Of men and machines

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The book “La Guerre des Intelligences” by Dr Laurent Alexandre is a good opportunity to reflex on a sensitive issue. The book is about “how artificial intelligence will revolutionize education”.

It is true that AI has the potential to revolutionize education. The book discusses many possible applications of AI in the educational system. But beyond that, it discusses transhumanism i.e. the possibility to use chips and the latest advancements in biology to enhance the physical characteristics of the brain. We talk of course about possibilities that seem endless if not frightening.

According to the author we can enhance our intelligence with biology methods or with some chips installed in the body and especially in the brain. It seems too simplistic, though, to start from there and believe that these type of “more intelligent” creatures that we will create, will finally live a better life or even that they will act this way or another. This is more so true when we try to predict the kind of life in the societies that the “transhumans” will create.

Drawing conclusions from such possibilities is at least dangerous. Humans are not only intelligence and their societies are unpredictable complex systems even now. When converting to “transhumans” with supposedly enhanced brains, they will have increased the degree of complexity of their organization therefore their societies will be super-unpredictable. Most possibly such societies will also be super-sensitive to all kinds of changes within the system.

Thus, to expect education improvement by improving the human brain with technology or biology tricks is at least risky. Let us not forget a parallel issue: just because we invented Prozac it didn’t mean that we created a society of happy people; rather the contrary.

P.S. The person shown in the photo does not exist. It is the creation of an algorithm.

Telling the future

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Telling the future has always been a popular activity among humans. But why humans would even want to know the future? Probably there many reasons but in general it seems that we feel insecure; we are uncomfortable with the unexpected and thus we want somebody to tell us the future. Hundreds of people or groups invest on that fact: People who tell the future as a hobby, people who do it as a job, people who try to cover their psychological needs by having supporters and followers; even the end of the world has been predicted thousands of times.

Regarding education let us just not forget that after 40 years of “technology in education” there is no big change in education especially in Europe. You see, we can easily raise questions like “what is the big difference in education we offer”? More children want now to learn? Do they learn mathematics more easily or faster? Do people love learning foreign languages more now? Changes need time and it seems that the educational systems change in a completely different rhythm compared to that of tech advancements.

When time has passed we forget to look back. Do you remember that device called TV? It still exists; but when it was invented there was again the prediction that education has changed once and for all, teachers will not be needed any more and other fancy things. Reality proved different though.

Now there is this big discussion about Artificial Intelligence. Again one can hear the same predictions: no schools, no teachers and even more impressive things like children with chips in the brain and the like. So, why not, let me tell my own predictions for the year — and beyond. Artificial Intelligence is not going to change education dramatically. Because education is a whole system and systems do not change overnight. Michel Serres, the French philosopher, used to describe this phenomenon as a big ship where the captain gives the order to turn to the right. The ship of course cannot turn to the right immediately as it is a really voluminous device; it will take its time. The problem in our case though is that until we turn right there is one more command to change route and then another one etc, ending up with no actual alterations. Happy New Year!

P.S. “My beloved OVELIX (container ship)”. Pastel by author.

On beasts, teachers and classics (or the aftermath of a course)

herculesThis small article comes many months since the last one in this blog. I have thus not obeyed the basic advice for a good blog: publish regularly. Despite that fact, I will post today (and try to continue in the future) because a course that I shared with a group of classics teachers last week gave me much food for thought. And here we go!

I recall the advertisement of an energy drink, some years ago, which used the slogan “bring out the beast”. What a saying! What a declaration! Maybe, the ultimate expression of the philosophy of a whole era. Maybe the notion of the purpose of the modern civilization that pushes us to become superhumans before becoming humans.

Superman is not merely a comic hero; it is what you are called to become, in order to run faster and to achieve more. And if you cannot become that (and clearly you cannot as you do not have the physical force, the natural capacity to fulfill that) don’t worry. Drink the magical drink and you will fly. The superdrink will release in you your superpowers (and not necessarily the good ones), it will help you “bring out the beast”.

Modern marketing, as the real child of our epoch, is in a hurry. It wants to sell here and now and to achieve that it pushes people too much. And it forgets that humanity and civilization have struggled during thousands of years to bring the beast back, to put it in the cage at least, to control it that is.

