Humans vs Computers – Are You a Bot?

“‘You engage in an exchange of emails or instant messages or Facebook updates. Is the unknown respondent another person, or is it a bot? Is it someone, or is it a computer programming passing as a person? You want to know. Based only on the conversation, can you judge whether the other is human or machine? Is there something in what is said or how it is said that differentiates people from programs?’ (Baldwin, 2009, p. 8-9)

Film director Ridley Scott’s sci fi masterpiece ‘Blade Runner‘, based on Phillip Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?‘, asks some pressing questions on what it means to be human, and whether we can really distinguish the difference between man and machine. The protagonist Deckard, uses a process called the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test to decide whether the subject is a ‘replicant’ or not. This is based on what we humans call a ‘turing test’, which was introduced by Alan Turing in 1950 to probe the abilities of machines to ‘imitate’ human responses. If a human is unable to discriminate between a person and a machine, then the computer is said to have passed the test. For example, a man is asked to play a game of chess against both a human and a machine, it is very difficult for him to tell which opponent is which, as the machine has a large database of moves it can make which mirror those of real human players; therefore even if the human beats the machine, the machine wins. So in a nutshell, a turing test is a test a human gives to a computer to decide whether or not it is a human, while a reverse turing test is a test a computer gives to a human to determine whether or not it is a machine.
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Network Noise


Last week’s article on MySpace fans burnt me out a bit, so it was nice to read this week’s article, in comparison it was a lungful of fresh air. The article by Kate Crawford (2010) titled ‘Noise, Now: Listening to Networks’, happens to be one of the shortest readings of the semester, with only 5 or 6 pages it was quite easy to finish it in one quick go without getting distracted. Another reason to appreciate this week’s reading is it is quite relevant, not just to the reader, but to all people across the world. The article uses the analogy of noise pollution to describe the ‘static of constant network connection’ (Crawford, 2010, p. 68), which has become a cloud of media’s constant presence hanging over societies head. 24/7.

 The article begins with a quote which says: ‘In the ruins of ancient Pompeii a graffito was discovered, a plea for silence scrawled across a wall: ‘Enough! Be Quiet!’, considering there are more than 11,000 sprawls of graffiti in Pompeii (wlu 2009), and most of it was dialogue between two or more people, there’s a good chance that this inscription has been taken out of context. The quote also suggests that the quote was ‘discovered’ and therefore was a rare sight with a universal message, but the walls of Pompeii were filled with graffiti ranging from: ‘O walls, you have held up so much tedious graffiti that I am amazed that you have not already collapsed in ruin’ to everyday statements such as ‘I make bread’, ‘I screwed the barmaid’, and ‘Epaphra is not good at ball games’ (Pompeiana 2008). Of course I am getting off track here, and only knew any of this thanks to the internet which has yet again managed to distract me and throw me on tangents unrelated to what I am supposed to be doing, this media distraction forms the core of this week’s reading. Crawford (2010, p. 65) states that with each new technological innovation comes a claim for noise reduction, while modern technology is relatively quiet, Crawford (2010, p. 68) argues that it produces a different type of noise, the silent noise of too much network coverage and data. This noise ‘is not the street noise that floats into open windows’ (Crawford, 2010, p. 65), instead it stalks us in our day to day lives in the form of text messages, emails, the call of Facebook and many other media distractions that we tune into constantly.

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The Virtual Sphere: The Internet as a Public Space

This week’s reading titled ‘The virtual sphere’ explores the concept of democracy and whether or not it exists or will exist in the internet equivalent of the offline public sphere. Papacharissi (2002, p. 11) paraphrases Habermas (1962/1989) who romanticises the public sphere in the 17th and 18th century as ‘the domain of our social life in which public opinion could be formed out of rational public debate… [and] could lead to public agreement and decision making, thus representing the best of the democratic tradition’. Habermas believed the public sphere to be something ‘that existed long ago, but became eroded with the advent of modern, industrial society’ (Papacharissi, 2002, p. 11), the writer notes the irony in Habermas’ idealised vision of the ‘pinnacle of democracy [which] was rather undemocratic [due to its exclusion of] woman or people from lower social classes’, this point is humorously portrayed in a BBC video clip on youtube (BBCWorldwide, 2008). The writer also references other critics such as Carey (1995) who argued that the public sphere has been replaced by a ‘mass commercial culture’ by the forces of capitalism, and Fraser (1992) and Schudson (1997) who both believe that an ideal public sphere ‘never existed’, and that ‘public discourse is not the soul of democracy’ (Papacharissi, 2002, p. 11). Papacharissi (2002, p. 12) states that these critiques don’t sum up a complete review of the various viewpoints yet she implies that they make up the bulk of the ‘academic expectations’ on the public sphere, by choosing critiques that are mainly negative in nature, and then dismissing Habermas’ vision of early democracy as ironic, Papacharissi clearly demonstrates a dystopian vision on the status of democracy in the public sphere, despite her efforts to appear neutral.

 Papacharissi (2002, p.12) states that these academic opinions serve the purpose of helping us, the reader, to ‘understand if and how the internet can measure up to these expectations’, but due to her choice of critiques the bar hasn’t been set very high. Papacharissi (2002, p. 13) poses a variety of questions to the reader and then answers them through the words of select ‘scholars’ and professional critics and in doing this creates a sense of the stagnant public  sphere that she is trying to depict. Ironically she brings up Jankowski and Van Selm’s (2000) belief that ‘online discussions, much like real life ones, seemed to be dominated by elites’, this is a very true statement, considering Papacharissi’s discussion on democracy and the public sphere consists of opinions of elites and not of the general public, when did the writer ever say ‘hey Michael, what do you think about this?’. Papacharissi (2002, p. 14) asserts that the ‘internet as a public sphere merely harbors an illusion of openness [as] online technologies are only accessible to, and used by, a small fraction of the population’, she contends that the ‘electronic public sphere… is exclusive, elitist, and far from ideal – not terribly different from the bourgeois public sphere of the 17th and 18th centures’. The writer’s main question she is trying to address is ‘how do we recreate something online, when it never really existed offline?’ (Papacharissi, 2002, p. 20), Papacharissi believes that the internet has provided a public space where people can share their opinions and discuss issues, but not a public sphere which ‘enhances democracy’ (Papacharissi, 2002, p. 11). Despite this dim view of the capacities of the internet to rejuvenate the public sphere, Papacharissi (2002, p. 23) mentions the hope that is present in the future of the internet, due to its ability to connect people ‘from different cultural backgrounds, states, or countries [and] involve themselves in virtual political discussions in a matter of minutes’, however, the writer concludes in his belief that this ‘is a vision, but not yet a reality’.