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 9

The penultimate week of the course. This week we focused on self-driving cars and drone technology.

We started by talking about how the motor vehicle has shaped our urban environments. Cities are designed around cars, street layout, bridges, intersections, tunnels, road signs, traffic lights and more, it is all because of the car. When something new comes along then cities and urban structures will be reshaped again. With autonomous cars we can expect future cities to change dramatically. We discussed a future where people don’t own a car, instead we all share cars that we order on a smartphone. The car picks us up and takes us to our destination and then the car makes another trip to take someone else. Cars will continuously do this, 24/7. They will be electric and also use solar power. The energy they don’t use during the day will be pumped back into the energy grid for people to use in their homes. We will not need to worry about parking spaces and multi-storey car parks, so this space can be used for other buildings and spaces.

Here are two great articles about Uber’s self-driving cars.

Uber’s First Self-Driving Fleet Arrives in Pittsburgh This Month

Here’s What It’s Like to Ride In Uber’s Self-Driving Car

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If people won’t own a car in the future this will impact our social lives. Cars are social spaces where people meet, talk, spend lots of time together. Young people traditionally use a car to escape from their parents with a girlfriend or boyfriend, where will young people go to escape in future?

Self-driving cars will eradicate drink-driving, a huge positive. Will an effect of this mean people will drink more when they go out as they know they won’t have to drive home?

Employment will change dramatically. Taxi drivers, delivery drives and more professions will be redundant. Different jobs will be needed. Will driving become more of a hobby and a more popular sport? Driving might be an activity that people do on the weekend for fun!

How will the transition happen? It will be messy and take time. We thought that car insurance may become astronomical to put people off from owning a car so they have to use this new self-driving fleet.

Our attitudes to cars will also change. We won’t care about cars because we won’t own them. We won’t care what type of car picks us up, just like public transport we don’t care what type of bus or train we take, it will be the same with the car.

Driverless cars will also affect the economy. People won’t get speeding fines, parking tickets, pay for parking, councils will lose lots of money, how will they make money in new ways?

Some disadvantages could be the threat of somebody hacking your car with intent to do harm to you. We also voiced concerns of privacy in that via the app people will be able to see where you have been, where you are going, how much data about your trips will be collected and made available? We talked again about the generational gap, people under 55 probably won’t care but people over 55 will not be happy about sharing more personal data.

We talked about cars would make decisions when faced with a choice about who or what they need to crash in to. We talked about the phrase ‘Garbage in, garbage out’, how the algorithms that control this technology will need to work perfectly to prevent crashes. We know that computer systems have a lack of understanding of the world. As humans we are able to understand our environment so much better and we use our experiences to help us build maps and connections of the world. For example, we know if we’re in the wrong place, we have a sense if we get lost or stuck somewhere. Cars follow algorithms and GPS data, if that data is wrong they do not know this, but we do out of instinct.

Now we moved on to the week 9 reading about drone technology.

“UAVs, UASs, RPVs – unmanned air vehicles, unmanned aircraft systems, remotely piloted vehicles – are invading the skies. Everyone calls them drones, ignoring the best efforts of political-correctness enforcers to call them something else. They are the wave of the future in global aviation.”

Commercial drones are now widespread. There are rules and regulations around the use of drones, but we questioned who enforces these rules? Here is a breakdown of the rules for flying drones for fun and recreation in Australia from the Civil Aviation Authority (CVA).

More information can be found here.

We looked at the main uses for drones, these include:

  • Aerial imagery
  • Inspections
  • Survey
  • Real estate
  • Movie and TV
  • Mapping
  • Agriculture

I made the point that drones are now being used in education to teach kids to learn coding.

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There is some public opposition to the use of civilian drone use. People are concerned about the uses of some drones, such as military use and surveillance. Privacy is an issue with concerns over drones spying on private property and capturing images using onboard cameras. Someone asked if we owned the airspace above our house for example? Someone mentioned the movie ‘Eye in the Sky’ starring Helen Mirren. This film sees drone technology being used to spy on terrorists and potentially to strike a terrorist plot with missiles from a drone. If there is a chance that innocent people would be killed should missiles be launched to kill one or two terrorists? It looks like an interesting movie about the morals of killing with drone technology.

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Another use of drones, and in this case a swarm of drones, is this example from Vivid Sydney. A choreographed light and music entertainment experience held in 2016 in Sydney harbour and organised by Intel. Have a look, its amazing!

Next week is week 10 and the final class.

Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 7

In our session this week we finished our discussion of Machine Ethics and began discussing Medical issues and technology.

We started the session by talking about intelligent machines that could be capable of thinking of their own rules. We asked who would be to blame when something goes wrong? The programmer did not code in the instructions that caused the problem, the computer took the action due to complex algorithms and artificial intelligence capabilities. But you can’t sue a machine or punish one, they don’t care.

Kerry recommended a website to us called Moral Machine. This resource gives the user a series of scenarios based on what would happen if the brakes on a driverless failed and the car was to crash into people crossing a road. You have a moral choice to make for each scenario, do you decide to crash into group 1 or group 2, and each group has different characteristics based on the people in the group. It as an interesting dilemma and at the end of the test you are given a breakdown of the results to see the types of people you favour over others. In other words, the test will tell you what types of people you value more over others.