Humans do have inner power; many powers. But if these powers are not controlled they will be used for destruction. Our modern civilization, supported by the accelerated technology and globalization, has deified money as the final idol. Profit (in cash) is the ideal for anyone now: individuals, nations, countries. And the system is in desperate need of consumers. This is why it pushes people to look down, to look to the earth, to the soil and mud rather than up, to the spiritual, to the heaven. It underlines the passions and their satisfaction rather than your ability to learn, to criticize, to think, to love.

To teachers: do not expect a system that worships material life to give nice advice to students. It only wants to produce practically dead, in mind and spirit, consumers not thinking, live, responsible citizens. Use technology at school but also draw on the wealth of the classic past. Teach with technology but be also inspirational to your students and teach them urgently beauty, poetry, philosophy, creativity for a better future locally and globally.

Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future

morin_edgarThese days, being on holidays, I have started to study the book of Edgar Morin “Seven Complex Lessons in Education for the Future”. I consider Edgar Morin one of the biggest thinkers of our time and one of those few people who have understood the essence of the modern world and help with their theories to set new foundations for the future. Reading Morin during holidays is essential as one needs this calm hours that only on holidays we have, to reflect on his great thoughts on the new.

We live in an era of high speed and if there is one problem with this situation it is the fact that we no longer reflect on how we live and work or we just do it very quickly. Thinkers like Morin can, in my opinion, help any teacher understand his role in the modern world. Edgar Morin proposes this model of complexity where you have to examine everything under the light of context, globality and complexity. Very interesting indeed and in every page I find new ways to understand especially my job.

But in any case I am on holidays, so more details in the near future. Have a nice summer rest everyone…

The next Rembrandt project

“The next Rembrandt” is a very interesting case of Artificial Intelligence (AI) experimental use. Scientists had an AI program analyze the style and the totality of the work of the great master and then had the program decide on what could be a “new” painting that Rembrandt would have made. The result is really impressive if we consider all the technologies used until the end of the project: After deciding and creating, the computer could print its new painting on a 3D printer actually recreating even the style of Rembrandt’s brush. You can find all the relevant details in the video below.

Now the questions remain open and the answers controversial of course: what is it that we have exactly created as humans? A new way to analyze the work of an artist? A new way to see and understand art? A new way of creating? Is it creation? Are we at a stage where creation of the new will be done by the cooperation of humans and machines? And moreover, do all these applications of AI have a place at school? You, as a teacher, decide!

Van Gogh’s visit to Paphos

OK, Van Gogh never visited Paphos. It took us 127 years after his death to become the European Cultural Capital of Europe. If we only had achieved this, then! Maybe there was a possibility that he would have visited us, spent some time wandering about and, who knows, inspired by the Mediterranean air, painted a few landscapes.

As of course all the above are fiction I turned to technology to fill the gap. And here are some examples of what could have been some painting of the great Van Gogh if he had the chance to visit us!

The above images were made with the help of Deep Dream Generator at https://deepdreamgenerator.com. According to the site itself this “is a platform where you can transform photos using powerful Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms.”

Well, once again AI is here and pushes things! Maybe the result is not perfect but it is an important moment in the history of humankind when we can analyze the style of a painter and then have the machines paint like him. This is not the first time anyway, years ago the same happened with classical music and maybe a future article would be well worth to write. And let us not forget the really scientific work done on Rembrandt in “the next Rembrandt project”. All these cases oblige us to make some thoughts and put some questions. Here are some: Is this creativity? Or a new way of creativity? Or a new opportunity for creativity? Can a teacher use it in classroom as part of the art lesson and not only? Will thinking machines be our next tools to create art or our co-creators in art? Will AI be the teachers’ co-worker in the classroom? Food for thought in this brave new era.

PS The photos show Paphos castle, and a vineyard in October, Kili village, Paphos. Copyright Georgios Charalambous, all rights reserved.

Technological Innovation in Education

imagesIt is true that ICT technologies have given us impressive educational tools during the last three decades but the problem is that more impressive technologies come all too often. How can an educational system incorporate all these changes in such an accelerated mode?

