This podcast is part of the UCIL Digital Society course from the University of Manchester running in 2022/23 semester 2. The stories it relates to are hosted on Medium and concern the Critical Analysis in a digital world and Chatbots and questions of digital conversation topics.
In this podcast the Library Student Team (ST) reflect on your comments so far.
DigiSoc Week4 & Week5
ST1: Hello everyone, I’m Stefan from the Library Student Team! Welcome to this week’s DigiSoc podcast!
ST2: and I am Iqra also a member of the student library team. This week we will be discussing critical analysis in digital world and touch on the role of chatbots in in digital conversations.
ST1: So, I know that critical analysis is quite a recurring theme in the digital world but why is it actually important in the digital society?
ST2: Well, I think it is important to firstly consider that though the digital world allows for the spread of positive and helpful information across multimedia, it can quickly become a negative source of information, especially where it is poorly regulated.
ST1: I definitely agree- nowadays it is so easy to be exposed to misinformation via rumours and conspiracies and propaganda spread through fake news.
ST2: In this day and age, it is becoming easier to recognise these but are there any steps that a new member of the digital society could take to protect themselves from these falsities?
ST1: Well, according to a survey, we found some helpful suggestions that current members of the digital society have submitted about online, use and consider when interacting with online information. A recuring theme in the answers consisted of firstly considering the validity of sources that they interacted with. Critical thinking and comparing, closely followed this main suggestion.
ST2: I see how it could be important to ensure that sources come from certified sources that are approved by recognised organisations and boards, since more peer review increases validity of information as it provides more opportunities of filtering.
ST1: Yes, that makes sense. Some answers in the survey also suggested researching the same topics through multiple avenues and then comparing them to then be able to pick up on the recuring information, which may indicate the validity.
ST2: Absolutely — and it could also be quite useful to develop an inquisitive habit when doing this. Forming an opinion based on robust information also means a stronger and more accurate argument when it comes to discussing digitally consumed information.
ST1: I feel like the purpose and the author of sources can also be a good indicator of how we can interpret and process information before accepting it to be true. It helps to keep in mind the audience that the author was targeting as this could be a big giveaway as to the motive of the information. For example, a dictator may use propaganda to make a regime sound appealing on the surface as it is aimed to appeal to a large population. When in fact there could be an ulterior motive of control and false information to coerce a community in acting a certain way.
ST2: That it very true and quite evident in the news, speaking of critical analysis in a digital world, let’s say you were messaging a stranger online. What social indicators would you think you’d use when deciding their gender?
ST1: I’m not sure, I would perhaps look at the emojis they use or the length of their texts?
ST2: when we showed a WhatsApp conversation between two strangers, many readers replied they thought the person who used laughing and the poking out tongue emoji was more likely to be a woman and the other was more likely to be a man based on their short texts and use of the word ‘folks’.
ST1: that’s quite interesting. But what about when you ask a chatbot? How does that explore ideas of gender?
ST2: In the 1950s, Turing created the imitation game, which had a machine decide gender based on answers to questions.
ST1: That’s interesting- I never really thought of conversation as being gendered.
ST2: In the imitation games, you can ask questions about physical characteristics such as hair length. However, with society now where gender expression is more varied. It would be a norm for a man to have for example long hair. For this to be relevant to today, we would need a new question.
ST1: I mean can one question really capture someone’s gender?
ST2: I can’t think of any question I would use. In Turing’s time it would have been much easier due to societal norms. Is gender about reading and communication? Do we all read and interpret the same way? Some readers determined that since gender is a part of someone’s character, it can influence any information given.
ST1: I mean is there even an idea of gender outside the act of it? Could we not say gender is a performance.
ST1: That is a tricky question. I don’t think I could give one absolute definition of what gender is.
ST2: Also, how advanced are chatbots becoming that they can determine something so varied, and so quickly. Turing investigated the idea of if chatbots can think. I feel like with how chatbots have become so advanced today, it’s not a crazy idea.
ST1: well according to the OED, chatbots can stimulate conversation, by automation and providing information. To consider Turing’s ideas this would then be ‘thinking’. As his machine is simulating conversation through deception about gender. As Turing’s idea of thinking is bound to ideas of gender. Chatbots can then think.
ST2: That’s an interesting take. When asking members of the digital society, some mentioned that thinking is product of an individual situation, people can for example think more empathetically or logically due to their baseline personality.
ST1: I would agree with that take. I would think that personality plays a larger role in conversation, then your gender. To summarise what Turing proposed, he believed the best way to build an intelligent machine would be to replicate a child’s brain which is much simpler. This is definitely a really interesting topic to explore!
ST2: I agree, we hope you enjoyed this week’s summary and thank you for engaging with these topics! We look forward to hearing your ideas for the upcoming topics, and good luck with the rest of your studies.