Sorry I’m commenting so late on this thread, but I saw Elizabeth’s excellent DAC presentation, and I think it captured the problem of spectacle quite well. To generalize to other forms of programmed language interaction and bot fiction -
Are there general advantages of a contextual spectacle - that is, if Berlitz did a Learn Spanish game with levels like “At the restaurant” and “in the airport,” would it help knowledge acquisition?
In terms of fiction, are conversations with spatially located and contextualized bots generally better in part because they put automatic limits on what topics or modes are situationally appropriate? One of the hobgoblins of chatbot design is the open-ended nature of potential human discourse - but “tact” requires context, which bots are generally quite bad at delivering….]]>
When I gave my DAC 2005 paper on Tactical Iraqi, many in the audience said that they liked the paper but took issue with my conclusion, which read as follows:
“As a rhetorician who studies new media, I sincerely hope that this military simulation, which is intended to forestall violence and armed conflict rather than prepare for it, will not be the last game in its genre. Although I have expressed concerns about its technological and ideological hard wiring, I think that this program also stimulates critical discussion about how trust and self are constituted by digital experiences and how language is integrated into virtual environments of all kinds, even when conventions about rules and randomness in virtual spaces do not match up neatly with the principles governing linguistic play.”
I was surprised to be characterized as an apologist for saying that the game represented a worthwhile genre, particularly when my reading was so critical on so many fronts. But it’s interesting that you mention pragmatism, because I suppose my thinking about Tactical Iraqi has been really pragmatic up to this point, which leaves me open to accusations of philosophical amorality.
On the one hand, so many Iraqis — 30,000 according to our Chief Executive — have died in this war, and many of these deaths are painfully ironic because they were caused by military personnel shouting at civilians in incomprehensible English rather than passable Arabic.
Yet if you argue from a utilitarian perspective that it’s most important to reduce the number of civilian casualties that result from military occupation, you can find yourself on very shaky ethical ground. For example, I certainly wouldn’t argue that if the U.S. Military had a system that could dispense sleeping gas from robotically controlled planes, it would be a more moral military instrument. Even if such a system would cause geopolitical coercion to be considerably less lethal, people can also be harmed when their capacity to resist is stymied.
Lately, I’m also going back a kind of stasis theory reading of Tactical Iraqi. The project is justified by two problems facing the army: 1) a chronic shortage of Arabic speakers and 2) a confusing theater of conflict that overlaps with civilian geography. It seems like these problems could be more efficiently solved through organizational and political means.
As a rhetorician who believes in the importance of individual speech acts and collective communicative action, increasing the number of potential translators in the world seems like a legitimate goal. I’m just not sure if Tactical Iraqi is the way to do it.]]>
I look forward to reading your paper. So do you see this show as a theater of US cultural production to win the hearts and minds of US skeptics? That’s interesting.
Part of my trouble is that I’m torn. Having seen the system and having learned a few words through it, I must say that I like it as a teaching system. I like that it isn’t a shooter. Also, I like the words “cultural sensitivity.”
The trouble is, cultural sensitivity becomes a new kind of operational system in the command and control schema of larger military objectives.
But if they understand “the human terrain,” they will have “opportunities to leverage and exploit operational success.”
This quote from the presentation Boot quotes suggests the way cultural knowledge can be operationalized.
Perhaps a pragmatist would be more approving: i.e. “Your chatbots can’t HANDLE the truth.”]]>
I also had a feeling of uncomfortable complicity when approaching “Tactical Iraqi” as an object of study. Like Mark, I found the research team accessible, intelligent, and thoughtfully responsive to tough questions. Nonetheless, I listed about a dozen serious reservations about the game in a recent paper for the Digital Arts and Culture Conference. Now I have found one more reason to be skeptical. What struck me in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times opinion page was Max Boot’s article, “Navigating the ‘human terrain,’” in which Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, enthuses about visiting “the Expeditionary Warfare School, where captains study Arabic by playing a sophisticated computer game complete with animated characters.” Boot argues that this provides critical training that simulates “the human terrain” of the theater of conflict in Iraq. What I find troubling after reading Boot is coming to terms with the fact that Tactical Iraqi may be winning so much media praise (notably from NPR and the New York Times) and earning a top DARPA award not because it is an effective way actually to teach Arabic but because it provides an easy interface to SHOW the teaching of Arabic to U.S. soldiers to the public as a form of display. It enables a kind of spectacle of cultural sensitivity aimed at outside audiences that traditional classroom learning can’t provide. Thus the learner can become a virtuoso performer in Baudrillard’s Simulacrum.]]>