For the past eight weeks, I have been live tweeting along with my Future Cultures class at UOW enjoying content which related to everything technology, cyberspace and robot. The interactions and conversations that were sparked from these tweets and viewings unpacked discussion on various topics under the hashtag #bcm325.
I seemed to have been writing tweets to engage with contentious topics, however they gain no reaction from my peers. Taking a satirical approach while retaining some intellectual stimulation in my tweets prompted a larger reaction.
The following is a curated summary of my experience within this class with emphasis on the future cultures concepts and ideologies that I have learned throughout this semester so far.
Screenings: ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (1995), Westworld (1973), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), The Matrix (1999), Black Mirror: S2 E1 ‘Be Right Back’ (2013), Robot and Frank (2012), Black Mirror: S3 E6 ‘Hated in the Nation’ (2016) and Blade Runner (1983).
Cybersex creates a lot of very serious issues and problems as well as creating good environments. The idea that we are all in some sense cyborgs is a very real in its approach to our connection with technology. The technology and cyber life that we are connected to defines us and is a part of our real world. Thus, in the world of sex we have the same issues. A small documentary on the future of sex and specifically sex dolls/robots opened my eyes into some interesting points in the advancement of technology in the topic of sex. Some would say that there is more negativity and dystopian issues that come out sex and its connection and involvement with technology. However, I would argue that cyber sexuality is equally dystopian and utopian with its issues and its benefits.
Rise of the Sex Robots (2017) is a video that opened more issues and questions for me than anything I have seen before. Dr Kathleen Richardson who is interviewed in the video presents some very important and serious issues and view that are important to this development of technology and the potential of where this technology can go. Dr Richardson is a robot ethicist and the founder of the campaign against sex robots (Rise of the sex robots, 2017). Her main focus on sex robots is the ethical issues that they will arise. These ethical issues mostly centre on feminist ideals and values in relation to sex robots. She sees sex robots as the same as slavery and sex slavery (2017). Sex is a topic that is severally misunderstood and very gender centred in its ‘nature’. I agree with Dr Richardson in the idea that sex robots are offensive to women and can be seen to be an issue that enhances the problems of rape culture and misogyny. Social media already sees both the rise of rape culture but also the fight against it. The nature of social media gives voice to everyone and access for everyone to everything. Woman are still seen as sexual objects today, if more than ever before, this can be seen everywhere: advertising, films, media etc. Adverting is particularly bad in presenting sexualized and objectifying images of women in order to sell products. An example can be seen below. This ad can be seen to glorify sexual assault, via depicting a very gang rape scene.
(image: Dolce & Gabbana)
Rape culture is very prevalent in today’s society and is a serious part of online sexual communications and interactions. The Pleasure Mechanics podcast ‘Speaking of Sex’ (Rose & Rose, 2017) episode on taboo sexual fantasies look to unlock the social issues surrounding these serious issues. They talk about the three biggest taboo fantasies, rape, incest and youth (Rose & Rose, 2017). The first thing that the pleasure mechanics do is break down the idea of fantasies, in that fantasies are not real sexual desires that people have. There is an element of taboo that is arousing to us as humans, this can be seen in pornography and even in this futuristic idea of sex slaves/robots. A very disturbing part of the Guardian video, Rise of the Sex Slaves (2017) is when one of the robot creates states that the dolls are a way to diverge the anger and abuse men take out on their wives. This is a serious issue, because although it is a robot, the robot represents something more than that. It reinforces the views of women being sexually objectified and man’s property. There are really serious issues that I think come up with the future of sex with sex robots.
Through this research, I have realized that I want to maybe consider the ways that the future of sex is very problematic. The notion of sex robots/slaves will create more issues and is unethical. The western world is obsessed with the idea of growth and updating technology. Growth and updating technology can be great, although how far is too far? For my digital project, I want to take this research and create a podcast that will open serious questions that our digital world of sex.
Cybercultural Research Project: Second Progress Report
Since my first progress account I have renamed my topic, The politics and ideologies of data visualisation: A sociological perspective. The following is an updated outline that will guide the production of a research report or digital artefact.
A sociologist in training, I will overview abstracts and biographies of a recent sociological conference to underscore the progress of Sociology in recent years, as these have been significant guides in my research. I will cite Healy and Moody’s view of Sociology as lagging in the use of visual tools. This research will note the historical association of social work with the development and implementation of national policy circa the welfare state in 1946 to present. The Australian Commonwealth has exercised control over the direction of national social policy since the founding of the Commonwealth Research Bureau in 1944 (Morning Bulletin 1947). The privatization of social services will be raised as a related issue of concern in neoliberal contexts like Australia.
The four arguments introduced in my first progress report will be summarized for my audience and continue to guide topic development.
