Chirons will lead us out of the AI Technopanic (and you can be a chiron)

Now more than ever, faster than ever, technology is driving change. The future is an unknown, and that scares us. However, we can overcome these fears and utilize these new technologies to better equip ourselves and steer us in a positive direction.

Language evolves, and understanding these changes is crucial to learning how to communicate effectively. Like almost all change, it’s best to embrace it rather than try in vain to reject it.

For example, it appears as though I’m on the losing side in the popular definition of the term “mixed reality.” Sorry, Mr. Milgram — I’ve given in.

Technopanic

A technopanic is extreme fear of new technology and the changes that they may bring. Consider the Luddites, who destroyed machinery in the early 19th century. The only constant is change, so they had little success slowing down the Industrial Revolution. In recent history, think of Y2K. This was a little different because we feared that new technology had been embraced without our full understanding of the consequences. Of course, we proceeded into the new millennium without our computer systems plunging civilization back into the Dark Ages.

Last year, the BBC compiled a list of some of history’s greatest technopanics. One of my favorites was the fear that telephone lines would be used by evil spirits as a means of entry into unsuspecting humans who were just trying to walk grandma through how to use her new light bulbs.

Our current technopanic is about artificial intelligence and robotics. I am not saying this fear is unreasonable. We don’t know how this will play out, and it appears as though many jobs will no longer be necessary in the near future. However, expending too much energy on fear is not productive, and the most dire outcomes are unlikely. The Guardian produced this clever and amusing short about artificial intelligence:

Working with New Technology

The Replacements

Narrow artificial intelligence is now prevalent, which means programs are better than humans at performing specific tasks. Perhaps the most famous example is IBM’s Deep Blue defeating Garry Kasparov, the world champion of chess at the time — in 1997. Today, complex algorithms outperform humans at driving and analyzing lab results, among many other things.

Robots, which are stronger, larger (or smaller), and do not get bored or sick or go on strike, have been replacing humans for hundreds of years. They can fly and work through the night for days on end or longer.

Can Humans Compete?

Spending too much energy on searching for an answer to this question is a waste of time. We should not see progress as a competitor or as an enemy. These are tools we can use.

Augmenting Ourselves

Cyborgs: For many people, this is the word that will come to mind when reading the phrase above above it. While the word makes us think think of science fiction, we have been implanting devices in our bodies for decades. But we can now control artificial limbs directly from our brains, bypassing the spinal cord.

More “extreme” cyborgs do exist, such as Neil Harbisson, who can hear colors via an antenna implanted in his skull. Transhumanists aim to overcome human limitations through science and technology.

Becoming a cyborg is not practical, desirable, or even feasible for many of you. It’s also not necessary.

Cobots: A cobot is a robot designed to work interactively with a human in a shared workspace. Lately, some people have been using the word to refer to the human who works with robots or to the unified entity itself.

I don’t think the new definition of this word is useful. When referring to a specific type of robot, it has practical use.

Centaurs: After Kasparov lost to Deep Blue, he understood the potential of humans working with machines. He created a new form of chess called “centaur chess” or “freestyle chess.” Teams can consist of all humans, all algorithms, or a combination (a centaur). The champion has almost always been a centaur. Kasparov saw the value of combining what humans do best with what machines do best.

We Should Strive to Be Chirons

In Greek mythology, centaurs tended to be unruly, amoral, and violent. When considering a blend of human abilities and machine abilities, a potential outcome is losing our sense of humanity.

Chiron was a sensitive and refined centaur in Greek mythology. He taught and nurtured youth, most notably, Achilles.

In the context of maintaining sanity through this technopanic and, more generally, coping with technological change, Chiron embodies the centaur we should aspire to.

In regard to how we should manage technology-induced fear (reaction, interaction, and creative acceptance), this would be the third stage. We all need to strive to be chirons. For our own sake, this is critical to lifelong learning. For the sake of our youth, we need to be able to demonstrate constructive and responsible use of technology.

At Educause 2017, we will explore how new technologies can impact the future of higher education and student success. Discover opportunities to engage with Pearson at the conference and drive these critical conversations.

 

About the Author

Denis Hurley

Denis Hurley leads the global Future Technologies program within the Advanced Computing and Data Science Lab (“The Lab”). The Lab applies advanced computing and data science to create innovative software capabilities, processes, and frameworks that improve our digital products, advance our digital ways of working, and change how we approach digital education. The Future Technologies program is a pan-Pearson, cross-disciplinary, collaborative community of hundreds of colleagues, that has completed over 40 prototypes and roundtable discussions. Our work has impacted early development of many products and services, such as explorations into mobile-first strategies, immersive learning, and adaptive algorithms.

Denis studies emerging technologies and trends; promotes Pearson’s cutting edge products and strategies; and catalyzes teams, encouraging the exploration of innovative solutions and new opportunities. Denis is a frequent speaker at national and international events and workshops for educators and technologists

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