off from any connection with the product as a whole.

But (generally) efficiency is good. Certainly no one is in favour of inefficiency, with the possible exception of those of us who revel in a well-earned “inefficient” weekend. At any rate, the very reason we engage in mass production is that it is efficient: it produces the most output per unit of input. And that’s a good thing. So while there may be reason to value the small, the local, the artisanal, we ought at least to be aware that such goods are liable, at least in general, to be the product of highly inefficient — and hence environmentally unfriendly — production methods.

HuffPo, AOL and the Ethics of Unpaid Labour

AOL bought the Huffington Post this week. Now, many of HuffPo’s volunteer bloggers are up in arms, accusing the left-leaning news-and-aggregation site of two related crimes: selling out to a (presumably) evil corporate media giant, and failing to share the wealth with thousands of volunteer bloggers who, over the years, have contributed probably millions of words to HuffPo’s archive of content.

But criticism was not limited to the volunteer bloggers themselves. Tim Rutton, of the LA Times, wrote:

To grasp its business model, though, you need to picture a galley rowed by slaves and commanded by pirates….

Adbusters — the slightly-past-its-best-before-date organization whose sole purpose is to bash capitalism and consumerism — put it this way:

Socialite Arianna Huffington built a blog-empire on the backs of thousands of citizen journalists. She exploited our idealism and let us labor under the illusion that the Huffington Post was different, independent and leftist. Now she’s cashed in and three thousand indie bloggers find themselves working for a megacorp….

On the face of it, this sounds like a strong criticism. Use unpaid labour to build a truly massive (and profitable) online presence. Keep that unpaid labour in the fold by espousing values they believe in. And then sell out for hundreds of millions to a corporation that almost certainly could not care less about the aforementioned values. It really does sound tantamount to slavery, with a touch of ideological treason thrown in for good measure. But to understand this better, we need to know a little more about the economics of blogging. As a good starting point, see this piece by stats guru Nate Silver: The Economics of Blogging and The Huffington Post

The fact is, however, that sentiments like [the LA Times’s] Mr. Rutten’s reflect a misunderstanding of The Huffington Post’s business model. Although The Huffington Post does not pay those who volunteer to write blogs for it, this content represents only a small share of its traffic. And, to put it bluntly, many of those blog posts aren’t worth very much….

Silver goes on to be much more specific, calculating the likely dollar value of the contribution of the average volunteer HuffPo Blogger.

The point is that for something over 99% of bloggers, blogging is a hobby. The contribution of most HuffPo bloggers to the website’s success is minimal. Those thousands of volunteer bloggers on whose “backs” HuffPo was supposedly built were likely more important as audience than as generators of content. Should the volunteer bloggers feel jilted? I’m reminded of a commercial from a few years back, in which a mom consoles her 8-year-old boy whose team just lost a game of soccer or hockey or something. “Did you try your hardest?”, asks the mom. “And did you have a good time? That’s all that really matters.”

Of course, if the volunteer bloggers are worried about the integrity of HuffPo’s editorial voice, you would think they would be somewhat consoled by the fact that Arianna Huffington is retaining the reins in that regard, and in fact will be gaining the key editorial role at AOL as a whole. But then, that’s reason why the rest of us should be deeply concerned, given Huffington’s penchant for featuring dangerously bad pieces related to things like healthcare, including some that are the intellectual equivalent of evolution denial.

Deadly Crashes, “Agency Theory” & the Challenges of Management

Sometimes for a corporation to “do the right thing” requires excellent execution of millions of tasks by thousands of employees. It thus requires not just good intentions, but good management skills, too.

For an example, consider the story of the crash of a Concorde supersonic jet a decade ago. The conditions leading up to the crash were complex, but one factor (according to the court) was negligence on the part of an aircraft mechanic. Whether (or to what extent) that mechanic’s employer is responsible for that negligence, and hence at least partly responsible for the crash, is a difficult matter.

Here’s the story Saskya Vandoorne, for CNN: Continental Airlines and mechanic guilty in deadly Concorde crash

The fiery crash that brought down a Concorde supersonic jet in 2000, killing 113 people, was caused partially by the criminal negligence of Continental Airlines and a mechanic who works for the company, a French court ruled Monday.

