Writing as a Technology

Whales, Robots, and You: How
Technology May Change What
You Think of As a Person
Heather Graves
English and Film Studies
Office of Interdisciplinary Studies
Overview of Talk
What is technology?
How is writing a technology?
How does writing shape/change reality?
How is writing related to the creation and
maintenance of knowledge?
• How might our relationship to technology and
animals change in relation to our increase in
What is “technology”?
• “the branch of knowledge that deals with the
creation and use of technical means and their
interrelation with life, society and the
environment, drawing upon such subjects as
industrial arts, engineering, applied science,
and pure science”
• http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/techn
What is the point of “technology”?
• To improve humans’
quality of life
• To advance human
(Western, contemporary)
• To help humans learn
more, to increase our
knowledge of biological
and natural systems
• Other ideas?
Some technology has mixed effects
Writing as a Technology
• How is writing a tool or technology?
• What do you use writing to accomplish?
• In what ways can writing be hazardous or even
• What is the relationship between writing and
Writing as Technology
This “Sample Write-up” by the
Mineral of the Month Club is 10
pages long.
• Writing is a technology?
• Isn’t it more a
transparent medium for
• Scientist: do an
experiment: “write up”
the results?
• “Write up” a patient’s
medical history or chart?
• Is writing just an adjunct/
follow-up to “real” work?
Pre-Alphabetic Syllabic
Writing Systems
Source: ourdigitalform.pbworks.com
• Pre-alphabetic syllabic
writing systems
represented the physically
heard syllables of language
• Ambiguity of these writing
systems were not well
suited to developing
unique ideas
• Only specialists could read
Alphabetic Writing
Evolution of the Alphabet
Source: lucian.uchicago.edu
• Greek technological
innovation was to use written
symbols to represent an
abstract unit of phonological
structure—the phoneme
• Phonemes (b, p, d, t, g, and
k) exist in the abstract (to
pronounce them, you need
an accompanying vowel)
• Writing system represented
abstract phonological
structure (not real speech),
enabled the recording and
reading of original text (i.e.,
Writing as a Tool for
Education in Medicine
Source: historical.hsl.virginia.edu
• Many world cultures
preserved medical
knowledge, treatments,
prescriptions in medical
• Egypt, Hebrew, Ancient
India, Greece, Rome,
Islamic cultures, etc., all
produced written texts
documenting and
preserving their culture’s
medical knowledge
Medicine: Part of the
Quadrivium in Medieval
European universities
Galen’s image of the heart c 1547
Source: scientopia.org
• University graduates learned
medicine from studying Greek
and Islamic texts translated into
Latin: Hippocrates, Galen,
Avicenna, Haly Abbas, ar-Razi,
• Medicine was taught through
lecture and disputation,
supplemented with practice,
apprenticeship, and dissection
(guided by the same texts)
• Not all faculties of medicine
included surgery as part of the
Tradition, Writing,
Observations, and the
“Facts”: Vesalius
Based on dissection of nine
“Vessel feeding the left ovary (e)
originates in the renal artery (v)
that carries uncleansed blood,
while the right ovary is fed from
the cleansed blood of the dorsal
artery (d)”
Belief: Female infants came from
uncleansed blood of left ovary;
males from the purer blood of the
right ovary
“Scientific theory” or tradition
demanded Vesalius observe this
fact of female anatomy
(From Nancy Tuana, The Less Noble Sex: Scientific, Religious,
and Philosophical Conceptions of Woman’s Nature,
[Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1993], p. 140.)
Writing creates Ideology
• Writing codifies ideas so they become knowledge
• Permanent records of ideas (knowledge) can be
correct or incorrect, but writing transmits them
either way
• Culture, history, tradition, and convention can
ossify ideas so that even reality cannot dislodge
• Aristotle’s “science” or ideology of human
anatomy was not officially discredited for nearly
2000 years
Patty Kelly, “A Rhetorical
Analysis of Premenstrual
Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
in Canadian Newspapers.”
• Analysis of newspaper coverage of
PMDD in Canada 1986 – 2007
• “The creation of new mental
disorders occurs in social and
political contexts and medical
classification carry tremendous
rhetorical force” (83)
• Examined 64 articles in 20 different
newspapers over 21 years
• Coverage began 1986 with
proposed inclusion of PMDD in
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R)
(APA’s diagnostic tool and
classification system for mental
health professionals)
Implications of Inclusion in
Source: qlinks.ca
• Kelly traces the controversial
placement of PMDD in the DSM
appendix in 1987 and its
eventual movement into the
manual itself as a full-fledged
mental illness
• In 1994 PMDD appeared in
Appendix B and in the main
body of the text under
Depressive Disorder Not
Otherwise Specified (with
insurance code).
