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Reaching And Teaching Through The Matrix: Robosapiens, Transhumanism, And The Formidable In Engineering Ethics

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.830.1 - 6.830.8



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Rosalyn Berne

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session # 1661

Reaching and Teaching through "The Matrix"; Robosapiens, Transhumanism, and the Formidable in Engineering Ethics

Rosalyn W. Berne University of Virginia


Much of what is taught in engineering ethics is a matter of practical decision-making and professional responsibility—the avoidance of harm and the doing of good in industrial and technical settings. But what about the questions of metaethics; those issues about which there is deep concern, but also great difficulty in formulating a system of ethics which can be applied to them?

How might students consider, for example, the writing of Ray Kurzweil, and others, who put forth arguments that the evolving intelligent, ‘spiritual’ machine will soon be nearly indistinguishable from its human creator? How do we teach the ethics of such a daunting, futuristic prediction? How might classroom instruction provide for probing, insightful thinking which would equip our students with the tools they need to navigate such unknown and unfamiliar moral terrain? One helpful pedagogical approach is the use of film.

This paper relates the use the film The Matrix as a teaching tool in Engineering Ethics. It suggests that the pedagogical power of using film for Engineering Ethics lies in its ability to uncover otherwise elusive ideas and feelings, while providing a vehicle for constructive thinking, writing, and discussion about them.

1. Portraying a Technological Apocalypse

In the book entitled "Virtual Faith", Tom Beaudoin writes that today’s young adults use technology to form "a shared generational culture amid a world of tension and ambiguity."i The truth of this claim became apparent to me when my students began excitedly referring to the film "The Matrix" during our classroom discussions. Something about this film was speaking to these young people, and so I decided to bring it into the classroom for formal study and review. As a classroom tool, the Matrix could be fodder for stimulation of the moral imagination Mark Johnson refers to in his book of the same title. It was my hope that through consideration of the film’s dominate narrative constructs, and an understanding of its metaphors, the students could approach the moral dimensions of the development of super intelligent machines, with deep and enlightening imagination. Johnson asserts that " is in sustained narratives that we come closest to observing and participating in the reality of life."ii It is of utmost importance, I believe,

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Ethics

Berne, R. (2001, June), Reaching And Teaching Through The Matrix: Robosapiens, Transhumanism, And The Formidable In Engineering Ethics Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9710

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