Being Human: redefining the human #edmooc

This week on the E-learning and Digital Cultures course we continued to focus on the topic being human. The four short films (1) explored ideas of trans- and post- humanism. These were supported by the core reading (2) which focused clearly on the ethics and values surrounding transhumanism.

Emma’s response:
This week I think I saw my first glimpse of utopia with Gumdrop. In my notes on this video I found myself writing positive words like integration and equality. Prior to this week’s discussion group Emma King shared our ideas about what it was that made Gumdrop seem human. We decided that it was the emotion expressed in her voice and the associated mannerism, her capacity for reflection, the slight pause before responding to difficult or unexpected questions and perhaps her sense of humour.

In response to True Skin we got into a very deep conversation about the difference between replacement and enhancement, and evolution. We talked prosthetics, heart surgery, IVF and orthodontics. Through this conversation we stumbled upon one thing that we didn’t discuss last week in relation to what defines us as human: we have opinions, for example on IVF, which we will stand by and fight for, but these opinions are subject to change if a case is presented where someone close to us is involved.

Once again we came back to an unanswered question:

what have any of the resources that we’ve been looking at throughout this course got to do with eLearning?

I feel like now we’ve come to the end of the directed learning I have an answer. The resources have provided us with some background and context on how society and culture could change based on future technological developments. Education is influenced by society and culture and so will be affected by any changes. Now after four weeks of the course I feel like I am in a position to begin making connections between these two elements and to start envisioning a future for education.

Cate’s response:
I was briefly moved by Robbie, the Catholic robot astronaut, and the human traits that he expresses, wonder, imagination, fear, could certainly trick you into believing that he is more than just a robot. It was when he came to talk about hope that my concentration wandered, as I tried to understand how a robot could possibly have such a reaction, and the rest of the video started to seem more tenuous. Unlike Emma, I didn’t find Gumdrop to be a utopic vision. Despite some rather endearing characteristics, I mainly found Gumdrop hesitant, vague and vain. I somehow expect that a robot would have the capability to avoid these traits. It is interesting, though, that the flaws I found in her are very human ones.

From the touching to the downright disturbing, the second two videos deal with the robotic in the human. Building on the eerie ‘Sight’ video from week 2 of the MOOC, ‘True Skin’ shows humans using various embedded software and hardware to enhance their experience of the world around them. I thought it was interesting that here we see technology greatly widening the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in society, demonstrating that in this world, technology is not the great democratiser that we sometimes expect. Those who cannot afford any enhancements languish in the gutters. Whilst those with the enhancements seem super-human, those without having been demoted to sub-human status.

Waiting expectantly for some clear connections to e-learning to be made, and despite some interesting points, week 4 left me disappointed. Emma is right that technology will affect education as a sub-section of society, but I feel that the MOOC and its course leaders have not really given enough direction in this area, and it has therefore not really lived up to its name. I don’t expect to be spoon-fed, and admittedly, overwhelmed by the pure volume, I have not managed to take part in discussions with my MOOC peers, but so far I don’t think I have grasped much more than I could have by picking up a good book myself. It will be very interesting to see how future MOOCS address this in terms of their content and interaction.

1. Robbie, Gumdrop, True Skin, Avatar Days
2. Bostrom (2005) €˜Transhumanist values€™ reproduced from Review of Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 4, May (2005)