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Author: Kirsten Miller (Page 1 of 2)

What determines happiness? 

Many people believe they have a clear idea of what happiness is, and exactly what they need to do in order to achieve it. However, countless are misguided in their beliefs. Although many would think that wealth, power, and stability constitute happiness, this is certainly not the case. Brave New World portrays a perfectly controlled society, meant to eliminate the horrors of conflict, instability, and unknowns such as death. Sounds perfect, right? Not quite. Despite its surficial benefits, it is clear that this society is far from perfect in terms of happiness and human mental well being. The society of Brave New World has stripped its inhabitants of the privileges that help define happiness as well as those that determine humanity itself.

Brave New World creates a society designed to be perfectly stable and orderly, creating and conditioning its inhabitants to function practically as robots. It attempts to make everyone equals by creating large groups of identical twins, and genetic classes of people designed to fit into certain roles in society. However, this only reinforces the division between groups by creating classes that determine a person’s genetic makeup and everything about their life. People are denied liberty and basic human rights in the creation of these classes.  And even further, people are deprived of individuality, by being created as twins and conditioned to have the same beliefs. Everyone is forced to conform to the strict order of society, and no one can have any personal opinions or character. Bernard struggles with this throughout the novel, as he feels different from everyone else and is alienated because of his attempt to express his personal opinions and general discontent with society. People are not able to form true human relationships in this environment.

Yes, the people in Brave New World claim to be living happy lives. But this is only because they do not know what happiness really is. Their society has been confined so much that they are not able to experience true human emotions, such as love and happiness. And even their superficial perceived happiness has its limits. The people rely strongly on their daily dose of soma to keep them going, as evidenced by the riot that occurs when Bernard begins throwing the soma rations out the window. They are craving fulfillment that they are not able to achieve under the constraints the the World State society.

Brave New World shows us that human happiness depends on true human connections. Without individuality and opinions, there can be no meaningful connections between people. Yes, the people in Brave New World are social, but they have been deprived of the humanity necessary to form real relationships. And without these bonds, they are not able to experience true human happiness. They believe they are happy, but looking in from the outside it is clear that what they are experiencing is far from the true human happiness we know. In a world so stabilized that there are no individual opinions or personalities, people have no true basis on which to connect. Yes, there is no conflict and no horrors experienced by the inhabitants of the World State, but there is no love and happiness either.

 

Will artificial intelligence ever attain true emotional intelligence?

Will computers ever have real emotional intelligence? Maybe they will be able to come close, but will they ever truly reach the emotional sensitivity level of a human brain? Computers are undoubtedly “smarter” than a human brain in many ways. One Google search can instantaneously give you more information than you could ever possibly read. Computers can perform incredibly complex mathematical tasks that would not ever be possible for a human to complete independently. However, I do not think that computers will ever be able to be as “intelligent” as humans in terms of emotions. And if they ever will be, we are not at all close to this point at the present time.

In the MIT technology review, Rana el Kaliouby writes about the growing field of emotional intelligence, titling her piece, “We Need Computers with Empathy”. She goes on to discuss the developing ideas for technologies that could sense human emotions and respond accordingly, such as a car that could “monitor the driver for fatigue, distraction, and frustration” and change the driving experience to help keep you safe and contented. These technologies are presented as a way for artificial intelligence to use human empathy and emotion to help further connect to people in a way that normal technology has not been able to achieve up to this point. However, it is unclear how successful these techniques will be, and whether they will seem authentic or not.

So yes, computers and artificial intelligence will likely be developed so that they can respond to human emotions, at least to some degree. But will we ever be able to create artificial intelligence that truly equals the emotional intelligence of a human?

In the movie Ex Machina, we watched the story of the robot Ava who had been created to be so emotionally intelligent that she could be mistaken for a real human. She held complex conversations and responded to emotional and social cues. However, the ending of the movie revealed that she was actually incredibly manipulative and unimaginably selfish, dismantling the morally sound and innocent character that she had seemed to be. Would a truly emotionally intelligent being take such actions, of leaving the man who allowed her to escape to die, although there would have been no consequence of her saving him? Possibly, but it seems unlikely that an emotionally intelligent person who possessed any slight bit of empathy would be capable of making this decision.

Of course, the story of Ava is only science fiction. However, it seems to support the idea that artificial intelligence will never reach the true emotional sensitivity level of humans. No matter how close we think we are to achieving artificial intelligence that matches human intelligence, it will never be the same. Although Ava appeared to act as a normal human would, she lacked the most important and defining trait of human emotional intelligence: empathy.  It may be possible to have a bedside device that plays soothing music when it senses that you are feeling depressed, but it is unlikely that humans will be able to create artificial intelligence that can truly feel sympathy in the same way that humans can.

