Are You Prometheus or Zeus?

Prometheus Brings Fire by Heinrich Friedrich Füger
Prometheus Brings Fire by Heinrich Friedrich Füger, 1817

 

Do you know the myth of Prometheus and his argument with Zeus?  I am reading Stephen Fry's books that are retellings of the myths of Ancient Greece, Mythos and the companion volume Heroes, and he has suggested that we are approaching a similar moment in our history. 

I don't know if you can see yourself as Jason aboard the Argo ques ting for the Golden Fleece, or as Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx. But I think we might divide all of us into two groups by deciding on which side we stand when it comes to artificial intelligence as "personified" by any robot with a human appearance and advanced artificial intelligence.

The myth that applies is the story of Prometheus and his argument with Zeus.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus, whose name means "forethought" is credited with the creation of man from clay, and also the one who defies Zeus by stealing fire and giving it to humanity.

To humans, his theft is heroic. Fire, perhaps our first technology, enabled progress, civilization and the human arts and sciences.

Prometheus believed that humans needed and deserved fire. Zeus did not.

In Hesiod's version of the story of Prometheus and the theft of fire it is clear that Zeus withheld not only fire from humanity, but also "the means of life." Zeus feared that if humans had fire and all that it would lead them to, they would no longer need the gods.

Fry writes that “The Titan Prometheus made human beings in clay. The spit of Zeus and the breath of Athena gave them life. But Zeus refused to allow us to have fire. And I think fire means both literal fire – to allow us to become Bronze Age man, to create weapons and to cook meat. To frighten the fierce animals and become the strongest, physically and technically. But also the internal fire of self-consciousness and creativity. The divine fire. Zeus did not want us to have it. And Prometheus stole fire from heaven and gave it to man.”

If we think about a modern Prometheus, perhaps we can make him into a scientist who has created a very powerful android.

It is fitting that the word "android" was coined from the Greek andr-, meaning "man" (male, as opposed to anthr?p-, meaning human being) and the suffix -oid, meaning "having the form or likeness of. (We use "android" to refer to any human-looking robot, but a robot with a female appearance can also be referred to as a "gynoid.")

Our Prometheus the AI scientist is ready to give his android to the world. But his boss, Mr. Zeus, is opposed. What will happen when the android become sapient?" Zeus asks. Sapience is the ability of an organism or entity to act with judgment. "And what if these androids also become sentient?" Zeus asks. Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive or experience subjectively.

Stephen Fry takes up that argument:

"In a hundred years time, we can guarantee there will be sapient beings on this earth that have been intelligently designed. You could call them robots, you could call them compounds of augmented biology and artificial intelligence, but they will exist. The future is enormous, it has never been more existentially transformative.

Will the Prometheus who makes the first piece of really impressive robotic AI – like Frankenstein or the Prometheus back in the Greek myth – have the question: do we give it fire? Do we give these creatures self-knowledge, self-consciousness? An autonomy that is greater than any other machine has ever had and would be similar to ours? In other words: shall we be Zeus and deny them fire because we are afraid of them? Because they will destroy us? The Greeks, and the human beings, did destroy the gods. They no longer needed them. And it is very possible that we will create a race of sapient beings who will not need us.”

So, are you like Prometheus wanting mankind to have these highly evolved robots? Or do you agree with Zeus that they will eventually destroy us?

 

Here is an excerpt concerning this idea from an interview Stephen Fry did in Holland.
(Full interview at https://dewerelddraaitdoor.bnnvara.nl/nieuws/de-twee-kanten-van-stephen-fry)

The Rules for Online Learning

online learnerRegulators who make the rules for higher education accreditation are being closely watched now for the rules governing online learning. Three industry groups who are concerned have put forward their own policy recommendations. The groups are the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET).

The recommendations are concerned with competency-based education (CBE), regular and substantive interaction, and state authorization. The Department of Education's ongoing accreditation rulemaking session (which may also require congressional action) may develop outcomes-based Title IV eligibility standards for gauging colleges' effectiveness with a wider range of instructional modalities.

One big topic of discussion concerns the current rules around regular and substantive interaction. This is the measure of how much contact instructors and students must have in online courses. Some educators feel the current rules put online learning at a "competitive disadvantage" relative to on-campus instruction.

One of the test cases has been the DoE's case against Western Governors University. But in January 2019 it canceled a $713 million fine owed by WGA that came out of a 2017 audit that concluded that the school's CBE model was not in compliance with federal standards for online education. In its January reversal, the DoE determined that the fully online nonprofit university "made a reasonable and good faith effort" to apply the rules to its model.

The DoE further stated that it is "hopeful that further clarification [around distance learning] will be part of future regulations that will help spur the growth of high-quality innovative programs."

According to Inside Higher Ed, a third of all higher education students take at least one online course. Many of those students live on campus or within a two-hour radius of the college, so that the older term of "distance education" has become far less relevant.

But online learning is still growing in higher education. For example, Florida International University now offers more than 100 degrees fully online, and added more than 15 degrees in the past year. Those offerings include 20+ STEM programs at the graduate and undergraduate level, and new bachelors’ degrees in economics, writing and rhetoric.

Not all universities and educators are as strong in pushing online learning. Researchers at George Mason University and the Urban Institute say students who lack strong academic preparation tend to struggle in an online-only environment. But that research has been questioned by others. And the discussons continue at many levels.

