Question Forum 1

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Questions

1. What are your sentiments on the authenticity of relationships when robots take the place of one of the humans? Does it make for a no-risk relationship? Do feelings become involved?
(Astleigh)

2. Is “real enough” good enough when it comes to machines taking the place of the authentic species? (Example: the AIBO dog instead of the real dog) Why or why not?
(Astleigh)

3. What does the term “Alone Together” mean to you?
(Kyleigh)

4. Will Robots make things better? Why or why not?
(Kyleigh)

5. In the introduction to Alone Together, Sherry Turkle offers that the future of technology may look brighter if we learn to “shape it in ways that honor what we hold dear” and that to do this, “of every technology we must ask, Does it serve our human purposes?” (19). What purpose do you think robotic toys specifically marketed towards children (e.g. the Furby) serve (if any)? Do you think that allowing and encouraging children to play with robotic toys affects them in primarily positive or negative ways? If you had children, would you want them to play with robotic toys? Why or why not?
(Jessie)

6. Also in the introduction, Turkle states that one negative effect of the pervasive nature of technology is that “if we are always on, we may deny ourselves the rewards of solitude” (3). Do you agree that there are ‘rewards of solitude’? If so, what are they? Is technology preventing us from learning how to be alone?
(Jessie)

Answers

Anne Cunha

1. What are your sentiments on the authenticity of relationships when robots take the place of one of the humans? Does it make for a no-risk relationship? Do feelings become involved?

I do not think that relationships can be authentic when one of the members of the “relationship” is a robot. Basically, this brings to mind those who live their lives through a video game they play online. The relationship they make with the character they are in the game and the characters they interact with is not one that they can replicate in real life. Those people would rather live life in their fantasy world because they can make it however they want, rather than face reality where things are unpredictable and people can chose how they feel about them. It could also be said that people form relationships with their computers and smartphones as well. They are constantly connected to them and they become stressed and irritable when they are not constantly in contact or reachable by technology (through their computer or smartphone). People instantly feel out of the loop and disconnected from the world when they are away from technology for even 5 minutes, which really, they are more in contact with reality when they are not attached to their phone. It also reminds me of Turkle's example about the children and the turtle from the Galapagos Islands in the Darwin exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. One exhibit had live turtles from the Galapagos Islands but the child looking that the exhibit wondered why they were using real turtles in the exhibit instead of robots. The little girl would have rather seen a robot in the exhibit instead of the real live turtles that marveled the adults at the exhibit. Turkle said the girl and the other children were "unmoved by its (the turtle's) authenticity." The children thought the live turtles make the water look dirty and gross. Turkle also asked the children, if the turtle was actually a robot instead of a living thing in the tank, do they think people should be told that the turtle isn't alive? And the children responded that they did not think anyone should be told that the turtle wasn't real.

I do not think this type of relationship makes for a no-risk relationship because people are actually risking their chance for real life human connections because they are constantly wired to the internet or their smartphone; using that technology to get information about their real-life friends rather than hanging out with them in person to find out. Sherry Turkle mentions in the introduction a story about a woman who when to interview her nanny at home and the nanny’s roommate, upon answering the door, instead of going to get the nanny (15 feet away in her room) she prefers to text her so as not to invade her “personal space.” This is just one of the ways that technology impersonalizes interactions. Feelings do become involved, but only in terms of people’s feelings towards their technology. People really become bent out of shape when they are out of connection for more than 5 minutes nowadays. People are so attached to their computers and cellphones that they get legitimately angry when the technology does not work right.

3. What does the term “Alone Together” mean to you?

The term “Alone Together,” to me is better explained by giving an example: At football games for example, instead of watching the game, each person is individually on their cellphones texting or Googling or whatever, and essentially they are in another world. They are not at the game but instead they are thinking about what they are going to do after the game. You go into any dining hall on campus and 98% of people are sitting at a table “eating” with their friends but their cell phones are right there just in case they would rather do something else with their time. Every person has their own cell phone and their own laptop, allowing them to constantly be alone if they want to, even when they are in a huge lecture hall with 500 other people. It seems that when given the choice, people would rather deal with their technology than with other people, BUT instead of just sitting in their rooms with their cell phones and laptops, they need to be in a big group of people who all have that technology too, but not talk to them. Instead of actually talking to our friends, we can simply go on their Facebook page to see what they’ve been up to lately. We no longer have to talk to others to find out about them, but we also do that to ourselves by using social media exclusively. People go out in groups but they are constantly on their phones so they are never really present; everyone always has the option to be in their own world whenever they are tired of dealing with or are bored with the real world.