Accordingly, I will exemplify how both past inventions and futuristic thinking have shaped the development of data visualisation technologies and practices. Examples of what science fiction has technologically foreseen will be provided in reference to a presentation by Jeffrey Heer titled A Brief History of Data Visualization. This source will be coupled with a Milestones Tour to provide an overview of current DV trends and research areas. Augmented reality (AR) will be exemplified, envisioned in 1968 and famously employed in AR animation by Hans Rosling in recent years.
Of what was been culturally foreseen and is of relevance to the topic, I will cite Huff in his ‘prophetic’ reference to GH Wells in How to Lie with Statistics: ‘Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.’ I will also quote Aldous Huxley’s utopian / dystopianBrave New Word (1932), in which ‘liberties and individuality’ have been lost ‘in the name of universal stability’ (Shmoop 2016). This will be an allusion to the implication of social work with national population and fiscal policy targeting ‘illegitimate‘ children during 20th century Australia.
In the second section of the report’s body I will exemplify how governments and bureaucracies have significant authority in the relationship between the user and the computer, aiming questions of cyberculture at the legitimacy of related structures of command. The following related research into dataviz forms an amended outline of sources extending on my first progress report and is a work in progress:
What would happen if suddenly the internet stopped working over the whole world, if we were all in the dark? Would we still be ourselves? So much of our lives are online, so much of our identity. The world would come to a complete stand still. Would the world end? With everyone and everything so connected, our social lives and identities have become, in part, digital. Our lives are so online, we are constantly connected to our smart phones. The cyber world is a part of our real lives. We can’t simply turn it off, they are extensions of ourselves, our mind. In saying that, what does this mean for our sexuality and relationships?
The internet, as we know, is a huge cyber space that we all interact with on a daily/hourly basis. It can be a great place for individuals to find people of similar interests. It is the beginning of sexual expression and the advance of cyber sexuality. Back before the internet an individual would have to go down to the local newsagency and pick up one of the dirty magazines, meanwhile experiencing a great deal of stigma. Yet, in modern society, the internet creates a space where you can access anything at any time anywhere. This is also enhanced in the last ten years by the smart phone. With the nature of the smart phone we have access to sex 24/7. We could be sexting a potential lover that we have met on tinder while in the middle of a university class discussing the power play of the global inequalities in the south west. Almost everyone in the western world has a smart phone. We rarely come across someone who does not own a smart phone, and when we do we ask questions like; Are you living in the 19th century? how do you cope? Do you have life? All kinds of questions like this.
Sex is a difficult and interesting topic to study because of the incredible amount of negative stigma that coats it. Yet we are all in some way experience cybersex. An important part of our online sexuality is that sex can be no longer a physical act. Sex can be through many different terms. For instance; video calls, texting (sexting) which can involve images and text. Online sex has a lot of dark areas and maybe even more than we have in the real world. Although we can’t really make a distinction between the real world and the cyber world because they are all one in the same. Our ‘real’ worlds have become/involve our cyber worlds. Sexting is an act of online sexual endeavour that has many different issues that evolve around it. Amy Adele Hasinoff’s TED talk on sexting highlights very key elements of the laws on sexting and that these laws are unfair to the act itself. The very nature of the internet creates some of these issues. One of the issues I want to highlight with sexting it this idea of sexting sexual abuse. We often find that people don’t seem to understand the concept of consent when it comes to sex online, not just in the flesh.
Firstly, we must talk about the online dating crazy that has occurred in the last four years called Tinder. Tinder brought online dating to a new level of accessibility by using the smart phone and creating an app. This created a whole new avenue of sexting and online sexual interactions. Tinder mixed with snapchat automatically have people a great avenue for fun and ‘carefree’ sexting. With Tinder people can talk to multiple people at once, even engage in sexual endeavours with difference people at the same time. This creates a whole new world of online sex. It created way for sexual expression and freedom, but it also created a way for harassment and abuse. There are many cases of these sorts of harassments, but there is also harassment that is never reported that is experienced very regularly. Tinder is an interesting forum to also have a look at the gender divide and the different way that men and women experience online sexual encounters.
To present all these ideas I am thinking of putting together some sort of visual representation on the different areas of cyber sexuality. Hopefully in a blog like format where I can clearly express certain areas of said topic in a visual and written way. I want to show come digital and modern sex has become and how much sex is just as part cyber as it is physical.
Cyberculture is the response to the ubiquitous presence and use of computers and networks in all aspects of contemporary social and cultural life, including communication, labour, education, art and entertainment, and industry among others.
Cyberculture involves both the everyday experience of networked digital technologies and the representation of the many possible futures that such technologies might contribute to making a reality.
This subject seeks to examine those structures, institutions, and technologies which bring cyberculture into effect and the sites of representation and resistance that destabilise and call it into question.
At first glance, the ideas of religion and transhumanism oppose each other – the rejection of the forms given to us by God, etc., etc. Some transhumanists argue that transhumanism replaces religion and requires no gods – it allows humans to assume godlike roles in controlling our being and destiny. In a survey conducted by the World Transhumanist Association, most transhumanists were atheists or otherwise secular.
But there are many in the h+ community who choose to hold their transhumanism and their religion together.
