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Legal Scholar: Not Your Grandfather's Robot

July 3, 2014

Robots—both utilitarian and fanciful—have become mainstays of popular culture and everyday life. But will there come a time when robots are considered to be people? That’s the question Mark Goldfeder, senior lecturer in law, director of the Law and Religion Students Program, and Spruill Family Senior Fellow at Emory University, tackles in an op-ed on the CNN Opinion website.

“For the first time, a computer program passed the Turing Test for artificial intelligence. . . . That outcome means we need to start grappling with whether machines with artificial intelligence should be considered persons, as far as the law is concerned,” writes Goldfeder.  

The question has become a mainstay of popular culture, he continues, pointing at movies such as “Transcendence,” “Her,” and the “Robocop” and “Star Wars” franchises. “A question at the heart of all these movies is this: At what point does a computer move from property to personhood?” writes Goldfeder.

He goes on to say, “From the practical legal perspective, robots could and should be people. As it turns out, they can already officially fool us into thinking that they are, which should only strengthen their case. The notion of personhood has expanded significantly, albeit slowly, over the last few thousand years. Throughout history, women, children and slaves have all at times been considered property rather than persons. . . . New categories of personhood are matters of decision, not discovery.

To read the entire essay on CNN.com, click here.

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Business professor on the economy of narcissism

May 20, 2014

BianchiPeople who enter adulthood during recessions are less likely to be narcissistic later in life than those who come of age in more prosperous times, according to research by Emily Bianchi, assistant professor of organization and management at the Goizueta Business School.

“These findings suggest that economic conditions during this formative period of life not only affect how people think about finances and politics, but also how they think about themselves and their importance relative to others,” said Bianchi in a press release issued by the Association for Psychological Science (APS). The results also counter the common sentiment that so-called “millennials” are, as a group, highly self-involved.

The study appeared recently in the journal Psychological Science and was covered by a number of major media outlets.

Bianchi drew on research showing that macroenvironmental conditions in emerging adulthood can leave a lasting imprint on attitudes and behaviors. “I argue that people who enter adulthood during recessions are less likely to be narcissistic later in life than those who come of age in more prosperous times.” The findings, she continued, “suggest that macroenvironmental experiences at a critical life stage can have lasting implications for how unique, special, and deserving people believe themselves to be.”

To find out more about the study described in the APS press release, click here. 

To read coverage of the study in The Atlantic, click here.

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Name That Course: In Plain Language, Please

March 10, 2014

In a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed, Rob Stephenson, an associate professor at the Rollins School of Public Health, lamented what he calls “the increasingly bizarre course names listed on transcripts” that he encounters when reviewing graduate school applications. “What, exactly, does someone learn in a course called Finding Myself,” he wonders, and what would a low grade mean in such a course?

He finds that most class names are self-explanatory (Organic Chemistry, Calculus) and the attached grades impart useful information about a student’s academic strengths or struggles. “But what if a student earned a B in Racism, what exactly did they study? And is getting a B in Racism a good or a bad thing?” Stephenson writes. “At least 20 percent of the transcripts I read have a course that leaves me scratching my head.”

Among the categories into which these courses fall include Vague One-Word Titles (example: Stupidity), and Too Clever to Be Useful (example: Those Sexy Victorians).

“Professors,” Stephenson pleads, “give your course a title indicative of its content. It can still be fun, but please spare me from guessing what the student who took Nuthin' but a "G" Thang may be expected to know.
To read the entire article and more examples of mysterious course names, click here.

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