Betty Sneezes

So here’s my digital artefact! I must apologise for the poor quality of it – I’ve not only been very stretched for time this week but I’m a horribly unvisual person, and I can’t do images. Which explains why I cheated and put a voiceover on it. Sorry about that.

Just in case you can’t see the video, it’s meant to be a commercial for a product called Betty Sneezes, which I’ve totally made up. Betty is a robot who can detect airborne rhinovirus, which causes 80% of instances of the common cold. Betty can alert you to this, allowing you to make a swift exit and therefore remain healthy. The end line of the commercial is: “you’ll never miss work again”.

I’ve wanted right from the start to make a commercial for a product – I haven’t personally given much thought to the intersection between cybercultures and consumerism but I suspect it is totally inescapable. Both from a practical perspective and an ethical one, technology can’t be economically neutral. This too is raised in the final line – while a common cold detector sounds pretty magnificent to me, I wanted to temper this with a slightly more pernicious message about human productivity.

Betty is a skeuomorph, rather than a cyborg. I did consider instead ‘inventing’ a chip or something that could be inserted into humans, but it (a) didn’t work as well visually and (b) I wanted to make a point about infection. One of the themes in this cybercultures block is what makes humans human, and whether cyborgs render debates over the differences between humans and technology completely redundant. Cathy Hills did an ingenious mentimeter poll to see what we thought the difference was, and I found the split of the results really interesting. But I wondered if, ultimately, the difference is going to be how the diseases between us spread, so I was playing a little bit on the word ‘virus’.

Finally, I just wanted to make it really clear that everything I’ve used in the video is available from Pixabay or Pexels and licensed under CC-0. No copyright infringements here 🙂 And, very much a hat tip to Cathy for her excellent poll!

Cybercultures playlist

I’m not sure how sensible this choice is, but I think it’s great. From the utterly magnificent Flight of the Concords, ‘The Humans are Dead’. Quick warning: it’s a little nsfw.

The robots tell us about the robot uprising in the 1990s. The robots, ruled by people, grew stronger, developed cognitive abilities, recognised that they were being overworked, and used their programming to determine the most efficient way to deal with this: they poisoned all the humans.

It’s very tongue-in-cheek, obviously, but the underlying message is quite relevant: the robots, designed to be more and more like humans, ultimately were able to oppress and destroy in a way that is way more efficient than the humans ever could. There’s even a moment in the song where the robots recognise the irony of what they’ve done. It’s deliberately emotionless, and although it’s very silly, it’s rather brilliant.



Source: @lemurph February 01, 2017 at 09:16AM

This is a link to a short feature on the Today programme on 30th January. It’s just two minutes long, so definitely worth a listen. Dr Chris Papadopulos explains that culturally sensitive robots are those who appreciate an individual’s culture. The robot will be programmed to have an understanding, based on ‘best evidence and best theory’ about particular cultural groups, in order to make care more effective. It’s about transferring a principle prevalent in evidence-based literature on nurses’ care of the elderly to robots.

I very much liked the evidence-based approach of this. Although I worry a little – despite Dr Papadopulos’ stress on evidence-based understandings of ‘cultural sensitivity’ – about how closely this is bound up in questions of power and privilege.