What it is to be human; part 2 #edcmooc

I found Gumdrop altogether different from Robbie; where Robbie had some depth and integrity I found Gumdrop shallow and flighty. Perhaps it was her character, her role as an actress that made me think that? Maybe it was her voice that was so human that it was difficult to reconcile with being a robot when Robbie sounded as I expected a robot to sound? Nevertheless there were several aspects of the film that I found interesting;

Gumdrop was scared of losing control.  However, she also says that she likes things that disturb her both of which are very human traits and which add some extra dimension to her as a character. Her mannerisms and the way she used language which was appropriate to the context was also very natural.

To me Gumdrop and Robbie represent different aspects of being human; they each have characteristics that suggest that they are ‘humanised”. Gumdrop represents a lighter side of life; she is a robot that has been assimilated into the world of humans and is part of it as opposed to Robbie who seems to be on the edge, not quite part of the gang, so to speak.  Maybe Gumdrop’s time is much further into the future when technology has developed to a greater extent.

However, I am curious about her appearance – she is almost a parody of what we expect a robot to look like – a stylised quasi cartoon robot. I would have thought that in the future, if we can create robots that are totally accepted into our society as Gumdrop appears to be, we would have the ability to make them look much more human.   Having said that, I think I would find that quite disturbing which leads on to a whole new train of thought…..


What it is to be human… Part 1 #edcmooc

Robbie – A Short Film By Neil Harvey

I was moved by this film and Robbie’s humanity touched me. In a world who’s history has been littered with episodes of extreme inhumanity his tenderness, pacificity and acceptance of his lot in life was strangely refreshing. I struggle for the right word – refreshing doesn’t really express what I mean. He is almost more human than real humans if we accept that humanity is having the ability to think, to empathise, to reflect and analyse and certainly more human than those who commit atrocities. However, if one of the keystones being human is the ability to make choices, to have the freedom to be autonomous, to forge our own paths and create our own destinies, sadly Robbie is far from human and simply a slave to the human who created him. Where do we stand ethically when we create a “being” with feelings but with no ability to choose?

In the forum discussions other people talked about the idea of friendship; did Robbie really have friends or was he merely projecting the pre-programmed concept of friendship that had been given him on the people around him? Was this another cruel illusion allowed him by his creator? Surely true friendship is a two way thing, communication, connectedness, reciprocal.

He says his memories are “real”memories of his experiences but that he can only visualise simulated environments; I wonder if the children in “A Day made of Glass” will also only be able to visualise the simulated environments of their online learning environments?

Which brings me to the question “What is real life?” The boundaries are becoming ever more blurred. For Robbie his life was real enough – it is interesting that he talked of himself as a “person”.  I also find it intriguing that he felt a need to adopt a religion; was this, like many “real people”, a need to have something higher to believe in, to depend on, to offer comfort, feel a sense of belonging. Maybe that was programmed into him as an act of kindness? After all, stranded in space for 4 thousand years all alone, the ability to imagine, to dream, to hope, to believe at least allowed him to exist in a fantasy utopian world.

Death is a stange thing and it is something that many of us fear but Robbie seems to have accepted that his life is coming to an end. He has decided to spend the last hours of his battery life looking down on his “home” – earth. It is strange that even though he hs not been on earth for four thousand years he still sees it as home. We have emotional attachments to the places we grew up in, the places we have been happy, the places where people we love are.  However, as an immigrant to New Zealand I am interested in the concept of what people call home.  I have observed that people who have had little choice about leaving their country of birth don’t really see their country of residence home. Others, who have made a conscious choice about emigrating, are possibly less nostalgiac and although they certainly miss aspects of their home country, and probably more specifically their family, they accept more whole-heartedly their adopted country as “home”.  Choice, freedom to choose, freedom to forge our own destiny, freedom to not be controlled by technology, is that what it is to be human?

TAGSExplorer: Interactive archive of twitter conversations from a Google Spreadsheet for #edcmchat #edcmooc

http://hawksey.info/tagsexplorer/?key=0AlRH7JoVHnnLdENHMm54RWVQN1NNU0tJZEpsXzQ3UEE&sheet=oaw Fascinating statistics! I’m not a mathematician or a statistician and my eyes usually glaze over when I see graphs but I love the way that this graphic shows the interactions. I am also amazed and a litle proud that my name stands out just a bit! I find the Twitter chats quite energising and love the free flow of ideas that punctuate the chat. The ideas take some to process and synthesise, time which I am sorely lacking right now but I am sure that they will not be forgotten and will inform my thoughts in the future. Thanks everyone.

Plus ca change … thoughts on a digital artefact #edcmooc

a walkway over the edge of a lake, the reflection of the rails can be seen in the water
The way forward?

