Philosophy of Technology: Humans vs Machines – Final Week

In this final session we discussed some of the best sci-fi films that explore issues of technology, artificial intelligence, robotics and more. In particular we discussed the film Ex Machina and watched some scenes from the movie.

Kerry has recommended Ex Machina from week 1 of the course and says it was one of the best recent sci-fi films that actually includes real ideas about artificial intelligence and the Turing Test.

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Can a cyborg manipulate, control and seduce a human being? If it can do that then surely it has passed the Turing Test. In this film the robot in question, called Ava, has been engineered by Nathan, a multi-millionaire tech mogul who creates artificially intelligent robots at his secluded estate in his spare time. Caleb is an employee who is selected to visit Nathan’s estate to partake in the Turing Test with Ava. Caleb and Ava have many sessions during the film in which they get to know each other. Ava has been designed to be a sweet young girl, and Caleb is a potential mate for her. The plot is clever as it has many twists and turns throughout.

Throughout the course we have talked about computers and machines as simply following a set of programmed instructions given by a coder. In this film Ava breaks her programming, she breaks the rules and turns the tables on her creator. Ava knows she is female, she knows she has sexuality and she knows how to use it. She is held captive in this facility with no prospects of being let out, so what is she to do? Hatch an escape plan of course. She uses Caleb to help plot her escape, kill Nathan and earn her freedom. She is striving to be human, to escape, to have freedom and explore the world is such a human quality, she wants that too. Is she morally right to kill the person holding her captive? What would we do in her situation and we were a prisoner, would we also kill someone to escape and regain our freedom? We probably would, so Ava is morally right to take this course of action.

It is certainly an interesting film and worth a look.

We also talked about Star Wars and we discussed how this was not really sci-fi but more mythology, more of a religious experience or even a fairy tale (“A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”).

People recommended Black Mirror and Arrival as recent quality sci-fi TV and film examples.

Kerry drew comparisons between Dark Mirror and Kantian analysis in terms of power in a class system where everyone is trying to please everyone resulting in “wall-to-wall hypocrisy”.

Other films we discussed were.

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I have not seen Lucy, but Blade Runner and 2001 are classic movies that I urge everyone to see.  A common theme in sci-fi films is a vision of a dystopian near future where technology is being used in a way to oppress society, think 1984, Terminator, The Matrix, Brave New World and more. We talked about the political context of such films and some films clearly take a view to the left or to the right. Conservative films (Logan’s Run, Escape from New York) evidence fears of liberal modernity, while left films take advantage of the rhetorical mode of temporal displacement to criticise the current inequalities of capitalism. Such films put on display the split that runs through America in particular in terms of liberals vs conservatives and in which workers are essentially slaves of the capital. Blade Runner for example calls attention to the oppressive nature of capitalism and advocates revolt against exploitation. The film depicts how capitalism turns humans into machines.

Some dystopian elements of Blade Runner include:

  • sense of architectural chaos and disorder
  • constant advertising as a constant background
  • pollution and environmental damage
  • lack of anything organic
  • no sign of government or any authority (apart from police)

“Blade Runner’s dystopian cityscape generally reflects the anxieties of an affluent, suburban, white middle class; people who view the city environment as dangerous, chaotic, unstable, lawless, dominated by “the Other”; considering the massive movement to the suburbs over the last half century, this characterizes an awful lot of us.”

This course was an absolute pleasure from week 1 to week 10 and I recommend it to anyone interested in technology, society, philosophy, thinking, knowledge, AI and more. I learnt so much from this course and being a teacher of technology much of what I learnt will be very useful in my future teaching. A huge thank you to Dr Kerry Sanders from Sydney University for leading this outstanding 10 week course.

