Beyond mobile to technology as ‘me’



Last year I spoke to my mobile phone. I wasn’t ringing anyone, but I asked my phone a question. No answer. Last week I spoke to my phone, and it gave me some answers right there on my screen. Soon there will be no need to read an answer, and in another few decades there may not even be a question. The singularity is rising, and futurists tell us that we will be our technology, and information will be who we are or what it made us. As we watch the fast-paced changes taking place in technology, the web of data and the social connections between us, the value of information as knowledge remains the core business of librarians, teachers and info-nerds.

It starts with the mobile device in your hand and Siri is a tool that I am constantly being surprised by. Here’s why.

Siri Speaks to Me | Class Tech Tips

For Apple lovers like me the iPhone 4S was at first a mixed blessing. I was desperately in need of a new upgrade, but initially underwhelmed with the features of the 4S. (Where was the iPhone 5 I had been dreaming of?)
Siri (voice recognition software on the new iPhone operating system) has made my life easier and most importantly it has increased my productivity.
How?  In the data driven world of education that demands consistent documentation–evidence that I’m doing my job– Siri has enabled me to document student conferences and create comments to post on student work. Here’s a link that lays out everything for you.
There are, of course, a number of other tools that are being used to re-engineer our use of interactive technologies. Just two examples in daily use by educators the world over are Diigo and Evernote. These fall in the category of “oldies but goodies” these days!

Use Diigo to annotate and organize the web

In short, Diigo is an amazing tool for knowledge workers to annotate, archive and organize the web – either for yourself or in collaboration with others. And as an educator, you even get a free upgrade to a Diigo Education account with unlimited highlighting. Cha-ching!!

Diigo - highlighting and annotate the web

Evernote Blog | 10 Tips for Teachers Using Evernote – Education Series

As a teacher, my Evernote use falls into three categories:

  • Prior to class
  • During class
  • After class

Evernote for Teachers is is a great tool for teachers to capture notes, organize lesson plans, collaborate on projects, snap photos of whiteboards, and more.

But seriously, I wonder where it will actually end. Using tools FOR empowering our thinking and organisation of ideas and workflow is one thing. Using technology to BE me is quite another.

If you have followed the topic of the singularity, and the merger between humans and machines, you’ll have an idea why this news report about cyborg futures is weirdly scary.

3D printing is a mere blip on the creative horizon of Dmitry Itskov and his project. Scientists are taking tiny, incremental steps towards melding humans and machine all the time. Ray Kurzweil, the futurist and now Google’s director of engineering, argued in The Singularity Is Near, a 2005 book, that technology is advancing exponentially and that “human life will be irreversibly transformed” to the point that there will be no difference between “human and machine or between physical and virtual reality”.

This man is not a cyborg. Yet.

To change that picture, he reasons, we must change our minds, or give them a chance to “evolve,” to use one of his favourite words. Before our minds can evolve, though, we need a new paradigm of what it means to be human. That requires a transition to a world where most people aren’t consumed by the basic questions of survival.

 

Hence, avatars. They may sound like an improbable way to solve the real problems on Itskov’s laptop, or like the perfect gift for the superrich of the future. But the laws of supply and demand abide in Itskov’s utopia, and he assumes that once production of avatars is ramped up, costs will plunge. He also assumes that charities now devoted to feeding, clothing and healing the poor will focus on the goal of making and distributing affordable bodies, which in this case means machines.

 

For now, just acquiring a lifelike robotic head is a splurge. Among the highlights of the New York congress will be the unveiling of what Itskov describes as the most sophisticated mechanical head in history.

Weird, right? Check out our progress in this timeline from the same article.

On the road to avatars

Some random stops along the way to joining humans and machines.

1784: First known use of the word “avatar”, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. From Sanskrit, it refers to a Hindu deity in human form.

1924: Hans Berger begins the history of brain-computer interfaces by developing EEG, which measures electrical activity in the brain.

1958: In Sweden, Arne Larsson becomes the first person to receive a surgically implanted pacemaker.

1961: The first cochlear implant, called a bionic ear. It marks the first time a machine is able “to restore a human sense”.

1987: Max Headroom, about a fictional avatar, makes its debut on TV. In the story line, Max was created by downloading the memories of a TV reporter into a computer.

