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Second Verse the same as the first, a whole lot louder and ... ?

Before finishing the abstract for “When Sex, Drugs, and Violence Enter the Classroom,” I was thinking, a little deviously, of the times I’ve sassed automated phone services. Dare I say I have even cussed at them a little. Once I discovered that the usually one just has to fake the program out to get to talk to a real person, well that’s when the deliberate mumbling began. Such behavior I don’t admit proudly…but I did it, and now I understand a little better “what was really going on” - though I insist that to some end I was just mad that it didn’t understand me and I wanted an answer to, “where is my package, UPS?!”

I’m not so surprised that 14 and 15 year olds would challenge a CPA and not shocked that they would ask explicit questions. What does rattle me is the violent assertion of power and that once again sex is used to achieve it. This isn’t just about adolescents searching for identity. This kind of behavior is central to contemporary American society and culture. It is despicable and it is frightening.

Of course the true test of the data in this (and the later referenced) paper will be when replicated over time and space. Are race or disability status also used to assert power? In the same way or differently? Actually this begs the question, are their blind avatars? Is a wheel chair an available "accessory?" Are there changes in the results when students have used these over a longer period of time? Does the sexual (and other) "testing" stage wear off?

A college classmate of mine, ca 1999, was a programmer for IBM while pursuing a degree in cello performance. He enjoyed video games and baroque performance techniques. His sense of justice and human rights was strong, so much so that he would even talk about the need to great a bill of rights for artificial intelligence. I suppose, after recalling yelling at the NWA phone conversational agent, this was a second recollection brought on by Veletsianos, Scharber and Doering (2008). Why would AI need a bill of rights? I suppose, preventing abuse and violence towards robots, avatars, and CPAs is a good start.

Speaking of prejudice and abuse:
(from the ever-reliable Fox news) http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,500824,00.html
and some British thoughts http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/shane_richmond/blog/2009/02/27/will_xbox_live_change_dont_ask_dont_tell_policy_on_homosexuality
(thanks again to MJS for the alert).

I expect that as "a people" we are striving to achieve a world of equality, liberty, and relative peace. To this end, we seek to eliminate discrimination and to value all kinds of diversity. Basing tools for education and entertainment on existing preconceived notions (i.e. authoritative CAs wear glasses, pretty female avatars are acceptable targets for sexual aggression, online gamers that self identify as gay/queer/homosexual are deviants) even in the cases when it is for an identified "good" (make the CA more authoritative to students so they learn more) only perpetuates points of inequality and misses opportunities for expanding our collective appreciation of the myriad human values and their myriad manifestations.

It is not okay to kick your child. It isn't okay to kick your co-worker. It isn't okay to kick your dog. It isn't okay to kick your computer? Or is it? Most all of us at some point need to work out some aggression. There was a time, and I suppose some people still maintain, that animals are acceptable scapegoats though we have largely moved beyond this. Maybe a conversational agent in a computer is a good place to voice aggression? No one, baring a sense that an AI agent is a "one," is really getting hurt. Alas, the trouble isn't as much in who or what is getting hurt, but that there is still a human partaking in a hurtful action. This does not go without consequence for that individual or the community around her or him. For many many years religions and philosophers and medical practitioners have developed means for work out aggression that does not involve harmful actions - there are other ways to address very real human frustrations.

In the meantime, the articles we have read suggest that the CAs themselves are a source of frustration. I do not quite understand how they can be described as ineffective and an exciting new pedagogical medium by the same participant group! It is perhaps worth considering some possible implicit biases in the sample for Doering, Veletsianos, and Yerasimou (2008). A group of teachers responding to a pedagogical tool may be predisposed to think of it as full of potential even when finding it lacking in practice, especially if they are students in the department where the study is happening, especially if that department is in the Midwest where sometimes people like to always point out the good. This is one small piece of an interesting study and I hardly think it invalidates the conclusions made - I just wonder in particular about that aspect of the feedback received.