Kayla Vanderlyn

4. Will Robots make things better? Why or why not?

Robots are ultimately a tool, like any other tool in our lives, they have the ability to change the way we interact with others and perceive the world around us, but they cannot, simply, “make things better”. Robots change the way we live our lives, and many of those changes can be seen as positive. Mechanized mass production is cheaper and more efficient, leading to inexpensive commodities, such as smart phones and laptops. With robotic tools at our disposal we are able to create inordinately complex devices with very little error. This in turn leads to greater advances in technology. Curiosity, the mars rover, is a robot, and would never have been possible to create without other robots. But, despite the advances facilitated by robotics, there are a number of downsides.

As robots become more common, the repercussions of the technology become more apparent. In the workplace, humans are being replaced, leading to job loss and the idea that humans are inferior. Tasks once assigned to humans have become digitized. From self-checkouts, to computer IT help, lower level jobs are often being reassigned to robots. And the production of the robots causes human rights problems as well. The creation of computer chips and other electronic pieces requires a number of rare earth metals and cheap labor. Most computers are being made in Chinese factories by workers treated as if they were robots themselves. Paid significantly less than an American equivalent, as robots make our lives better, they make the workers lives worse. In our current environment, increased robotics only widens the wealth disparity between countries such as America and China. So, while we may profit from them, others do not.

5. In the introduction to Alone Together, Sherry Turkle offers that the future of technology may look brighter if we learn to “shape it in ways that honor what we hold dear” and that to do this, “of every technology we must ask, Does it serve our human purposes?” (19). What purpose do you think robotic toys specifically marketed towards children (e.g. the Furby) serve (if any)? Do you think that allowing and encouraging children to play with robotic toys affects them in primarily positive or negative ways? If you had children, would you want them to play with robotic toys? Why or why not?

While the toys we give our children do shape their future interests, robotics is the way of the future. Children now grew up with far more technology than that of any generation before them, and part of the reason they are able to adapt to new technology is because of an innate understanding of computers and technology. Robotic toys are meant to appeal to a child’s fascination with the unknown and interest in interactivity. While many toys on the market are simply meant to capitalize on the novelty of robotics, there are those that help children grasp how the world around them works.

Toys that encourage children to build and program robots not only help them understand logic and challenge them, but also allow them to gain a deeper understanding of how cars, elevators, and even space ships work. Toys such as Lego robotics, solar powered cars, and programming games affect children in overwhelmingly positive ways. Just as the scientist must be taught how to observe the world around him, so too must future engineers and programmers learn about the world they inhabit. If I had children, I would give want to give them the best chance I could to succeed and so would definitely give them the tools I thought would help.

6. Also in the introduction, Turkle states that one negative effect of the pervasive nature of technology is that “if we are always on, we may deny ourselves the rewards of solitude” (3). Do you agree that there are ‘rewards of solitude’? If so, what are they? Is technology preventing us from learning how to be alone?

I believe that there are certainly things to be gained by being alone. But I also believe that the importance of solitude varies from person to person. Each personality requires different amounts of interaction, and just as the introvert might seek to be alone for a prolonged period of time, the extroverts crave social activities. Solitude permits us to become self-reliant and understand who we are and what we want with our lives. It gives time for planning and reflection. Technology though, does not need to have an overwhelming impact on individual time alone. While it may be true that everyone is constantly observed, that doesn’t mean that there is nowhere to go to be alone. In many cases it merely requires an effort of will, the flip of a switch or turning off a computer. While technology allows us to be connected every moment of every day, it does not yet demand we are. We need only go on Facebook, Twitter, or Pintrest as much as we want. Technology acts as an accommodator, not an immutable force connecting us always to everyone else.


