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 3

This week was the final week of the history part of this unit. We continued to discuss Marx and Heidegger in particular.

Kerry began the class by talking about an article about cyborg insects, you can read it here. This article is about scientists fitting a real dragonfly with a small backpack that can directly issue commands to the insects neutrons and can control its flight.

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It is hoped this kind of technology could one day be used to treat humans with certain medical issues. A very interesting article.

Back to the philosophy and we discussed Karl Marx and his theory of Political Economy. Marx recognises that the labour process is man and nature participating together and we must obey the rules of nature, we are part of nature. We are transformative beings and we reveal parts of our nature when we are involved in the labour process and the tools that we use. However, we are not truly transformative beings as we still make the same mistakes over and over again. Marx says we are not technology, we design and make something useful, an instrument. We went on to talk about the economy and how it is a social thing, the economy is for the purpose of society. We talked about how economy should be more in the service of society, if everyone had a stake in the economy then we would be more responsible and not waste resources if there was a direct knock-on effect to us. An example is global warming, we are all invested in our planet and future generations.

We then went back to Martin Heidegger and he had some fantastic points about technology. He said that we are most aware of technology when it breaks! This is so true. At its best, technology disappears and is seamless, this is an essential feature of Heidegger.

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http://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/martin-heidegger-4970.php

Kerry’s first example of this was the pencil. The point here is that when you are writing with a pencil you are not really aware of the pencil, it is invisible. The pencil is doing its job and it becomes an extension of your arm. Another example given was a car. When you’re driving you are (sometimes, mostly) not even aware of the car. Reading glasses was another example, when we wear glasses and when we read, watch TV or do work we are not aware of them, they essentially become a part of us.

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https://image.slidesharecdn.com/whatphilosophyandneurosciencecanteachusaboutux-150515193625-lva1-app6891/95/what-philosophy-and-neuroscience-can-teach-us-about-ux-6-638.jpg?cb=1431718699

Present-at-hand means you are aware of the technology, it is disconnected from us. If technology is present-at-hand we get annoyed with it and cast it away or try to fix it. Until it becomes a ‘means-to’ it is of no use to us.

Ready-at-hand means the technology is invisible, it becomes an extension of us, it is seamless and working perfectly. This also applies to the human body, when it is working perfectly we are not aware that we are doing certain things. When we walk we are not consciously thinking about our legs, but if you have a bad foot then you would be thinking about it.

The next Heidegger point was that technology is a method of revealing or concealing.

“The potter’s wheel, the paint brush, the hydro electric plant, the computer, all reveal or disclose something about human beings. Of course humans must have the potentiality to use the technology, however, it is in using technology that these aspects of the human are produced.”

Technology can reveal certain skills that we possess, however, it can also conceal skills we used to have and need. An example is with autonomous cars, we no longer need to learn how to drive a car as the computer inside the car will drive it for us, so our driving skills become concealed. 3D printing can also be seen to conceal skills of arts and crafts, however, other skills may be revealed, such as computer design skills. Email conceals hand writing skills but reveals other technological skills.

We finished the class by reading an article about nano-intentionality. We read that living organisms are intrinsically goal-directed, it is inherent in the behaviour of living eukaryotic cells. So we started to compare biology with computers. We decided that biological beings have conscious, purpose and are self-aware. It is also in our advantage to be aware of ourselves, flight or fight. Computers are programmed, not conscious or self-aware. Machines have no reason to be self-aware.

So this week we finished the history side of the course and now we will start to explore more contemporary philosophy. More to follow next week!