Minds, Robots, and the End of Humanity (FYS-IFS-G)

Manchester University, Fall 2015Instructor: Steve Naragon


[occasional writing] [summary & response essays] [definition essay] [analysis essay] [research essay] [writing tips] [academic dishonesty]

There will be two sorts of writing done in this class: occasional writing and more formal essays. All of the writing is aimed at developing your writing skills.

Each FYS section requires a bare minimum of three essays, one each devoted to definition, analysis, and research. Due dates are indicated on the schedule.

Occasional Writing

This is a writing course, and the more you write, the more you will improve. Short writing assignments are useful for focusing on certain skills, and these occasional assignments will be scattered throughout the semester, e.g., on the first day you will be assigned a one-paragraph research assignment. [sample and rubric]

N.B.: If you are uncertain what the ‘e.g.’ in the previous paragraph means, then you should definitely study (and eventually commit to memory) the list of Latin phrases and abbreviations that is provided on this website — see the link “Latin Phrases” in the column to the left, or [click here]. You can also discover on that list the meaning of ‘N.B.’.

There also will be occasional and unannounced in-class writings on the day’s reading.

Length: always short. Grading: The entire group of writings (including the Summary & Response essays, below) is worth 20% of your final grade for the course.

Summary & Response Essays [rubric]

There will be a number of 1-2 page summary and response papers on the assigned reading, to be handed-in at the beginning of class on the day that the reading will be discussed. [sample and rubric]

Definition Essay [top]

Assignment [rubric]

Your first of three formal essays for this class will be a careful definition of a term related to this course. Examples would include: person, intelligence, thought or thinking, consciousness, emotion, self-awareness, purpose or goal, mind, machine, life, free will, artificial/natural.

Be sure to choose a word whose meaning is relatively unclear or ambiguous, or has enough flexibility to it, that writing three pages on how we might best understand its meaning would be a useful exercise. I believe that all the terms in the above list are like this, but choose one that especially interests you.

When you turn to a good dictionary — such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which is available online through the library website (look under the “A-Z Databases” link) — you will discover that most words have multiple meanings, some of which will be irrelevant for our purposes in this course. You may want to briefly note these other meanings, but only in order to focus your reader’s attention on your intended meaning.

Thesis paragraph due: Fri, Sep 11. [What’s a thesis?] [What does a thesis for a definition essay look like?]

In-class workshop of 1st draft (at least 2 pages): Mon, Sep 14.

Individual meetings over drafts (c. 1000 words): Wed, Sep 16 and Fri, Sep 18.

Final draft due at the beginning of class: Mon, Sep 21.

Structuring your Definition Essay [Tips on Definitions]

(1) Introduction ‒ Here you need to promote or motivate your topic, i.e., show why this is worth thinking about. The easiest way to do that is to begin with a standard definition of the term, followed by some exception to the definition that shows that it is too wide or too narrow, or perhaps is circular, or somehow is not capturing the full or proper meaning of the term. Or you could begin with an interesting fact related to the term that will focus the reader’s attention. End your introductory paragraph with your thesis: the definition that you will explain and support in your essay.

(2) Body ‒ Give examples in the essay’s body that develop your understanding of the term being defined. You might want to consider closely related terms to show how they differ in meaning. You might consider how the term is used in literature. And you definitely should take this opportunity to connect this term to the themes of the class — for instance, how might any of the above be applied to human beings? Could they be meaningfully applied to anything else (e.g., other kinds of animals, or perhaps some hypothetical extra-terrestrial, or a machine of some kind)? If not, why not? These brief explorations often provide excellent examples for firming up the meaning of a term.

(3) Conclusion ‒ Your conclusion provides an overview of your above points. No additional argumentation should be included here. Tying the essay back to what you included in the introduction (such as the problematic definition or the interesting fact) is often effective.


Your essay should be approximately 1000 words (double spaced, 12 pt font, no title page). In general, follow the MLA style when crafting your paper (Hacker, MLA-5).

The essay will be graded using a 10 point rubric [see], and is worth 10% of your final grade for the course.

Analysis Essay [top]

Assignment [rubric]

Your second of three formal essays will be an analysis of a film that features artificial intelligence as a central part of the story (please let me know which film you have chosen to discuss before you begin your work). You are to analyze the depiction of AI and the point that it is making (or perhaps the issues that it is raising) about AI. [Description vs analysis]

Thesis paragraph due: Mon, Sep 28. [What’s a thesis?]