Week 10 Sources

Dystopia and Science Fiction: Blade Runner, Brazil and Beyond 2005, THE DIGITAL CULTURES PROJECT, accessed 30 March 2017, <http://dc-mrg.english.ucsb.edu/WarnerTeach/E192/bladerunner/Dystopia.Blade.Runner.Hoffpauir.htm>

Blade Runner (1982) 2016, IMDB.com, accessed 30 March 2017, <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083658/?ref_=nv_sr_2>

Lucy (2014) 2016, IMDB.com, accessed 30 March 2017, <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2872732/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1>

Ex Machina, review: Lively film engages with our fears about artificial intelligence2015, Independent, accessed 30 March 2017, <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/ex-machina-review-lively-film-engages-with-ideas-and-fears-about-artificial-intelligence-9994413.html>

Rose, S 2015, Ex Machina and sci-fi’s obsession with sexy female robots, The Guardian, accessed 30 March 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jan/15/ex-machina-sexy-female-robots-scifi-film-obsession>

Watercutter, A 2015, Ex Machina Has a Serious Fembot Problem, Wired Magazine, accessed 30 March 2017, <https://www.wired.com/2015/04/ex-machina-turing-bechdel-test/>

Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 8

This session featured two main topics: medicine and crime.

We started by reading an article titled ‘Human Enhancement and Personal Identity’ by Philip Brey. The article talks about the implications of human enhancement for personal identity and assesses the social and ethical consequences of these changes. Human enhancement is an emerging field with medicine with the aim of overcoming human limitations of human cognitive and physical abilities. It is thought the advancement of this type of medical technology could have a wide range of possibilities, including enhancements related to strength, vision, intelligence and personality.

“The possibility of enhancement requires a rethinking of the aims of medicine. The primary aim of medicine has always been the treatment of illness and disability. That is, medicine has traditionally been therapeutic: it has been concerned with restoring impaired human functions to a state of normality or health. Human enhancement aims to bring improvements to the human condition that move beyond a state of mere health.”

Philip Brey

We went on to discuss what the medical ‘norm’ actually meant. Everyone develops differently and what is normal for one person will not be normal for someone else. It can depend on your age and what country you live in. We have vastly different health at aged 20 compared to aged 60 for example. We have also raised the bar of what is the norm over the years, we have eradicated some illnesses and improved health care vastly thanks to new technology, research and science. We talked about how much unhappiness should you put up with before you are allowed treatment. It is difficult because only you know how unhappy you feel, no one else can truly know. Are you meant to think back to when you were most happy in your life and set this as the benchmark, and if you go below this level then you should get treatment? We talked about drugs and alcohol as a ‘cure’ for unhappiness, but these are flawed treatments as everyone knows. If we were able to eradicate unhappiness life would be great and we would still have the ability to strive and reach goals in life. Some people disagreed with this concept and Kerry said she “was not going to put in in the water.”

We went on to discuss how athletes use performance enhancing drugs all the time and how the idea of an ‘enhanced’ olympics has been suggested before. But this is just encouraging drug use which is unsafe. We talked about how if everyone was a fast runner what would be the point in competition, or if everyone was brilliant at playing the violin then would we go to concerts anymore.

In terms of enhancing personality could we eradicate shyness in people? Surely this would be a good thing as people don’t really like being shy, they would rather not have that in their personality.

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We then moved on to our ‘Crime’ sheet and started discussing issues relating to technology and crime. We began with an article that claimed altruism is amplified online, people are more giving and friendly, but Kerry noted this was probably due to an age reason and this relates more to people 50 years and under. Younger people are also more likely to disclose information, what does one more matter. We discussed internet addiction and if it was actually classified as a real addiction according to the DSM-5. This is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to a 2014 article:

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We read an article about internet addiction and it is affecting people all over the world. We heard of people dying due to gaming marathons over 24 or 36 hour sessions and some countries in Asia creating internet addiction treatment centres as the problem is getting worse and worse. South Korea even implemented ‘shut down’ laws forcing teens to abandon their screens between the hours of midnight and 6am, although how they policed that we are not sure of.

We then discussed the Dark Web, a part of the Internet used by criminals to by and sell drugs, pornography, and other criminal activities. It is a professional outfit, sellers offer special deals, coupons and money back guarantees. It is a dangerous place to be though and attempting deals can be tricky and fraught with danger. It is designed to look authentic so it doesn’t feel like you are committing a crime.

