Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Week 4 reflections #edcmooc

Week 4 of EDC MOOC looked at "Redefining the Human".

It started with two videos featuring (fictional!) sentient robots and asked us to consider what it is that makes a person human. If a robot can feel 'human' emotion, can love, follow a religion, miss home and feel regret about 'dying' then in what senses is (s)he not human?

Robbie, the robot in the first film was perhaps slightly separated from human society because he was a NASA robot, who (after some time) was sent into space. But in the second film, Gumdrop seemed completely embedded in 'human' society.

At first glance, it seems obvious that humans differ from robots because of our bodies and our brains. But the next short film challenged us to think about the extent to which human body parts can be replaced by technological solutions before we stop being human. A person with a prosthetic limb is clearly still human. A person with four prosthetic limbs is clearly still human. A person with a pacemaker is clearly still human. And if it were an artificial heart, nothing really changes.

So is the key the brain? But what about people on medication that alters their brain chemistry? They are clearly still human too. Yet a body with a computerised brain, for me, is not. Even if that 'brain' could still feel human emotion? I think so, but I'm starting to wonder...

The third film, 'True Skin' also challenged us to think about the nature of death. If a person's memories are transferred into a new body (presumably an 'artificial' one, or I dread to think...) then does that mean that the person is still alive? Is it your memory that makes you you? What about personality? Where does personality come from if your genetic inheritance is wiped out, if the nature v nurture balance no longer applies? Presumably from experience - from your memories - but then, does that not mean you have a different personality, that you will view those memories in a different way? And if that's the case, are you really still you? Does it matter if your personality changes with every shift of body? Surely it could make for some pretty messed up psychology - or perhaps not, if that gets programmed out of each new computerised brain.

At this point, my own brain was starting to feel in danger of short-circuiting, but there was more to come. Film number four, Avatar Days, showed gamers talking about their online personas - except that in the film their images had been replaced by their gaming avatars. This raised all sorts of new questions: is a gamer's avatar human? To what extent do they become a different person whilst gaming? Can you be two people at once?

Certainly the most thought-provoking week of the course for me. It's left me plenty to think about as I put together my digital artefact...


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