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Hello, my name is Narun Raman and I am the sole rising Senior on this program (I have been awarded senior citizen status, the perks are worth it, to be honest). After traveling for the past few weeks, we are in Cambridge for the remainder of our stay in England. We are approaching the last couple weeks of our program and it has been really fun!

This week on our program two guest speakers came to talk about the quandaries of artificial intelligence, specifically how it can worsen the social climate for women and underprivileged minorities.

Sex Robots:

Ex Machina

The first speaker, Kathleen Richardson, talked about the effect of sex robots on the objectification of women and their status in society. There was a lot of debate on this topic, discussing the efficacy of research into pedophilia and what the Aristotlean advocacy of slavery in society. As a class, we found her arguments interesting to dissect and debate among our peers. Her talk brought an interesting dimension to the argument of how sex robots may have no effect on prostitution and pedophilia rates. Furthermore, referencing studies to support her claim were helpful to ground her thesis in hard science.

Gendered Virtual Personal Assistants and Pygmalion

Image result for pygmalion ovid
Pygmalion and the Statue, Regnault

The second speaker, Sarah Dillon, talked about the issues surrounding gendered AI. Bringing about the historic topics like the Eliza Effect coined by Douglas Hofstadter based on Joseph Weizenbaum’s chatbot, Dr. Dillon showed how the creation of female-voiced VPA’s serves to reinforce gender norms of female subservience. It was a very interesting talk and the class were engaged in how she approached teaching the nuanced and complex literary analyses of Pygmalion to undergraduate students. She connected George Bernard Shaw’s play to the climate of gender norms and how current VPA’s only serve to reinforce the oppressive issues in our diaspora. The field of Natural Language Processing seems to somewhat come from this original play. Ironically, the play’s emphasis on diction and vernacular serve as an interesting launching point for a programmatic understanding of language. The chatbot built by Joseph Weizenbaum and the effect coined by Douglas Hofstadter reference the titular character in Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle.

This Off-Campus Studies program has opened me to really interesting and different aspects of computing and history that I had no experience in. Also, Cambridge is one of the most idyllic college towns and spending time here has been awesome.