Research Project Proposal

 

Title: Implications of Adaptations and Human Responses to Sea Level Rise

Thesis statement and critical question:

Question: What are the different approaches of adaptation and human action used in response to sea level rise, and what are the issues and implications associated with them?

Thesis statement (tentative): Adaptations and human responses to sea level rise have different benefits and consequences, as well as important environmental and societal implications.

Brief Description:

I plan to overview the different approaches of adaptation being implemented in different areas of the world in response to sea level rise. I will also compare these methods and discuss their benefits and drawbacks, and suggest their most appropriate use from scientific, environmental, and societal perspectives. Sea level rise is a highly important issue that is impacting or will soon impact many cities and many people. Sea level rise is fundamentally a science issue, as it is an effect of climate change. In discussing the actions and adaptations to sea level rise that are being taken, I will examine the highly important role that modern technology plays in this issue, and also investigate the associated societal implications of this technology and of sea level rise in general. I will research the different types of adaptations to sea level rise, and use case studies of different affected areas in order to help examine the scientific and societal benefits, drawbacks, and implications for each method.

 

Tentative Outline:

  1. Introduction
    1. Problem and effects of sea level rise
    2. Mitigation vs. adaptation
  2. Approaches of adaptation
    1. Sand transfer
    2. Building stilts
    3. Hard engineering (sea walls, etc.)
    4. Natural protection (green infrastructure)
  3. Scientific and societal implications of adaptation strategies
    1. Short term vs. long term solutions
    2. Further environmental impacts
    3. Resulting geologic changes
    4. Relocation/climate refugees
  4. Conclusion
    1. Most important scientific and societal implications
    2. Appropriate conditions for use of each method/most beneficial methods
    3. General future outlook on sea level rise

 

Bibliography:

Chambwera, M., & Geoffrey, H. (2014). Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Retrieved from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change website: http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg2/index.php?idp=627

Kahn, B. (2014, February 3). Adapting to Sea Level Rise Could Save Trillions by 2100. Retrieved April 4, 2018, from Climate Central website: http://www.climatecentral.org/news/adapting-to-sea-level-rise-could-save-trillions-by-2100-17034

MIMURA, N. (2013). Sea-level rise caused by climate change and its implications for society. Proceedings of the Japan Academy. Series B, Physical and Biological Sciences, 89(7), 281–301. http://doi.org/10.2183/pjab.89.281

Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategies. (2018). Retrieved April 4, 2018, from California Coastal Commission website: https://www.coastal.ca.gov/climate/slr/vulnerability-adaptation/adaptation/

Science: the second culture not to be underestimated

While anyone you ask on the street is highly unlikely to know the second law of thermodynamics off the top of their head, there is certainly a greater chance that they will have read a work of Shakespeare. Why is it that in general, people are less knowledgable in the sciences compared to the humanities? This is the question that CP Snow addresses in his lecture on the “Two Cultures”, where he outlines the divide between the “literary intellectuals” and the scientists.

CP Snow is right to suggest that the people in different schools of thought have a difficult time understanding each other, although it may be more than simply two different opinions. However, the important message of CP Snow’s lecture which is most relevant today is the lack of understanding of the field of science. This problem is very evident in our world today, and contributes to many social and political issues in our country.

When CP Snow compares knowing the second law of thermodynamics to having read a work of Shakespeare, he points out the societal expectation that exists to understand literary works, but not the laws of science. In all practicality, it may not be necessary to have read Shakespeare or to know what the second law of thermodynamics is in order to be a well rounded intellectual who can be an informed individual and contribute effectively to society. But his point is well made that people sometimes seem to regard the study of literature as more important than the study of science, for some unknown reason, as knowledge of science seems to be much more necessary to address current issues as well as appreciate the way the world works.

Science is becoming an increasingly important subject for the public to understand in our rapidly changing world. Today, Snow’s argument holds true in a sense that could not have yet been fully realized when he delivered his speech in 1959. The problem of global warming has just recently been recognized as a highly important issue in our world today, and in order to understand this problem, it is critical to have a solid understanding of science. It is unbelievable that so many current politicians and authority figures have such a minimal understanding of science. There is a lack of progress in scientific and especially environmental areas, because the policies that aid our environment are so often prevented from being implemented. This is due in part to the literary bias, or perhaps lack of understanding of science, by many politicians. And the reason why these people are able to occupy such influential and powerful positions is because of a lack of understanding of science of the voters and the general public.

Indeed, I always wondered why my high school required more English credits than it did science for graduation requirements. The problems emerging today warrant a necessary change for our education system in order to make science more valued. It is time for the societal literary precedent to give way to a more rounded education that emphasizes the science needed to understand current issues. It is necessary for everyone to become more educated in scientific fields in order to make these critical changes in our government and our world.

