Part 2 The Responsible Innovation Circus Rolls into Town

A lighthearted view of Responsible Innovation

Alternative Teaching Methods for Responsible Innovation

There are many ways of presenting complex arguments about ethics, and some interesting examples of theatre in use. The embedded video above was made for the final closing conference of a European Union funded project ROSIE.

The video presents a light-hearted look at the problems faced when trying to introduce the RI concept to small businesses. It was made in character (following the tradition of action theatre in academic use as a teaching tool for ethics) and addresses the problem of the gap found between the language used in RI publications (of all sorts) and that used in the small business world.

It uses a circus metaphor to represent the balancing act prescribed through various EU and Standards documentation related to Responsible Innovation, using the balance metaphor for a high-wire walk and their prescribed goals and approaches as juggling balls.

In making this video I was very much influenced by a US based university professor who uses radio plays, theatre and art in his teaching that he produces himself.

Richard G Epstein

Richard G Epstein works in the Department of Computer Science, West Chester University of PA, where he teaches courses on computer science, software engineering and computer security and ethics.

His university home page provides access to some of his publications, and I would like to have a look at three of them. He produces teaching aids that are extremely entertaining and require no technical understanding.

Artistic Work

The Case Of The Killer Robot is a series of fake newspaper articles that report the story of an accident at work involving an industrial robot and its operator. The early articles are descriptions of the accident but as the work moves on it slides into legal and ethical territory. Who is actually guilty for the malfunctioning of the machine and who should be held legally responsible? One of the programmers is found to have misunderstood a piece of code scrawled on a post-it and his translation error is deemed to have caused the death, so he is charged with manslaughter.

The reporters visit the factory and interview fellow workers, producing articles within which they reveal problems within the organization and managerial team and slander the poor programmer’s personality, all in perfect local journalism hack style. They have expert interviews and uncover both design faults and personal differences between members of the development strategy team.

The issue of responsibility is really brought to the fore, although in a fictional setting the ethical dilemmas faced during the development and working practices involved are laid bare. It makes for a very entertaining and thought provoking read.

The Plays

The second work I recommend is one of the author’s plays entitled The Sunshine Borgs. The play is set in the near future and tells the story of a bitter ex-playwright who has lost his job and seen the demise of human participation in the arts caused by the development of computer programmes that write plays and music for human consumption.

The play investigates the threat that high power “intelligent” computing could pose to human creativity. Robots have taken over as actors, lovers, authors and just about everything else. Pain and suffering, poverty and crime have been all but eradicated but has humanity lost its passion? The play contains a twist that I won’t reveal and the writing style even manages to portray the effect that working in a computer environment can have on language use and thought processes.

The Author describes this work as a comedy but it is too close to the bone to make you really laugh. Questions such as the legal rights of robots and the possibility of charging a human with robot abuse are raised when the main character’s unwanted robot companion commits suicide as a result of the playwright trying to educate a soul into his hated but extremely useful houseguest.


Another of his plays entitled NanoBytes addresses the problem of nanotechnology, an interesting story of the head of a nanotechnologies company and a small mishap regarding molecular sized computers that can be injected into people in order to stop anti-social behaviour. A much shorter read but with some equally interesting twists and an insightful tongue in cheek description of American family and business life.

Holidays are coming!

The title of this article is a reference to the historic Coca-Cola advert. Whilst I’m not sure I’d class it as the Christmas season yet, it’s pretty clear that retailers think it is.

Coca-Cola Christmas trucks

The Coca-Cola Christmas ad – what isn’t Christmassy about HGV’s driving through the countryside?

Here in the UK, many shops have had Christmas stock on sale for over a month now, only taking it down for a brief interlude to replace it with Halloween and bonfire night stock. In just over two weeks, it’s the infamous Black Friday, which is meant to be when the Christmas shopping rush really gets started.

One of the key moments in British Christmas is now when the main Christmas advertisements start showing. I’ve yet to see the iconic Coca-Cola ad, but last Friday saw the launch of the festive John Lewis ad.

Over the last decade, John Lewis’s Christmas adverts have become rather famous and somewhat of a seasonal event. Each year the public sceptically awaits the ad to see if it’s going to better last years. This year’s tells the heart-warming (as always!) story of a little girl and an elderly man who lives on the moon.

This years attracted the usual attention. #ManOnTheMoon was the number one trending topic in the UK for most of ads release day (last Friday) and it was instantly parodied. Here are some of my favourites.

Firstly a Royal Mail undeliverable note.

What about The Martian, Matt Damon?

Maybe if the little girl had seen the film Up…

So the real question is: is this excitement just retailers trying to encourage us to spend more money? I’m not sure many people would argue in favour of Black Friday being an event that spreads Christmas cheer, but is there anything wrong with a festive advert pulling at your heart strings?

Genuine happiness creation, or just a clever marking ploy?

P.S Next time you’re in a food retailer, why not ask an assistant if they have any Christmas spirit in stock!

Digital Amnesia

digital amnesia figures

Digital Amnesia

When someone asks me for my mobile number, I take one of my business cards out of my wallet so I can read it to them. Now I have only had this number for a year, but I haven’t learnt it yet. I don’t know my wife’s phone number either. I just look her up in the contacts of my phone by name. I can however remember my first girlfiend’s mum’s home number, going back to about 1982.

Of course in those days we did not have machines that remembered your life for you. I remember having to arrange to meet someone at a certain time and in a certain place before leaving the house, oh how quaint. And believe it or not, not only did our brains keep in all that extra information (which seems to have made them work better I might add), but we were also freeer.

Free because once you were out of the house you were in effect offline. No calls from work, no-one asking you why you are late, or more to the point where you are. “Where were you? I tried calling but you did not answer!” Oh so now I am obliged to both carry my phone and answer it otherwise moral judgements will be made about me, where is the freedom in that?

And these developments have lead to parents and friends worrying more. Now I have a phone so if you start thinking about me you can send a text. In the past you couldn’t do that, so you worried less. There was no point in worrying because you could do nothing about it. And what happens if your phone runs out of charge? Then you really are in trouble, it is almost as bad as your life support system breaking down.

Research

But where is the evidence I hear you ask, for these glory days when people could remember where they were supposed to be, had diaries and used pens to make appointments.

Here. Read it and weep.

The BBC is reporting a UK study carried out through Kaspersky (see the stats above in the picture), that seems to demonstrate that reliance on digital technology is causing a loss of memory capacity. The belief that we can just access information whenever we need it has brought us to this point. But the limitations are obvious. When I lose my phone I cannot even phone home on somebody else’s. I don’t know the number.

Maybe the brain needs exercise too. Stretching is always good, and I must say that this is probably true of brain use. As I have once before mentioned, learning a language is great for your brain function, but many might not bother now we have real time translation tools. But I should say that I am not against these things, my life would be much more complicated without the famous online translation tool that I use every day.

I remember an article on this blog about the power of the human brain, it is incompably good to digital technology, let’s exercise it and keep it fit.