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.

best-drones-under-300

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.

Eye_in_the_Sky_2015_film_poster

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 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 2

The main focus of this weeks class was Technology and Politics. The meaning of politics here is that of society, the way we organise and arrange ourselves and how we promote certain values. So, a broad socio-economic arrangement. The question we wanted to answer was is technology politically neutral?

We started by agreeing that technology does not have embedded values, this was indisputable. However, the way technology is arranged may have political value. One such example of an arrangement of technology is the gun. A gun is designed to destroy things. Kerry said she could have a gun on her mantle as use it as a vase, but it was not designed to be a vase.

Another example Kerry gave was of an internet algorithm called a ‘bot’. An example of an internet bot is an algorithm that performs highly repetitive tasks such as create new content and interact with users like any human would. She used this article as an example – Bots without borders: how anonymous accounts hijack political debate – and in the article it reports that approx. 19 million bot accounts were tweeting in support of either Trump or Clinton in the weeks before the US presidential election.

“Pro-Trump bots worked to sway public opinion by secretly taking over pro-Clinton hashtags like #ImWithHer and spreading fake news stories.”

These bots are “polluting political discourse on a grand scale”.

So the question is does the algorithm have embedded political value? We decided that it does, in a similar way to the gun. It has an embedded intrinsic value to do damage. It is politically arranged.

We talked about the printing press and how it is egalitarian in its design. Technologies such as Google and Wikipedia are also egalitarian in their design and nature. One way we know this is because China bans Google, proving its egalitarian nature. Kerry said that at its best the media is egalitarian.

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https://pixabay.com/en/old-time-printing-press-vintage-950445/

We then talked about the telephone, an unsupervised and fast way to communicate. A telephone can be hacked and tapped, is this embedded within the technology? The fact that a telephone can be hacked does that mean that that was embedded in the arrangement of the technology?

Kerry talked about how the arrangement of a train means it crashing is inevitable.

We then started to talk about Karl Marx and how he talked about what has emerged, how the technology came first and the social arrangement followed. How the technology determined how people were arranged. An important question was who owns the means of production? Who’s interest is it to have a certain arrangement of people? Marx said oppression was built in to technology and was used to create capital, this is early capitalism. Today we consume capitalism, we have a need to consume products but we need to work and earn good wages in order to be able to afford to buy products. We are now locked in to technology, we couldn’t give it up even if we wanted to as we rely on it every day and we would feel left out if we didn’t have the latest device. Technology is meant to be about freedom, not slavery, but sometimes we are slaves to technology.

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https://pixabay.com/en/karl-marx-portrait-man-beard-2026379/

Eventually we get to Francis Bacon, the father of empiricism and modern science. He was really the first person to marry science with technology – STEM! One of his most famous quotes is …

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https://pixabay.com/en/comic-figure-child-drawing-know-383541/

The quote means that with knowledge comes the power to do something. He was a great believer that science should belong to everyone, not just the rich and the powerful, and that science and knowledge should be shared, given away for free for the greater good.

We finished two thoughts, that power should not be exclusive and that capitalism is a great motivator, incentive driver.

Week 3 to follow shortly…

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.

tools

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!