[eDebate] peopleless debate

Omri Ceren ceren
Sat Sep 20 13:59:40 CDT 2008

Hi Stephen,

You've presented a list of potential technological innovations which I 
think are very interesting. Unfortunately, I'm concerned that much of 
what you say about actually existing technology is either unrealistic or 
confused. I've tried to add my contributions below.

On 9/14/2008 11:23 PM, stephen davis wrote:

> why haven't we taught computers to flow for us yet?

Because it turns out that the technology for speech-to-text is really
difficult to implement. Voice inflections, speed differences, etc mean
that software needs to be trained for hours if not days to get even
close. There are telephony companies investing heavily in this
technology, but they've been running into what seem to be fundamental 
barriers related to how the human mind parses out sounds into words.

> i mean why are we even traveling when really debate could happen over
>  real time feeds on the interwebs. or even in email...

Certainly this is an idea, and I think that Tuna has had some luck with
it. My concern with this suggestion is that policy debate has always
been tied to a relatively particular disciplinary history that vitiates
against your suggestion. Remember that speech communication departments
broke off from English in the 1920s and 1930s precisely because they
insisted that critics must take into account physical presence - human
speakers and audiences - to understand how persuasion occurs. This
intuition has been formulated in more robust terms by semioticians who
have recently taken the so-called corporeal turn.

> i could judge debates from here provided i got a hold of the right 
> software.

If we accept that we want physical debaters - and, again, I think that
disciplinary intuition and contemporary theory are strongly inclined in
such a direction - then I don't think you'd want to do this because it
would be difficult for you to coach your teams remotely. I'm also not
sure that the technology is up to it yet - bandwidth concerns, etc -
although you'd be right to point out that that's not in principle an

> i really dont know why we would stop at robot judges. why

An excellent question, and one that fits in - albeit perhaps awkwardly -
into recent philosophical work about "perfection." Michael Sandel's work
on this is particularly to the point, and I suggest it to you so that
you can "know why we would stop at robot judges."

> dont we write programming that will simulate debaters  and will 
> produce args that coaches write and  the robots can just download 
> into the mainframe in Jim Hansons basement. its uncanny to me that

Well I'm not sure why we'd build physical robots to do the downloading
(and this statement, coupled with some stuff above, makes me suspect
that you have an incomplete grasp the technological systems that you're
discussing - which would certainly be unusual for a critic of
technology). But to answer your question: I think that simulating
debaters would not achieve the pedagogical purpose of training real

> any poor misguided fools ever thought of debate as something of an 
> organic process wherein people do stuff... doin stuff is, thanks to 
> this innovation, totally over rated. everyone knows all the best

I don't think that's true. I think that technological sophistication
helps us rate doin stuff accurately.

> stuff is made by robots. why wouldn't the best debate be made  by 
> robots.  if someone misses the viceral and corporeal they could 
> prolly grow vocal cords in a lab and hook them up to a talking 
> machine or something... this is great... whitman should be applauded

Actually I think this cuts the other way. The moral philosophers who
investigate the the moral inclinations of the "yuck factor" would, I
think, suggest that people who miss the "visceral and the corporeal"
would be against growing vocal cords in a lab. But perhaps your
suggestion could be justified by a different philosophical traditoin.

> for this feat... in ten years debate will be a software writers job 
> that could foster another tech boom and save us all from having to 
> think and act in accordance with those thoughts so we can have more

Well this is actually an interesting question: would there be a
qualitative difference between having thoughts "directly" downloaded
into your brain and you having your "own" thoughts. There are at least
two contours to this debate that certainly problematize your objection.
The first is the idea that the mind is *already* an epiphenomenon of the
brain - you don't "act in accordance" with your thoughts as much as have
thoughts that result from "watching" your actions. The implications for
free will are obvious and potentially disturbing, but that doesn't allow
us to ignore the bulk of recent brain scan studies which indicate the
plausibility of this hypothesis. The second contour is a
subjectivization problem, which Zizek brings up in the context of a rat
experiment: imagine an experiment in which electrodes in a rats brain
can, with 100% consistency, allow scientists to turn the rat right or
left. How does it feel to the rat when that happens? Does he experience
it as an outside compulsion, or does he find himself willing himself to
move as if they were "his own thoughts." You can see how - from both of
these examples - the Huxlean scenario of not "having to think and act in
accordance with those thoughts" may actually be another phrase for "the
human condition."

> time to cook crystal meth and pretend that anybody cares that paper 
> is obsolete in walla walla... cant wait till unsliced bread comes out
> and disposible television  and rice crispies without all that 
> annoying cracking and popping...  ROBOT WARS... the new debate, like

I don't understand what you're trying to say in these sentences



PhD Candidate, USC Annenberg School for Communication
Email: ceren at usc.edu
Mobile: 412-512-7256

More information about the Mailman mailing list