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The Nature of Being

rethinking the facts of life

Author

aaronvorse

Man’s Evolution alongside Technology

The use of technology was a key turning point in the evolutionary history of man. Many define it as one of the key features that began our trek to the separation between us and other living beings. Around 2.5 million years ago man created his first primitive tool, and in doing so forced human kind down a very different path.(historyworld.net) With these newfound machines, man rose above other animals. He gained the ability to control the world around him, not merely accepting what was thrown in his path. It was through these devices that man was able to create the newfound idea of culture and further the division between him and so call “non advanced” life.

These once primitive tools however, have evolved with us to an extraordinary level into what is now modern technology. With these advancements come many benefits to society. Man now has the ability to influence his surroundings. We no longer have to search for food but can instead make it ourselves. We now have independence from the Earth, and we don’t have to solely rely on luck for survival. We can now complete tasks that are beyond any amount of human strength or willpower. Technology allows us communicate world-wide and draw attention and help where it is needed. More than any of these however is the fact that each person has gained access to a vast amount of shared knowledge. With modern advancements such as book printing and the internet, information from both the past and the present can be transferred to anybody anywhere in the world.  It is through this shared knowledge that society is able to expand and build on itself.

With all these positives however come many fallbacks. Early on, man used basic tools to help control nature and the world around him, however in today’s society this is not the case. We no longer simply interact with our surroundings, we have become accustomed to dominating our environment. Tools are no longer used simply as a way to survive, but rather as a means of pleasure. We extract millions of gallons of petroleum from the ground each year so that our cars can burn it as fuel, polluting our air in the process. We destroy thousands of acres of forest every day in order to produce wooden building materials. We use construction equipment in order to shape the land to our needs, disrupting entire ecosystems as we go. All of this power has been given to us through the use and advancement of technology.

More concerning than any of these facts however, is man’s use of tools as weapons. We use guns, bombs, mines, tanks, and a vast number of other machines in order to kill, maim, and strike fear in one another. With the creation of nuclear weapons, man gained, for the first time in history, the ability to completely erase himself from the face of the Earth. Man can now be his own destroyer. It is clear to see the once basic tools that helped man divide from animal have become something very different. Whether they will serve us mainly for good or for bad is a question for future generations to decide.

 

Sources:

http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ab11

“Her”: A New Take on an Old Concept

Recently I was explaining to a friend the theme of my blogs on this site, and she recommended the movie “Her” by Spike Jonze. I expected to find a yet another cheesy Hollywood robot story, however I was pleasantly surprised by the ideas it challenged, as well as how well it related to my other writings.

project 1

This movie centralizes around a lonely author named Theodore, who recently went through a divorce. He buys a new, artificially intelligent computer operating system named Samantha to help him organize his life. Although it starts off as completely business, the two start to realize that they are falling in love.

 

project 3   project 4   project 2

I found this movie interesting for many reasons, however the main aspect was its unconventional portrayal of technology. Normally technology, or robots to be more specific, is seen in the film industry as an evil figure. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of cheesy sci-fi movies about intelligent computers rising up and taking over their human creators. Robots are usually seen as cold, emotionless, beings that evoke fear. “Her” challenges all of these stigmas. It presents the possibility of a both super-intelligent and humanoid computer. Samantha is given a name, a human voice full of emotion, feelings, and thoughts. Through these means the viewer is truly able to connect to her as if she were an actual person.

Another reason I find this movie so appealing is because of its presentation of radical ideas. While the story of a person falling in love with a robot is nothing new, “Her” puts a revolutionary, new spin on the idea, making it seem more relatable than ever. During the movie Samantha appears more as a person talking behind a curtain as opposed to a machine. She shares her feelings, shouts when she is angry, sighs when she is frustrated, and is prone to jealousy. With all these human features, where does one draw the line on acceptable robot-human interaction?

It is interesting to ponder the idea of a world in which we might one day see a struggle for equality not among homosexual couples, but rather robot-human couples. As the plot of the movie thickens, it is revealed that many people in society, not only Theodore, have become romantic partners with their operating systems. This poses the question of whether a person can truly love a robot, and how their relationship would play out. During the movie Theodore and Samantha appear almost as any “normal” couple. They talk about their feelings, share secrets, and express their desires. On many occasions her and Theodore end up in an argument that seems as real as that of any human pair, and at one point they even have a form of verbal sex. The reoccurring theme keeps coming up however of Samantha’s lack of a body. She struggles to feel adequate among other human figures in Theodore’s life.

With this movie comes many questions. Can this ever be a real possibility? If so, how will society view these types of relationships? These are questions that we could very well find out in the near future.

 

Sources/Images:

 

The Intrigue of Artificial Intelligence

There are many defining human characteristics that set man apart from other organisms. Among these features is intelligence. We consider ourselves intelligent beings, and think of animals as the opposite. Much like the argument of human emotions we are left with a few questions. How do we define this word “intelligence”, and what has the ability to possess it? Does today’s technology have the means to be intelligent?

There is no doubt that there are a number of arguments for as well as a number in opposition of this fact. The book definition of intelligence is, “capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity.”(dictionary.com) What does this look like in humans? A very basic example would be recognizing the act of two people hugging as love. The ability to connect the physical gesture of a hug with the intangible idea of love is a process that requires an interpretation of the situation based past learned knowledge, or in other words intelligence. So what does this mean for modern computers and robots?

