Cute technology friends

As I said on my other blog I’m following up here on an article from the Times Higher Education (THE).

I was chatting to a friend in the next office about this article and it just sparks off so many thoughts, questions, revelations. The article is by Dr Kathleen Richardson from University College London (UCL) and is a very, very quick trot through the history of robots. And why are we talking about robots you ask? Well there is not such a big jump between robots in society and Digital Literacy as you might think.

A few months ago I was doing a session with some undergraduate students. We were considering identity and the question came up, “what makes something a being”, as opposed to an animal or inanimate object. So the students said things like, “it must be like us”, this worked out as must have some sort of religion, must be able to reason and must have an ethical code. Well as most people reading this blog will know that can all get a bit difficult especially in these days of technological development. What about atheists, people who have mental development problems, people who have mental health problems, people in vegetative states – do they suddenly become non-people who can just be disposed of? What about people in the future who are so badly damaged in, for example, a road accident that a lot of their brain and body has been replaced by technology? Will they not be “people” any more? And conversely what about bio-mechanical robots – are they now “people”? This is all about Digital Literacy – how we will live with “others” in the future.

When we look back at history these present day questions are not so very different from beliefs held in the past. Slaves weren’t “people” because they weren’t “like us”. For the rich, commoners were devoid of any finer feelings because they weren’t “like us”. This sort of critical thinking needs to be embedded in all university courses otherwise our students won’t be digitally literate.

Thinking about teaching you might find this site from Esther Grassian useful. It’s a sort of Self-help site for students and, in some ways, lecturers on Information Literacy.

Thinking about other “technology friends” I was drawn back to the Guardian live discussion from 3rd June. The article is entitled, “Breaching the digital divide: How could HE better use the Internet?”. I thought it interesting that most of the discussion centred round research rather than around learning and teaching. Many contributors had not completed their profiles so it was difficult to know just which discipline their arguments originated from. Some were researchers with a science background and so they were interested in things like sharing and accessing databases, using social media such as Figshare and everyone was interested in the pros and cons of how research is and might be published and the fact that a lot of social media programs have developed because researchers wanted to talk to one another.

People also talked about how easy it is now to access good or even excellent material compared to a few years ago. May be communicating, sharing and publishing will only improve when the framework is there to support it all.

Have to dash off to a meeting now so I’ll have to come back to this tomorrow.

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2 responses to “Cute technology friends

  1. Mark Childs

    Lots of interesting things here – the sudden rise of interest in bots and robots in education is remarkable. Of the bids I currently am waiting on a response for, 3 out of 4 are to do with using AI in some form in education. this is very weak AI being considered here though, we’re still a long way off from having to worry whether these can be considered beings or not, but maybe some day it will become an issue.

    The answers to the question of what makes a being a being are readily found in SF, though. I would suggest that a student who thinks religion is at all an essential part of being sapient need a bit less Bible and a bit more Star Trek in their life – maybe starting with this http://www.amazon.co.uk/Data-Human-Metaphysics-Star-Trek/dp/0465045480 šŸ™‚

  2. timjohnson

    Thanks Mark, that’s a smashing book šŸ™‚ I must pass that on to a few of my friends. There seem to be some good books coming out – must be in time for the summer – a friend alerted me to this book, Creating Second Lives: Community, Identity and Spatiality as Constructions of the Virtual [Kindle Edition] Astrid Ensslin , Eben Muse but even the Kindle edition is over Ā£64. Has anyone read it yet?

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