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Sci Fi YAL Presentation


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Presentation on YA science fiction and the ethics of digital technologies.

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Sci Fi YAL Presentation

  1. 1. Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Using Genre, Author, and Illustrator Studies in the Classroom Marla Robertson, Ph.D. - Utah State University Jennifer Smith, Ph.D. - Texas Christian University Amy Piotrowski, Ph.D. - Utah State University
  2. 2. Ethics of Internet Communication Technology in YAL Science Fiction Amy Piotrowski, Ph.D. Utah State University Twitter: @piotrowskiamy Website:
  3. 3. The Issue Why study a genre? For its insights in our lives and world. YA science fiction can facilitate discussions of ethical issues we face in the digital age.
  4. 4. The Issue NCTE’s Definition of Literacy in a Digital Age (2019) calls on teachers to have students: ● “Participate effectively and critically in a networked world” ● “Examine the rights, responsibilities, and ethical implications of the use and creation of information”
  5. 5. The Issue What does it mean to be human in a world of the Internet, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, social media, smart devices, and data collection many places we go offline and online?
  6. 6. The Issue “Books that provide fictional representations of a future that involves technological advancement play a unique role in introducing children to issues that are relevant to scientific and technological progress, as in the moral and ethical implications of such developments” (Flanagan, Tech and Identity in YAL, 2014, p. 6)
  7. 7. The Issue There’s a line of work in literary studies that examines technology’s impact on humanity and society, from Haraway (1985) and Hayles (1999), in which the boundaries between the human and the technological are blurred, to recent work using posthumanism to examine depictions of technology in YAL (Flannagan, 2014; Hervey 2018)
  8. 8. The Issue Flanagan discusses how in posthumanism agency is “collective and networked instead of being based purely on individualism” (2014, p. 5). So, how do we act ethically when agency is “collective and networked” online?
  9. 9. The Novels Feed, the Warcross duology, and the Arc of a Scythe trilogy provide readers with a look at the ethics of online, distributed spaces. These texts demonstrate how technology may fail to solve human problems that need human solutions.
  10. 10. The Novels
  11. 11. Feed (2012) Titus and friends have the connective capabilities of the Feed, but the way the Feed works is designed to distract them. (Flanagan points out how the first person narration brings the reader into Titus’s “fragmented” and interrupted lived experience.) The technology that connects them also separates them. Example: as Violet slips away, all Titus can do to cope is order pants and more pants obsessively. “Maybe, Violet if we check out some of the great bargains available to you through the feednet over the next six months, we might be able to create a consumer portrait of you that would interest our investment team.” - Nina from Feed Tech
  12. 12. Feed (2012) “[T]he main tension is whether achieving a sense of self is even possible when being connected, both biologically and virtually, to so many outside stimuli mean being constantly influenced and having our choices made for us” (Hervey, 2018, p. 28).
  13. 13. Warcross (2017) and Wildcard (2018) Everyone uses NeuroLink glasses, which provides virtual reality and augmented reality. Emika is a bounty hunter and hacker who ends up in the big Warcross tournament. The game’s creator, Hideo, hires Emika to go after someone planning to disrupt the tournament. Turns out someone seeks to use the NeuroLink to control people so they cannot commit a crime. “You’re taking away something that makes us fundamentally human!” - Emika
  14. 14. Scythe Trilogy (2016, 2018, 2019) The Thunderhead, the AI that runs the world, is a benevolent presence. The scythedom, which is run entirely by humans without Thunderhead intervention, has corruption problems. Scythe’s power to kill: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” - Lord John Dalberg-Acton “However, the sycthedom is not bound by my laws, or my sense of ethical propriety. Which means that I must endure any abomination that it inflicts upon the world.” - the Thunderhead
  15. 15. Scythe Trilogy (2016, 2018, 2019) The Thunderhead manages to find loopholes around the laws governing its behavior in order to influence events that it cannot directly intervene in. Many seem to follow the Thunderhead’s guidance without question or accept what the Thunderhead says and does as what is for the best. How do humans make choices and act on their own agency, and how does AI shape human behavior?
  16. 16. Teaching Applications ● Examine issues of privacy online, especially data collected to run algorithms that target advertising to us. ● What data do the websites and apps we use collect? How is that data used? Read the privacy policy for a website or app - really read through the entire document. Get your data from Google, Facebook, or Twitter. See what they have and how they can use it.
  17. 17. Teaching Applications ● How will AI affect how we buy things, our health care, our jobs? ● PBS’s recent Frontline documentary “In the Age of AI” (November 5, 2019)
  18. 18. Teaching Applications ● Discuss use of AI in schools: ○ “Schools Are Deploying Massive Digital Surveillance Systems. The Results Are Alarming” - Education Week, May 30, 2019 ○ “District's Plan to Use Facial Recognition Tech for Safety Raises Big Privacy Concerns” - Education Week, May 30, 2019
  19. 19. Questions? ● Email: ● Twitter: @piotrowskiamy ● Website: