Featured Course – The Future of Being Human
Have you ever wondered what types of changes are in store for human beings as we begin the 21st Century? Will robots be part of our everyday lives? Will we choose when to die? Will there be a limit on how many organs or limbs can be replaced on a human body before we no longer consider it human?
In a time of unprecedented rates of scientific discovery, technological advancement, and medical breakthroughs, these questions are worth asking, and that is just what you will do in this innovative course. The Future of Being Human incorporates science, mathematics, technology, science policy and ethics in a multi-disciplinary approach.
Students in this course start by examining the working of neurons in preparation for learning about emerging brain research and in preparation for debating topics such as the ethics of genetic pre-selection. As you gain an understanding of the methods that scientists use when exploring the human body, you’ll analyze interactive mathematical models based on population growth and read current scholarly viewpoints on the question of being human today and in the future. Learning Activities help students grapple with some of the technological implications examined in the readings via discussions, debates, field research and an activity in Second Life , one of the most widely used “virtual world” software programs and its vast social networking environment.
Students can use Second Life as part of their learning experience. Second Life provides the opportunity to create real-life and futuristic simulations in a safe environment in order to enhance experimental learning. Thus, the use of this virtual world offers a risk-free way for students to practice skills gained during the course, as well as to try new ideas and learn about advances not otherwise available to them. For the Second Life activity, the College created a replica of one its beautiful Victorian buildings (28 Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs, NY). The virtual building houses a “transformation station” which will transform students into differently-abled avatars (from human to animal to cyborg). An interactive transportation HUD (heads up display) will transport students to various locations to conduct experiments using the scientific method as they explore different worlds and their technologies.
Featured Activities: Simulation: The Future of Being Human in Second Life
In this activity, students access the virtual environment of Second Life (http://www.secondlife.com) to explore different worlds and their technologies. This activity is based on the premise of the novel Looking Backwards, by Edward Bellamy, in which a Victorian man slept in a basement from 1887 to the year 2000 and wrote a comparison of his existing present to an imagined future. For this embodied simulation the student follows four main steps:
- Experience a transformation of his or her virtual self.
- Transport to various worlds.
- Explore future, past and imagined worlds in this form, considering the experience within the framework of biological advances, artificial life, and emerging technologies.
- Write a report based on those experiences using a scientific approach.
- Avatar – digital representation of your virtual self in Second Life.
- HUD – heads-up display.
- Sim – a sim or simulation is a named region that makes up part of the Second Life world.
- Teleport – to instantly travel to a location.
For a complete Second Life Lexicon visit: http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/sl/index.php/Second_Life_Lexicon
As with any experiment, approach this activity using the scientific method: Observation, Hypothesis, Experimental Design, Testing and Data Collection. Before students begin this activity, they need to write two hypotheses about:
- The world(s) they expect to see and the technologies they chose to use.
- Their possible experience as an avatar in Second Life.
Then, they participate in the activity making observations based on these hypotheses.
Step 1: Experience Transformation
- Start by going to the Second Life Empire State College Island (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Empire%20State%20College/130/130/26)
- Enter the transformation station located in the basement of the replica of the 28 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs Victorian building housing the ESC Alumni Office.
- Select the avatar of your choice from a pre-determined set of avatars. You will enter the station in your default “newbie” avatar, and exit transformed.
- Click on the sphere to the right of the transformation booth and follow instructions. During the transformation process, you will receive a HUD and a transportation system that will guide your experience during the next part of the activity.
Step 2: Transport to Various Worlds
- After selecting a new avatar students will be ready to transport to various worlds wearing a differently-abled, differently-sized, or technologically enhanced avatar. The transportation system includes a selection of worlds that are from a historical or imagined past, present, and future.
Step 3: Explore Future, Past, and Imagines Worlds
- Using the HUD and transportation system, students will explore these worlds, and analyze them from the perspective of:
- Being Human;
- The World Itself; and
- Emerging Technologies.
Step 4: Written Report
- After exploring the different worlds, students write a 500 word report based on their hypotheses, experiment, observations, experiences, and conclusions focusing on what implications SL and the technology represented here may have for the future of being human.
- Example of questions to address in report: Do you think medical and technological advancements will help our world in becoming more and more like one of these virtual worlds? What do you think are the implications of virtual worlds on today’s world? How did your SL experience resemble your real life?