Sarah Brown

1. After reading Sherry Turkle’s “Alone Together” I have mixed opinions about the authenticity of robots having relationships in place of humans. Depending on the different instances and examples provided throughout the chapters; I found scenarios such as having robotic turtles in place of real turtles a great illustration. Why should we take a species away from its habitat in the Pacific, where it can continue to grow and reproduce in its natural environment? If children today find the same authenticity with a digital device as they would with a real turtle, society should preserve Mother Nature as long as possible with the environment slowly depleting. I also found the AIBO dog to be a positive experience for children and families who don’t have time or maybe even money to nurture a real pet. With the AIBO robot, this still provides both children and adults similar responsibilities as they would with a real pet, and less negative outcomes (having to feed or walk a robot). Then again does this take away from the real responsibilities and authenticity of what a pet owner needs to encompass with a living animal? Lastly, the Miriam example was a true instance where “robots makes us feel good or better simply because we feel more in control” (p6). While some may argue her experience lacked authenticity with her pet seal, Paro. Others may find it to be heartwarming and a positive emotional reinforcement for those who need social interaction (therapeutic relief). The opposing side to this question is that robots CAN take away from authentic relationships, such as the Anthony example where he “felt insecure in the world of people with its emotional risks and shades of gray” (7). Here robots take away the social and psychological empowerment humans are suppose to encompass through simple social interaction. This is where technology may not be able to fulfill what we call “behavior characteristics.” This is where another technology cant’ be made to make someone more social, or can it?

2. Again, I find the AIBO dog robot to have an authentic experience in teaching pre-pet owners the basics of pet care, but lack the genuine responsibilities of what a real dog would need to survive a healthy life. This is where technology lacks authenticity. Robots, like computers are able to be re-programmed while a “real dog” only has one existing life. Perhaps technology could or will hinder people from understanding, better yet wanting, to take care of a real animal when they can get “almost” the full-experience with a piece of technology that requires less responsibility and dependability. Levy argues, “Robots are, of course, other but in many ways, better. No cheating. No heartbreak” (5). Here I believe machines are not “real enough” clearly, where they can not disappoint or make the same demands as what a human could do. While technology offers replacements, whether it being through responsibility, fear of unhappiness, or feeling a sense of control and empowerment; the authenticity of technology can not measure up to what one would have face-to-face with another person. Such as Ellen’s Skype example where her grandmother wouldn’t even realize her hands checking email while having a full-on conversation via web-cam. Perhaps “real enough” is not the exact word choice to use for technology and machines to being authentic, but perhaps “more efficient.”

3. “Alone Together” to me portrays a society, which functions and develops in similar traits through the use of our technological devices. Today people job hunt and apply to their focused occupations through online applications, we communicate with those across seas through web-videos for that “surreal” feeling of somewhat fake authenticity, we use email to sometimes avoid face-to-face conversations, or we use texting and BBM to avoid intruding on one personal space. Similar to what Anne stated when people have their Smartphone’s on hand they’re not always completely in tune to the setting that the are physically present in, because psychologically and mentally we are waiting for a text response or wanting to keep up with Twitter updates and breaking news. Similar to large college lectures, students continue to check emails, skim Facebook, or watch sports updates while a professor is lecturing. “Alone Together” to me means we are the new generation of self-sufficiency, but only if we have technological gadgets to get us through everyday tasks. What would society do, better yet students, or even more focused Virginia Tech students do without the VT ALERT updates to be sent to their cell phones, email, AIM etc. What would happen if students didn’t have the technology we do today? “Alone Together” is the NEW form of endurance to thrive professional, but also live in society we are in today.

