On 31st January 2021 I will be making my inaugural presentation at the Carboncopies Foundation Journal Club. This club typically meets once a month and allows both members of Carboncopies and the public to listen to experts on a range of topics related to Whole Brain Emulation (WBE) and to discuss this in an open forum. The live events and videos of previous meetings are hosted on YouTube.
I am delighted (and a little overwhelmed) to be following in the footsteps of pioneers in the field of WBE such as Professor Robin Hanson, Dr Randal Koene, Dr Keith Wiley and Dr Michael Cerullo to name but a few.
My aim is to share some initial insights from an online study and online groups that I conducted with the public as well as mapping out my research pathway going forward. Using a Longitudinal Qualitative Panel, stratified by age, I will be working with the same individuals over the next 1-2 years. This will enable me to explore their understanding of and attitudes towards the complex concepts in Whole Brain Emulation (WBE) and the hypothetical creation of a Substrate Independent Mind (SIM). On this journey, we will co-create individual journeys or narratives using a range of qualitative research methods.
In conjunction with this, I will also be conducting Horizon scanning and expert interviews which will allow me to overlay a scientific and technological timeline. These outputs will add another dimension to the technical 2008 Road Map to WBE (Sandberg, A., & Bostrom, N., 2008) by creating a hypothetical Road Map for the Individual and Society.
From the Digital Space, Place and Identity Workshop
What is an academic workshop? As someone coming from ten years in industry I was not sure. I’ve since attended several, and have now led one, which I talk about here. I hope this blog sheds light on what a workshop is, what happens, and how it is useful. I led the workshop with my fellow Horizon students Velvet Spors, Harriet “Alfie” Cameron, and Hanne Wagner.
A workshop is an opportunity to discuss work in progress. It is a chance to engage with researchers who share an interest in the topic. It is also a space to test out aspects of your research. Or you can share a useful skill or working practice that might benefit other researchers. Sharing knowledge and collaborating with other researchers is the best way to think about it.
The four of us delivering the workshop shared some themes in our research. We positioned it as an opportunity to communicate these themes and our ideas within them. We are keen to find potential collaborators, and to build a community around the themes. In the long-term we would like to share works and outcomes via a collaborative virtual space.
The workshop was for a full day and consisted of a series of activities based around three key themes. These themes were Space, Place and Identity. We sought to examine their use in digital and interdisciplinary research.
My initial understanding of Space, Place and Identity were as follows:
Space was physical and without human meaning or context impressed upon it,
Place was Space with meaning impressed upon it, and,
Identity can apply to Places, groups and individuals. It is multipart, sometimes spatial, and defined by the groups and the Places we inhabit.
There is a complex relationship between all three, each influencing the others.
Velvet, Alfie and Hanne are more capable of explaining the subtleties of these interrelated concepts. Their parts of the workshop sought to explain and investigate them and related theory further. It was great to watch the interdisciplinary group who joined us discuss and unpick competing definitions.
Velvet introduced the structure of the workshop, setting out the key themes and purposes. They also introduced several icebreaker activities to define the themes. I sat with a group that included an architect, an engineer, a humanist sociologist and a human computer interaction specialist.
For the engineer and architect, space is a bounded subsection of a physical region, with places being the physical buildings and rooms. The humanist sociologist defined space as conceptual, and as specific spaces that contain identities. For example the space of the university contains student and academic identities. This shows that different disciplines have different understandings of the same words. There is always much work to do in reconciling these differences to enable interdisciplinary research.
Alfie provided knowledge of human geography and delivered a session where we had to draw a map of a route we regularly took. This showed how different people conceive of the spaces and places they inhabit and move through. Hanne collated the work that took place in the workshop, summarised it, and presented the group’s call to action and intentions for future work.
I provided a brief introduction to various mainstream, emerging and alternative technologies. I then showed how they served as bases for digital space and identity. This led to discussions of the problems and opportunities in these technologies, and how our research examines or is affected by them. As an example: the dominant paradigm of internet services, such as Facebook, follow the client-server model. The client-server model has many client devices connect to one server. The server becomes a “single source of truth”. There are implicit biases in the client-server model. These may then inform identities and spaces on platforms using it.
