Fear the Bots…Or Not

Line drawing of connected dots made to look like a human reaching out with the letters "AI" on the palm of its handIn 2014, Stephen Hawking gravely warned against creating Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) devices that could match or surpass human abilities. Hawking’s fears are not unique or new – but are they warranted? Could A.I. ever really replace a living, breathing person?

The short answer is “maybe.” As technology advances, use of A.I. will likely continue to expand across all industries. In classrooms, bots can be used to grade papers, thus potentially freeing up instructors to spend more time with students. Outside of the classroom, students might try to use a bot to write a paper for them. A.I. even beat contestants on Jeopardy!

Personally, it is a little terrifying to consider all of the different ways that A.I. might take over human thought processes. At what point will our world start to look like a real life version of Ex Machina or i,Robot?

The reality is that A.I. is still relatively young in the grand scheme of technological advances. While it is true that A.I. has advanced to mimic human thought processes such as those described above, there are massive limitations in what A.I. can do.

In 2019, an A.I. device, Project Debater, went head-to-head with a human economic consultant to debate whether or not preschools should be subsidized by the public. While Project Debater had all of the same facts and figures as its human opponent, the machine was not able to argue successfully. Multi-Colored Mechanical Gears in the Shape of a Human Brain

A.I. devices mirror humans when it comes to logic and facts. But when it comes to abstract concepts and rhetorical persuasion, A.I. can’t compete. And according to some experts, it never will. Abstract ideas are not easily replicable and often don’t conform to any set patterns or rules, making them nearly impossible to create in the form of a machine. Similarly, the art of rhetorical persuasion requires a certain emotion to be conveyed from speaker or writer to the intended audience.

So, put the fears aside. While A.I. will continue to advance at the simple stuff, it will not be able to replace the core of what makes humans human.

Vaccinations, Public Health Rhetoric, and Snapchat Stories: How Online Writing has Affected Vaccination Efforts

If you live in Ohio and are currently located in the Columbus area, you may know the struggle of getting a COVID vaccine. Just look at the map below to see how the distribution of appointment unavailability is concentrated in Columbus. Compared to other large population centers in Ohio, Columbus is by far experiencing the most shortages. Even with places like the Schottenstein center having delivered over 79,000 vaccines, the demand for vaccination in the Columbus area is higher than the supply.

A map of ohio that highlights vaccine availability

But why is this? As discussed in Week 12, the pandemic has caused an increase in coalitions and relational literacies in regards to health on this specific issue. We in Columbus, especially those who attend OSU, are lucky to have a close relationship to health information via the Wexner Medical Center. They provide so much information on health and wellness, and many students and alum value their writing greatly.


With the integration of health information so strong in the Columbus community, it seems to me there has been an even greater response to vaccination. Even in my personal communities, everyone I know is actively trying to book a vaccine appointment or has booked an appointment. We, as OSU students and community members, are more aware of how important getting vaccinated as quickly as possible is, and we, therefore, have a much higher demand for vaccine appointments.


This increase in availability may be more of a reflection of trying to support rural and minority communities, who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks. This increase in appointment availability will hopefully help these rural communities get over some of the vaccine hesitancy presents there. Unlike in Columbus, many people in rural communities may not be able or willing to take a vaccine appointment time that interferes with their work or life schedule. There will also need to be a bigger push of public health writing and rhetoric to decrease vaccine hesitancy, and it will need to target the specific fears and hangups each community has.


Unfortunately, this lack of appointments means people like me, a 22-year-old college student, have a much harder time accessing vaccines. We want to be able to celebrate our graduations safely, but this means we need to be vaccinated within the next week if it’s not already too late. But fortunately, social media has helped many people access the vaccine in an alternative way. While you shouldn’t be posting your vaccine card, posting about getting a vaccine is a way of sharing support for a public health issue. It also makes others aware of how they can get vaccinated. I personally found access to a vaccine through social media. While it may be used to push anti-vax rhetoric, social media also has the power to get us back to normal even faster.