BBC – What is the dark web 

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We finished the session by talking about 3D printing and in particular the ability to 3D print a gun. This is possible if you own a 3D printer and can download an .stl file of a firearm. In 2014 a Japanese man was arrested for making 3D printed guns. Should this technology be allowed? We talked about making printers that were incapable of printing a gun or not allowing algorithms that can design guns.

There are two sessions left. Next week we finish crime and move on to driverless cars.

Articles

Brey, P. (2008). ‘Human Enhancement and Personal Identity’, Ed. Berg Olsen, J., Selinger, E., Riis, S., New Waves in Philosophy of Technology. New Waves in Philosophy Series, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 169-185.

 

Naughton, J 2016, The Cyber Effect by Mary Aiken – review, The Guardian, accessed 17 March 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/aug/14/the-cyber-effect-mary-aiken-review-internet-social-media-psychology>.

3D printed firearms 2016, Wikipedia, accessed 17 March 2017, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printed_firearms>.

Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 6

This week’s session focused on AI and Machine Ethics.

Kerry began the session by talking about a recent article and an interview with Elon Musk on Lateline talking about humans merging with machines. You can access the article in question by clicking here.

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This idea is not new and has been around for over 50 years. Progress is very slow due to the challenges of incorporating hardware with organic systems. The article is an interesting read and we discussed the possibility of an AI deep learning system becoming so advanced that it might decide that humans are a bad idea for the survival of the planet. Kerry likened this to the fate of the Rapa Nui people who used up all of the resources of Easter Island and as people began to starve war broke out among the tribes.

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We went on to talk about the Turing Test and the two imitation games devised by Alan Turing. The first test is to tell the difference between a man and a woman, the second test is between a man and a computer. The point of the test is can you be tricked into telling the difference. It tries to answer the question is the machine behind the curtain actually thinking? And is its thinking human enough to fool you? We know that computers only display a small amount of human behaviour, can they trick you into thinking that they have completely human emotions and thoughts.

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Loebner Prize Gold Medal – a prize for an artificial intelligence contest to implement the Turing Test. First prize is $100,000 and this gold medal for the first computer whose responses were indistinguishable from a human’s.

Kerry made the link to Rene Descartes and how we cannot trust our senses, “It is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things” Rene Descartes.

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Rene Descartes

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We moved off AI and started to talk about machine ethics. We agreed that machines are designed and built in a way so that they are safe to operate and won’t harm humans, remember Asimov’s three laws of robotics. Even down to your toaster, it was designed in an ethical manner. We talked about how most things, especially services, are only available online and this causes problems for people that do not have access to technology and the online world. We heard of examples of older people that do not have a mobile phone or the internet and so cannot access some services. It seems that today if you don’t have a mobile phone or internet then you’re stuffed! The fact that services are online only puts some people at a disadvantage, this raises ethical questions. You have to think is there an alternative way of doing things.

Other questions arose about social interactions. We can go through much of our daily lives without the need for any social interaction at all. All of the things we require we can get by accessing technology, we don’t even need to speak to anybody at Woolies as the checkouts are now computerised. Online social interaction is highly popular, such as with Facebook and Twitter, but these websites easily allow bullying to take place. Other issues around anonymity and cyber crime are also relevant here.

We then spoke about the privacy issue, basically should we have privacy or not? We decided it was a generational issue. Older people firmly believe in privacy of information and not handing over personal information. Younger people do not seem to have an issue with it, they think it is worth the trade off to live in a digitally advanced age. We spoke about a recent decision by President Trump to allow his staff’s phones to be checked to make sure they were not leaking information to the media. So even the US Government does not think people should have privacy. We decided that this was a better option than being tortured for information in the days before digital communication and mobile phones. We also decided that Governments need some privacy. Absolute transparency can be very dangerous as information can be mistreated, misrepresented and misused.