In-class workshop of 1st draft (at least 3 pages): Mon, Oct 5.

Individual meetings over drafts (c. 1300 words): Wed, Oct 7 and Fri, Oct 9.

Final draft due at the beginning of class: Wed, Oct 14.

Things to consider as you develop your thesis

• Is the film’s depiction of AI generally positive or negative? Is it realistic?

• How do the humans relate to the AI? What are their views of AI, and how do they behave towards it?

• What issues are raised?

• Does the film appear to argue for a particular thesis? What is the film’s point? (beyond the ubiquitous “to make money” or “to entertain”)

• How well does the film make its case? Are you convinced?

• Who was the intended or target audience of the film?

• To what extent was the persuasion on the level of emotion or reason?

• What did you find most interesting or peculiar about the film?


(1) Introduction: Be sure to indicate the basic information about the film (title, year it was released, director) fairly early in your essay — perhaps in the opening paragraph.

(2) Body ‒ With this assignment, your first paragraph after your thesis paragraph should orient the reader with a very brief summary of the film. You might want to include an additional layer of detail in the direction of whichever aspect of the film that you will be analysing. After this summary paragraph, begin the business of supporting your thesis.

(3) Conclusion ‒ Your conclusion provides an overview of your above points. No additional argumentation should be included here. Tying the essay back to what you included in the introduction is often effective.


Your essay should be approximately 1300 words (double spaced, 12 pt font, no title page). In general, follow the MLA style when crafting your paper (Hacker, MLA-5).

When attributing claims to the film or quoting a character, be sure to indicate the relevant time-marking (e.g., the minute and second when the quoted sentence occured).

The essay will be graded using a 10 point rubric [see], and is worth 20% of your final grade for the course.

Research Essay [top]

Assignment [rubric]

Your final formal essay will examine a topic related to the development of A.I. This could concern economic implications, problems or likelihood of developing A.I. of a certain level or kind, philosophical issues of whether machines could ever think or be conscious, ethical implications of our developing conscious machines, the use of weaponized robots by governments, efforts by individuals or communities to limit certain kinds of technology, and so on.

Research preparation (meet in the library): Mon, Oct 26. [Developing a good thesis statement]

Topic proposal and one or more research questions due: Fri, Oct 30. [Choosing a good research question]

First version of an annotated bibliography: Mon, Nov 2. [How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography] [sample]

In-class workshop of 1st draft (at least 4 pages): Mon, Nov 9.

Individual meetings over drafts (c. 1500 words): Mon, Nov 16 — Fri, Nov 20.

Final draft due at the beginning of class: Mon, Nov 23.


You will need to develop a thesis concerning your particular topic, and then build your arguments from your own clever wit as well as your solid outside research involving at least four sources: essays from scholarly journals or magazines, newspaper articles, books, and websites or blogs (here you must be quite careful in choosing these; 95% or more will be inappropriate). How well your essay turns out will depend rather heavily on your choosing good and appropriate sources, so choose wisely (they likely will not be the first four that you come across).

Formulate an argument supporting your thesis, keeping an eye to how your source material will fit into your argument. The argument comprises the body of your essay; the conclusion wraps it up. Hacker has an entire section devoted to this (Tab “R”, pp. 315-52).


Your essay should be approximately 1500 words (double spaced, 12 pt font, no title page). In general, follow the MLA style when crafting your paper (Hacker, MLA-5).

When attributing claims to the film or quoting a character, be sure to indicate the relevant time-marking (e.g., the minute and second when the quoted sentence occured).

The essay will be graded using a 10 point rubric [see], and is worth 30% of your final grade for the course.

Writing Tips [top]

Helpful Internet Resources

•   MLA style website.

•   Purdue’s OWL [Online Writing Lab], including pages on writing an argumentative essay and on MLA Formatting and Style.

•   How to Write an Analytical Essay: WikiHow

•   Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is a small book that every English user should own, but it can otherwise be consulted here (although this is the original 1st edition, before White entered the picture).

Writing Tips

Please carefully proofread your essays. You need to use complete sentences, proper punctuation, and correct spelling. Both in college and after you graduate you will be judged, in part, by how well you write. Typos, mispellings, poor grammar — in a phrase: sloppy writing — is like so much stink coming from the bottom of your shoes. It won’t matter how nicely your hair is combed or your shirt is pressed if you can’t write a decent paragraph.