• Dual placement occurred
despite the PMDD
subcommittee’s conclusion that
“very little empirical evidence
existed to support inclusion in
DSM-IV” (86) at all.
Kelly’s Focus
How is the mental illness PMDD constructed for newspaper
How does the newspaper accommodations of expert language
affect the representations of women diagnosed with PMDD?
Role of DSM and Newspaper Accounts
• DSM emphasis on classifications based on empirical
observations and scientific evidence establish it as
“authoritative within psychiatry” (87).
• “medical texts [such as the DSM] enact the values of
biomedicine and facilitate the classification of persons”
• Kelly traces how discussions of PMDD become linked to
discussions of PMS in newspaper accounts
• In those accounts premenstrual symptoms eventually
become “indicative of a pathological state” and women
with premenstrual symptoms become “mentally
disordered” (98).
Kelly’s conclusion to case study
• Of her case study of PMDD, Kelly concludes
that “the DSM standardized diagnostic criteria
become persuasive not only for the
professional audience for whom it was
originally intended, but . . . the DSM
[also]becomes persuasive for public
audiences” (98).
• Writing does not just record thought: it shapes
and changes reality
Other implications for the power of
• Writing allows complex thought (Ong)
• Writing is the basis for human knowledge, our
means for generating it as well as preserving
and sharing it across generations
• We are living in the 21st Century Knowledge
Economy, the basis of which is writing
• Writing will be one of the technologies that
enables your success as educated
21st Century Advances in Knowledge
• Increasing knowledge leads to more
sophisticated technology
• Technology generates more knowledge and
greater understanding
• Synergy among knowledge and technology
raises important ethical and philosophical
• It may ultimately require us to re-think our
relationships to nature and technology
How? Write for 5 minutes
• What is our current relationship to
• When our technology is smarter than we are,
how does that change our relationship to it?
• Could/Should machines have “rights” similar
to human rights?
• What circumstances may lead to machines
having “rights”?
Human or Machine? Turing Test
• Is this speaker a person or a
• The Turing Test: test of a
machine’s ability to exhibit
intelligent behaviour
indistinguishable from a human
• Alan Turing first raised the
question, “Can machines
think?” in “Computing
Machinery and Intelligence”
• ELIZA, one of most popular
program that combines
databases of language with
rules for forming intelligent
Computer-aided Human?
Reverse Turing Test
• Chess players must prove
that a machine is not
helping them
• Borislav Ivanov, Bulgarian
chess player, was searched
in December chess
• Organizers suspected he
was getting help through an
electronic device
• Problem: Untitled and rated
at 2227, he won, scoring
6/9 and a rating
performance of 2690
• No device was found
How is Fraud Detected in Chess?
• Algorithm that can
differentiate between human
players and computers
(move-analysis tests)
• Programs can approach from
several directions
– Sudden change in play
– “Top down” analyze moves
against past history: "from past
games in history, only 2% of
humans made that move, while
50% of computers make it”
– “Bottom up” compares how
humans play versus how
computers play
Online Poker: Fraud/Collusion
Online poker websites
• Fraud—someone steals
a password and
deliberately loses to a
third player to clean out
second player’s account
• Collusion—two or more
players manage their
game play to go easy on
or allow another player
to win
The computer knows you are cheating
• Possible detection strategies:
– Catch fraudulent play after the fact through
computer analysis and reimburse defrauded
– Create programs that follow and analyze play
second by second to detect unfavorable or
uncharacteristic play strategies instantly (i.e.,
sudden change in play strategy)
– Program locks player’s account at the first
indication of fraud or collusion
Machines & Artificial intelligence
• Japanese robots that do
housework and act as
• The Windup Girl, Paolo
Bacigalupi, includes
Emiko, an “engineered
being,” who is sentient
but not considered
What separates humans from
machines? animals?
Philosophers have identified these
characteristics as uniquely human:
• Language, our ability to communicate
• Ability to reason
• Consciousness
• Morality
• Development and preservation of tools
(machines) and knowledge
• “Humans are considered persons because they
have a certain set of characteristics. They are selfaware, intelligent, complex, autonomous,
cultured and so on.” Lori Marino, neurobiologist,
Emory University
• “If we accept this definition—and versions of this
are used around the world in constitutions and
other legislation—then the latest science is telling
us that cetaceans [whales] also qualify.”
