Technology and Society
This project consisted of developing pedagogical material on AI-related themes that can be applied in a Sociology course (e.g., Social Problems 387-201-DW, Individuals and Society 387-101-DW, Work and Society 387-229-DW). This course addresses how traditional and contemporary sociological theories can be applied to the topic of technology and artificial intelligence. Moreover, this course aims at encouraging students to think about AI from a sociological point of view, and to use creative and innovative thinking in coming up with potential apps that would bridge the two.
While I focused on the sociological aspect of technology and artificial intelligence, I also covered at the beginning of the course a discussion about Sociology and technology, the various components of AI as well as the Turing test. I have included in this portfolio one of the lectures that I used to discuss the Turing test as well as chatbots.
While some of the material in this lecture comes from some fellows of the AI-themed community of practice (e.g., Robert Stephens’ portfolio), I also used the textbook by Anabel Quan-Haase entitled “Technology and Society: Social Networks, Power, and Inequality,” which I recommend.
You will find in this lecture a discussion on chatbots as well as various activities related to them, including trying the Mitsuki chatbot (https://www.pandorabots.com/mitsuku/).
Lecture: AI and the Turing Test
In this lecture, I have also included an activity using the mental health chatbot called Woebot. Students needed to download the app and use it for 3 weeks where they had to write down their thoughts in a journal on Moodle.
Finally, in this same lecture, another fun activity that we did to illustrate object recognition was Quickdraw from Google.
Structural Functionalism, Technology, and AI
This lecture covers how we can make links between Structural Functionalism, Technology and AI. Please note that, while some functions have been discussed before by others (e.g., Perse, 2001), given that very little has been written on that topic, several of the functions mentioned come from my own interpretation of how one would bridge this theory with the topic of AI. More specifically, I focus on the positive functions that Structural Functionalism would see in AI, such as increasing productivity and efficiency, benefits for the economy, and a tool of social cohesion and socialization.
MeetFrank app, a personal career assistant, is being discussed in this lecture to highlight the focus of Structural Functionalism on productivity, the economy, and the principle of meritocracy. It is worth pointing out that we also use this same app later on to discuss how Conflict theory would criticize it as exacerbating the increasing trend of precarious work, especially for vulnerable groups.
I used this article to discuss the potential positive aspects of Taylorist tendencies in the workplace, which could lead to increased security for workers and therefore, increased productivity.
Conflict theory, Technology, and AI
This lecture covers how we can make links between Conflict theory, Technology and AI. Included in this lecture is a discussion on the deskilling debate, surveillance society as well as the digital divide. You will find an activity that I called “I am my data” where I ask students to gather information on them through their Facebook profile, Instagram, Google, etc., to initiate a discussion on surveillance and the right to privacy.
Lecture: Conflict Theory, Technology, and AI
We used the work of Harry Braverman, more specifically his deskilling argument to discuss the potential loss of jobs due to AI, focusing on vulnerable groups such as low-skilled workers.
I used this article to illustrate the view of Conflict theorists on using AI in the workplace and its potentially negative impact on workers, including deskilling, and lack of control and privacy.
One of the objectives of this course is to get students to think about AI from a sociological perspective (not just it is all fun and games). I want them to think about what apps would a given sociological theory be interested in.
For example, key principles of Conflict theory would align well with Ushahidi (see below), a global tech company that aims at empowering people to raise their voices, by helping to prevent election tampering through, among other things, citizen engagement and inclusive governance.
Ushahidi, a global tech company born in Kenya during the 2008 election that empowers people to raise their voices. https://www.ushahidi.com/about
Activity: Townhall Canada App
I asked students to download this app to illustrate the topic of citizen engagement:
- Look at who your MP is. Search on the www.ourcommons.ca to collect information. Look at their roles. Are these topics of interest to you?
- Look at their expenditure report. Anything interesting?
- Looking at the “work” tab, look at their work, especially their chamber votes. Look at the last 5 votes and see if you would have voted the same way.
- Find the website of their political party and read about their platform. Anything you agree or disagree with?
- Going back to the Townhall app, look at the upcoming bills. Choose one. Do a little bit more research to see if you can explain to me what the issue is about. Tell me how you would vote.
6. What is the link between this activity and Conflict theory?
Feminism, Technology, and AI
This lecture covers how we can make links between Feminism, Technology and AI. This lecture attempts to discuss gender inequality in technology, including the lack of women in STEM fields, gendered technology, and gendered biases in data gathering and coding. Finally, this lecture aims at demonstrating how AI can be a tool for gender equality.
Lecture: Feminism, Technology, and AI
I used this article to discuss gender inequality in the field of technology, asking students to reflect on terms such as patriarchy, sexism, and double standards.
Another interesting activity consists of asking students to use any virtual assistant that they have (e.g., Siri, Cortana, Alexa), and ask them if they notice what they tend to have in common. This is a great way to initiate a discussion about gender stereotypes, and the perpetuation of associating femininity with domesticity.
Finally, AI can be a tool to enact social change, raising awareness about gender inequality and gender issues in general. The Tampon Run, the Gender Fair and Circle of 6 apps are just few examples.
The Gender Fair app allows users to see what companies support gender equality. http://www.genderfair.com/
The Tampon Run, a video game whose objective is to end the stigma associated with menstruation, was developed by two high school girls who met at Summer camp for coding, Andrea Gonzales and Sophie Houser.
As I have mentioned above, one key objective of this course is to get students to think of AI from a sociological perspective. As such, I have developed a group project that requires students to think of an app that they would like to create (hypothetically) and that would fit well with at least one of the sociological theories discussed in class.
Here is a summary of the project:
How can AI contribute to the betterment of society? Think of an app that you can see as having a sociological focus (e.g., related to Feminism, Conflict theory, etc.). What would this app consist of? Does something like this exist already? If so, what are the flaws and how can we improve it? What need would it fulfill in our society, and how does it relate to a sociological theory?
Feel free to contact me if you want additional information.
Khran, Harvey, et al. Work, Industry, and Canadian Society. Nelson, 2021.