I hope it never comes to this, but my comments on your writing might make use of some of the following abbreviations:

awk: awkward. This is a sentence problem; the sentence should be re-written for greater clarity.

frag: sentence fragment. Another sentence problem; your sentence is lacking something vital. Like a subject. Or a verb. Don’t fall into the trap of writting essays that sound like advertising copy. We all can do better than that!

wc: word choice. You might find a better word to suit your sentence. Consult your dictionary for the exact meaning.

sp: spelling. Consult your dictionary!

?: Huh? You’ve lost your reader.

TS?: Topic sentence? This is a paragraph problem. There needs to be a topic sentence (normally, the lead sentence of the paragraph) that indicates what the paragraph is all about (what you are hoping to do in the paragaph; or it’s the claim for which the paragraph will now offer support, or an observation for which the paragraph will now offer some elaboration, etc.).

CO?: Cohere? Another paragraph problem; the sentences in this paragraph don’t fit together very well. Try re-arranging the,. Ask yourself: (a) What goal am I trying to acheive with this paragraph? and (b) Is each sentence working towards this goal?

Q?: Quotation? Quotations should be used only when a paraphrase will not do the job as effectively. Common problems include failing to properly introduce a quotation, failing to properly cite a quotation, quoting more than is helpful, and using a quotation when a paraphrase would be better.

Academic Dishonesty [top]

[This text is copied from the university Catalog]

Membership in the Manchester University community requires a devotion to the highest principles of academic and personal integrity, a commitment to maintain honor, and a continuous regard for the rights of others. There can be no rights without individual responsibility.

Manchester University faculty are committed to teaching and learning as a career and a profession. Each instructor is presumed to develop and use methods and techniques which enhance learning and which best fit his or her personality and subject matter area. At the same time, the instructor is expected to abide by the general principles of responsible teaching which are commonly accepted by the academic profession. These principles suggest that faculty keep complete records of student performance and that they develop and apply express, uniform criteria for evaluating student performance.

Students are free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered in any course of study. While they may reserve judgment about matters of opinion, they are responsible for learning the content of any course in which they are enrolled. At the same time, students are expected to abide by the general principles of academic honesty which are commonly accepted in educational settings.

When a student chooses not to follow the general principles of academic honesty, the following policies and procedures bear their sad fruit.


Plagiarism is the presentation of information (either written or oral) as one’s own when some or all of the information was derived from some other source.

Specific types of plagiarism encountered in written and oral assignments include the following:

● Sources have been properly identified, but excerpts have been quoted without proper use of quotation marks; or the material has been slightly modified or rephrased rather than restated in the student’s own words.

● Key ideas or items of information derived from specific sources that present material that is not common knowledge have been presented without proper identification of the source or sources.

● Unidentified excerpts from other sources have been woven into the student’s own presentation.

● A paper or speech may be a mosaic of excerpts from several sources and presented as the student’s own.

● An entire paper or speech has been obtained from some other source and presented as the student’s own.

● Texts in another language are translated into English and presented as the student’s own.


Cheating consists of any unpermitted use of notes, texts or other sources so as to give an unfair advantage to a student in completing a class assignment or an examination. Intentionally aiding another student engaged in academic dishonesty is also considered cheating.

Submission of the same work (essay, speech, art piece, etc.) to fulfill assignments in separate classes requires the permission of both faculty members (if both courses are being taken in the same semester), or the permission of the second faculty member (if they are taken during different semesters).


Unintentional Plagiarism. In cases of plagiarism in which no deception is intended (such as ignorance of proper citation of sources), the student should expect a reduction in the paper’s grade; in some cases, the student may be given an option to rewrite the paper. No disciplinary letter will be filed.

Deliberate Plagiarism and Cheating. In cases of deliberate plagiarism, and in all cases of cheating and attempted cheating, the work assigned will be failed. At the instructor’s discretion, the student may also fail the course (regardless of the grade-weight of the work assigned).

In either a case of deliberate plagiarism or cheating, a disciplinary letter recording the deception will be sent to the student, with copies sent to the associate dean of academic resources and the student’s academic advisor. For more information, as well as for information regarding your rights of appeal, see the MU Source.

Manchester University   //   Registrar   //   Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies    //   Last updated: 15 Jul 2015