The male precedent in science is yet to be overcome

Growing up, I had never felt like anything was preventing me from becoming a scientist. I felt as though women had equal opportunity to become scientists, and that they could do so just as easily as men. I still certainly had a great respect and appreciation for women scientists in history, as evidenced by the fact that I chose Marie Curie on dress up as a famous person day in fourth grade. Yet I certainly did not grasp the full extent of the struggles early women scientists like Marie Curie faced, and the fact that these struggles are far from over for women in science. Although there has been a rapid improvement in equality for women scientists in recent years, the male precedent that has been set in science is certainly not yet overcome.

In our society today, science is still largely dominated by males. The number of male professionals in many fields of science is still much greater than the number of females. Although the number of women in life sciences, such as biology, is approaching 50%, women are largely outnumbered in most other fields of science. But why is this the case? In our country, at least, women are offered equal education to men. They should technically have equal opportunity to become scientists. Yet, the cultural standard that has been established that science is undeniably male is far from demolished. Because of this precedent, women tend to gravitate away from these male dominated fields, sometimes without even realizing it.

Another obstacle is the lack of female role models for prospective young female scientist to look up to. This is do to the lack of female professionals in the field, and the underrepresentation of females in the history of science. Upon any google search of famous scientists, a long list of predominantly white males appears. Why are women so underrepresented in the publicized history of science? It is true that women have historically not had equal opportunity and education to become scientists. Yet, there are certainly many, especially in the past 50 or so years, who have made extraordinary contributions to science. With the exception of Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin, I had never heard of most of the women scientists mentioned in our lecture on Monday, and certainly not known of their influential contributions. It is not that these women have less remarkable achievements than their male counterparts, but they seem to have been simply overlooked, or even excluded, from the history of science that is commonly known and taught.

Without even realizing it, our society continues to portray science as a predominantly male domain. This portrayal only continues to further the problem, because instead of highlighting the important role women have played in science, it diminishes it. We need to be more recognizant of the influential contributions women have had in science up to this point, and therefore encourage increased involvement of women in science in the future. Female scientists should be rightly acknowledged and praised for their work, creating inspiration to bring the participation of women to rival that of men in the field of science.

Was Frankenstein a monster?

Despite the misleading nature of the popularized conception of the horror story, the character Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelly’s novel was certainly not a physical monster. However, by creating a monster who murdered multiple innocent people, should Victor be considered a monster himself? In order to answer this question, one must consider what defines a monster. When the word “monster” is mentioned, the first thing that is brought to mind is a grotesque form from a horror movie. But in describing a human, the most relevant definition of the word ‘monster’ is actually “an inhumanly cruel or wicked person”.  So the real question is, was Victor’s act of creation inhuman? 

Victor created life, in an unnatural way, which is arguably very unethical. He was passionately driven by an inexplicable burning desire to create the creature. He was obsessed with his studies that would allow him to create this life form. In his rash succession of actions, he did not think ahead at all about the implications of his work. He did not have any concrete plan about what he would do once he successfully created his creature. In this way, his actions were very maniacal. He went about his creation with the obsession of a madman, in a way very reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories. These stories often focus on a deeply troubled and obsessed man, who performs a horrendous act and suffers a terrible, often self-inflicted, punishment. In these ways, Victor was very similar to the characters of these stories.

Victor was constantly sickened with guilt after completing his work, and after each terrible act the monster committed. He did realize that his actions were wrong, yet he did nothing in attempt to right them. In this way, it is arguable that Victor was not completely a monster, as he still felt the natural human emotion of guilt. However, this in the only area in which he seemed to maintain some sanity.

The nature of this tale seems to suggest that Victor’s actions were not appropriate. Victor was severely punished by his actions, as he was morally tormented by his creation. He was bothered and sickened so much that over time he became so agonized that he died from his guilt. The novel also portrayed the criminal acts committed by the creature to be much more the fault of Victor, despite the fact that the monster was the one performing the murders. The reader even goes so far as to somewhat pity the monster as a lonely and helpful creature, further putting Victor at fault for creating such a miserable creature. This punishment and portrayal seems to indicate that Victor has overstepped the bounds of human control and gone past the limits of what is ethical in creating his monster, an inhuman act.

So yes, Frankenstein was a monster. But not the Frankenstein from the movies, not the creature, but Victor Frankenstein, the crazy man who became possessed by his act of unethical creation, and tortured himself to death with guilt because of it.

Are we living in a second scientific revolution?

What is a revolution?  A radical, violent change. An overthrow of government. A fundamental change to the scientific understanding of the world. And also, arguably, an irreversible change to the physical nature of the world itself.