4. Depending on the scenario of how technology is going to be used it has its benefits and detriments. According to Turkle “Authenticity, for me, follows from the ability to put oneself in the place of another, to relate to the other because of a share store of human experiences: we are born, have families, and know loss and the reality of death. A robot, however sophisticated, is patently out of this loop” (6). Then again Turkle claims “If a problem is that too much technology has made us busy and anxious, the solution will be another technology that will organize, amuse, and relax us.” (11). So where do we go from here, will robots make things better or will there be another technological machine/form that prevents us from lacking these potential detriments? What if email died out and instead a robot is created for students to communicate with their professors in place of face-to-face office hours. This would be an instance where robots would be beneficial for faster and perhaps more efficient academic development. As Kayla stated robots are also replacing humans in today’s work force by producing goods at a faster and more efficient rate—without having to pay a salary to a human being; there instead is a machine to do the work the same, if not better than a person.

3. What does the term "Alone Together" mean to you?
"Alone together" is the perfect description of what this generation really wants and aims for in our personal relationships. I think we often get too caught up in the “advancing technology” and what’s next, such as a robotic professor or dog, that we overlook the fact that we have had a relationship with technology for a long while now. I think of television and the radio and how those technologies are not seen as the evil that is taking over the human race, however, they are no different than our smart phones in that they give us the same satisfaction as a real life companion. How many people walk into their house to find nobody home and immediately flip on the television? Or turn the radio on in the car and not even tune into the music but use it more as a distracter from the fact that we are alone? While I believe that people of all generations are guilty of this dependence, I feel that my generation is the most at fault because of our fear of awkwardness. I remember in middle school explaining to my mother what the term “awkward” meant. It was the new word that everyone was saying to describe basically any situation in a middle school student’s life. “Amanda painted her toenails yellow. SO awkward.” “Zach asked Mary to the dance. That’s awkward.” With the emergence of that word is when things really did start to get awkward. People were afraid to do anything for the fear of being known as awkward or having an awkward moment with someone. People relied more and more on their technology to avoid the awkwardness and holding onto the belief that hiding behind technology was going to fix any awkwardness. We’re afraid to make personal connections and hold back from learning more about ourselves and people in our lives. We are afraid to even be alone in a house or a car without some sort of distracting method to keep us company. We crave the attention and companionship of a personal relationship without having to face any awkward situations to which technology offers just the solution and leaves us "alone together".

Barrett Sorrells

4. Will Robots make things better? Why or why not?
(Kyleigh)
For me personally, I find the idea of robots to be both a positive and a negative for how we function in our daily lives. I grew up in the eighties, when computers were first entering the personal market and they weren’t marketed around fastest connection speeds, biggest memory capabilities, and whether the 15 or 17 inch screen would work better for your desired usage. Home computers back then were ones that children weren’t allowed to use to surf the web, chat with friends, or browse online department stores to order the season’s latest fashions. Hell, my brother and I couldn’t even touch our home computer for probably the first four years we had it because it was one that my dad’s work provided him to continue his work from home. My point is that I grew up in a different generation than everyone else in this class, so I look at technological advances, such as robotics, in a different light.

They now make robotic machines than can vacuum your floors (Roomba), mop your floors (Scooba), clean your pool (Verro), and even clean out your gutters (Looj), all without you having to do more than turn it on and position it where to start (irobot.com). These robots even know when their batteries are running low, and return themselves to their docking station to recharge. There are also “pet” robots that are gaining popularity amongst younger children and also for elderly folks in retirement homes. These robotic pets not only help teach a child responsibility by having them care for it, but they also provide companionship and help ease the stresses associated with living in retirement homes. In the future, I expect there will be fully functional humanoid robots that will be capable of performing everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, picking up and dropping off your children, and completing menial tasks that you would rather just not deal with; however, one must stop and ask themselves, ‘When is too much too much?’.

Sure life would be so much easier if we had robots around to help perform the tasks mentioned above, but what is the cutoff point? In the introduction of Alone Together, Sherry Turkle discusses the book, Love and Sex with Robots, by British-born entrepreneur and computer scientist David Levy. In his book, he states that “love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans”, robots will “teach us to be better friends and lovers because we will be able to practice on them”, and they won’t cheat or cause heartbreak (5). Would you really be comfortable interacting with a robot in that way? Isn’t part of the development of the human psyche (the forces in an individual that influence thought, behavior and personality) learned through relationships with other human beings? My point here is, if we begin to rely on robots to help us progress in the world of relationships with other humans, wouldn’t we eventually become more robotic ourselves? Would learning and developing our sexuality from a robot reduce our overall desire to be with a human companion?

