Lesson AWF-1

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Lesson goals

Discuss the future, understand what is included in an academic essay, how to use sources, read about robotics and discuss its contents

Lesson activities

Time capsule discussion

Introduction lecture

Reading comprehension

Time capsule discussion

Time for the activity: ~10 minutes

You are taking part of the international summit A Warning to the Future: A New Dark Age or a Bright Future? with the aim of creating a time capsule for future people to find. Apart from including written warnings to the future, other items are also meant to be stored in the time capsule.

You have been selected to participate in group discussions concerning what researchers should include in a time capsule. As a group:

Introduction lecture

Time for the activity: ~20-30 minutes

L5-1 A Warning to the Future

Reading comprehension

Time for the activity: ~20-30 minutes

Before reading, complete the worksheet:

Once done with the vocabulary exercise:

Being human: how realistic do we want robots to be?

Being human: how realistic do we want robots to be?

With Google’s AI assistant able to make phone calls and androids populating households in games and films, the line between machine and man is getting scarily blurred.

As our dependence on technology builds and the privacy-destroying, brain-hacking consequences of that start to come to light, we are seeing the return of a science-fiction trope: the rise of the robots. A new wave of television shows, films and video games is grappling with the question of what will happen if we develop the technology to create machines in our own image.

The current wave of android fiction centres on what happens when the line between human and machine becomes blurred. At what point do robots deserve rights: when they reach a certain level of intelligence, or when they develop the capacity for emotion, creativity or free will? Now that technology has enmeshed itself in our lives, it is dawning on us that machines can take over in another way – by encroaching on our humanity.

Anouk van Maris, a robot cognition specialist who is researching ethical human-robot interaction, has found that comfort levels with robots vary greatly depending on location and culture. “It depends on what you expect from it. Some people love it, others want to run away as soon as it starts moving,” she says. “The advantage of a robot that looks human-like is that people feel more comfortable with it being close to them, and it is easier to communicate with it.  

The big disadvantage is that you expect it to be able to do human things and it often can’t.”

In Japan, where the animus belief perhaps makes people more comfortable with the idea that spirit can reside in something that isn’t human, robots are already being used as shop assistants, in care homes and in schools. Japan is the world leader in robotics and demand is high for robots that could help fill a shortfall in nursing care. The country is home to the creepy Erica, the most realistic female humanoid in existence, and Gatebox AI’s Azuma, a holographic girl in a jar that combines Alexa-like home-assistant functionality with a cute anime look and a simulated, deferential personality.

In Europe, by contrast, people are generally uncomfortable with the idea of an android performing roles that require interaction with humans. “In one study, people were asked if there was a robot interacting with children, whether it would be ethically acceptable if the children got attached to that robot,” says Van Maris. “Only 40% thought that was acceptable.” It is telling that US companies design their home-assistant robots to look like black boxes and sound like computers.

“A machine can exhibit human-like qualities and not be considered particularly controversial if it doesn’t look human,” says Williams. “That’s what is intriguing. What scares people about that Google Assistant phone call is that it sounds human. The fact that it can construct the conversation is not what scares people – it’s the fact they can’t distinguish it from a real person.”

Keza MacDonald, The Guardian, Wed 27 June 2018.

Used with permission. Abridged.

Exit ticket: Writing using sources think - pair - share

Keza MacDonald writes that “As our dependence on technology builds and the privacy-destroying, brain-hacking consequences of that start to come to light, we are seeing the return of a science-fiction trope: the rise of the robots” (The Guardian, 2018), a statement that I agree with, since I see how robots are all around us these days.

For example, in my home, we depend upon our ever-present Google Assistant, an unyielding roomba as well as smart speakers in every single room, as if we require them to meet our most basic of functions. They are, however, not alike us and I do not wish to have human robots. (72 words)


Study the Quizlet.

Exit ticket

Do you agree or disagree with what the author has written?

How realistic do we want robots to be?