I then got people to play space and identity-oriented computer games. My PhD research is into game engines for future media with BBC R&D. The workshop was a useful opportunity to get people to engage with some unusual “games”. Specifically, narrative-focused experiences and those without obvious objectives. It was enlightening to see how people responded. It became clear that computer games need technical, practical, and cultural knowledge. Not everyone has this knowledge, or the means to access it. There are also assumptions in interactivity and the term “game”. Some participants found experiences that lacked clear or meaningful agency confusing.
There was discussion around the value of such experiences as compared to games that are more objective-oriented. There was also comparison to other visual media such as television and film with non-interactive narratives. One experience called Flotsam – playable here: https://candle.itch.io/flotsam – gave two people wildly different experiences. One person’s decisions led to an inspiring phrase that resonated with their research. Another’s led to their being trapped in a place the game warned them against. This led to much discussion, particularly given the two-dimensional and limited colour palette of the game. These limitations required more interpretive “work” compared to “realistic” games, yet somehow gave a more meaningful experience.
I found the workshop useful on several levels. In practical terms, I have improved my communication, presentation and collaboration skills. The workshop enabled me to engage with varied perspectives. It also allowed me to better understand others’ areas of expertise. Preparing and delivering my part, and the discussions within the whole workshop, gave me much needed clarity in what my priorities are. It is valuable to intensely investigate an aspect of one’s research. This helps to understand what really matters to you, inspires you, and where best to focus your research efforts to make full use of your skills.
Finally, huge thanks to Felicia Black and the Digital Economy Network for supporting our workshop. We are grateful for all the help in making the day run smoothly!
The Brilliant Club is an award-winning charity that collaborates with universities and schools in the UK. Its mission is to increase the number of pupils from under-represented backgrounds progressing to highly selective universities. The Brilliant Club does this by searching for PhD students and asking them to share their academic expertise with state schools. Statistics from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service prove that pupils who participate in Brilliant Club’s Scholars Programme are significantly more likely to apply to, receive an offer from and study at a highly-selective university.
My journey at the Brilliant Club started with a workshop organised at the University of Nottingham by members of this charity. Initially, I thought that this workshop would simply give me with information about teaching methods. However, their engagement and passion for what they did convinced me to apply for the position of a tutor. I wanted to gain teaching experience and I thought that this would be a great way of achieving this objective while doing something positive for society.
After a successful interview, I participated in a two days training weekend organised for all tutors at the Brilliant Club. This was an opportunity to meet more experienced tutors and ask them questions about their experiences. I also developed my teaching skills by participating in a wide variety of training sessions. For example, we were given information on various teaching techniques and how to engage our audience. We were also given specific advice concerning working with children.
Following the training weekend, the Brilliant Club organised an event at the University of Manchester where we met our pupils and their teachers for the first time. During this day, I delivered my first tutorial. My pupils were divided into 2 groups of six children each. I was teaching pupils at the Key Stage 2 level.
The topic of my tutorials was “What are Rights?”. I delivered the tutorial with the help of a handbook prepared by the University of Oxford. The topics of the tutorials were decided based on the tutors’ educational and professional background. I remember that when I was in school, no one really taught us about law and I thought that this could be an interesting and important topic for children, if presented in an engaging way.
After the initial tutorial, I delivered six other tutorials at the pupils’ state school. This was a challenging and rewarding experience. My objective was to increase their skills and make them believe in themselves. We had a lot of interesting discussions on topics such as human or criminal rights. What I enjoyed the most was hearing children’s opinions on those issues and exchanging ideas with them. At the end, they had to write an essay which I marked according to University criteria. They all worked hard and received great marks!
Overall, preparing for the tutorials was a lot of work but it was worth it. Of course, my pupils were very young and they do not have to apply to study at a university in the future. There are a lot of other choices they could make. However, I wanted to explain to them what studying at a university means, to teach them about a new topic and show them that they have the capacity to succeed.