Rise of the Machines

I’ve been pretty resistant to the idea of AI in edtech and beyond, and part of why was epitomized in a recent email I received from a self-acclaimed “cyberpunk anti-hero from the future” that underlines the cash-in zeitgeist that repels me. Perhaps I’m just showing a bit of my age in the field, I mean I did have fun with Michael Branson Smith’s AI Levine project, and it’s pretty clear AI colonized our imaginations long before the present gold rush, but the speed at which it has already arrived at inevitable is a bit frightening.

And it’s because of that fear, engulfed in a rank stench of opportunism, that I have kept most of it at Michael Bay thus far. I haven’t blogged about it (until now). I haven’t played with ChatGPT, Mid-journey, DALL-E, or other tools like them beyond a cursory fashion, and I acknowledge my limits, but there’s a deep sense of dread that accompanies offloading pleasures like blogging or taking images to the machines. There are also people I deeply respect that have begun to dig in, and I’m glad they’re bringing a practical, thoughtful voice to the discussion. In fact, part of me feels like I should too, but it’s difficult to shake the sense of déjà vu watching the tech lizard people emerge from the swamp to slither towards the territories—the pioneering spirit attracts as many hucksters as it does explorers.

But the other part of me feels this territory might be better left untouched, I mean most historical “discoveries” of “unclaimed” lands have been euphemistic expressions of exploitation and extraction? In fact, you don’t need to go back to the 15th or 16th centuries, just think back 20 years to the rise of social networks and the unimaginable scale and speed in which they rose to the level of nation-states. And then there’s the economic side wherein the wealth of those behind the tech-gilded age dwarves that of many countries. This more recent history is what makes the rise of the machines that much more dire given we seem entirely comfortable abandoning any remaining trace of humanity in the process, it’s a whole new twist on the colonizing trick.

I don’t want to be a nay sayer, but I can’t shake that sense of dread that has nothing to do with the pedestrian concerns around plagiarism—rather it seems the very fabric of how we currently understand reality is at stake. And perhaps that’s where I’m long in the tooth, many folks mid to late career in the 90s probably felt the same way  about the web. But maybe not all of them were wrong? I guess it’s time to dig deep and channel some Beckett: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”

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11 Responses to Rise of the Machines

  1. Luke says:

    Same feeling here.

    GC comms is doing a story on AI going into the fall semester, and interviewed me thinking they were going to get some anodyne guidance on productively discussing this with your students. Instead they got Doc Brown citing Bryan Alexander on ecological disaster and Donna Haraway on the becoming the cyborg. Reality is holding less and less.

  2. Eric Likness says:

    We could all do with a little Bryan Alexander and Donna Haraway in our lives. :^)

  3. Geoff Cain says:

    I feel the same too. I can’t get with all the work that we have done around DEI and accessibility that everyone is running to this bright and shiny latest thing that is such a huge step backwards. We are right back to education as a product rather than a process. If you enjoy walls of deadly silence, bring this up at any conference.

  4. You’re right on the mark, Jim! I’ve dabbled a bit (and even blogged about the dabbling!) but only so I can have an informed stance to push back against the rise of the machines. I think, avoid it all if you can.

  5. also, it’s become pretty clear that this latest round of LLM-powered “AI” is anything but intelligent. It’s autocomplete, with cloud-based supercomputing behind it. It has no idea what it’s saying, and doesn’t (can’t) understand it as we understand understanding. All it does, all it can do, is say “hey – I’ve seen some of these words together. often, they are associated with… I don’t know… THESE words.” there. artificial intelligence. artificial, for sure. This stuff speaks more about how superficially we think of intelligence, and how little it will take to appear intelligent – and that appearing intelligent is all that matters. The Turing test set the bar waaaaaay too low. “If I can’t tell the difference between software and human responses, does it even matter?” Yeah. It matters.

  6. Brian says:

    “What does the money machine eat to shit out? It eats youth, spontaneity, life, beauty and above all it eats creativity. It eats quality and shits out quantity.” William Burroughs

  7. Anne-Marie says:

    I share your sense of dread too Jim and I’m appalled at the extent to which there’s wilful ignorance of the enormous environmental harms that sit behind this stuff. Anyone who has some aspirational blurb about supporting the UN SDGs in their mission statement should take a long hard look in the mirror, hopefully just in time to see their pants burst into flames.

    I’m also surprised (but am I really?) at the ways we’re willing to jam this stuff into our curriculum and operations now, even though we all know we’re part of some enormous beta testing scheme of both product and business model. This stuff is going to keep changing at rapid pace. How much of our curriculum do we want to lose hold of?

  8. Alan Levine says:

    Wow everybody is here! Despite being cast as an AI, I just have not found a compelling hook. And it keeps being spoken of as if it is one thing, yet almost no one can really say what it does. So yeah I use an AI powered tool for transcribing audio but have no real clue what the AI does. If there ain’t a view source….

    Good to know there’s a club here.

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  10. For the first time ever, I’m resisting. I’ve dabbled but only rudimentary and enough to realise that I don’t want it to generate creative ideas, write my stories or draw my artworks.

    I want to feel the pain of creative endeavours. My thinking, my ideas, my “what if I…”

    What irks me is that like everything else, over time, their use would be normalised so I’d be the exception not using the technology. I jumped on the bandwagon with the web, with social media (but now, I am a non-participant of social media) but now, I’m not jumping on this.

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