Continental Airlines was fined 202,000 euros ($268,400) and ordered to pay 1 million euros to Air France, which operated the doomed flight.

Mechanic John Taylor received a fine of 2,000 euros ($2,656) and a 15-month suspended prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter….

I don’t know the details of this story well enough to have any sense of whether the mechanic in this case really did act negligently. But what intrigues me, here, is the issue of corporate culpability. Note the difficulty faced by airline executives who (for the sake of argument) want desperately to achieve 100% efficiency and never, ever to risk anyone’s life. In order to achieve those goals, executives have to organize and motivate hundreds or perhaps thousands of employees. They need to design and administer a chain of command and a set of working conditions (including a system of pay) that is as likely as possible to result in all those employees diligently doing their very best, all of the time. That challenge is the subject of an entire body of political & economic theory known as “agency theory.”

Agency theory and the various mechanisms available to motivate employees in the right direction are things that every well-trained business student knows about, because those are central challenges of managing any corporation, or even any small team. What is recognized too seldom, I think, is just how central a role agency problems play in assessing and responding to ethical challenges in particular.

Ethics, BP, & Decision-Making Under Pressure

Over the last couple of months, criticism of BP has become an international pastime. It’s hard not to get the impression that most members of the public believe that senior managers at BP (and quite possibly everyone employed at BP) are bungling fools. And probably lazy too.

But of course, that’s patently absurd. And maybe nobody actually believes it. We all know that the relevant people at BP are smart and highly-trained. They wouldn’t have the jobs they have if they weren’t. True, no one was very happy with the amount of time it took to get the oil well capped. And almost certainly mistakes were made. But the capping of the well was a feat of enormous technical difficulty and complexity, carried out under intense scrutiny. Few of us, if we are honest with ourselves, can imagine performing well under those circumstances.

Here’s a story that speaks to the difficulty of those circumstances, by Clifford Krauss, Henry Fountain and John M. Broder, writing for the NYT: Behind Scenes of Gulf Oil Spill, Acrimony and Stress. Here’s just a sample, though the whole article is well worth reading:

Whether the four-month effort to kill it was a remarkable feat of engineering performed under near-impossible circumstances or a stumbling exercise in trial and error that took longer than it should have will be debated for some time.

But interviews with BP engineers and technicians, contractors and Obama administration officials who, with the eyes of the world upon them, worked to stop the flow of oil, suggest that the process was also far more stressful, hair-raising and acrimonious than the public was aware of….

So, after reading the NYT piece, ask yourself these questions:

1) If, in the middle of the well-capping operation, you (yes you) had been invited to stop playing armchair quarterback and become part of the team working on a solution, would you have? Assume you had some relevant expertise. Would you have agreed to help? I’m not sure I would have. I would have been seriously reluctant to subject myself (and my family!) to that kind of experience.

2) Assuming you accepted the above invitation, how confident are you that you would have performed well?

3) Finally, setting aside your own willingness and ability to help, do you know of any organization that you are confident could have performed well in a) a task of that technical difficulty and complexity, while b) under similar conditions of intense scrutiny?

None of this is intended to be fully exculpatory. It’s quite likely that there were ethical lapses that contributed to the blowout and the oil spill that resulted. But when we’re thinking about BP’s response to the disaster, our assessment of the company’s performance — and specifically the performance of the thousands of individuals who actually did the work — ought to be informed by an appreciation of the nature of the task performed. Ethical decisions are never made in a vacuum. And in some cases, they’re made in the middle of a hurricane.

Ethics in Venture Capital

This is the first of two blog entries on ethical issues in venture capital.

Venture capitalists are investment companies that specialize in careful investment in high-risk ventures that provide the possibility of exceptionally high returns, typically in specialized technology-driven industries like biotech and information technology. Venture capitalists (VCs) are a source of funding for small companies that need a serious infusion of cash (typically from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars) but that are too small (and with too little short-term promise of profit) to raise money via the stock market. In addition to providing funding, VCs typically provide startup companies with mentoring, providing advice, business connections and management expertise that might otherwise be lacking.

