Introduction: There are two parts to this exam. The first asks you to identify several passages, each drawn from the texts we've read and discussed this semester. The second asks you to write an essay interpreting and integrating ideas and perspectives from several of those texts. The purpose of the exam is to have you : 1) reflect on the entire semester's work; 2)demonstrate your understanding of the texts; and 3) offer your own perspective on some of the many questions and issues we've discussed this semester.
Part I: Identification and Explication (1 hour)
For any five (5) of the quotations given below, identify the author who wrote it, and the text in which it appears. Then briefly explain whether/how it represents or is indicative of particular positions taken or arguments made by the author. Your answer needn't be longer than a paragraph or two, but it should make clear the significance (or insignificance) of the passage by relating it to one or more of the major themes in the text and/or the Unit of the course in which the text was assigned. (A complete list of assigned texts can be found at the end of this exam.)
Part II: Essay (2 hours)
Each of the following topics asks you to consider the works of several authors, and to synthesize their perspectives and your own into a persuasive essay. Choose one (1) of the topics, and write an essay that communicates your thoughts as clearly as possible, while drawing on specific examples from the texts we've read this semester to support your arguments and explanations. Please know that none of the topics have been formulated to elicit a "right" view or response, and your essay will be evaluated based on the quality, coherence and inspiration of your insights and arguments.
In his article, "The march of the robot dogs," Robert Sparrow argues that the production of robot "companions" is foolish at best, and quite possibly unethical. At the heart of his essay is a section entitled "the ethics of ersatz companions," in which he argues that the value of our psychological and emotional responses to an "other" depends on the "appropriateness" of the object of those responses. By analogy, he notes that we do not consider (romantic) love to be worthy of the name unless it is directed at an appropriate object (in our case, a human being). He writes:
"Indeed to describe these emotions, attitudes and relationships, as directed at the wrong objects in such cases is already to concede more than is perhaps warranted. Ideas about their proper object are already built into what it means to have various attitudes. So, for instance, 'love' directed towards the wrong object may not even be love at all. It may be more appropriately described as infatuation or obsession." (314)
To actively promote or substitute the sorts of experiences that would be characteristic of our relationships with robot companions, in place of the sorts of "real" experiences characteristic of our relationships with what he terms "appropriate objects" would be unethical, according to Sparrow.
Several of the other writers we've read this semester offer views and visions that bear on Sparrow's claims; some of these authors might take issue with Sparrow's argument while others might agree. Choose two (2) of the authors we've read this semester whose works you think have something important to say about the issue of valuing our experience(s) in the face of technological developments. In a brief essay, that interprets each of their views and presents your own, propose and discuss Sparrow's argument(s) about experience, simulation, and value.
The history of science is full of distinctions that once seemed precise and accurate but which, with the passage of time and the growth of knowledge, have come to be regarded as imprecise and inaccurate (i.e. false). Perhaps the most famous case comes from chemistry. It was once thought that certain compounds were made only by living things, while others were produced by non-living processes or synthesized by humans in the laboratory; the former were called the "organic" and the latter "inorganic" compounds. Until Wohler's famous paper, "On the Artificial Production of Urea," this was considered a hard and fast distinction. Today, while we acknowledge the usefulness of the distinction (i.e. organic substances contain hydrogen and carbon, while inorganics don't), we don't regard the distinction the way people did before Wohler's finding.
With the rapid rise of computers has come a new awareness of simulation and virtual experiences and interactions. Yet most of us continue to live our lives perfectly able to speak about the differences between real and virtual experiences, and generally able to distinguish the two without difficulty. But we might wonder whether the distinction between the real and the virtual is one that, like that between organic and inorganic compounds, will in time become blurry and no longer signify what we think it signifies today.
Choose two (2) of the authors we've read this semester whose works you think have something to say about the nature of the real-virtual distinction. In a brief essay that interprets each of their views and presents your own, discuss the future of the distinction between the real and the virtual.
From the beginning of our discussions in "Computers and Human Values" we have raised questions about whether the advent of computers, and especially the recent spread of computer networks, has fundamentally altered the landscape of debate in the realms of epistemology, politics and/or ethics; or whether, for all the technical vocabulary and technological hype, the terms and distinctions provided by traditional (i.e. pre-computer) theories and debates remain adequate for discussions of who we are, what we should care about, and what we should do. One difficulty in answering such questions is that we don't have the sort of historical perspective (e.g. a century's distance) that might help us to evaluate the significance of the technological changes we have lived (and are living) through. Nevertheless, we might try to formulate criteria for evaluating the significance of these changes.
Many of the authors we've studied this semester seem to offer visions and arguments about the impact that new technologies on traditional issues concerning humanity, politics and ethics. Choose two (2) of these authors, whose works you think present ways of evaluating and measuring the significance of technological change on traditional questions, issues or debates. In a brief essay that interprets each of their views and presents your own, discuss how we should evaluate the personal, cultural and/or political significance of technological change
CS9 Required Texts (Fall 2003):
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