A lot of our time for this class, both on Twitter and in Stokes South 195, was spent discussing recent digital technological advances and where they fell on the Creepy-Cool Line. I’d like to spend this last blog post taking a look at some of the things that we decided were creepy or cool (or agreed to disagree on) and reflect on what that tells us about our world.
Facebook News Feed (Cool)
So this issue didn’t technically come up in our class (since the News Feed was first launched in 2006) but it was the example that introduced us to the Cool-Creepy line. As we discussed in class, there was a huge uproar when they rolled it out – hundreds of thousands of students joined groups created for the sole purpose of letting Facebook know about their discontent. Complaints about the new feature ranged from it being too cluttered to it being a violation of privacy.
Today, no one cares about the news feed (well, with recent tests of separate personal and business news feeds its back it the news but for a very different reason). As a person who joined Facebook after the original news feed debacle, I hadn’t even realized that there was a point in time when there wasn’t a news feed. Despite initial outrage, the News Feed is considered a crucial part of the Facebook experience.
Did News Feed get less clunky? Probably, Facebook is always working on redesigning their site to meet current trends. Did the service get any less intrusive? No, it will still show you posts from a non-friend that one of your friends like and you still probably have that one friend that feels the need to update everyone whenever they check their phone. But now people love it; the product didn’t change, the people did.
Citizenship for Saudi Arabian Robot (Creepy)
On the opposite end of the spectrum is a news story that popped up a few weeks ago when Saudi Arabia gave official citizenship to a Hong-Kong robot, Sophia, built to resemble Audrey Hepburn. We discussed a variety of issues that arose with this decision like does that mean the robot can vote and can you be charged with murder if you turn the robot off? We also questioned why Saudi Arabia was the country to do this; they are known for their low level of women’s rights, restricting how women are allowed to own their own businesses or apply for an ID and requiring strict dress codes that Sophia has not complied with as of yet. Many felt that the focus in the country should be women’s rights rather than robot’s rights.
If I remember correctly, the class generally fell into the “Creepy” camp on this matter. We didn’t understand why Sophia was getting or even needed citizenship of a country and felt that the decision to give the robot this designation of citizen was more of a publicity stunt rather than a long-term policy decision. Will we eventually think that it is not creepy or, more importantly, non-remarkable that robots can be citizens of a country? To me that depends – will we be able to derive some utility from citizen robots.
Amazon Key (Agree to Disagree)
Our class had more differing opinions on this last tech development, the Amazon Key. As part of our Amazon News section of the class, we discussed the pros and cons of giving Amazon physical access to your house. Our discussion went from people saying that they would prefer letting the delivery driver in your house as a way to prevent theft to people saying that letting letting the delivery driver in your house would only be inviting more theft in. Some expressed concerns with the third-parties that are often used to make deliveries (sometimes with a spotty track record) while others had a greater problem with giving Amazon more access to the inside of your home as the product also included a camera to let you watch the door.
The class was split when it came to Amazon Key – about half though it was cool while the other half thought it was creepy. Why is this situation different than with the News Feed or Sophia? I think a lot of it comes down to our understanding and our utility. With the News Feed, at this point in time, we all understand what the purpose of the news feed is and it gives us all some sort of benefit. On the other hand, there are still many questions when it comes down to robotic citizenship and we aren’t sure what the real pros and cons of it is. In between the two is the Amazon Key; some of us get a lot of benefit from letting Amazon right in to your house while others do not give Amazon that level of trust.
So does this mean that over time all things will eventually stop being creepy (in the tech world at least)? No, probably not as there are some things that we will never understand or be able to derive sufficient utility from. But for most things in tech, with time, we come to think of them as cool.