The relationship between VCs and the entrepreneurs they provide funding to raises some special ethical challenges. Here are just a few:

1) Bargaining power. VCs typically provide funding to companies that are fairly desperate for money. Add to that the fact that VCs are typically seasoned industry insiders, whereas the entrepreneurs seeking funding may never have been in business before at all. He or she might, for example, be a university scientist who knows a lot about cancer drugs, but nothing at all about the world of business and finance. As a result, there’s a worry that VCs will often be able to impose conditions that are highly advantageous to themselves, and much less good for the entrepreneur. Whether that imbalance ends up being unfair is a matter for debate.

2) Information. The companies VCs invest in are typically recent start-ups; often all they’ve got going for them are a few smart people and what they take to be a great idea. In order to justify investing, VCs engage in an intensive process of due diligence, essentially insisting on a level of access to information otherwise reserved for insiders. Sometimes they sign non-disclosure agreements, but sometimes they don’t. The result is that VCs end up with inside information not just about the companies they actually invest in, but also about the companies they consider investing in — and some VCs will look at proposals from several hundred companies per year. This raises obvious risks related to confidentiality, insider trading, and the protection of intellectual property.

3. Control. Because their investments are so risky, they typically insist on being given considerable control in exchange for their investment. For example, VCs may insist on being given seats on the company’s Board of Directors. This raises questions of loyalty and conflict of interest. VCs seek Board seats in order to protect their interests; but Board members have fiduciary obligations to promote the interests of the company as a whole, which may at times be different from the interests of the VCs.

4. Short Term-ism. The time-horizon for VCs is relatively short. Their investments typically take the form of cash in exchange for shares (often preferred shares) in the company. The idea is generally to nurture the company through early-stage growing pains, help it grow into a company that can either go public (via IPO) or be bought out by a bigger, wealthier company. Typically VCs cash out in 3-5 years; if things have gone well, they reap a very significant profit. The result is that VCs have a pretty short-term interest in the companies they invest in. They care about growing the company, making a profit, and getting out. They are typically seen as having very little interest in the long-term interests of employees or other stakeholders. This is the source of the common joke that “VC” actually stands for “vulture capital.”

In my next blog entry, I’ll consider what we can learn about business ethics more generally by thinking about ethical issues that arise in the world of venture capital.

Here’s the Wikipedia page on venture capital.
One of the few scholarly works on VC ethics: Yves Fassin, “Risks in Business Ethics and Venture Capital,” in Business Ethics: A European Review, Volume 2, Issue 3, pages 124–131, July 1993

Addendum (Aug. 12, 2010)
A friend of mine who is a venture capitalist suggested the following excellent clarifications regarding timelines. First, the 3-year time horizon mentioned above is mostly for later stage deals. VCs that invest at earlier stages usually have 5+ year time frames. VCs that invest in start-ups have 7-9 year time frames. Second, even the 3-year time horizon for later-stage deals is not all that short — not compared to the even shorter time horizons of stockholders in publicly-traded companies, which are typically under pressure from Wall Street to produce quarterly results.

Soccer Ball Ethics

Amidst all the excitement over the start of the FIFA World Cup, one of the oddest bits of excitement has surrounded the innovative ball being used in the tournament, namely Adidas’ new “Jabulani.” Although the ball was designed to have superior aerodynamic properties, critics have attacked the ball for the particular way it flies though the air. Here, for example, cites Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar as saying “It’s terrible, horrible. It’s like one of those balls you buy in the supermarket.”

Two things are interesting about this controversy.

One has to do with fairness. The controversy over the Jabulani — the ball that all teams will play with during the tournament — reminds us that the “level playing-field” metaphor so often appealed to in business is a sporting metaphor. It’s a reference to the fact that we think it desirable, generally, to make sure that no team has an unfair advantage. We want a level playing-field because if we play on a hill, one team is seriously disadvantaged by having to attempt to advance the ball up-hill, which requires considerably more effort. The point generalizes to any factors (including changes in the game) that give one side an unfair (dis)advantage. A change in the game is one thing, but a change that creates a differential advantage is quite another. And with regard to the Jabulani, even some critics have admitted that the fact that this change affects everyone equally mitigates the criticism. As English goalkeeper David James put it, “It’s horrible, but it’s horrible for everyone.”

