Heyya! *Waves with hand open like Dr. Spock* Ever since I attended the first BCM 325 Seminar of the Autumn session, the concept of a ‘novum’ has intrigued me. Not suprisingly, a search through instagram reveals that there is indeed a large audience who also enjoy exploring various elements within the sci-fi and speculative genre […]
For my digital artefact, I created a YouTube Channel with useful information and discussions on the ethical implications on tracking humans. This channel has four videos currently but can be expanded by getting more families to discuss their own opinions on the issue. To go to the channel, click here!
The area of study I choice to explore encompassed an aspect of cyber surveillance, geoslavery and tracking devices which has not yet been fully unraveled by society. Throughout this project I have been able to draw conclusions using my own experiences as someone who has been tracked along with using academic, pop culture, news and political sources to frame my argument involving the ethics of tracking humans.
In the context of this investigation, I cumulatively utilised primary experimental research (a discussion video with my family) and secondary research to fully engross myself in the content…
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When it comes to artificial intelligence, there are many people who believe that the introduction of artificial intelligence and robots could lead to a dystopian world similar to that portrayed in “Terminator Salvation” (p.s. Terminator Salvation is a terrible film), where robots have enslaved humanity. Whilst not entirely implausible, the threat of unemployment is a much greater moral concern surrounding unemployment, with the World Economic Forum suggesting that as many as 5 million jobs, from 15 developed and emerging economies could be lost by 2020 (Brinded, 2016). In fact, many people are already starting to lose their jobs to machines with self-serve checkouts being a major example of the way machines have been able to do a job, previously undertaken by human employees, but with greater efficiency and lower cost. However, I am more focused on investigating the threat posed by human-like robots, rather than machines in general. Why? Because that’s what society imagines when you mention artificial intelligence. They imagine machines that replicate our human bodies.
In countries such as Japan, many more jobs are now being done by robots. In fact, there is a theme park in Nagasaki, Japan that is about open a “robot kingdom” section where over 200 robots will work as bartenders, chefs, luggage carriers and more.(Niinuma, 2016). At the 2016 Milken Institute’s Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, many of the guests confirmed that robots are slowly becoming employed by various companies, at the expense of us humans (Japan Today, 2016). The idea of robots or sentient beings in relation to the workforce, leads to a greater moral question: Could humans and robots co-exist peacefully?
In his book ‘Digital Soul: Intelligent Machines and Human Values ‘, Thomas M. Georges hypothesizes how the introduction of sentient beings in society might be received by humans. Georges states that “learning to live with superintelligent machines will require us to rethink our concept of ourselves and our place in the scheme of things” (Georges 2003, pg. 181). This statement raises many philosophical questions, which I will explore in my next blog post alongside an in-depth look at the 2015 film ‘Ex-Machina’. Georges’ statement does, however, imply that unsurprisingly living with robots would cause some conflict and would not be a smooth transition for humans. Having said that, many will say that we are already living amongst various forms of “weak” AI such as Siri or Cotana, smart home devices and the somewhat annoying purchase prediction. However, these are forms of “weak” AI and we are still a long way away from a society where humans co-exist with sentient beings. All we can do, for now, is worry and imagine.
Brinded, L 2016, “WEF: Robots, automation and AI will replace 5 million human jobs by 2020”, Business Insider Australia, viewed 4th May 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com.au/wef-davos-report-on-robots-replacing-human-jobs-2016-1?r=UK&IR=T
Georges, T. M. 2003, Digital soul: intelligent machines and human values. Boulder, CO: Westview Press
N/A 2016, “Rich and powerful warn robots are coming for your jobs.”, Japan Today Viewed May 5, 2016, http://www.japantoday.com/category/technology/view/rich-and-powerful-warn-robots-are-coming-for-your-jobs
Niinuma, O 2016, “Theme park’s ‘robot kingdom’ seeks to upend Japan’s service industry”, Nikkei Asian Review, viewed May 5 2016, http://asia.nikkei.com/Tech-Science/Tech/Theme-park-s-robot-kingdom-seeks-to-upend-Japan-s-service-industry?utm_source=fark&utm_medium=website&utm_content=link
Last week I researched the Cyberpunk genre, its dystopic settings, its portrayal of (or the lack of) the separation of the organic and artificial, as well as Jon Turneys “Imagined objects”. From here I will begin refining my final digital artefact, with the aim of developing a complete Virtual Cyberpunk Store.
