Fast Learning’s Failure

Periodically, a good article is published reporting on a common-sense result that, in hindsight, is entirely unsurprising. In Parenting I write about the importance of learning to learn- of developing an inquisitive and curious eye, which is about noticing and communication being privileged far and away above specific technical skills. In the current Atlantic, Erika Christakis’ article, How the New Preschool is Crushing Kids, summarizes a number of recent results regarding just how over-teaching preschool programs focus so heavily on tactical skills development in learners that, come kindergarten, the students are far less prepared to learn — to be themselves. The lesson in all this? Childhood cannot be hurried. Knowledge cannot be force-fed. Our children need the time and space to explore, to learn to have wonder about all around them, and to explore slowly, gently and with depth and clarity. None of that aligns with standardized tests, columns of skills or early literacy programmes. Let’s keep first grade out of preschool!

 

Immortality. Again.

First there was the Singularity. Then the 2045 Project. Now there’s Humai- a startup devoted to making people live forever, as described in this Techspot article by Rob Thubron. It seems to easy these days to confuse simulation with reality. If we mine your social web presence, and create a learning computer algorithm that mimics your responses to other peoples’ posts, does that mean you’re immortal? You laugh. But I have talked to some Singularity believers recently who claim that we are already past the Singularity! That, in fact, their electronic presence is so strong that they shall never really “die.” Interestingly, they don’t use those quotes at all.  So perhaps the reason real, living venture capitalists (or are they zombies?) are willing to invest in companies like Humai is that language is fluid. All we have to do is redefine the word “death” and the word “immortal.” Then, under new semantics, companies can indeed sell us immortality. Bob’s your uncle.

 

Rise of the AI Chasm

Charles Arthur of The Guardian reports on a new Bank of America Merril Lynch report, Creative Disruption, regarding how AI technologies will eventually increase the employment divides across our planet by separating the god-like A.I. owners from the underemployed rest of us. Of course, one laughable answer is that we will live in the age of abundance and, therefore, we will all greatly enjoy not working. Right. In fact, the publication itself by BofA is less exciting than Arthur’s focus on A.I. makes it out to be. Bank of America continues to flog the Singularity message that exponential increases in computer mean that, soon, computers will reason faster than humans (never mind just how well they reason compared to us). And the original report also touts both longevity of life induced by modern technological medical advances, and the revolutionary disruptions proferred by the Internet of Things architectures for connectived devices.  All this might come to pass; and I agree that, largely, inequality will be only exacerbated by these trends. But the scientific trends themselves can so easily be overblown that it is difficult to separate unlikely techno-optimism from seriously likely threats. Both are found a-plenty in the report.