But it’s worth noting the limits of this level-playingfield argument. While it’s true that all teams are subject to the same change, it’s not true that everyone is affected equally. First, it seems to be goalkeepers that are complaining most, suggesting that there’s a differential impact on them compared to other players — and that matters, at very least in terms of the ego of goalkeepers vs the egos of those scoring the goals. (In fact some suspect that this is an intentional outcome of the change in the ball: it will result in more goals, and hence more excitement, hence making it a better TV sport for North American viewers in particular.) Second, it’s not clear that all teams will be affected equally. Particular ball characteristics are liable to suit some teams’ strengths and strategies better than others. So why the “field” may be “level” at a superficial level, we may need to look deeper if we’re really interested in deciding whether this particular change is, in fact, a fair one.

The second interesting thing about the controversy has been the response from Adidas, the company that designed the ball. The response from Adidas has mainly focused on the science, and on pointing out that change is always difficult at first. But Adidas also had a more interesting defence, namely accusing (some) critics of conflict of interest. (See this definition of ‘conflict of interest’.) In particular, the claim is that most of the critics are subject to a possible financial bias. According to this story,

[Adidas spokesman Brueggen] pointed out that if you look closely at the players and goalies making these accusations you’ll notice one common thread among them: the all have contracts with Adidas’ competitors.

Now certainly not all critics have been affiliated with Adidas’ competitors. The soccer-gear website ‘Soccer Cleats 101,’ for example, reviewed the Jabulani back in January, and expressed some of the same concerns. Still, it’s an interesting accusation. And as always with such accusations, interesting questions arise. First, can Adidas’ claim be backed up empirically? If we actually count up the critics and look at what companies they’re sponsored by, will we see the pattern that Adidas claims? If Adidas hasn’t done such a tally (but is simply working from a rough impression) is it fair to make the accusation? Is the suspicion enough? And if we do confirm such a pattern of bias, what’s the specific explanation for it? Is it a matter of players consciously promoting the interests of companies they’re affiliated with, or is it more likely to be a more subtle, subconscious bias? And, finally — setting aside the fact that professional sport is, itself, a big business — what lessons can we learn from this sports story, and apply to the world of business more generally?

(p.s. Those of you with an interest in ethical dimensions of sports should be sure to check out Wayne Norman’s blog, This Sporting Life.)

The BP Disaster: Regulating (and Managing) Complexity

In my previous blog posting on the BP oil-rig disaster, I pointed to the disaster’s ethical complexity, measured in the sheer number of relevant ethically-interesting questions that we might be interested in.

But the issue of complexity arises in a much more straightforward way in the BP disaster, namely in the fact that the oil rig on which the disaster took place was itself a terrifically complex piece of technology.

See this nice piece by Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff, The BP Oil Spill’s Lessons for Regulation.

The accelerating speed of innovation seems to be outstripping government regulators’ capacity to deal with risks, much less anticipate them.

The parallels between the oil spill and the recent financial crisis are all too painful: the promise of innovation, unfathomable complexity, and lack of transparency (scientists estimate that we know only a very small fraction of what goes on at the oceans’ depths.) Wealthy and politically powerful lobbies put enormous pressure on even the most robust governance structures….

Rogoff’s point is about regulation, but it could just as easily be about management, and/or the relationship between the two. And to Rogoff’s examples of complexity-driven disasters, you can add Enron and a couple of NASA shuttle explosions. Now, none of these cases can be explained entirely in terms of the difficulty of managing complex systems; each of those cases include at least some element of bad judgment and probably unethical behaviour. But in each of them one of the core problems was indeed complexity — either for those inside the relevant organizations or for those outside trying to understand what was going on inside. When systems (financial or mechanical) are mind-numbingly complex, it becomes all the easier for poor judgment to produce catastrophic results. It also makes for good places to hide unethical behaviour.

So, if we’re going to build fantastically complex systems, we also need to learn how to manage those systems in highly-reliable ways. In other words, we need management systems — effectively, social technologies — that are as sophisticated as the physical and economic technologies they are intended to govern. We already know a fair bit about error-reduction and the design of high reliability organizations. Aircraft carriers are a standard example of one type of seriously complex organization that, through careful design of management systems, has managed to achieve incredibly high levels of reliability — i.e., incredibly low levels of error, despite their complexity. Similar thinking, and similar design principles, could presumably be applied pretty directly to the design and management of oil rigs. Presumably, that’s already the case to at least some extent, though as BP has proven, more needs to be done. The bigger question is whether business firms are ready and able to apply those principles to the design of all of their complex systems — whether mechanical or financial — such that we can continue to reap their benefits, without suffering catastrophic losses.