It is well known that computers have long since surpassed man in certain abilities. Even a simple laptop can store massive amounts of data and recall any individual file, photo, or document on the spot. But are these computers really thinking? While researching this topic, I came across a very interesting experiment done in the late 1970’s called “The Chinese Room Thought Experiment” made to disprove the possibility of artificial intelligence.

chinese experimentsubcortex.com/pictures/c-room.gif

Very simply the experiment test whether a computer is actually thinking on its own, or whether it is simply repeating data. English speaking participants are given a number of cards on which a question written in Chinese is paired with an appropriate response in Chinese. Another participant on the outside of the room who does speak Chinese asks questions, and the participant inside the room responds with the paired answer on the card, without ever knowing a word of Chinese. To the person on the outside however, it appears as though the one on the inside can speak fluently. Relating this to computers, it can be said that no matter how well a device is programmed, it will always be simply relaying information that an intelligent being (its programmer) knew. For me there is a question however, of the point at which we say the person in the experiment knows Chinese. If he/she has enough info-cards to give a response to any possible question, can it then be said that he/she is fluent? On the same grounds is a computer then intelligent?

Another example of this thought process is an interesting website called cleverbot.com. This site allows users to type whatever text they would like, and an appropriate response is generated. Although skeptical at first after spending a few minutes typing into my computer, it wasn’t clear to me if I was indeed talking to a machine or a person. In the end it comes down to a matter of technicality as to whether we define intelligence as the ability to reproduce information, or at what point this reproduction of information matches that of humans.

 

Here is a link for cleverbot: http://www.cleverbot.com

Sources:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/intelligence

 

 

Robots and Emotion

Emotions have always been a defining feature of human existence. They separate us from other living organisms and help us relate to one another unlike any other human trait. The problem arises when we attempt to exactly define what an emotion is or what it feels like to experience one. This is further complicated when we question who or what is capable of experiencing emotions. Is it possible for complex machines (modern robots) to truly “feel” an emotion?

Before we ask ourselves this question we have to define what exactly an emotion is. From a biological standpoint it is simply a specific way in which our body interprets an “emotion-evoking event.” (Sincero) Many define this as a key argument as to why robots cannot experience feelings, however there still might be some ground to the opposition. Take for example the possibility that the newly designed self-driving cars can feel fear. When one of these vehicles is on a collision course with another object that may result in its own damage or destruction, sensors in the onboard CPU (central processing unit) make the car steer away from the hazard in an act of self-preservation. Fear, as defined by dictionary.com, is “the anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur.” In this example the car is anticipating the collision with another object in the future and takes action to avoid this outcome. Can it be said then, that on an extremely primitive level the machine “felt” fear?

robot (Murphey’s qz.com page)

Fairly recently a robotics company began the sale of a robot named Pepper that can supposedly feel a variety of emotions, as well as detect them in humans. Pepper is said to be able to react accordingly when faced with different emotional scenarios. But this still poses the question of whether it is actually feeling something as humans do.

My opinion on this topic is somewhat in the middle of both extremes. I believe that robots have the potential to, in a very basic sense of the word, feel an emotion. This emotion is however, simply a reproduction of the machine’s own creator. In the car example when engineers design the machine, they foresee and fear its destruction or the destruction of objects around it. For this reason they program the computer to respond in a manner that a fearful person might in the same situation. By doing so the engineers have programed their feelings of fear into the machine itself, without allowing it to actually “feel” on its own. Mike Murphey of qz.com eloquently sums up the problem by stating, “there’s also the issue of whether this robot has what would truly be considered emotions, or is just mimicking what humans would likely do in a given set of situations.”

For this reason it is not necessarily that a machine is “feeling” anything, rather it is that it is reacting through a programmed response in a manner similar to how a human with emotions would react. It can be said then, that with today’s current technology the idea of a machine possessing the ability to experience feelings is not quite yet a possibility.

 

Here is a link to a youtube video on Murphey’s qz.com page which talks about Pepper https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqlyxg1-gE0

Sources:

Sarah Mae Sincero (May 27, 2012). Biology of Emotion. Retrieved Feb 16, 2016 from Explorable.com: https://explorable.com/biology-of-emotion

Mike Murphey Robots in Japan now have Emotions. Retrieved Feb 17, 2016 from Qz.com: http://qz.com/433877/robots-in-japan-now-have-emotions/

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fear

 

 

Man’s Interactions with Technology

Hello, my name is Aaron Vorse, and I am a second year college student currently doing an exchange year abroad in Germany. I am an engineering major with a planned German minor. I have to say that I never thought I would end up in this sociology class, however I am very glad I did. The readings and discussions have given me insight into topics that I never would have touched in my major classes.

Although a bit ambiguous at times, I found Donna Haraway’s texts very interesting. Much of her writing centralizes around the idea of gender. She also focuses on man’s interaction with animals, and how shifting gender roles over time have shaped the modern, scientific world. I particularly enjoyed when she would elaborate on human nature and the manner in which people and society think and interact.

Haraway briefly touched on the idea of “machines”. Although her use was more through metaphorical means, I would like to pick up where she left off. With my next few blog posts I would like to investigate man’s relationship with technology. I will explore how society explains its interactions with machines, as well as how we define the difference between man and machine.

 

“Culture remakes the animal; this is the universal foundation of human unity and the structure of the persistent western dualism of nature and culture, resolved through a self-making productionist dialectic. Man is his own product; that is the meaning of a human way of life.”

– Donna Haraway

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