True Crime Podcasts Are Rewriting The Narrative Of Victimization

I, like many people, am a huge fan of the true crime and comedy podcast called My Favorite Murder. It’s hosted by two amazingly funny women, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, and they tell really horrific stories about different murders that have happened all around the world.

What’s really unique about the way they discuss these crimes is how they discuss the victims. Instead of mirroring the tone of most media sources when discussing crime, using derogatory language against the women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ community, they discuss them as people.

Karen and Georgia emphasize how these victims deserve life like anyone else. Instead of calling someone a ‘prostitute’, they call them a ‘sex-worker’. They are very careful to talk about who the victim was outside of the crime and to emphasize their importance in the world.

They have taken the victim narrative, the one where the crime is the victim’s fault, and completely turned it around.

While I was watching this week’s material where Karma Chavez discussed how many Black members of the LGBTQ+ community were demonized by the AIDS epidemic, I couldn’t help but think about how Karen and Georgia would discuss the stories Chavez told. It would have mirrored the justice that Chavez gave to those victims.

Karen and Georgia were some of the first true crime podcasters to take this new stance on crime, but they absolutely aren’t the last.

The podcast And That’s Why We Drink with Em Shultz and Christine Scheifer focuses on haunted places and true crime. Em and Christine have taken the same mentality as Georgia and Karen, but they have also focused a lot on the importance of honoring someone’s gender identity. They take extra steps to ensure that they are using someone’s correct pronouns, and continually remind their audience of the importance of respecting pronouns.

Something Was Wrong is a podcast that allows victims to tell stories themselves, with the host, Tiffany Reese, giving the speakers a compassionate, safe place to speak. She joins them in their pain and offers constant reassurance.

One key thing here is that all of these podcasters listen to their audiences, they listen and adjust. If they say something problematic, they hear the voices of their fans and they immediately apologize and continue onward, bettering themselves and their shows.

This wave of understanding and respect seems to be an entirely new thing. As Chavez discussed, the way the victims of the AIDS epidemic were talked about in the media was dehumanizing and delegitimizing.

It’s like a breath of fresh air. By now, I’m so used to hearing victims being respected by their storytellers that it catches me off guard when I hear the bigoted, disrespectful way people or news sources still discuss victims.

Hearing all of these women empowering traditionally disenfranchised groups has really given me a glimpse into what the would could be. It’s given me the scope to be able to spot misogyny, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and more that was hidden just below the surface of our society.

And I think that the more people who listen to rhetoric like theirs, the better the world is going to be. Because they’re setting an amazing example of how to listen, how to respect, and how to become better people.

Too Poor to Have Your Incredible Movement Make Millions? No Longer!

From shells and clay to “Reddit” and GameStop, writing has become cheaper and increasing democratizing. Systems of writing have progressed through an incredible number of technologies that have made writing more affordable throughout history.

A system of shells and clay indentations surely was an expensive system of writing, reserved for those who stood to make money in Susa. It seems unlikely that any political activists of Susa could have afforded to copy their essay on thousands of clay tablets.

Fast forward to the Printing Press of 1440. Suddenly ideas worth sharing like the Bible are no longer for those who can afford handwritten copies. It did not take long in human history, for activists to realize how writings like the Bible can catch fire at an affordable price.

Benjamin Franklin and many other enlightenment activists, although wealthy, now can actually spread their ideas such as revolting against unfair taxation. If the founding fathers wrote on clay tablets, it is likely that America would have remained a British colony.


The 20th century is where writing became about as cheap as it is today. Your average person could still afford to print their own pamphlets, and books had become cheaper than ever. But only large conglomerations like newspapers possessed the wealth and power to insight national change from writing.

Truly, all important speeches, announcements, etc. came filtered through the individual agendas of newspaper cooperation. Perhaps the phrasing “FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats” found on the front page of the Washington Post on Oct 10, 1972, could sway readers against Nixon before even understanding the situation.

Despite how cheap printing had become, newspaper companies remained in control of what was written and read by their massive audiences of voters. In other words, the proletariat was still being told what to think by those who could afford to tell them.

