#edcmooc What it is to be human; Part 3 True Skin

TRUE SKIN from H1 on Vimeo.

True Skin raised more questions than I can answer or have time to think about in the short time we have in edcmooc.  This short has really got me thinking; it raised lots of issues about life, society, equality, ethics, morality and especially what it is to be human.

It made me think of “Sight” that we watched last week (or was it the week before?!) Anyway, the glasslike, piercing quality of the eyes and the invasiveness of the technology on the mind were disturbing .

Interestingly, my first thoughts were around the idea that in general we often resist new ideas on instinct; a sort of defence mechanism, that life is all good and we don’t really want to rock the status quo. A few seek the new things, the different things, while the rest of us watch and wait.  Slowly we start to see the attraction, curiosity gets the better of us and more of us try the new thing, the different thing.  There is a pivot point of adoption; the point where more people have the new thing than the rest and that is when everyone has to have it.

It made me think of Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros”. It is a story of humanity, of choices, free will, control, existentialist and dystopian but also utopian in the end – true humanity comes through.

It made me think about the increasingly blurry line between humans and machines.  If we can “back-up” our memories like computers where doe the human end and the machine begin?  When our hard drive gets full we can archive old memories and make space for more or store them to review later. It is not a new concept – J.J Rowling’s character Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter used a pensieve to store his thoughts!

If we will be able to store our thoughts, our knowledge, our feelings, how will that impact on learning?  As we age all those things will not be lost – they will be retrievable (as long as we store them logically).  But will they become distorted?  Will they evolve in the telling and remembering as our memories tend to now? Will we be able to “save as” but keep the original?  How much of our ability to empathise, to understand, to feel, to analyse will be lost?  Will the nuances of our memories  remain, the context, the reality?

I was also prompted to think of man’s age old quest for eternal youth (also a theme in Harry Potter!); the idea that we can regenerate, get a new body to replace an old worn out one but maintain our memories, thoughts and experiences.  How much of our humanity are we prepared to sacrifice for that?

not hiring naturals

In the short those who had not chosen (or maybe could not) to “enhance” were seen as second class citizens, old, sick, pathetic, destined to beg for their survival in the street, unable to get jobs.

“Let’s face it, no-one wants to be like them, entirely organic”.  “No-one want to get sick and old and die”.   

If there is a world where the sick and the old are percieved to be irrelevant, surplus to requirements where will that end?  Relationships, family, society, community, the ability to care for each other, nurture, revere, respect, communicate, connect, hope – they are the human qualities that give our lives meaning.  Without them we are reduced to machines.  The lines will no longer be blurred.

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?

#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.