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In this project you will enter into an ongoing conversation/argument about what it means to be “human,” and how those definitions tend to depend upon making distinctions from those labeled “not human” including animals, others, and forms of artificial intelligence.  We also will consider processes of “othering” that fragment the human community, deny rights and access. Over the course of the project you will read an article on the ethics of our relationship to nature and animals, optionally view a film that places at its center a stylized and often quite violent struggle to define the boundaries of the human experience, and then turn to Northeastern’s President Aoun’s vision for a higher education that actively engages with distinctions between human innovation and emerging AI systems.  We will also consider the essential discussions of “othering” that are at the center of these conversations.

There will be forays into ethics and questions about everything from the craving for a hamburger, to feeling empathy for a stranded turtle, to remembering real and imagined pasts, to struggling with our own identities, to robot proofing your place in the business world.  One reason for the diverse range of readings/viewings is to suggest the ways these questions can be informed by a wide variety of disciplines and experiences, and how they can intersect with our own experiences.  Each of you will find your own way into the conversation, depending in part on which aspects of the discussion are most meaningful or perplexing to you.

You ultimately will be required to make a clear and complex argument about an issue related to this ongoing conversation.  You may wish to focus on a single issue, such as the question of our ethical responsibility to the animals we eat, or to the technological systems we create and those who work with and within them.  You may want to focus on a particular text, asking, for instance, where the lines between human and replicant blur in the film Blade Runner and why that matters.  Or exploring the vision for the educational future in Robot Proof and how it aligns with your own sense of what it means to be a human contributor to complex economic and social systems.  Or if you view it you may want to take on a more abstract idea, such as discussing the role of memory in defining what it means to be human in Blade Runner.  Or the power of naming as a means of control in Kimmerer’s “When Speaking of Nature” and Blade Runner.  You get the idea — there are many many possible ways into this conversation, and your way in will be uniquely your own!

Genere: The genre for this project is a ‘long-form argument.’ You will be making an argument, but not one that can be neatly tied up into a single-sentence thesis statement. Your argument will emerge through engagement with some of the texts we have read.  It will also foreground the process of engaging in conversation with other texts and ideas, rather than tying up that process in a neat tidy thesis statement. Michael Pollan’s “An Animal’s Place” will serve as a model of this genre, though you may write on a subject that is quite different.

Material needed: Annotate bibliography

Animal’s place