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One of the scenarios included just cats as passengers in one car which seemed a little bit far-fetched! Although with driverless cars now current technology I suppose seeing a car with just animal passengers is now possible.

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We discussed Immanuel Kant and how he believed certain types of actions were absolutely prohibited, even if the consequences would bring about more happiness. He said that before you can act you have to ask two questions:

  1. Can I rationally will that everyone act as I propose to act? If the answer is no then you must not act.
  2. Does my action respect the goals of human beings rather than merely using them for my own purposes. If the answer is no then you should not perform the action.

So in this case we decided that Kant would take neither course of action, so in this case Kant was not particularly useful. Kerry said that Kant would not even get in the car in the first place and you may as well just stay in bed! Kant acts without emotion. He says your brain is a logical, rational machine. If you act with emotion then you act without morality. Is it possible to leave emotion out of your decision making process? Sometimes lying is a good thing, sometimes we need to lie, but Kant says lying is never good.

We talked about how machines should be designed in the favour of humans. An example is being overpaid instead of underpaid. We used the example of an ATM machine and that they are coded to take money back if it is not claimed within a few minutes so if you forget to make the money then no one else will take it.

We then talked about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We discussed how ICT has helped to secure some of our basic psychological needs and opportunities to address some of our higher needs. ICT helps us to communicate quickly, freely through a variety of methods. We can easily and quickly share valuable moments and memories also using a variety of different media and documents.

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We also talked about the positive aspects of computer gaming. Gaming helps build many positive characteristics including:

  • Self-knowledge
  • Friendship
  • Empathy
  • Engaging in shared activity
  • Sharing intimacy

It is true that many video games include many questionable ideas and actions and some people are increasingly worried about the violent nature of video games. However we discussed the idea of catharsis and that if you play a violent video game does this then allow people to release certain violent tendencies in a virtual world rather than in the real world.

We then moved onto a new sheet and on the topic of medicine and technology. Some of the topics we discussed were gene editing, diabetes and alzheimers. An interesting article we discussed can be found here.

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The article talks about gene editing procedures that allow people to prevent people from passing on serious medical conditions to their children. The report says that clinical trials could start soon. The process involves stopping a disorder by rewriting faulty DNA to make it healthy. It is amazing that this technology exists and that scientists will in the future be able to prevent serious illness, this of course is a great idea. However, we discussed that this technology is so new that we don’t know what the consequences will be of manipulating genes. We don’t know what the effects will be if we eradicate one disease will it cause another or make other diseases more prevalent. We talked about perfection is not perfect, it can have flaws, and these flaws can be advantageous. We continued by saying that diversity is good, there is a reason for it. Mutations can be good, we evolved through mutations as it was to our advantage.

Another interesting week of this course and 3 weeks left to go.

Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine – Week 1

My first new course for 2017 is Philosophy of Technology: Human vs Machine, a 10 week course at the University of Sydney.

In this opening week of the course we learnt what technology is, and isn’t, and had some interesting debates about driverless cars, human looking robots, Aristotle, Kant, Heidegger and Freud.

So, what is technology?

Technology is any humanly created artefact, system or technique produced to achieve some human end or purpose. Technology is the manipulation of nature, which transforms or makes nature available for human use.

All human societies make use of different tools. The first primitive tools were used to manipulate nature in some way, such as to make fire, cook food and hunting. It is interesting to note that fire is considered a form of technology when it is produced and controlled by humans. As our use of technology has increased so our environment has changed dramatically.

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The word technology also means technique. An example being the control of fire is not an artefact, but its manipulation is a technique which alters nature.

Technology is not for itself, it is a tool used to achieve something. Using Martin Heidegger’s terminology, In Order To. Heidegger exempted art from his definition because it is For-Itself.

The word technology comes from the word technê. Technê is “the set of principals, or rational method, involved in the production of an object or the accomplishment of an end; the knowledge of such principles or method; art.” It’s aim is making and doing, orientated towards producing something.

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Ancient Greeks viewed art negatively and craft positively. The reason is craft is the practical application of an art, rather than art as an end in itself. Socrates and Plato also shared this view.

Another important feature of technology is that it either compensates for some lack in our own human abilities or enhances some human feature. A tool for breaking rocks compensates for our soft hands for example.

Heidegger also notes that tools are not independent entities, without their definition they are useless. All tools only make sense when connected to other tools and institutions. Heidegger’s example of a hammer which needs a workshop, nails, wood, things to build and reasons to build them.

One other really interesting point from tonight is called the uncanny valley. The concept of uncanny was developed by Sigmund Freud and means something that is familiar but is slightly strange. The uncanny valley is the hypothesis that human replicas that appear almost human like provoke feelings of revulsion and eeriness. The valley part denotes a dip in the observer’s affinity for the replica. uncanny_graph_blog.jpg

As the image above shows, the valley is shaded in grey. As realism increases so the empathetic response dips. The graph shows a few examples. This is why we don’t see more human looking robots, they just look weird and creepy.

This first week was really interesting and I think the next 9 weeks are going to further enhance my knowledge of technology and philosophy, can’t wait!