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Artificial Intelligence and Blade Runner.  Paul Livingston, Villanova University, January 24, 2008

Using "Blade Runner,"  "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," and the Loebner prize to illustrate issues in artificial intelligence and human cognition.

Step 1.  Assign or show segments of the movie Blade Runner where Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, tries to determine which subjects are actually "replicants" or androids by performing a test involving a series of questions (the "Voight-Kampf test").   I then used this as a way to motivate student discussion of differences between artificial intelligence and human intelligence, asking students what questions they would ask of a subject to determine whether they are human or artificial.

Step 2.  Assign Alan Turing's classic essay, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence."  (Mind 59, pp. 433-460 (1950); it's also widely available in other places).  This essay is the classic formulation of the claim that computers will one day be able to think like humans, and formulates the "Turing test" which aims to demonstrate computer thinking.  In Turing's view, if a computer can convince human judges that it is human, then it is actually thinking or intelligent. 

Step 3.  The students were asked to visit, the website for the annual Loebner prize contest.  In this contest, programmers compete to design an artificial intelligence program that is maximally "human-like."  Students can view transcripts of the human-computer discussions and compare them to human-human discussions to think about what are the "marks" or "signs" of actual human thinking.  Alternatively, I sometimes hand out transcripts with the identity of the subject concealed, and ask students to guess which subjects are human and which are computer programs.  This makes for an interesting group-based discussion as students can talk about what misled them into a false identification, and why.

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Jeopardy Exam Review, Elizabeth A. Irvine, Villanova University, January 26, 2008

As a review session for the exam, we developed some questions similar to the ones used on the TV show, Jeopardy.  The questions could be shown on PowerPoint or read aloud.  Here are just a few sample categories and questions just to give the idea.   Another possibility would be to assign groups of students to come up with questions in a single category.  Students had a lot of fun doing the game.  


100 Male or female – what is sex?
200 Bourgeois or proletariat – what are classes?
300 Masculine or feminine – what is gender?


100 He is the lecturer's step-dog – who is Buddy the Wonder Dog?
200 Undergraduate school attended by the TA -- etc.  


100 Labor added to something in the state of nature – what is property
300 An equal mixture of masculine and feminine traits, separated from sex – what is monoandrogyny
400 The product of wage-labor which produces profit – what is surplus value
500 The Good, the Beautiful, and the Just – what are the Forms


300 For him, wealth is a sign of virtue – who is Locke
400 This is the source of sin, according to Augustine – what is lust 


100 “She moved with that air of brisk, unselfconscious authority…associated with men. She sat down, taking up more space than women ever did. She squatted, she sprawled, she strolled, never thinking about how her body was displayed.” - Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time
200 “It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and has left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’” - Marx, The Communist Manifesto
300 “Lust dominates the mind, despoils it of the wealth of its virtue, and drags it, poor and needy, now this way now that; now approving and even defending what is false as though it were true, now disproving what it previously defended.” - Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will
400 “Even then, if he is deceiving me I undoubtedly exist: let him deceive me all he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing while I think I am something.” - Descartes, Meditations

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Find an Article, John Immerwahr, Villanova University, January 26, 2008

One of the goals for our course was to help students begin to understand philosophy as an ongoing field of research and study.   Students were asked to go to the library (we spoke to the Reference Librarians in advance) and asked to look through some of the hard-copy journals, select one article, and skim it.   In class, students were asked to volunteer to describe their article and what they thought of it.  We solicited the volunteers by asking questions such as: 

Who found an article that was really interesting?
Who found something really weird?
Who found something similar to what we have done in this course?
Who found something really boring and incomprehensible?
Who actually read the article, rather than just skimming it?

Students seemed to really enjoy the exercise, and were pleased with finding some things that they actually knew something about.  Several said, "If I had seen this article before I took this class, it would have made no sense to me, but now I see why it is interesting." 

Here was the specific assignment for the students:

Go to the library and find an area in current periodicals where the philosophy journals are shelved. Generally the call letter is B. The reference librarians can help you find this section. Browse around in the philosophy journals and find an article that looks interesting to you and that has something to do with a topic we covered in this class. You don't need to read the article, just skim it (many of the articles are highly technical). Then, for your short assignment, write the name of the journal, volume and year, title, author, and page numbers of your article. Then briefly say what the article is about and what it has to do with something you learned in this course. E-mail your write-up to your discussion leader and bring a HARD copy of your short assignment to class.

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Mini Presentations. Annika Thiem, Villanova University, January 29, 2008.

Contemporary Issues Mini-Presentation:

For this assignment, choose a current newspaper or newsmagazine article, a newscast snippet, an image from an advertisement, or another relevant clip. Major newspapers such as the The Financial Times, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, or The Washington Post are a good resource. You may present an appropriate TV news clip or a YouTube clip, but if you do so, I ask you to briefly run it by me first.

Ideally, you will be able to put the item into conversation with the the topic we are discussing at that time. The focus in this exercise is on dealing with truly contemporary and current political and social issues and putting our theoretical toolbox to work.

By sending an e-mail to the class, circulate your item at least 36 hours before class starts. Please include a question or an aspect in particular that you would like us to consider.

You are encouraged to come to office hours or contact me prior to circulating your item and to discuss with me various items that you may have found in order to choose one.

The presentation itself will be indeed "mini" – 3-5 minutes. (That is very short, much shorter than it sounds, so focus will be key! Keep it sweet and short). We will then talk for another 5-7 minutes about your item and what ethical quandaries are raised by it; how the issue is ethical rather than political, or a matter of personal preference, or the other way around; how your item might link ethics and politics; how it relates to our readings, etc.

One caveat: The success of this exercise depends on you, both in presenting yourself as well as in giving some thought to the material others present. If we find that these presentations do not generate productive conversations or if the items selected do not show thoughtfulness in the selection, we will not continue with this exercise and instead add another written component to the class.

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Peer Tutoring. Katherine Eltringham, Villanova University, January 29, 2007

Intra-class Dialogue Partner Programme

Philosophical dialogue outside of the classroom is vital to the spirit of the living philosophical pursuit. As we have seen in our readings of Plato, dialogue is essential to uncovering of ideas in the cut and thrust of lively verbal exchange. It is in discussion that philosophy thrives, and it is in seeking and pursuing knowledge that one becomes virtuous.

This Intra-class dialogue partner programme is a cooperative effort between students designed to assist both participants. Each student will have the opportunity to ask questions and explore the text with someone who may be able to guide them through the more difficult aspects of the philosophical text and the lectures or to challenge the limits of their thinking. Sometimes peers are able to rephrase ideas and produce different explanations, which are a helpful supplement to the explanations given in class. On the other hand, both students will also benefit by having to explain difficult concepts when challenged. It is only through teaching ideas that one really grasps them and appreciates them fully.

This will also be helpful preparation for answering questions that will be posed on in-class quizzes and exams. The difficulties that arise for the partners will enable both students to identify areas that need further discussion in class. Both students will have a basis from which to pose questions in class – questions that will benefit others in the class as well. It is often difficult to formulate questions in class, since moving from inarticulate to articulate confusion is often the hardest part. If questions arise outside of class, students will be able to pin-point areas of difficulty or opacity and come to class prepared with questions for me.

How it works: Two students will be paired on the basis of schedule compatibility AND the instructor’s discretion for the purpose of challenging each other and reviewing the course material in the form of extra-curricular discussion. The pair will discuss points of the lectures, the text itself, and reading assignments, for a period of at least one hour per week. Both are to have read the text under exploration prior to their meeting.


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Update:  January 26, 2008