|"Frankenstein's Children": CentreTerm class explores what it means to be human
RELEASED: Jan. 13, 2005
DANVILLE, KYWe all know what it is to be human
The American Heritage Dictionary defines human as "of, or relating to, or characteristic of man or mankind." So would a robot that could think, feel, experience emotions or reproduce be considered human?
Students in Tammy Durant's course "Frankenstein's Children: Pursuing the Human/ities in the Age of Technology," are trying to answer this and other provocative questions during the College's three-week CentreTerm.
Durant's students are exploring Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, Frankenstein, and trying to solve the puzzles associated with the advancement of technology and the creation of an artificial intelligent being or robot. Using 20th and 21st-century literature and movies, the students are attempting to answer some of Shelley's original questions. Does an artificially created being have a soul? What ethical challenges are posed by an intelligent other? Is the creature a monster or a victim? And what is a human being?
"The students were surprised by the novel, that it's not a horror or thriller but philosophical," Durant says.
Durant also says her students, who tend to play a lot of video games, are not as resistant to the concept of artificial life as she had believed.
"They're really interested in technology and used to playing in a virtual world," she says.
For their independent research projects, students are exploring artificial intelligence in film and literary work such as the "fembots" in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and the "perfect," if robotic, wives in The Stepford Wives.
"I'm always eager to watch the student presentations to see how they develop their ideas," Durant says.
Evan Fawkes, s freshman from Brentwood, Tenn., says he has enjoyed reading Frankenstein and comparing it to some of his favorite, modern movies. But like the characters in many movies involving artificial life, Fawkes is still leery of artificial intelligence in the future.
"I believe that this issue has serious implications," he says. "I'm firmly convinced that all individuals need to examine what they value in their fellow human beings, and then ask themselves whether they could respect people in the same way they do now, if they knew that we could push them off of an assembly line."
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