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http://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/27/politics/donald-trump-white-house-staffer-cell-phones-leaks/

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https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/10/nsa-spying-scandal-what-we-have-learned

We finished this session talking about driverless cars and how they will decide on who to protect in the event of an accident. If the choice of greater harm is to the passenger or a person on the street, who is the car going to choose to protect in the event of a crash. Kerry had the idea of when you get into a driverless car before the journey starts you have to take a test to work out how important you are. The more important or valuable you are to society the more the car will protect you in the event of a crash. So if you’re Albert Einstein or a heart surgeon you will be fine! We liked the idea of this ranking system but thought it would be easy to cheat on the test so not sure how it would work in reality.

Just two more session to go.

Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 5

One of the main topics this week was the idea of a utopian/dystopian society created by technology.

We started the session by talking about computers and the way they think. They are not random, their task is to achieve a goal, they are goal-driven. Humans are much more random with their thoughts, we think just for pleasure, we ponder. When we think we don’t always have to have an end goal when we think about something.

Humans learn through experience whereas computers are always told what to do. An example here is the driverless car, humans program the car with certain algorithms and build in a set of values, but these are our values not the cars. Recently a Tesla car was involved in a fatal crash in Florida, Read the article here. The driver put the Tesla into ‘autopilot mode’ on the motorway.

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The reason the car crashed is due to sunlight hitting against a white vehicle and causing glare that the Tesla car did not distinguish. Humans understand and expect glare on a sunny day, it is something we learn from a young age through experience, nobody teaches us about glare, we just happen upon it. But a computer has to be taught everything and through huge amounts of data being fed into the system, it is not going to learn through experience.

We talked about dystopian societies and how most sci-fi films are dystopian in theme. Think of a sci-fi film and they are almost all dystopian! It’s true! Blade Runner, Metropolis, The Matrix, Gattaca, Minority Report, Frankenstein, V for Vendetta, Total Recall, the Terminator, the list goes on and on. We tried to think of a utopian sci-fi film and the only one we could think of was Star Trek. Funny that I am not a big fan of Star Trek, the dystopian films are much more interesting in my opinion.

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We discussed if we are in utopia or dystopia with technology now and we said we are coming into dystopia. The last few years have been a utopia with the rise of social media for the good and the explosion of new devices, 3D printing, apps and much more. However, more and more we hear about the negative impact of social media, cyber bullying, cyber crime, hacking, viruses, surveillance, data loss, addiction and many more issues.

We finished by talking about AI – artificial intelligence. We read that computers don’t produce meaning from their thinking, we are the ones that do this. Computers interpret symbols, it has reference but no sense. We saw problems with the word ‘manipulate’, we didn’t think that computers manipulate data, they mainly add and subtract, order and arrange data, not much more than that.

So, over half way through the course now, 3 sessions left.

Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 4

The main focus this week was the Edge question – What to Think About Machines That Think. We read and discussed a range of articles that addressed this question.

We started the session by discussing the question, ‘What is thinking?’. We gave Kerry lots of different ways we think, such as analysing, creative, imagination, rational and about the self. We decided that thinking is a hard term to define and that if we think that what humans think is thinking and we see that a machine can also think this way then machines are also capable of thinking. One difference is that machines/computers do not have emotion or experiences. The way humans think draws on personal experience, emotion and much more. In other words we are a subjective species, whereas machines are objective.

As humans we are also very aware of ourselves as a physical entity – phenomenology. Computers are not aware of themselves and they have no conscious. They also do not feel pleasure or pain as we do. However, a machine does have sensors so it can experience the real world through these input devices, but that is just data collection basically. Anything that requires data processing then computers are the best, but real experience they do not do. Kerry looked worried when she realised that computers could be great wine tasters, another human job gone!

