Frankenstein, Robocop, Big Data

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FIG 15
Mark Vareschi
Frankenstein, Robocop, Big Data
Lecture 1, 9:30–10:45 TR
Introduction to Philosophy
Lecture 4, 2:30–3:45 TR; Discussion 334, 11:00–11:50 R
Introduction to Digital Information
Lecture 1 is Online; Lab 306, 9:55–10:45 W

This is a FIG about memory. We will consider the relative frailty of human memory in comparison to the unforgetting nature of digital storage. Humans forget; computers do not.

The main seminar in this FIG, English 178: “Frankenstein, Robocop, Big Data” will begin by considering the relationship between memory and human identity. In many ways, we are who we are because we remember who we are day to day. However, human memory is fragile. We forget things; we misremember events.

By contrast, all online activity leaves a trace that can be collected to form a version of the user. This version is not identical to the human user and yet is often a frighteningly accurate image of the user whose behaviors may be tracked and predicted. Importantly, this digital version of the user is produced by a form of memory (or more precisely a storage of information) that does not forget. You may not remember “liking” that photo on Facebook at 3 am, but Facebook does.

The course will draw its reading and viewing list from a variety of literary and non-literary sources. Our central texts will include, Frankenstein (1818), Robocop (1987 and 2014), and current debates around National Security Agency surveillance, social media literacy, online persona, and online privacy.

Our primary project will be to develop a digital portfolio of work in collaboration with the UW’s DesignLab. The other two courses in this FIG will help develop a greater understanding of the place of memory in human experience and a critical perspective on our place in twenty-first-century digital culture.

Philosophy 101: “Introduction to Philosophy” — The purpose of this course is to give you a better sense of what philosophy is, how it relates to other disciplines, and what it is good for. We will proceed by considering possible answers to a number of key philosophical questions.

  • Do we have free will?
  • What is knowledge and what sorts of things can we know?
  • What is the fundamental nature of reality?
  • Does God exist?
  • Is truth relative or objective?
  • Is life absurd and meaningless?
  • What, if anything, determines that an action is morally wrong (for instance, intentionally killing an innocent person)?

As will soon become clear, much of philosophy consists in formulating and evaluating arguments.

Library Information Studies 351: “Introduction to Digital Information” — In this hybrid course that meets online (lecture) and face-to-face in a weekly discussion (lab), students will learn to create websites and understand how they work across digital devices; understand and build databases; learn how search engines work behind the scenes; tackle information overload by learning tricks and tools to help people organize their digital stuff; work with a real client to learn project management and build communication skills.

This FIG is well suited for students interested in a certificate in Digital Studies and majors in English, Computer Science, Communications, Journalism, Law, and Philosophy.