Blog buddy and I were discussing "why use technology." (Thom, I wondering if we can access our chat transcripts? I can't find them myself, but can you share? It sure would be nice to get at some of my, ah, brilliant, thoughts) We both agreed that as described the CAs seem to be really just an avatar attached to a smart natural language search engine enabled frequently asked questions knowledge base. To this end, the negatives thus far highlighted (i.e. or is it e.g. students participating in highly inappropriate school behavior without consequence - lack of user content satisfaction), far out weigh what we could see a possible educational uses. Without formatting them as well to redirect or stop inappropriate behavior, my sense is giving tacit approval for such talk in a classroom is enough to put the CA on the do not use shelf permanently.

And on the topic of "do not use:" (I jest a bit)

Gizmo....I've spent the better part of my writing/study time looking for a suitable headshot! If only I had my passport and a scanner.... Finally! Unfortunately now the Gizmoz server isn't wanting to save my handiwork. No. Not saving. Does this mean all of my classmates are working on avatars at the same time? This glitch has provided a fine time in which to return to "Conversational Agents and Their Longitudinal Affordances" in which the topic of frustration with CAs is discussed.

Oooh, here I come (please note that I this is not my real voice...or is it???)

Web 2.0 is what she/i (?!) say in the middle. It is clear that for "text to speech" purposes I need to remember to write web two point oh. ;)

The last couple of hours has impressed upon me once again the high overhead for new media. To really use the Gizmoz site more easily, fluidly, efficiently, or well even I needed a better picture (web camera, digital camera and transfer cord, phone with camera and cord or wireless or bluetooth, or a scanner, and photo editing software). To make my gizmo speak I needed recording equipment. For many people, families, or even schools, these probably aren't all that scarce, but seems unreasonable to assume that they are readily available to all teachers and learners. Just a thought...economic inequality is still a significant component of any education equation.


Ohhh…you are funny..and smart. If only everyone could have this combination.

Also, I’ve tweaked a couple of things about my blog per your recommendation (thanks)...hope that helps a bit. And thanks for reading my nonsense.

I truly enjoy your candidness about your escapades with automated telephone “services.” I too enjoy relinquishing my smartassedness on unsuspecting computerized peoples. However, this brings up a good point Marie. Who hasn’t done this? Why do we do this? It is a game, so to speak, and we must jump the button pressing, auto prompting hoops to get to what we actually want. Real people and what we perceive as real help, I suppose. But why? Why is this such a problem, and why does it bring out consumer ugliness (as if that doesn’t speak for itself)? So we’ve put in place these robotic personages in order to aid, but when they can’t understand the difference between representative and argumentative (no pun necessarily intended)…what’s the point? Then what in the hell are they representative of? A pain in my ass.

You also bring up an interesting point about Gizmoz. You spent the better part of your allotted writing time looking for the best headshot for your animated self. Doesn’t that alone kind of defeat the purpose..don’t think I didn’t do the same thing for 2 hours. Where’s the ease in this? If only I had the proper equipment and accessibility to make this happen..exactly. And what happens when one doesn’t? These kind of resources are simply not available to all. And after all your hard work…now IT won’t work. This also happened to me. Again, what the hell? Why? I could have been done writing an hour ago. C’est la vie, it was fun though, no? Cheers.

Cheers indeed.

I completely agree that it is troubling to see the aggression toward CAs, which, as you point out, are given the identity of a human and are considered "one," as a being, and are now sort of a technological scapegoat for frustrations. Glad to see you pointed out the problem of making a CA seem more authoritative in order to get the students to listen better, but then undermining any work done to achieve a sort of gender equality and other human values.

I ALSO spent forever trying to find a good picture for the video! I am always making stupid goofy faces in photos, so I made the worst agent. And then it didn't save, so I said screw it! haha

Elizabeth - funny that my problem too was that I tend to make silly expressions when in front of a camera!