The Social Acceleration Theory of prof. Hartmut Rosa identifies the economic motor as the main external factor that sets technological innovation into motion. Capitalist economy needs growth in order to exist. And in order to have more growth i.e. more production, more consumption etc., the capitalist economy demands for more capable technologies. Technological innovation really creates a competitive advantage for some time for those who have, understand and use the newest technologies and  faster production, cheaper products, more consumption etc are achieved under the motto “time is money”.

These are not the values of education though. A school is not a factory; a teacher is not a production engineer; a school principal is not a marketing manager to push for more consumption. Teaching methods of course need renewal and using ICT tools can mean more effective methods but still we cannot convert the use of technology to a goal by itself.

We lately witness a real effort to catch up with new technologies in the European educational system. Still it would be nice to initiate a parallel action of similar effort in order to define again the terms education, school, pedagogy in other worlds “paideia-παιδεία”. Finally redefining the teacher’s role in this new technological society would be of particular importance as teachers are the key persons in the era of technology.

Reviewing 2016: Artificial Intelligence got down to business

aiAs 2016 is coming to its end I cannot but reflect on the advancements that this year brought us in a technological field that is around for decades without making a significant impact: Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Since the very beginning of the electronic era in the 40’s, the foundations of AI were set by great scientists as Turing (and others of course). We can say that the expectations for the advancement in the field of AI were then far more optimistic compared to what reality proved to be. During the last 2-3 years, though, we are watching a coming back of the legend, this time with real and tangible results: IBM’s Watson AI program is cooperating with researchers for cancer, Google translates with AI use, Facebook is making extensive use of AI for its users, Amazon for its clients, many games are already benefiting by AI use and even there are many startups in the field of education and especially adaptive learning. Let us not forget the creation of www.openai.com and www.partnershiponai.org , two organizations for studying the impact of AI on the human society- all the above during 2016.

Things are interesting to say the least; they are serious too. AI is what you can call a disruptive technology. It has the potential to bring everything upside down. How we work, how we learn, how we entertain, how we understand our world. It seems to me that technology is ready to change the world once more. Still struggling to adapt to computers, to the networks and to smartphones, all of a sudden we are called to go for a new round of new things. Can humanity really adapt to such an accelerated rhythm of change? It remains to be seen…

An interesting article in Economist here https://goo.gl/L16Tgd and a magnificent lecture by Michel Serres here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCBB0QEmT5g

 

Machine Translation

orange-translate-buttonMachine translation is improving, no doubt. But with the rise of AI, neural networks, machine learning, corpus linguistics and a number of other supporting fields we can see a real difference. I just wanted to note the improvement regarding the translation to and from English/German; a real advancement! For years I have been experimenting with the pair English/Spanish where the results were more than satisfactory. At the same time English/German did not seem to get much attention from Google translate. But now, after the announcement of Google in September that they were changing their algorithm I have noticed the difference. Their “Neural Machine Translation” system works now in eight pairs of languages that represent the languages of 35% of the global population; impressive isn’t it? The system is also reported to have achieved translation between languages not previously known to the system something which means a much more profound understanding of the human language! Impressive isn’t it!

Taking the above as fact, I believe that education has to lean over these changes and start a real discussion on language teaching especially foreign language teaching and learning. Is the methodology changing or is foreign language learning just not needed? Are the teachers of languages losing their jobs or do they have a new role in the learning process? Many such questions emerge and given the speed of change in the technological sector we have to consider these questions the sooner.

Read more about Google Translate at https://blog.google/products/translate/

The Social Acceleration Theory

social-acceleration-theory-of-modernityThe main subject of our seminar “Managing the fast technological change, for all educators” is the speed by which the technology develops. Referring to technology we refer of course to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) which has given us so many and so impressive possibilities that we have to stop to think about them. Exactly due to the speed of change we do not have the time to reflect on the use of technology. New hardware, software and ideas come in such a high rhythm that reflecting on their use is kind of a luxury today.

Using ICT in education has to take into account that the accelerated technology does not only affect the school but the society as a whole. Thus it is of vital importance to see the changes of ICT in the broader context where the school functions.

In order to better understand these phenomena I have used the Social Acceleration theory of prof. Hartmut Rosa which provides for a suitable framework into which to explore what happens in the modern and postmodern world. This theory may not be the absolute tool to understand our situation but working with it during the last three years I have really gained many insights into the complex world of contemporary education which I would like to share with you. More to come…