Week 10 Summary: An Alternate Reality or An Impossible Dream?

This week we have looked at Learning Analytics, for which I have posted my analysis here http://bit.ly/2nD5DI3.  In this analysis, I, in a nutshell, went somewhat off on a tangent and looked at the exercise as a statement of why we do analytics and not necessarily how analytics reflect what we do.  I summarized the positions of Verbeek (2011, 2013) and Foucault (1997) who assert that we need to be affirmative actors not only in the use of technology but its creation and declaration of purpose.

As usual, and characteristic of Blocks 1 and 2, the class engaged in discussion regarding the ethical and moral ramifications of technology.  This discussion was perhaps more prominently in Blocks 1 and 2.  What I did see more so in Block 3 was a diverse range of analytics and the types of data sought to be measured and ultimate use.  Perhaps I missed some things, but I failed to see much reference to the initial programming of the applications themselves, e.g. how was the the Google Search algorithm programmed and how could it be changed or modified and by whom?  The Twitter algorithm, in my view, was not so much about quality but of quantity, unless of course you purposely measure quality by quantity itself.

My readings took me through Knox, Verbeek, and Foucault primarily, and some others such as Braidotti.  The issues I found myself circling back to are displayed in the following video clips.  In short, we have technology and we know what it can do.  The real questions we should now focus on are why do we need these technologies and how can we be involved in establishing their purpose to begin with?

Are we seeking an alternate reality or an impossible dream?  Or neither?  Either by choice, chance, or force, the algorithms we use to move into the next realm of our evolution can be influenced by our own sense of purpose.  And what if, and when, technology evolves its own sense of purpose or the ability to change its fundamental programming?  These are questions for future, ongoing discussions.

http://bit.ly/2nDh6XS  The prisoner resists the insertion of technology into his life in order to alleviate loneliness and give him a new sense of purpose.

http://bit.ly/2nDaqJg  The Man of La Mancha creates a purpose for himself yet sees the impossibility of fulfillment; yet he strives on in spite of it all.

“Technology is the exteriorization of our nervous system.”

When I saw this blog entry, and watched the short video with it, it struck a chord with me.  As a life science teacher one of the units we cover in class is of course, the nervous system.  The network of nerves, to make it simple, connects all organ systems of the body and influences every action or reaction taken by the body in growth, fighting disease, metabolism, reproduction, etc.  I thought the comparison of technology was very insightful, and honestly, not one I had really thought of.  The technology we use in this course for example, connects us all, no matter where on the planet we find ourselves, whatever vocation we are in, whatever interests we have and so forth.  I have seen examples of how we struggle with the technology and getting it to work right, and how when it does work, it can be amazing.

The nervous system connects each cell to billions of other cells, and does so at an amazing pace every second of every day.  When a connection is broken, new pathways develop that re-connect the pathway. This really is an absolutely incredible visual of how we, as humans, stay connected to the world whether we want or need to, good or bad.  When a connection is broken that we need or want, we attempt to re-connect by building new pathways of communication.

Another interesting facet is how we are attempting to make Artificial Intelligence mimic actual humanity.  True, the trend has been to focus on more domestic tasks but recent research has sought to extend AI into more cognitive and emotional aspects of humanity.  In Block 1 I mentioned several films that reflected those objectives, albeit in fantasy form.  I would say however, that recent developments are pushing back on the fantasy as researchers get closer still to re-creating humans with cybernetic characteristics and abilities.  In the spirit of the aforementioned article and video, perhaps the more understanding we have of our own innate communication and networking capabilities as humans, the closer we get to achieving the form of AI that truly represents who we are as humans.  In a theological sense we are turning the doctrine of creation on its head.  Rather than God creating man in His own image, we are trying to create beings in OUR image; to some that would seem a rather presumptuous undertaking.

I have included the url for the article and video here again for reference.



First Love Replaced By Fake Love?

I am wondering how we have incorporated technology into our lives.  Discussing this with my students in our current unit about World War 1, we looked at the propaganda machine that drove public opinion toward favoring the Allied war effort as a holy quest to end the terror of the German warmongers.  For some reason, I immediately thought of this episode of The Twilight Zone.  Here, we have a man, convicted of a crime and exiled as punishment to a planet far from home.  IN an act of compassion, one of the supply ship crew members, which visited every few months or so, left a package for this man which contained the perfect companion, in the form of a woman.  She did everything for him and despite his initial rejection of her, stayed with him and served him.   Of course you can guess the outcome of the story, he eventually became reliant on her companionship, fell in love with her and so on.

One day, the supply ship returned with news his sentence had been commuted and they were to take him home.  Of course, she could not go, primarily because her mere presence was against the rules and if she left with him they all would be found out and a mess would ensue.  As a last resort, after the man’s interminable begging not to leave her, one of the crew shot her in the face, deactivating her and of course, showing her for what she really was:  a machine.

The moral of the story centered on how this man became reliant on this perfect woman who was programmed to meet his every need, to the point of being bereft of any sense of self-reliance.  And now you may ask, if you haven’t already, why I have gone through all of this?  The point is, how reliant have we become on machines to do our work for us?  When we misplace our cell phone, we turn the world upside down trying to find it.  When our computer crashes, our lives crash along with it.  When the net is down, the Earth ceases to spin on its axis.  I suppose I am asking how far can we go, should we go, in making machines so life-like and so “real” that we begin to replace warm-blooded human contact with them?  And at what expense?