I must say that I believe the future of robotics will undoubtedly benefit the human race in many ways, but I also believe there are some areas of human life that robots have no business being involved with. When it gets to the point where robots are manufactured to not only help humans, but replace them sexually, I guess it will be up to the individual to decide how far is too far.

Katie Winand

Answers:

3. What does the term "Alone Together" mean to you?

There are many ways this term can be defined in today's society, but technology plays a key role in the definition. I think that most people don't realize just how overwhelming the technology that we have can be. This technology allows us to connect with people using so many different devices and programs that it is not a surprise that we struggle to communicate with each other when we are face to face. If I am going out to the barn to ride with a friend, I will shoot her a text or a Facebook message - or sometimes both, just to make sure that she got the message. I didn't always used to rely on technology so much, but these days I find myself just like everyone else, relying on Facebook and Twitter, or my messaging application to interact with people, despite the fact that a simple conversation could convey my message. In class, we are surrounded by other students, and yet while we are together, we are not interacting with each other at all, instead, we are messaging our friends about their classes or sending an email to someone about plans for the weekend. We are together, but the reality of the situation is that we are also and more specifically, alone, because we choose to interact with a machine instead of interacting with the human beings sitting in seats all around us. As I am walking to class, I must pass by two hundred people, but ask me what any of them looked like, and I would be clueless - because as I am walking I am googling something interesting, or texting a friend about lunch plans - there are forty thousand students on campus, and I am completely alone.

4. Will Robots make things better? Why or Why not?

Robots are one of those broad scientific thoughts that people have come to see and respect for what they truly are - beings separate from humans in ways that we can easily describe. Robots are computers, essentially programed to do certain behaviors and not others, but they are most importantly not in control or responsible for their own actions - we control them. Robots are a wonderful idea, and believe it or not, there are already robots that perform certain functions in our world today - robots that help in hospitals, and computers that program things above what most people would understand. Robots indeed are very helpful - they can be programed to lift heavy weights, or give attention to patients who may be waiting to see a nurse or doctor. Our time is very valuable, or so we have come to believe, and these operable beings can make it so that we can be in several places at one time - from a webcam on a computer that can record a lecture for you while you are sitting in class, but instead of paying attention to the teach, you are working on homework for the next class, or a project that is due at the end of the week.

This function of robotics is stunning, because it is always there to help us out in a pinch - however, this incredible technology is also leading to less one on one time with other people, as well as a mass attention deficit disorder when it comes to being able to pay attention in class or at work. We must constantly be checking Facebook and Twitter, and a number of other sites and pages, to make sure that we are never missing anything in this technology based world. It is nice to be able to be in two places at once, but the reality of the situation is that robots are just another novelty item that basically allows us to pay less and less attention to the world around us and more and more attention to those things that we hold to be "most important." Football scores and wall posts, and text messages are becoming the way that the world communicates what it needs with others, and the advances in robotics cannot help us become more connected, but they can help us achieve more than we would be able to achieve without them. Robots in hospitals check on patients and refill supplies, making sure that everyone is comfortable and successful in daily pursuits, but without realizing it, they have taken away the personalization of speaking with a person, and replaced it with yet another technological interaction.

Though robots stand the chance of making great strides in certain fields, there is always the element of person to person interaction that will be missing as a result of every robot that comes off of the assembly line. Technological advancements have made great strides in making life easier, but have they also turned us into the robots that we are creating - always needing to be "linked" in order to feel connected to each other?

Kyle Zalewski

3. What does the term "Alone Together" mean to you?

Technology has an interesting way of simultaneously bringing people together and tearing them apart. While you can be close to someone halfway across the globe (digitally), you lose touch with someone much closer in physical proximity if you choose to simply communicate by those same means.

