Where in the stories were telling about the future of education are we seeing salvation? Why would we locate that in technology and not in humans, for example? Why would we locate that in markets and not in communities? What happens when we embrace a narrative about the end-times — about education crisis and education apocalypse? Who’s poised to take advantage of this crisis narrative? Why would we believe a gospel according to artificial intelligence, or according to Harvard Business School, or according to Techcrunch, or according to David Brooks or Thomas Friedman? What is sacred when it comes to the stories we tell about teaching and learning? And what — despite being presented to us as holy and unassailable — might actually be quite profane?
Because when I look at the quantum computer, I see a logic that, directed carefully, could do more for us than crunch bigger numbers. It is an information processor with an associative imagination, an operating system whose modus operandi is delicate quirks and unpredictability, a machine that performs its best secrets away from the prying eyes of experts. Most structures in our lives don’t like to admit the efficacy of ambivalence or ambiguity. And yet there they both are, fueling what could be our most promising new machine: ambivalence and ambiguity, animated by a sense of purpose, an acute epistemological power, and the willingness to abide by practical rules. Ambivalence and ambiguity that are, furthermore, smart collaborators – that not only share their uncertainty, but sharpen it into a precise mode of communication.
I want to know what our lives would look like, reorganized by that logic. If we built work cultures that dispensed with bullet points, celebrated missed deadlines, and distrusted tidy bottom lines. Or wrote school curricula that combined frog dissection, gym class, and musical theater into one huge embodied biology. Or formulated linguistic theories which accounted for the communicative powers of raised eyebrows, weeks-long absences, and the things we ate for dinner last night. And enacted those theories through deliberate programs of winks and pregnant pauses. With a sigh of relief at the death of tight-knuckled directness and all that exhausting linearity.
Miranda Trimmier, “Quantum Drift”.
If you haven’t got something to put it in, food will escape you–even something as uncombative and unresourceful as an oat. You put as many as you can into your stomach while they are handy, that being the primary container; but what about tomorrow morning when you wake up and it’s cold and raining and wouldn’t it be good to have just a few handfuls of oats to chew on and give little Oom to make her shut up, but how do you get more than one stomachful and one handful home? So you get up and go to the damned soggy oat patch in the rain, and wouldn’t it be a good thing if you had something to put Baby Oo Oo in so that you could pick the oats with both hands? A leaf a gourd a shell a net a bag a sling a sack a bottle a pot a box a container. A holder. A recipient.
The first cultural device was probably a recipient. . . . Many theorizers feel that the earliest cultural inventions must have been a container to hold gathered products and some kind of sling or net carrier.
So says Elizabeth Fisher in Women’s Creation (McGraw-Hill, 1975). But no, this cannot be. Where is that wonderful, big, long, hard thing, a bone, I believe, that the Ape Man first bashed somebody with in the movie and then, grunting with ecstasy at having achieved the first proper murder, flung up into the sky, and whirling there it became a space ship thrusting its way into the cosmos to fertilize it and produce at the end of the movie a lovely fetus, a boy of course, drifting around the Milky Way without (oddly enough) any womb, any matrix at all? I don’t know. I don’t even care. I’m not telling that story. We’ve heard it, we’ve all heard all about all the sticks and spears and swords, the things to bash and poke and hit with, the long, hard things, but we have not heard about the thing to put things in, the container for the thing contained. That is a new story. That is news.
And yet old. Before–once you think about it, surely long before–the weapon, a late, luxurious, superfluous tool; long before the useful knife and ax; right along with the indispensable whacker, grinder, and digger–for what’s the rise of digging up a lot of potatoes if you have nothing to lug the ones you can’t eat home in–with or before the tool that forces energy outward, we made the tool that brings energy home. It makes sense to me. I am an adherent of what Fisher calls the Carrier Bag Theory of human evolution.
Ursula Le Guin, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” in Dancing At The Edge of the World.
The exponential growth in information is sometimes seen as a cure-all, as computers were in the 1970s. Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, wrote in 2008 that the sheer volume of data would obviate the need for theory, and even the scientific method.
This is an emphatically pro-science and pro-technology book, and I think of it as a very optimistic one. But it argues that these views are badly mistaken. The numbers have no way of speaking for themselves. We speak for them.
Data-driven predictions can succeed—and they can fail. It is when we deny our role in the process that the odds of failure rise. Before we demand more of our data, we need to demand more of ourselves.
Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise
Rick Searle of the ever excellent Utopia or Dystopia (go, subscribe!) wrote a comment to my previous post, and I found my reply getting too long to justify it merely being a comment, so I am placing it here instead. The text of the comment is as follows:
I am curious as to your thoughts on this:
Yesterday, in honor of the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth, an orchestra in Europe performed a piece of music that had been entirely created by an AI:
They actually live streamed the performance and I took the chance to listen to it. I am not a great classical music fan, but the piece seemed haunting and beautiful, and the more I reflected on it- a little creepy.
Here was this beautiful piece of art produced by an algorithm completely empty of any emotional life that was nevertheless able to have an emotional effect on me.
It struck me that the one of the questions we have to address when creating these things is not what will the world be like if we create machines that are like humans, but what will the world be like the intelligent machines we create are not like humans at all, and at the same time better, potentially incredibly better, than humans in those very things that we have up to now used to define ourselves? Continue reading
Computers + artificial intelligence + robotics will not lead us where techno-ideology prays it will. We will not have an android like Data, who will be able to do all the things that we can, only better. To manage to do all that we can, such a technological entity would need to be as versatile, robust, and massively parallel as we are. This might be achieved via incredible inefficiency, or via some form of biological route. The former disqualifies itself from the running, if we are to require that this is to be a project undertaken on a large scale, to augment our reality via an alternative, artificial intelligent life-form of our own making which would be an addition to our existence. The latter is basically growing another, harder, better, faster, stronger version of ourselves, and falls under trans-/post-humanism.
The alternative is to allow technology to do what it does best: allow tools to be excellent at what it is that they are for. This gives specificity, where all the energy and computation is given focus. Let these tools do these tasks amazingly well and without distraction, and then we have a start. Admittedly, this sounds like the Adam Smith view of technology as mass-produced, mono-function widgets. Smart-phones seem to be a counter-example to my throw-back to the industrial revolution. Continue reading
In a list of reasons to live as long as possible, one given is that “your loved ones and children don’t deserve to see you perish.” Ok, yeah, so that’s one possible reason for us to live as long as possible. Presumably with some sort of ideal body age. But, if we start living like that, and if we continue to have children and relationships, and the post-scarcity society means that we are able to focus on creativity rather than drudgery… well, I can see the sort of society this would lead to. There might be mindless, soulless hedonism, but it might also give us the chance to learn from each other for longer (hopefully, assuming that small-minds and obtuseness are also made obsolete – good luck with that).