Producing Personhood

Though artificial intelligence cannot yet match the human mind in many ways, further advancement could force us to decide what separates mankind from machines.

During Final Jeopardy in the episode that aired on February 16, 2011, a computer screen sat between long-running stars Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. On it, swirling green and blue lines represented the thought patterns of IBM’s Watson—a question-answering computer system.

Watson’s hardware filled a neighboring room as he worked to process natural language and sift through 200 million pages of data to find the winning answer. The category was 19th Century novelists. Alex Trebek, the show’s host, read the clue: “William Wilkinson’s ‘An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia’ inspired this author’s most famous novel.”

Watson had thirty seconds to find the correct response.

“Who is Bram Stoker?” he answered in typical Jeopardy! style, and a group of IBM scientists jumped to their feet in applause.

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No Escape

Though Kasey Burchett would prefer living without modern technologies like her phone and social media, that doesn’t seem to be an option in modern society.

Kasey Burchett, a senior at Ball State University, lived in the jungle for three and a half months.

The experience in the summer of 2015 was part of a biology internship in Panama, which she shared with about 30 other students and directors she had never met.

Falling asleep in her hammock, a ceiling above and dirt floor below but no walls to keep out the night,  Kasey  would  hear geckos calling. She walked barefoot during the day despite the cockroaches, spiders, and snakes. In Panama and on some other trips she has taken, she couldn’t access any form of technological communication.

Unlike many twenty-one-year-olds, Kasey would rather have it that way.

But she can’t. Kasey loves to travel the wild without the distraction of being online, but she also loves her family. She’d rather live Internet-free, but the web is the only thing bridging her juxtaposed desires to travel the world and stay close with people at home. So she needs to find a balance.

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Fear of the Unknown

Though built by immigration, America does not always welcome immigrants

The Threat of Unfamiliarity

Rabe Yar sat next to her friend in their ninth grade art classroom. They were regular teenagers, holding a regular high school conversation.

But not in English. The girls spoke their native Burmese language, catching the attention of two American students who approached the friends. While Rabe couldn’t yet speak fluent English, she knew enough to understand what they were saying.

“You must support Osama bin Laden,” Rabe remembers them saying as they eyed the hijab that symbolized her Muslim faith. “Unless you take that off.”

Rabe didn’t entirely understand who bin Laden was at the time, because the 9/11 attacks had occurred six years before she immigrated to America. But the students relentlessly pressured her to remove the hijab. When Rabe tried to turn away, one of them suddenly clutched the headscarf and attempted to pull it off. She escaped the grip and managed to move to another part of the room, adjusting her ruffled hijab as she went.

She wanted to tell someone what had happened, but she didn’t trust her English to explain it.

To natural citizens, discrepancies in language, religion, and culture might cause insecurities that contribute to a fear of difference. People respond to immigration in a variety of ways, said Ball State University sociology professor Ione DeOllos. At one end of the continuum are those who react completely in fear or violence, usually because they do not understand the other culture. Rabe’s experience of confrontation demonstrates that problem.

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The Mental Cost of College

“I don’t understand,” Rebecca Scott told her friend. “The interview went so well.”

Rebecca had applied to be a Resident Assistant, but didn’t get the job. This added to the stress of midterms and classwork she was already experiencing in her freshman year at Ball State University.

Her anxiety had compounded those last weeks before spring break, but it didn’t strike her down until the final Thursday. Sitting in her friend’s room, the stress and disappointment rushed over her all at once, and she needed to get out. She gathered her things and left without explanation.

Returning to her dorm, Rebecca threw down her books and began rummaging for a pencil sharpener. All she could think about was how overwhelmed she was. While the distraction of sleep usually eases her stress, that day was different. And she knew this would work.

For the first time in about two and a half years, Rebecca self-harmed.