100 crusaders killed in Manchester

As a sociologist for a long time already, I have been interested in how differently different people or parties can interpret things or events. This is why, on occasion, I follow the debate on terrorism. After all, it is a phenomenon based on contradictory interpretations. Despite my hobby, I was startled in the wake of the Manchester terrorist attack on 22 May 2017 when ISIS announced, on their website, that 100 crusaders had been killed or wounded in Manchester.

Once I had recovered from the shock, it occurred to me that, of course, you could call a pop concert for teenagers a crusade. Now, I wouldn’t normally think of a pop concert as a crusade but, apparently, it is possible to see one as a crusade of Western culture and way of life.

Do You Know Your Neighbour? is a project through which we aim to find out whether people really understand their neighbours; whether they have an idea of the kind of social world in which their neighbours live. We do not analyse extreme conflicts like terrorism, but nowadays, even a place like Finland, is the meeting point of sharply divided social worlds.

Lately, the square outside the railway station of Helsinki has reminded me of the term “camp publicity” that historians used to refer to. Even at the risk of Nazi connotations, I seem to recall that historians used to describe the divided political landscape of the 1930s with the term “camp publicity”. The tent camps for and against the deportation of immigrants, pitched for months on end, are the contemporary image of camp publicity.

In Finland, our research is connected to the opinions divided by immigration. The exact subject of our research is still seeking its final form. In Estonia, we are exploring the relationship between Estonians and Estonian Russians.

As our work and research tool, we use the “Imitation Game”. Originally a party game dating back centuries, the game involves a judge-player whose job is to judge, based on written answers, which of two players is genuine and which is a fake, e.g., which one is a woman and which one is pretending to be one.

The Imitation Game was made famous by Alan Turing, who developed it into an AI application. Turing asked whether a human judge, based on a five-minute query, could tell a machine apart from a human player. If the human judge could not tell the artificial intelligence apart from the human, the AI could be deemed a success. In the midst of all the current AI rage, it is almost indecent to point out that of all the AI applications thus far, none has passed the Turing test. Although we are certainly getting pretty close.

After Turing, sociologists and others started to develop the Imitation Game into a research tool to examine mutual understanding between groups of people. At the moment, the game is played using computers. What’s more, the Masquerade application is available to everyone and offers a great way to try out the game.

The idea of the game is very simple. The judge-player’s role is to ask questions to determine which one of two players is a member of the social group they claim to be a member of and which one is a pretender. The game setting can be freely modified. For instance, the players can be individuals or groups. In some cases, the game can also be played face-to-face.

One oft-repeated criticism is that the Imitation Game can reinforce prejudices and binary dichotomy, which are based on stereotypes.  In on our experience, however, this is not the case. Answers based on stereotypes are typically interpreted as the pretender’s answers. And so, the players normally end up seeing the diversity of the members of a group of humans instead of the stereotypes. For this part, we believe that the Imitation Game could be used to improve the conditions for interaction between social groups.

Indeed, the goal of our project, in addition to the actual research, is to develop other applications for the Imitation Game. Under the guidance of the Otava Folk High School, we are developing a pedagogic application based on the Imitation Game, with the idea of trying to teach the players to learn more about each other’s social worlds. This pedagogic application could be utilised also in developing multi-professional cooperation within organisations. We are also seeking to build an Imitation Game-based programme format for wider distribution.

At this juncture, we don’t yet know for sure what we can achieve and where we’ll end up. It is our belief, though, that understanding the social world of others is the foundation of all mutual understanding and cooperation.

Author

Ilkka Arminen and working group