Name: Nupoor Ranade
Date published: 2021
Course level: Upper-Level
Course title: ENG/COM 395 – Digital Rhetoric for Artificial Interactions/Intelligence (AI)
Course description: Most of us are familiar with chatbots, but rarely do we dig into their various layers of abstraction. These kinds of tools enable us to expand our definition of “communication” in the digital media age and help us create texts that better take advantage of the affordances of digital media for different rhetorical purposes. This course investigates human interaction with artificial intelligence (AI) systems, especially chatbots. Through close readings and provocative discussion of texts, students explore theories of rhetoric and AI in relation to topics such as identity, gender, posthumanism and culture. Along with rhetorical analysis, students will also learn to build chatbots using latest tools and technologies. The design components enable students to visualize socio-technical networks in the making of chatbots, develop algorithmic structures and test their design for diverse audiences. This class thus focuses on both rhetorical theory and praxis to help in redefining what information design means for artificial intelligence platforms.
Course philosophy/motivation: “Rhetorical studies play a role of relating new discoveries to contemporary society, to ensure proper social interaction and responsibility to the public. I believe that bringing AI discussions into this class has never been more important. News about the powers of AI to cure diseases, accelerate human innovation and improve human creativity is everywhere. Easy access to AI technologies like Siri on iPhones and voice assistants like Amazon Echo have made these technologies easily accessible to many students. This has resulted in a conceptualization of AI as the problem solver and that, given enough data, machine learning algorithms can solve all of humanity’s problems. AI researcher Leyanne Hunter says, “worlds created by AI appear to grant freedoms and liberties, but they hide the industrial base in a plurality of commodity” (1991). The conceptualizations, instead of supporting AI progress, actually jeopardize the value of machine intelligence by disregarding significant considerations about the usage of AI systems. Therefore it is important for students to look at AI not just as innovation, but to provide an assessment of its design so that we can begin to evaluate the status of this modern technology. This course will enable students to rhetorical analyze the design of AI systems with issues of genre, ethics, gender bias, language systems and accessibility. The course employs both theory and praxis to encourage such critical analysis. Students will utilize their understanding of rhetorical issues and make informed choices to design their own AI system – a chatbot used for social media. The assignments are based on a scaffolding approach. This gives them sufficient time to get familiar to the theories and technologies employed in developing chatbots. Such a multimodal approach for understanding digital rhetoric for AI, provides an opportunity for the students to be creative and imaginative while innovating ideas that are not just relevant to current trends in technology but which will develop practical skills and rhetorical considerations for such projects. This will help them in professional and technical communication projects in the future.”