1992: Snow Crash, a Neal Stephenson novel, helps popularise avatars. “If you’re ugly,” he writes, “you can make your avatar beautiful.”

1997: Researchers at Emory University teach a stroke victim to use electrodes implanted in his brain, and sensors taped to his body, to move a cursor and spell words with his thoughts.

2003: Linden Lab starts Second Life, an online world that allows users to create avatars that can interact with other avatars.

2008: At Duke University, a monkey implanted with a brain-computer interface controls a robot on a treadmill in Japan.

2011: Dmitry Itskov starts the 2045 Initiative.

2012: At the University of Pittsburgh, a quadriplegic woman, Jan Scheuermann, eats a chocolate bar attached to a robotic arm controlled by implants in her brain.

2013: The MIT Technology Review reports that Samsung is working on a tablet computer that can be controlled by your mind.

Image: Warhol bots.

Brain Gain and Marc Prensky

I’ve just put down my review copy of Brian Gain by Marc Prensky, after flipping through the pages once again. Reading it has been timely, given the changes that are taking place in our education environment here in Australia ~ national curriculum, NBN (!), laptop programs, iPad rollouts and  Bring Your Own Device initiatives.

There has been a significant shift in the way we think, work, and talk about technology. There has also been a lot of development in the ways that we can adapt and adopt technology to enhance our personal and professional lives. So while we discuss curriculum, we need books that are provocative and force us to run a final launch countdown to be sure that we really are ready to work with technology in a changing world.

The Australian curriculum as presented by ACARA acknowledges the interdisiplinary role of ICT by defining it as a general capability. For those of us grappling with the integration of computing and technologies, the changes and challenges can so easily take us out of our comfort zone and into new spaces for the creation and development of learning and knowledge encounters. As we are exploiting the capabilities of digital technology, we are discovering that digital technology is more than a tool for creativity, communication, information organization and retrieval.

Technology in a networked world is expanding our physical minds and changing our human horizons.

Enter Marc Prensky and Brain Gain – a broad and conversational discussion about the potential of technology to improve, extend, enhance and amplify the human mind. Marc canvasses the expected territory of the social impacts of technology, rejecting the warnings of those who suggest technology is making us stupid, or slowing down the ability of our students to think.

Because of the rapid advances in technology, notions of what is possible and, more importantly, ‘wise’ in many situation  are undergoing profound change.

Our students have to learn differently, and develop their knowledge differently.

Today’s wisdom is that its far better to learn how to acquire new information.

Throughout the book there is much discussion about ‘humanity’ and the needs of a burgeoning knowledge society to think with and through technology. The book is not a scholarly tome – rather it IS a very accessible and engaging read that covers every angle, and entices the reader into a deeper understanding of our future prospects as being interwoven with technology to deepen human knowledge and creativity.

The book is really all about cultivating digital wisdom in a technology amplified world. There are trade offs. There are pointers for professionals who are looking to understand the breadth of potential of technology. There are sweeping statements too.

However, you can’t go past this book for a riveting read, accessible to the most technophobic teachers or administrators. In setting out to read this book I would have liked to think I learned nothing. In fact I learned a lot, as the book moves from the expected to the implications of a  symbiotic combination of the human brain and technology.

I learned that it is important to be excited by ideas. I learned that collaboration is more important than ever. I learned that our technology past is not ‘old’ or irrelevant – but that our new technologies are simply escalating the rate at which we can think and develop.

I learned that technology is providing us with new pathways for thinking never before possible, and that this synergy with technology is considered by some to potentially change humanity in a ‘evolutionary’ way.

Not only does Marc present us with the positive and negative potential of technology (which we must think about daily in our teaching and learning), but he also introduced me to the Countdown to Singularity.

In the last chapter on the coming Singularity, I read about “the moment, not very far off… when our technology will become as powerful, and even more powerful than our human brains.”  This is when humans will transcend biology. Referencing theories from science fiction writers and futurists (including Ray Kurzweil), this ending seems an odd, speculative conclusion in an otherwise reasonable, practical book.

Get your hands on a copy if you can, and decide for yourself where technology and the quest for digital wisdom will take us.

Image: Reprogramming your inner child cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Keoni Cabral