To begin, I have selected the first 3 objects I will be exploring:
1. The Voight Kampff Machine – Blade Runner:
A lie detector-type device that allows the user to distinguish between humans and androids using biometrical measurements.
2. The OSC 7 Cyberdeck – Neuromancer:
An advanced computer system used to jack into the matrix.
3. The Dominator – Psycho-Pass:
A gun that can determine the identity of the user, requiring authentication in order to read and send psychological data (Psycho-Pass) of targets in order to calculate their crime coefficient.
For each of these objects displayed in my store, I will create an in-depth discourse exploring the textual background and the contextual societal concerns, as well as a description of what they are used for within their texts.
A further element I am considering is pricing the items in specific currencies, and possibly even creating comparisons between similar items.
This will involve drawing on Cyberpunk theory, as well as wider sci-fi theory and how these genres impact on real science and technology. Furthermore, research into Design Fiction will help in my representation of the ‘imagined objects’. Lastly, and most obviously I will, and have been, engaging in the texts of which these items come from.
Another step which I am about take is to begin developing the store site. If I can find an effective way of reading material within VR, I will definitely be looking at creating a VR store, with my items through Unreal Engine. However, I feel a much more realistic approach will be to create a web-store.
As I am aiming to create a virtual storefront for imagined objects within Cyberpunk texts, it’s important to have a clear definition of the Cybercultural elements I will be looking to explore in depth.
Firstly and most importantly, I must define what a Cyberpunk text is.
While rather lengthy I feel Erich Schneider perfectly explains Cyberpunk:
“Cyberpunk literature, in general, deals with marginalized people in technologically-enhanced cultural ‘systems’. In cyberpunk stories’ settings, there is usually a ‘system’ which dominates the lives of most ‘ordinary’ people, be it an oppressive government, a group of large, paternalistic corporations, or a fundamentalist religion. These systems are enhanced by certain technologies (today advancing at a rate that is bewildering to most people), particularly ‘information technology’ (computers, the mass media), making the system better at keeping those within it inside it. Often this technological system extends into its human ‘components’ as well, via brain implants, prosthetic limbs, cloned or genetically engineered organs, etc. Humans themselves become part of ‘the Machine’. This is the ‘cyber’ aspect of cyberpunk. However, in any cultural system, there are always those who live on its margins, on ‘the Edge’: criminals, outcasts, visionaries, or those who simply want freedom for its own sake. Cyberpunk literature focuses on these people, and often on how they turn the system’s technological tools to their own ends. This is the ‘punk’ aspect of cyberpunk.”
Cyberpunk is known as ‘Hard Science Fiction’, due to the strong reliance on science and technology. Cyberpunk breaks down the separation between the organic and the artificial, or, between the human and the machine. They often focus on how technology has resulted in a dystopian society.
Jon Turney discusses the influence of Science Fiction on the trajectory of technological development in his paper ‘Imagining technology’ (2013). This piece of work is fundamental to my research, at least in these early stages. Turney (2013 p. 8) states that Science Fiction “is an important arena for imagining the effects of technologies, existing and yet to come. Its imagined worlds are ones in which life is enabled or constrained by technologies in ways we have not yet seen in our world. Whether we do see them realised may then be influenced by the role technologies play in these alternate realities.” Therefore, Cyberpunk is a cultural response used for exploring technologies that have led to, or that are within, the previously mentioned dystopian society.
This brings me to the technological objects within these texts, specifically, the ones I will be analysing. What makes an object Cyberpunk technology?
Turney explains a key feature in Science Fiction texts. Most stories have a ‘novum’ – “a feature which defines a key difference between the reader’s everyday world and the world being portrayed” (Turney 2013 p. 7). The novum is usually technological, the most common tropes of science fiction texts are that of tools and machines , such as computers, virtual reality, robots and spaceships.
It is therefore important that my imagined objects or, ‘novum’s’, explore the implications of technology on the world.
Hence, Cyberpunk is a literary genre used to explore the relationship between organic humans and artificial technologies and the resulting effects on the world.