I have had a busy week where I struggled to find time to read, view, reflect and gather my thoughts.  Work has been demanding of my time and my 18 yr old son is leaving for Canada to work for 8 months in an outdoor centre.  A scary time for a Mum as her firstborn flies the nest; torn between wanting to spend as much time with my child, who would rather be with his girlfriend (an whyever not, I suspect I preferred my boyfriend’s company to my parents’ at the same age?) and needing to fulfil the demands of my job and edcmooc. Yesterday was spent preparing a party to celebrate on several levels; 5 years since we arrived in NZ, my husband’s birthday (which falling as it does just a few days after Christmas, has to be celebrated separately just a little later than the real day to make it special), my son’s belated 18th (his Birthday fell in the middle of his school exams), and a farewell to same son before he sets off on his adventures to the other side of the world.

Anyway, I managed to snatch time to read and view videos on the hoof, but certainly have not seen and read everything. The twitter chat this morning (evening for all of those of you int he northern hemisphere) was fun; it gave me the opportunity to share ideas, learn from others, make some more connections.  Fast and furious, there is never enough time to really process but snapshots of ideas sow seeds and during the day I have had time to synthesise some of them.

I would really liked to have contributed more to the flickr project this week but time prohibited the ability to be creative.  Nevertheless, I have spent today devoted to my computer and edcmooc and come up with some icelebratory cake with map of NZ showing a marker with "home " written on it and an aeroplane flying towards (or away from) it. deas.  A work in progress towards my digital artefact; not deeply analytical, fairly soundbite-ish but getting there…


#edcmooc They’re made out of meat

Coils of bright pink sludge being squeezed out into a box

Before I watched this film and had just seen the title a horrible image that has been doing the rounds on Facebook recently, dominated my thoughts; meat slurry is apparently the whole content of a chicken, or other animal crushed down to a sludge and it is reportedly what is used in chicken nuggets and other fast food.

So it was with this disturbing image in mind that I started watching the film. That sense of discomfort didn’t really leave me as I watched the various unsavoury characters in the film.  I wondered who were the humans and if the main characters were aliens that were impersonating humans, what a depressing perception they had of us.  Is that what outsiders looking in on our world see?  They were emotionless, robotic, almost autistic, uncomfortable in their roles, not getting it quite right.  The “humans’ on the other hand were natural, communicative although there was a suggestion from their behaviour that there was little higher order thinking going on; their interactions were at “mating” level – the cook and the waitress engaging in trading lascivious gestures, the couple outside kissing, – or “play” – three guys and a girl building card houses in the diner booth but laughing and joking and having fun. There is a suggestion that the thought processes are basic.

So if these bodies determine what it is to be human then at least they have feelings and can form relationships.

We often use the phrase “We are only human” to reflect that we make mistakes; mistakes that need to be fixed, bridges that need to be mended. Being human means that we are not perfect but we have the capability to talk, to think, to empathise, to care, to make value judgements, to follow a moral code that respects differences, individuality, and our fellow men.

The film suggests that maybe the body is just a vessel and that it can be hijacked, that we cannot necessarily trust that what we see is what it seems. In that respect a body cannot be relied upon to define what it means to be human.  That hijacked body might as well be meat slurry, with no nutritional value, no real substance.

#edcmooc Maintaining Momentum

remnants of old railway lines in a hatch formation

Nearly the end of Week 3, it has been a full-on week at work and I am struggling to marshall my thoughts.  I have managed to snatch ten minutes here and there to watch the videos for this week and scan the readings at a very superficial level. I really wanted to try to create a photo for the Flickr project but just haven’t had the time to be creative.  Never mind, I will try to catch up a little in the next couple of days.

It has been interesting watching the dynamics of the interchanges in the discussions and  Twitter chat; I have tried to avoid Facebook as I felt a need to filter so as not to be overwhelmed. It seems to me, as a newcomer, that some people have made MOOCs their home and are involved in several of them all at once.  They have already forged tight knit friendship groups, comment on each others blogs and engage in chat on Twitter in quite an intimate manner. Others may only have “met” since the beginning of this course but they connected early on and formed groups to blog together.  Others, like me, maybe observers, hovering not quite at the edge but gaining confidence, commenting occasionally, following blogs and feeling empowered when I get a notification that someone has “liked” my blog or comment, or even more exciting when there is a comment, a “follow” or a pingback!

It is interesting in the context of our discussions around humanism, the theme of disconnection, and the impersonal aspect of technology, the relationships that have formed.  It is highly likely that if these people had met “face to face”, on the street, in a university seminar, at a sports club, they would have formed the same bonds of friendship.  As human beings we are drawn to people who have similar ideas to us, similar likes, interests, dislikes be that online or in the “real” world.  I hesitate to use the phrase “real world” because the online world is becoming so much part of our everyday experiences now that it is essentially the “real world”.  The blurring of the lines is ever more blurry.

So, I need to maintain the momentum I had in the first two weeks; I have so many half-formed ideas whizzing round my head that I really need some time out to think them through.  I have had moments of doubt and feelings of inadequacy when I read some of the more esoteric, very academic comments made on the blogs and discussion boards; how can my thoughts possibly have any meaning or value?  But I also read lots of posts that concur with my ideas and reactions to the videos and I feel affirmed and more confident about that.  So, I will bumble along in my own way, reading, digesting, watching and occasionally throwing my twopenn’orth in.