(Thanks to Kimberly Krawiec for showing me Rogoff’s article.)

Google on Google in China

Here’s an amazing story about a company (well, a founder & senior executive) ruminating — publicly — about the ethics of a recent corporate decision. In particular, it’s Google co-founder Sergey Brin, talking about Google’s activities in China:

From the Detroit Free Press: Brin Says Google Compromised Principles (by By Ted Bridis, writing for the Associated Press)

We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference,” Brin said.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, ‘Look, we’re going to stand by the principle against censorship and we won’t actually operate there.’ That’s an alternate path,” Brin said. “It’s not where we chose to go right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing.”

Most of you already know about Google’s controversial move to offer version of its search engine in China that meets the censorship requirements of the Chinese government. (If not, see the blog entries listed below.) What amazes (and impresses) me most about the latest installment in this story is the casual transparency of (some aspects of) Google’s decision-making. Here’s the co-founder and co-president of one of the most powerful companies in the world chatting with reporters about ethics. Like, not reading a prepared statement, but thinking it through, out loud, and admitting that he’s not sure the company is on-track. Some would read this as a sign of weakness. I take it as the opposite. Who wouldn’t be uncertain about a path as clearly fraught with ethical peril as Google’s current path in China? Say what you will about the substance of Google’s strategy, you have to admire a company with the moral courage to be open about its own doubts.

Earlier Business Ethics Blog entries on this topic:

Taking Your Hybrid to the Carwash Greenwash

Wired featured the following story yesterday: Hybrids, We Never Knew Ya (by John Gartner), about the fact that not all “hybrid” cars are as environmentally progressive as the name seems to imply.

Marketers are jumping on the green-car movement and the gears are audibly grinding over what counts as a “hybrid vehicle.”

First applied to small sedans emphasizing fuel economy, the term is now blithely used to encompass a vast array of trucks, SUVs and luxury cars that in some cases offer only modest fuel savings over traditional vehicles, some critics charge.

Scott Nathanson, the national field organizer for environmental activist group the Union of Concerned Scientists (or UCS), contends the term “hybrid” is confusing at best and misleading at worst. “People think that it if you slap a hybrid label on something, that makes it a green vehicle,” he said. Not so.

According to UCS, the upcoming 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line SUV along with the GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado hybrids, make claims that are “hollow” and classify them as “mild hybrids” that should not be considered the same class of vehicles.

Nathanson said that while the Saturn Vue hybrid includes useful fuel-saving features such as deactivating cylinders when not in use and shutting off the engine while idling, a hybrid should include a battery with a minimum of 60 volts of electricity. By way of comparison, the Saturn hybrid’s batteries (produced by Ovonics’ subsidiary Cobasys) are rated at 36 volts, while the Toyota Camry hybrid includes 244-volt batteries.

While hybrid vehicles from Honda, Toyota, Ford and Lexus include battery packs that can recover substantial amounts of energy from the braking system (known as regenerative braking), the Saturn hybrid battery pack “doesn’t have sufficient power to provide an assist to the engine,” according to Nathanson.

The worry, here, is that at least some so-called “hybrids” are being promoted as part of an effort at “Greenwashing.” “Greenwashing” is a pejorative term derived from the term “whitewashing,” coined by environmental activists to describe efforts by corporations to portray themselves as environmentally responsible in order to mask environmental wrongdoings. (Melissa Whellams & I have written an article on Greenwashing in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Business Ethics & Society) So, it seems in this case, certain auto manufacturers (some with really awful environmental records) are putting a handful of vehicles on the market that can technically qualify as “hybrids”. By doing so, the companies stand to improve their reputation in terms of environmental performance, without actually making any real commitment to improving actual environmental performance.
The problem with accusations of greenwashing, of course, is that a lot depends on a corporation’s intentions, and intentions are notoriously difficult to read. If a given company produces just a handful of hybrid cars, while churning out gas-guzzling SUV’s by the millions, is that deceptive greenwashing or the first step towards real improvements? If a company markets what the story above calls a “mild hybrid” (one with an electrical system too weak to do much good), is that a half-hearted effort, or an engineering stepping-stone to something better?

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