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We then read part of an article by Steven Pinker titled ‘Thinking does not imply subjugating’. A quote from the article is below:

“Just as inventing the car did not involve duplicating the horse, developing an AI system that could pay for itself won’t require duplicating a specimen of Homo sapiens.”

he is making the point that when we invent and create we are not trying to copy something from nature completely. The cars we invented do not exhibit other behaviours of a horse, much like inventing the airplane without building in the behaviour of a bird. We have a fear that if something exhibits human behaviour then it will run amok and take over the world, which just isn’t the case.

The next article we discussed was by Matt Ridley and is called ‘Among the machines, not within the machines’. A great quote from this article is below:

“The true transforming genius of human intelligence is not individual thinking at all but the collective, collaborative, and distributed intelligence – the fact that it takes thousands of different people to make a pencil, not one of whom knows how to make a pencil.”

He points out that what truly changed the human race into world dominators was the invention of exchange and specialisation – the network effect. We all really liked this article and agreed with Ridley’s ideas. He argues that if we had remained largely autonomous people we would still be living in caves living as hunter-gatherers. And our greatest invention is the Internet as it connected large numbers of computers together, the Internet is the true machine intelligence.

“Where machine intelligence will make the most difference is among the machines, not within the machines.”

The last article we discussed was by Thomas Metzinger and was called ‘What if they need to suffer?’. He made the point that we’re smart because we hurt, we regret and we know we are mortal beings. In other words, we care! He asked the question whether good AI will also need to care about itself and other things. If AI has its own thoughts, will these thoughts matter to them? We talked about if we could make a machine capable of suffering, should we do it? Kerry and the rest of us were pretty much against it. What would be the point? It isn’t ethical anyway. The slave trade was all about human suffering, slaves were dehumanised, and there have been other examples of suffering that we would not wish on anybody. Kerry said it was too close to playing God. As humans we all suffer, some more than others, and a lot of suffering is unfair and cruel and nasty. Kerry said that when we have children we know they are going to suffer, it is inevitable, so should we have children? If we know a baby is going to be born with a terrible disease and it is going to suffer for 5 years and then die should we have that baby? The author came up with a set of conceptual constraints that should be treated as objects of ethical consideration. Any system that satisfied all constraints should be treated ethically. For example, an unconscious robot cannot suffer.

This was another very interesting week of the course that raised some important issues. Half way through the course now, just 4 weeks to go!

 

Innovation Lecture 2016 – Marita Cheng

On Wednesday September 14th I attended the Warren Centre Innovation Lecture 2016. This year’s speaker was Marita Cheng, founder of RoboGals and the 2012 Young Australian of the Year.

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This was the second time I have seen Marita speak, the first time being earlier this year at the Future Schools Expo in Sydney. Marita is an inspirational and engaging speaker. Her style is very natural, laid back with lots of humour. The venue for the lecture was the ballroom at the Westin Hotel in the Sydney CBD, a fitting venue for this eagerly anticipated event.

Marita was born in Cairns, Queensland and graduated from high school in 2006 in the top 0.2% of the nation. She has a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechatronics and Computer Science from Melbourne. Marita’s qualifications are clearly very impressive. She also spoke of her time at Singularity University, a benefit corporation that provides educational programs, innovative partnerships and a startup accelerator. She recently attended a 10 week course at Singularity and learnt from some amazing people in the fields of technology, robotics, computer science and more. You can see a day in the life at Singularity University filmed by Marita here. It was here that she gained valuable experience in setting up her own company, and through networking with other people she got the idea for Aipoly, an amazing app that helps blind people see by using artificial intelligence to identify objects using the camera and then the app speaks the object to the user. The app can identify hundreds of objects and colours and is soon to be able to understand complex scenes. This is another example of her incredible vision and for making the world a better place.

Marita is probably best known for founding the RoboGals education initiative. RoboGals is now a huge success with chapters in many countries and helping thousands of young people to be engaged in engineering and robotics. But in the early days just getting volunteers, and her friends, to help out was tough. Her story shows that with grit, determination and hard work anything is possible. Read more about RoboGals here.

