Created by: Bethany Holmstrom
Intended Course: LIB 200 / Liberal Arts Capstone / Humanism, Science, & Technology
Course Level: any
Student Difficulty: easy
Teacher Preparation: moderate
Class Size: any
Semester Time: first day, early
Writing Component: in-class group work; in-class individual
Estimated Time: 1.5 hours
Learning Objectives: Introduce students to key terms/concepts (humanism, transhumanism, posthumanism); give students a sense of the ethics around human enhancement & AI development
Materials: Beginning excerpts of “humanism” entries from Gale Virtual Reference Collection in hand-outs; “Transhumanist Manifesto;” green & red index cards or sheets of paper; excerpt from Nick Bostrom’s “Why I want to Be a Posthuman When I Grow Up”
As a way of introducing students to the variety of definitions surrounding humanism, students will first receive a packet with four different encyclopedia entries describing humanism. In small groups, students will be assigned a single entry to focus on, and then will write a 25 word definition – exactly 25 words, no more and no less – of that particular entry’s description of “humanism.” Once completed, students will post these definitions around the room.
Students will then be asked to complete a gallery walk, reviewing the definitions, and posting any questions or comments on the definitions. When they return to their seats, students will conduct a short free-write noting any differences, similarities, or nuances that arose among the various definitions. After a Think-Pair-Share, we will open it up to whole class discussion.
We will then determine what the prefixes trans- and post- mean, and what we think transhumanism and posthumanism might entail. To make this clearer, the Transhumanist Manifesto will be distributed. Students will be given a few minutes to scan it. They will each be given a green card and a red card. Reading each point of the manifesto out loud, students will vote initially if they agree (green) or disagree (red) with each proposal. We will then discuss each one as we go, while I jot down the major themes/points of contention/agreement on the board.
To wrap up, students will be given the definition of post-human from Nick Bostrom’s essay. After brief discussion, I will ask students to write a three minute paper, answering whether they would “like to be a posthuman when they grow up:” i.e., if they embrace the aims of transhumanism and posthumanism, as stated by the sources in class.
This will lead us into our next class, where students will be reading Jesse Butler’s “UnTerminated: The Integration of Machines,” and viewing Terminator 1 & 2. Butler’s essay discusses the machine/human divide that the movies set up, but which is – in his mind – a false construction.
I haven’t gotten to use this introduction to major terms/concepts with students yet – this spring I’ll be rolling out this lesson, as part of my class on AI in sci-fi films. At that point, I’ll reflect on and tweak this lesson as necessary. Many thanks to seminar participants (especially Jade Davis) for their recommendations on how to make this a better activity.
Header image: “Artificial Intelligence” by Glas-8. Available via Flickr.