1. We believe that God’s mission involves the transformation and renewal of creation, including humanity, and that we are called by Christ to participate in that mission: working against illness, hunger, oppression, injustice, and death.
3. We recognize science and technology as tangible expressions of our God-given impulse to explore and discover, and as a natural outgrowth of being created in the image of God.
In this way we are Christian Transhumanists.
The CTA has put their money where their mouth is, funding projects to curb infant mortality rates. They put forward that technology like this – man-made technology that enhances the human condition – enacts Christian values of valuing human life. Some argue that cryonics may allow a future Noah to save God’s creations as was done in Genesis. The basic principle of Christian Transhumanists is that the values of love, sacrifice and compassion are what will prevent the techno-apocalypse presented in the media.
The Mormon Transhumanist Association draws strong parallels between the ideas of transfiguration in the Mormon faith and the desire for transhumanists to ascend beyond their human form. Both aim to move beyond the limitations of the human body to achieve a higher form, and Mormonism adds a spiritual level to the transcendence of physical contraints – an aim of transhumanism – by linking it to religious beliefs that this overcoming of the physical allows one to commune with God.
Buddhist transhumanism holds that the implementation of technologies to relieve suffering, material confinement, stress, negativity and ill-will creates a confluence between h+ and Buddhism. An ability to control of physical function may also allow us to control our vices and failings.
“Then it might be possible to use future neurotechnologies to systematically make ourselves more truthful or compassionate. The use of neurotechnologies to consistently avoid vices and practice virtues would be useful in cleansing the mind of klesas or mental impurities.” (Hughes, 2013, p30)
In essence, these groups agree largely that religion and H+ are compatible, joining in the idea of ethical and mindful use of technologies. While these are minorities within their larger religious structures, we can accept that the fundamental principles outlined above may indeed have a positive influence on the future of transhumanism. Moreover, they provide an interesting framework for considering how H+ can work to increase happiness.
Hughes, J 2013, ‘Using Neurotechnologies to Develop Virtues: A Buddhist Approach to Cognitive Enhancement’, Accountability in Research: Policies & Quality Assurance, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 27-41
Since its modern iterations, artificial intelligence (AI) has been – unfortunately and possibly mistakenly – linked to gender. Even though AI has been theorised about since the Ancient Greeks (you can find a timeline of AI here), it was Alan Turing’s conceptualisation of a test to ascertain a machine’s intelligence (now known as the Turing test) that may have caused this (Halberstam 1991). To conduct the Turing test, a judge communicates with a man and a machine via written means and without ever coming into contact with either subject. The machine should be indiscernible from the man. The issue with this test is that Turing uses a male and a female as the control for the test, erroneously believing gender is an intrinsic value in a human (based on anatomy alone).
In our postfeminist context, we know that gender is a complex spectrum amounting from a combination of brain structure, genetics, sex hormones, genitals and most importantly societal conditioning. “Turing does not stress the obvious connection between gender and computer intelligence: both are in fact imitative systems” (Halberstam 1991). We know now that gender is constructed and reconstructed over time. If gender should apply to AI, it would present itself as a product of the AI’s programmer/s individual gender practice rather than something innate to the machine.
Instances of AI in everyday life already surround us, the most easily recognisable of which are the personal assistant softwares in smartphones, tablets and computers (Siri, Cortana, and now Google Assistant). Each of these have female voices as a default setting. In a discussion of the many feminine-named assistants, Dennis Mortensen, founder of x.ai, has said that we take orders better from a female rather than a male. This is trend continues in Microsoft’s endeavors to create AI bots on Twitter, most namely the “teen girl” conversation bot, Tay.
Bots and smartphone apps are both examples of weak AI – AI that simulates human intelligence by executing the simplest version of a task. In this podcast about Tay’s rapid corruption into racist Tweets, Alex Hern refers Microsoft’s previous app Fetch!, which identifies dog breeds from pictures – any picture, it need not include an actual dog. Based on this understanding of weak AI, I can only assume female voices are programmed in order to make the apps and bots more palatable and appealing. However this can only be described as “machines in drag“, with very little positive effect on intersectional feminism in society today (Robbins 2016).
Due to the close association of the machine with military intelligence (one of the first iterations of computer was developed by Turing in WWII in response to the Nazi’s Enigma after all), “computer technology is in many ways the progeny of war in the modern age” (Halbersham 1991). The probability of weaponised autonomous AI becoming a threat led to a gendering of the technology as female. Feminist theory sees the female as Other by comparison to the male in the same way that, even in the Turing test, technology is also othered. Andreas Huyssen identifies writers at the heart of this imagining of technology as female harbingers of destruction (cited in Halberstam 1991).
Halberstam, J 1991, ‘Automating Gender: Postmodern Feminism in the Age of the Intelligent Machine’, in Feminist Studies, vol. 17, no. 3, pp439-460.
Haraway, D 1991. ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, technology and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century’, in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, Free Association, London.