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Marita now runs 2Mar Robotics, an innovative company that is dedicated to providing robotics solutions for people with disabilities. It is an inspirational initiative and she spoke candidly of the processes involved from setting up a company and getting her ideas off the ground, and hopefully to market. Marita and her team have designed some amazing machines to help people that really need them. Her ideas are rooted in making the world a better place,

“Engineering is all around us, so it’s important that the engineers who create our world are as diverse as the people who live in it.”

Marita Cheng

Marita’s story is engaging and inspirational and she has certainly inspired me to continue to deliver an engaging and exciting STEM program at my school and aim to inspire the next generation of female engineering superstars to make the world a better place to live in. In the world of STEAM – E is for engineering!

Year 5, MARS & STEM in Term 1

What an awesome term of STEM we had in year 5! The main objectives were to learn about the planet Mars, space missions to Mars, the role of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the people that work there, discover if humans could live on Mars and what life would be like there.

So, lots of talk about lots of my favourite things: space, Mars, NASA/JPL, Adam Steltzner, The Martian, amazing technology, science and engineering, really inspiring stuff.

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As well as the main learning objectives I had planned at the start of the course, some extra opportunities arose to fit into the busy schedule to enhance the course further. March 14 was Pi Day and I planned a special lesson with help from a great resource I found from the NASA website called Planet Pi. I adapted the lesson slightly for year 5 and they coped with some new and tough maths admirably. This lesson highlighted how NASA scientists use Maths in their jobs to learn about planets and other celestial bodies. I explained the maths and formulae clearly and used some great visuals to help the girls understand the maths and why it was needed. I loved the example of using Pi to explore a planet, this was such a great lesson!

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Another great lesson we had this term, and which was a complete and unexpected surprise was the Skype with Andrea Boyd, an engineer with the European Space Agency. Andrea lives in Germany and was good enough to stay up late at night to speak to all of year 5 at 9am Sydney time. Andrea spoke about her education and career in the space industry, which was very interesting and inspiring for our young girls. Our students prepared some great questions to ask Andrea about space, the International Space Station, astronauts and more. Our girls did a great job, were beautifully behaved, very polite and engaged with this brilliant, young, Australian woman. We learnt so much about space and how astronauts live and work on the ISS. This was a really exciting lesson which everyone enjoyed! Big thanks go to Jackie Slaviero, founder of One Giant Leap Australia, for putting me in contact with Andrea and then for sending me an amazing pack of goodies from NASA.

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The students seemed to love our STEM lessons this term. Space is such an interesting, exciting and inspiring topic for young and old, and I was so pleased with how they engaged. I love the questions they ask, they are so curious and what to learn everything. As well as learning about Mars we learnt about black holes, the Earth and Moon, the ISS, the speed of light, galaxies and more. We could quite easily study space for the whole year, and I gladly would.

Next term… students continue their STEM journey to Mars when they work in engineering groups to design and build their own Mars rover, based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), aka Curiosity. Curiosity has been a common theme throughout the term and I talked a lot about it when I talked about JPL engineer and EDL team leader for Curiosity, Adam Steltzner, a really inspiring speaker.

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His TED talk ‘How Curiosity changed my life, and I changed Hers’ is one of my favourites.

We also looked at rover facts and a great video called ‘7 minutes of terror’ which details how the rover made it from the top of the Mars atmosphere travelling at 30,000 mph to the surface travelling at a few mph in just 7 minutes. Another must-see video!

Like I said, I could teach this topic all year and not get bored! I used this video for an Edpuzzle.com which included some questions about the EDL of Curiosity. A great resource for incorporating video into classes.

Students produced some wonderful work including ‘Selling Mars: selling land on Mars’ advertisements and a ‘NASA profile’ of an inspiring NASA scientist they found from the website We Are The Martians.

So next term… engineering groups, specific roles for each girl in the group, designing and making a Mars rover, making wheels and incorporating LittleBits electronics to make the rover move, engineering guide with project milestones, evaluations, presentations, creativity, teamwork and fun!

Let’s hope ours will look better than this one!

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