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 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.