Whales have distinct cultures
• Every clan is unique, with
different feeding, migration
patterns, child-care preferences,
rates of reproduction
• Each clan speaks its own dialect
that is a declaration of group
• The dialects are learned (not
genetic) and they persist
through time (are handed down
from generation to generation)
• If humans break up a group of
whales, they destroy “an
ancient, living culture.” Hal
Whitehead, biologist, Dalhousie
Whale Brains: Highly Developed
• Whale brains differ from other
(land) mammals
• “an alternative evolutionary route
to complex intelligence”—Marino
• Extremely well developed limbic
system (processes emotions)
• Paralimbic lobe located near
• Suggests that whales combine
emotional and cognitive thinking,
leading to sophisticated social
communication and selfawareness
• Whales are more socially
connected, communicative and
coordinated than humans
Shared Experience
• Echolocation, “world’s most powerful imaging
device,” may be used like ultrasound to see inside
• Whales may also use it to see inside each others’
bodies (what they’ve eaten, whether they’re sick,
pregnant, etc.)
• Whales can process this information and share it
with each other, in effect seeing with one
another’s eyes
• Widely dispersed whales may form a “single
sensory loop”
Academic Conference on Cetacean
Rights (2010)
Cetacean Rights: Fostering a Moral and Legal Change
• In spite of some forms of conservation measures, cetaceans are currently
treated as resources to be harvested. And yet, many elements point in a
different direction.
• International law manifests a growing sense of duty to whales and
dolphins; contemporary ethical reflection brings new theoretical tools to
bear on cetacean moral status; and scientific research gives us novel
insights into the complexities of cetacean minds and societies.
• In the light of this, scholars from the relevant disciplines drew together to
spell out all the implications of such developments, and to build a
collective case for the attribution of basic moral and legal rights to
cetaceans, great and small.
• The conference was held at theHelsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies,
University of Helsinki, Finland.
Open academic conference : 21st May 2010
Outcome: The Declaration of Rights
for Cetaceans
Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins
Based on the principle of the equal treatment of all persons;
Recognizing that scientific research gives us deeper insights into the complexities of cetacean minds, societies and
Noting that the progressive development of international law manifests an entitlement to life by cetaceans;
We affirm that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and wellbeing.
We conclude that:
Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their
natural environment.
All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.
No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual.
Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their natural environment.
Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures.
The rights, freedoms and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and
domestic law.
Cetaceans are entitled to an international order in which these rights, freedoms and norms can be fully realized.
No State, corporation, human group or individual should engage in any activity that undermines these rights,
freedoms and norms.
Nothing in this Declaration shall prevent a State from enacting stricter provisions for the protection of cetacean
Agreed, 22nd May 2010, Helsinki, Finland
Nonhuman Rights Project
• “If you are a nonhuman animal, you are simply a thing — property
that is owned by a legal person. In legal terms, ‘things’ are invisible
to civil judges. They possess no legal rights and no hope of having
them. Not so long as they remain legal things.”
• “The Nonhuman Rights Project argues that some nonhuman
animals should have the capacity to possess common law rights.”
• “The passage from thing to person constitutes a legal
transubstantiation. As a ‘person’, you have been brought to legal
life. The Nonhuman Rights Project seeks to persuade judges that a
nonhuman animal has the capacity to possess common law rights.”
• “. . . only a legal person has the capacity to have a legal right. That’s
why legal personhood is the bull’s-eye for the Nonhuman Rights
• “The great case in 1772 of James Somerset vs. Charles Steuart
abolished human slavery in England and sparked a legal
conflagration that within decades would consume human slavery
everywhere in the Western world.”
Nonhuman Rights Project
• Legal Working Group has identified five states
(USA) that may be receptive to their legal
• Creating the documents to legally challenge the
status of some animals as “things”
• The state deemed most receptive will be selected
for the first lawsuit challenging animals’ status
(chimpanzees, whales, & elephants) as legal
things (that is, not legal persons)
• Only legal persons have rights (such as bodily
integrity and bodily freedom)
Discussion Questions
• What are the implications of the Nonhuman
Rights Project?
• How might this court decision alter our
current reality?
Discussion Questions
• Does the Nonhuman Rights Project have
implications for machines? Why or why not?
• If so, what are some of these implications?