It is these technologies that I will be pulling out of their texts and exploring their historical, societal and contextual backgrounds.
Whilst not exactly Cyberpunk, or even Science Fiction, Design Fiction may still be of value to my project. Design Fiction is an interesting attempt to explore technological possibilities of the near future. Void of the drama and stories of Science Fiction literature, Design fiction is generally a conversational piece that conveys “the kinds of experiences that might surround the designed object” (Turney 2013 p. 41). Design Fiction is the result of our knowledge of how stories influence cultural mentalities towards new technologies. As Turney (2013 p. 43) puts it, “The story we are telling ourselves about the relation between imagination and technology is changing, and so the way we try and tell stories about technology is changing, too.” Design fiction could be seen as a new way for promoting technological advancements and discussion of possible futures.
- Turney, J 2013, ‘Imagining technology’, Nesta Working Paper, No, 13/06, viewed 5 April 2016, <https://www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/imagining_technology.pdf>
In both the Transhumanism and the Neo-Luddism movements, what we see portrayed or discussed in the media are often extreme examples.
So with such an extreme dichotomy in the way we discuss these two differing approaches to life, my questions turned towards the principles of each movement. My interest is with how each philosophy affects ones happiness, and so my research turns towards the day-to-day experiences of Transhumanists and Neo-Luddites.
The principles of Transhumanism, on a basic level, are to use technology to enhance human experience. “Transhumanists recognize that their bodies are a kind of machine – one that can be studied, understood and subjected to hacks.” – Dvorsky, 2008
For some Transhumanists, it’s a solid 3 minutes of taking vitamins to extend, using smartphones to enhance efficiency, using recording devices to make up for a lack of memory power. For others, it’s bio-hacking with implantable chips or designer drugs.
The Notes Toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto point out a few simple principles of a modern approach to Neo-Luddism. First, hat it is not anti-technology, but “opposed to the kind of technologies that are, at root, destructive of human lives and communities.” Secondly, it recognises that all technology is political, that is “consciously structured to reflect and serve specific powerful interests in specific historical situations.”
In the day-to-day, this might mean refusing to use social media, or even just having scheduled device-free hours, or buying handmade or locally grown produce instead of going to supermarkets.
For my project, I aim to create a transmedia project that will reflect the daily experiences of each group. This format is most suitable to accommodate both philosophies in a way that can still be presented easily as an assessment task.
As technology becomes more ubiquitous in our day-to-day, more and more people are concerned with how to switch off and re-engage with the real world. We can see examples of this in the growing popularity of the ‘digital detox’, where participants aim to go device-free. More often, we have university lecturers instituting a no-device policy in classrooms, to encourage students to engage with the classroom environment. Workplaces encourage employees to disconnect for periods of time to encourage creativity and inter-personal interaction.
In my personal life, I’ve found myself confronted with these issues more frequently. Do my phone and Facebook genuinely make me happy? Or does my joy and wellbeing come from taking it slow, and just enjoying life?
For my DIGC335 research project, I will aim to investigate these issues by comparing examples at each extreme of these arguments.
Transhumanism is a movement that is interested in using technology to enhance humans and further overcome the limitations and capacities of the human condition. It seeks to use technology to extend life span, to improve quality of life, and to change the parameters of our experience.
In practice, this looks like RFID chips implanted under the skin that can act as a key. It looks like prosthetic and cybernetic artificial limbs that can be controlled by thought. It’s gene therapy, replacing a ‘malfunctioning’ gene that causes a disease with a new, working one.The Transhuman agenda is to use technologies such as these to ‘redesign’ the experience of being human.
On the other side of the spectrum are various anti-technology groups, such as the Neo-Luddite movement. At the heart of these movements is the concern that technology is being used to control, not enhance, our lives and experiences as social beings. Looking at the long lines of people waiting to shell out hundreds of dollars on the latest iPhone (despite its lack of improvement or innovation in the overall smartphone field) it’s easy to believe that technology is contributing to the rat race, rather than helping us overcome it.
My research this semester will be primarily concerned with a critical analytic comparison of the Transhumanist movement and the Neo-Luddite movement as competing theologies of how to live a happy and fulfilled human life.