In a way, it universalizes connections so that everyone is just accessible to you as everyone else. The guise of internet anonymity makes that issue even more pronounced. We are "alone" sitting at a computer, but connected to everyone or anyone in the world and thus "together." You can criticize the clothes someone in China is wearing today, and who cares. You can be brutally honest because they are in China and you are not. Plus, they don't even know you personally.

We are together in that we can universally and immediately communicate with one another with the same vocal intimacy as if we were in the same room. Only the physical element is removed, which makes us alone.

Is it a good thing? Perhaps. If criticism is what you are looking for, or sheer quantity of acquaintances, then our collective aloneness is probably a good way to achieve those goals. Physical accompaniment is just as easy as it ever was, but the digital age is making it easier and easier to circumvent that part of interaction altogether. If you prefer to have a small group of best friends, you may have a progressively more difficult time finding people like you.


Tony Pagliaro

1. What are your sentiments on the authenticity of relationships when robots take the place of one of the humans? Does it make for a no-risk relationship? Do feelings become involved?

…but this swift business
I must uneasy make, lest too light winning
Make the prize light.

- The Tempest, 1.2.454-6

Shakespeare's character Prospero refers here not to robots, of course, but to an actual, human relationship. Yet, even in this context of a potential genuine love affair, Prospero hesitates to allow "too light winning" of his daughter's heart. He gives the reason that it will "Make the prize light," diminishing the value of their relationship. Something that can be won so easily cannot be worth that much, right?

This concept applies heavily to our course this year, especially with this idea of 'robot love.' These lines from The Tempest immediately popped into my head as I read the introduction and came across the concept that "marriage to robots… [is] better. No cheating. No heartbreak." (5) A no-strife relationship; a fully subservient romantic partner; a lover you can buy at the store and exchange when your tastes change; who wouldn't want one? On the surface, of course it seems better, but is it truly?

Anybody who has been in a relationship will tell you that it is hard. But part of the joy of the relationship derives from the difficult times. It may be a cliche, but the idea you can't have the good without the bad remains true. The spontaneity of being with another human being makes a relationship exciting. A robot may bend to your every whim, but it will never surprise you by picking up a new hobby. It may remain faithful forever, but it will never challenge your principles on a deep philosophical level. In this sense, you will never really be able to connect with it on a truly intuitive human level. You can nurture it, care for it, and it will care for you, but if it all comes so easily, how much will you actually value the relationship?

As we venture deeper into our age of "pragmatism," people seem to care less and less about these true human connections and care only about what purpose something serves to us. We devalue ourselves and our fellow humans by viewing everything it terms of utility ('what have you done for me lately?'). Yet, as Turkle points out, "nothing seems different about the thrill of falling in love." (29) That is, if we still can fall in love in this age of classifying, stratifying, and digitizing every aspect of ourselves and our lives. At this point, people seem more likely to run a sort of 'compatibility test' and figure out if things will 'work.' They're not concerned with whether or not they will 'like' each other, only whether they can provide positive utility for each other. A robot will certainly do so. A robot will also never love you, because it doesn't know how.

Feelings will inevitably get involved in 'robot love,' but they are only one-way. You will care for, nurture, and develop feelings for the robot, but it cannot reciprocate. You will end up feeling like Ellen while talking to her grandmother on Skype. It's an amazing technology that serves a powerful purpose, but while "it should have been rewarding… Ellen was unhappy" because she didn't actually pay much attention to the conversation. The technology allows us to connect with each other, but it does not force us to. It is up to us to decide whether or not we use technology to forge new, stronger connections with each other, or if we would rather continue seeing everything (and everyone) as a means to an end.

This is the risk that we take when we consider taking a robot lover: that we can get exactly what we think we want, and still feel as lacking and empty as ever.


David Kistler

4. Will Robots make things better? Why or why not?

What a question. I don’t know if there is a “black and white” when it comes to answering this question. First, I do not necessarily believe that robots will take over in the ways that Sci-Fi movies portray. In a sense we as humans are already using robots to do fascinating things: space exploration, military defense and surgery on humans. In these ways robots have already made things for us (humans) better. We are living longer because of the medical advancements in technology and robots are a huge part of these developments.