Fast forward to Jan 25, 2021. Extremely cheap online writing and communication have finally hit their stride. Communicating and writing on the forum “Reddit” if you look in the correct places is nearly entirely free, for example, a library computer. There the proletariat can finally discuss ideas to audiences of millions in a manner they can afford. This free passage of writing has brought greater coordination of free people than Ben Franklin could have ever imagined.  A subsection of Reddit, called “r/wallstreetbets,” created a proposition to topple the ability of the wealthy to control written narratives. Their success has once and for all proven that accessibility to writing can take power from the rich and give it to the poor.

Many articles have been written about the “wallstreetbets” GameStop short squeeze. But this will summarize the impact it has had on democracy through writing. Large firms and wealthy people were the only ones knowledgeable and rich enough to make significant money off of failing businesses in the past. “Wallstreetbets” was able to effectively counter these billionaires’ trade strategies and make even more from those billionaires. But “Wallstreetbets” is a group of millions of less wealthy people. So, the only way to effectively counter, as proposed before, is through cheap and mass communication. Only by being brought together through this communication could the proletariat have taken money, and control of what is perceived as possible from the rich and coordinate their movement. That is something that could never have been accomplished without technological and economic advancements on the clay tablet.

Let’s be genuine about how we (re)write histories

When I say AAC device what comes to mind? Is it the device? The technology? …Or the human who uses it?

Okay, I admit that was a bit unfair of me. I mean, I literally put “device” right in the question; it’s only natural for you to have thought of that first. But the point I’m making here is poignant nonetheless: that sometimes even the companies who design, make, and sell these pricey communication technologies think about the person second—or third or fourth or last—to the device.

Don’t just take my word for it. Meryl Alper draws attention to this issue in her think piece on the development of AAC devices. Notably, she says,

“[T]he history of AAC sheds light on the inexorable, but understudied links between the history of communication technologies and disability history… Individuals with various disabilities need to be recovered from and rewritten into the history of how communication technologies are designed, marketed, and adopted.”

When she says technologies, she refers to all means of writing and communicating. Not just the ones that are augmentative or alternative.

And when she says history she’s not just talking about days of yore. This is salient—this is now.

But this issue obviously isn’t isolated to AAC. Companies, researchers, and consumers consistently and persistently “forget” the humans behind the technologies.

For anyone who’s accidentally spent hours perusing #wokewashing, you know how real and fraught this product-over-person mentality is. (And just to address the students and teachers real quick, these issues crop up even in the classroom. Check this article out.)

Putting the human back into anything that has been systematically scrubbed of specific people’s presence is no easy job. So how do we go about “recovering” and “rewriting” like Alper suggests?

A consideration of tokens and tweets: Pliability and spreadability

Hardly a news cycle goes by these days without us hearing “words matter.”

(Meanwhile, those of us who have dedicated our lives to reading and writing would like to have a word with the rest of you. Ahem.)

That aside, it is interesting to consider the ways words can literally shape realities. To illustrate: The president’s retweets of debunked conspiracy theories enabled the circulation of words that, this past week, were weaponized. 

What I’d like to add to the above declaration that “words matter,” is that the very matter with which words are made also matter.

For example, one of the reasons conspiracy theories spread so easily is because of the material conditions that enabled such writing in the first place: digital writing on microblogging sites like Twitter and other online communities like 4chan, Reddit, and (the now-defunct) Parler. These digital modalities enable spread.

Network analysis of the spread of a conspiracy theory online

Network analysis of the spread of conspiracy theories: https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/how-conspiracy-theories-emerge-and-fall-apart

Some might think the “spreadability” of digital writing is something we have never had to contend with before. But Denise Schmandt-Besserat discovered that writing’s very origins were rooted in how pliable (literally) the writing material was. She states,

It is not surprising that clay was the material chosen the world over to manufacture counters because, thanks to its remarkable quality of plasticity, it can easily be modeled, with the bare hand, in an infinite number of discreet shapes that are easy to recognize, identify, remember, and replicate. [read more here]

It seems, therefore, that we might want not just to revise the “words matter” statement to include “matter matters.” We might also add that words don’t just shape realities; words’ pliability and spreadability is what can make certain realities believable and, well, liveable.