“The” scientific revolution, was indeed a dramatic change in reasoning that substantially changed human understanding of how the world works. Nicolaus Copernicus’s theory of heliocentrism introduced in 1543, which states that the Sun, rather than the Earth, was at the center of the solar system, dramatically altered the scientific perspective of how we view our world. This revolutionary view was further augmented by the development of Newton’s theories of light, motion, and gravity. And between these two great names, there were many more small discoveries that contributed to this transformation of our understanding of the world, and also the universe. These advances were able to occur because of new inventions and the improvement of technology. For example, Galileo’s invention of the telescope was crucial to the development of Copernicus’s heliocentric theory, as the theory was based off of observations made using the telescope. The creation of the microscope, also by Galileo, allowed for many advances in medicine and biology to occur.

If this radical change in our understanding of the world was considered “the” scientific revolution, shouldn’t a rapid development of human caused changes to our planet, also resulting from the development of technology, be considered a scientific revolution as well? These changes that are occurring comprise of the rapid development of industry and technology which is fueling climate change. This radical alteration is completely unprecedented, unlike anything that has occurred before in human history. Since 1950, there has been a dramatic increase in a number of complexly related factors, such as population, economic growth, fertilizer consumption and disposable plastics. These extreme changes stem from an explosion of technology, both during the industrial revolution and in a series of developments that occurred after World War II, which led to a rise in the consumption of technology, such as of motor vehicles and telephones. This modernization of our world is the beginning an entire new era of geologic time, in which humans are the primary influence on our planet’s climate and environment, known as the Anthropocene.

Maybe this second revolution doesn’t precisely follow the “textbook” definition of a scientific revolution. It isn’t necessarily a perfect fit for Thomas Kuhn’s conception of the structure of scientific revolutions, which requires the rejection of one scientific theory for another. However, the transformation occurring today still is very revolutionary in nature. Like “the” scientific revolution, it is a result of a dramatic increase in and improvement of technology. While “the” scientific revolution represented a change in the human understanding of the world, the revolution today represents a physical change in how the world works. Although a different kind of change, the alteration occurring today is arguably even more important than the first scientific revolution. And this second revolution has yet to fully develop. Humanity is only in the process of understanding the implications of our actions and what must be done in order to revitalize our planet before it is too late. Perhaps, the real revolution will be when humanity fully realizes this new state of our planet, and takes the action necessary to stop the damage.

 

Perception of Technology

What really is technology? Upon hearing the word “technology”, a jumble of fancy computer equipment, wires, cables, and medical devices appears in my head. However, my brain quickly hones in on the computer, and from there it focuses on the internet. Why is it that when people think of technology, they quickly bypass most of the great physical feats technology has allowed us to accomplish and focus only on computers, the internet, and social media?

I think the tendency for people focus particularly on this area of technology speaks to Kranzberg’s sixth law of technology, which states that “Technology is a very human activity”. The computer and the internet are the part of technology that people use when they are thinking and “interacting”. These technologies allow us to connect with others in a new and inventive way, and people seem inherently drawn to what they perceive to be valuable social interaction. Humans have a tendency to be social, therefore they are naturally drawn to the part of technology containing the internet and social media. This drawn is uncannily strong, captivating people in a way no other technology has been able to accomplish. It is rather shocking and puzzling, actually, that people often prefer the company of this technology to real life social interaction. “Social” media is actually pulls people away from communicating face-to-face in many situations, as it is not uncommon to walk into a room of people each staring at their own technological devices. Yet somehow, people cannot overcome this influence, as they are constantly pulled to their devices like a magnet, because they somehow continue believing that it is more than a superficial experience.

But why is it that we latch on to this idea of technology so strongly, practically ignoring most of the impressive inventions that allow us to live and thrive in our present state? Why is it that when students are asked to write a piece on the subject of technology, they universally gravitate towards the subjects of the internet, social media, and iPhones? This is still somewhat a mystery to me, that we are not able to recognize the full impact of technology’s influence in our lives, in nearly every action we perform. However, the source of this tendency to define technology in such a confining way is undoubtedly rooted in Kranzberg’s sixth law, and tendency of humans to focus on the social and human aspects of technology. We are most actively and socially engaged in this small portion of technology, so therefore we tend to take much of the influence of technology in our lives for granted.

It is unfortunate that the great realm of technology goes largely unnoticed. There are so many amazing, and regrettable, feats that technology has allowed us to accomplish. From our advanced medical technology to the industrialization that led to global warming, it is important for people to be aware of this technology and its overwhelming influence in our everyday lives. Technology extends so far beyond iPhones and computers, and people need to recognize this in order to engage in our rapidly evolving world.

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