On the other hand, it is impossible to know what would happen if we had life size robots to help do manual labor tasks. I believe that if done properly that robots could make things better by getting work done more quickly and efficiently. The power ultimately lies in our hands, but if for some reason we decide to turn power over to robots then it would be a bad idea. But I do not see us as humans being willing to do such a thing. We love power and will not turn that over to something that could end us. The reason that I say end us is because technology has that capability already.

Nick Botstrom, the leading source in the future of humanity and impacts of future technology discusses this idea in his paper, “The Future of Humanity.” He states, “Other aspects of society and our individual lives are also influenced by technology in many direct and indirect ways, including governance, entertainment, human relationships, and our views on morality, mind, matter, and our own human nature. One does not have to embrace any strong form of technological determinism to recognize that technological capability – through its complex interactions with individuals, institutions, cultures, and environment – is a key determinant of the ground rules within which the games of human civilization get played out (Botstrom 4).” Technology is already a huge part of our existence and robots are a part of this technology. If robots can improve our quality of life and enhance the human experience then they will make things better, but it all boils down to the amount of power we as humans are willing to give them. In a world where no one gets along and is willing to bomb/kill other individuals without thinking robots may not be a good idea, but rather a means to control others.

http://www.nickbostrom.com/papers/future.pdf


Hailey Watkins

5. In the introduction to Alone Together, Sherry Turkle offers that the future of technology may look brighter if we learn to “shape it in ways that honor what we hold dear” and that to do this, “of every technology we must ask, Does it serve our human purposes?” (19). What purpose do you think robotic toys specifically marketed towards children (e.g. the Furby) serve (if any)? Do you think that allowing and encouraging children to play with robotic toys affects them in primarily positive or negative ways? If you had children, would you want them to play with robotic toys? Why or why not?

Honestly, I never had any of these robot toys as a child growing up in the nineties. I distinctly remember seeing commercials advertising the Furbies that “really talk,” but I had no interest in them. From the age of six, my parents gave me my own kitten and I was expected to raise and care for it on my own. I think that this is the biggest reason why I wasn’t near as excited about the Furbies as all my classmates were. I think that the main goal for robotic toys geared towards children is to teach them about responsibility—similarly to, but not quite intensely as having a real pet does. From my experience working at a day care, I have heard countless arguments about children begging for pets, and parents making comments about how the child can’t even take care of their toys, much less a real animal. I think parents have used these robot toys as a type of “maturity test” for their children—but without the results they might have been looking for. Allowing children to play and interact with robotic toys might work in some cases, such as the children who worried about their Tamagotchi enough to plead their parents to care for it during school hours (32), but in other cases, the child is still firmly aware that this object is simply a robot. Once the children begin to notice and point out the flaws in the robot, they quickly lose interest, such as the children who would swing My Real Baby around, simply because it showed no sign of feeling any pain (48). I personally would not provide my own children with robotic toys because I am a firm believer in the power of a real pet. However, I can’t pretend that I know what type of technologies will be common for children by the time I have my own.

3. What does the term “Alone Together” mean to you?

The term “Alone Together” perfectly describes life with technology today—or at least how most people’s lives function with technology. As we talked about in class, and even as Turkle mentions about the roommate texting her friend to come out instead of simply knocking on her bedroom door (2), we all are immersed heavily in technology now, to the point where it interferes with our personal relationships. Together time used to involve just a few people, or even just a family sitting around the dinner table. Now, I cannot go out to eat at a restaurant without seeing my friend’s iphone sitting on the table with us, right alongside our plates of food. But we aren’t the only ones. Look around any restaurant or dining hall and see how many phones are placed on the table during the meal, instead of tucked away in a pocket or purse. For me, Alone Together really describes the way that even when my friends and I are all apart from each other and “alone,” we can always reach each other by text. But it also means even when I am together with my friends, I can always draw myself out to be alone in my own world of my phone.


Elizabeth Haydu

2. Is “real enough” good enough when it comes to machines taking the place of the authentic species? (Example: the AIBO dog instead of the real dog) Why or why not?
(Astleigh)

One of my favorite philosopher once said, ““Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope” — Dr. Seuss.

We could use this same metaphor for technology, after all, sliding doors were considered to be fantasy when they appeared in various futuristic movies and television shows in the early 20th century, but here we are with doors that open for use and fancy boxes that take us to the tops of buildings. That is the wrong side of the telescope, where the correct side could be the view that elevators make people fat and that sliding doors are a drain on the energy sources of the buildings.

This question, I feel, can be broken down in the same manner. On the fantasy end of the telescope, you have the beliefs that robots will eventually develop their own sentience. These are the ideas of iRobot, Dr. Who, WALL-E, and various other shows and movies where people or animals are replaced by metal and wires. In these instances, the machines take on a life of their own and form a sort of sentience that makes them feel human. They will love you, they will care for you, and, more importantly, they will care for themselves EXACTLY like their human or animal counterparts.

On the regular side of the telescope, you have the belief that robots will forever remain under the control of human puppet masters guiding them and telling them what to do and unplugging them when the day is over. This is the idea that robots could be excellent pets for people who are allergic to dogs or cats and that they can basically fulfill all the creature comforts one needs; however, they might break forcing the owner to buy a new, upgraded version of Fido. So why get a machine when you can have the real thing that you have to have a sense of responsibility for walking, feeding, loving, and giving stern talkings too when they poop on the carpet?

Where fantasy may be necessary, the line between fantasy and reality is quickly becoming blurred. People are putting emotions into their objects and, in a way, giving technology a personality of its own. In my opinion, I lean more towards the regular end of the telescope. I believe there is a place for machines in life, but that place does not take over the place of other beings. You can never replace a dog that you have loved and cared for. Sure, you can clone it and you can make it seem the same. Same habits, same annoying bark, but always in your mind you know it is just not the same dog and that saddens you. With a computer, it is just a piece of metal. You don’t have to worry about never finding the same one because there are hundreds of the same ones out there just ready for the software that you want and the background that you pick. It is perfectly tailored to you, then you lose it….Oh well, guess I just need to tailor a new one.

No matter how “real” a robot can seem, everyone knows it is just a robot and that alone will affect the way you view it. You lose a dog or a loved one, you cry. You have memories tied to them from places and events. You lose a computer or a phone…and you think about the upgraded version that you have been waiting for forever. You don’t visit the beach and think. “This is the place I checked my Facebook on my Mac and found out that no, it really doesn’t taste like butter.”


Sarah Groat

1. I'm not sure that there can be authentic connection involved in a relationship between a human and a robot that simulates a relationship between a human and a human. There are numerous intricacies involved in human relationships. It's not just about the words people say; nonverbal communication is just as or sometimes even more important. Eye contact, touch, facial expression, voice intonation, the mere positioning of the body - all of these play a huge role in the formation of a connection between two beings. Can robots really simulate that? They may be able to mimic it. But when you look into another person's eyes, there is essentially a moment of soul sharing going on there. What do you see when you look at a robot's eyes? There's nothing going on below the surface. We might be able to use our imagination to make up for the difference, to perceive something there that isn't. And it may be fulfilling in the short term. But in the long term there will always be something missing.

3. To me, "alone together" represents how we can be connected to each other all the time through social media while alone in our bedrooms. Last year, I lived with three other girls in a duplex. The living situation quickly became one in which all of us would be in our bedrooms with the doors shut, right across the hall from each other. If we needed to tell the others about the rent due or a bill to be paid, we texted.

We're all isolating ourselves more and more, but we're doing it together.

4. There are definitely benefits to solitude. Though the benefits differ depending on if you’re an introvert or an extrovert, everyone needs time alone, if only to reflect on your life at the moment. Some need solitude in order to recharge. Others are most productive when they’re alone. If you’re always distracting your mind, always plugged in, always social, you don’t allow a lot of time for exploratory thought. A lot of great things can happen when you’re bouncing ideas off of someone, but being alone may help you work out the details or look at it analytically from another point of view. Or solitude can simply give us an opportunity to clear our minds. The benefits vary, but they definitely exist.