 

Steven Spielberg, Dinosaurs, Oscars and Degrees, Netflix and Coursera

Oscar StatuettesFilmmaker Steven Spielberg has been having an argument with Netflix. His tenure as Governor of the Academy that oversees the Oscars ends this summer, but his very public feelings about Netflix has become an issue in the motion picture industry.

Netflix is just the biggest name in streaming services and Spielberg isn't happy with this disruptor of his industry. He is all for protecting the traditional film studio pipeline and the Oscars that prioritize theaters over living rooms. He would like to see movies made for streaming services be excluded from the major categories at next year’s Oscars. He thinks that Netflix movies (and really ones from Amazon and other companies) should compete for Emmys, not Oscars.

“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” he told British ITV News in March, 2018. “I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

Roma, the film that was up for Best Picture, was the focus of a lot of this debate, was at the center of his argument this spring. The film lost in that category to Green Book, but it won Best Foreign Film, and Alfonso Cuaron won Best Director, so it certainly had a big impact this year.

graduationNow what does this have to do with education and this blog? I do tend to view a lot of things through an education lens (pun intended). It is how I have lived my adult life. 

I love movies. I got my MA in communications with a concentration of film and video back in the late 1970s when video was already taking the place of film. In my earliest teaching days, I taught students to cut film. It was a literal cut on a piece of film stock. At one time we even cut videotape that came on reels. By the 1980s, we were editing video by copying and pasting it to other videotape and the reels became VHS tapes. Analog became digital and though my students still did some animation frame by frame using Super 8 film cameras, we knew that would end soon.

I would compare Spielberg's argument with the arguments about disruptors that we have in education.

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is a good example. Going back to 2012 (the supposed "Year of the MOOC"), there were many similar arguments being heard. MOOCs will destroy traditional universities and degrees. Online learning will become free. The quality of MOOCs is inferior to credit-based online courses from universities.

Universities were movie theaters. Roma was a MOOC. Coursera was Netflix.

In the 7 short years since the MOOC got its big push, they have changed, been adopted by traditional universities and adapted to their own purposes. They didn't destroy traditional colleges or college course or degrees. They did disrupt all of those things. All of those things have changed in some ways, and they will continue to change as the MOOC and its evolved offspring appear.

SpielbergIs Steven Spielberg a dinosaur?

He has been at the technology edge for all of his career. Yes, he prefers to shoot on 35 mm film if he can, but when he needs the video technology, such as in his Ready Player One, he goes that route. 

As an Academy Governor, he is in a place where he feels the responsibility to protect the movie business, which he clearly loves. That includes the traditional distribution vector of movie theaters. Theaters have been threatened since the arrival of television in a big way back in the 1950s. So their dominance for distribution has been threatened for more than 60 years. But theaters still exist, though in reduced numbers.

Streaming services like Netflix are a big competitor, but so are Disney and other traditional studios that want a piece of that streaming money and may care less for their theater share of profit which has been shrinking over the past few decades.

Spielberg is a dinosaur in that he wants the old system to continue. he prefers the status quo. If he was a professor or college administrator, he probably would have opposed MOOCs.

Probably, as with the MOOC, both theaters and streaming films will continue to exist. Each will influence the other, but streaming and MOOCs will not disappear.

It is understandable that Netflix wanted Roma to be considered for an Oscar, so it put it in theaters for a limited release to qualify. there are some people who are willing to pay for a film in a theater on that big screen with an audience, even though it will appear on their television set in their living room if they wait a few weeks. But Netflix makes its money from those streaming subscriptions.

Actually, it is kind of a myth that Netflix "produced" Roma.” Netflix had nothing to do with “making” or even funding “Roma.” That is actually the case for many of the shows and movies labeled as Netflix Originals. They buy films just like the other traditional studios. Participant Media financed Roma. It was shot by Cuarón’s production company. Any of the traditional studios could have acquired Roma and put it in theaters. A black-and-white film in Spanish is not as appealing to many studios, even if the director has a good track record.

If I use Coursera, the world’s largest massive open online course (MOOCs in some ways) with a learner population of nearly 40 million, as my educational Netflix, I would point out that their courses are really courses made by traditional universities. The universities are the film studios. Coursera is their distributor.

If Spielberg fights to keep things "as is" then he is a dinosaur.  There are still education Spielbergs who don't want online courses at all. MOOCs are certainly something they don't want to be considered for credit toward a degree. Credits and degrees are the Oscars of higher education. 

It is still evolution more than it is revolution.

 

Transitions Are Difficult

transitionIf you read the annual Bill and Melinda Gates letter, it includes 9 trends it considers surprising. One that affects educators is the idea that "Textbooks are becoming obsolete." By that, they mean that digital content that is customized and personalized learning can better support students than a traditional textbook. 

The promise here is text online connected to engaging video along with perhaps a game that reinforces the concepts. Your learning is assessed and the software moves you forward appropriately or perhaps sends you back for more review. of the content you seem to have missed. 

We have been told that this kind of learning transition was going to happen - and it has happened,several times. We were told that the printed book would be replaced by ebooks. Some were replaced; most were not.

There has been a lot of talk about replacing the lecture with short video lectures that don't "lecture." That is somewhat the case in online courses, but the lecture in the classroom is still running strong.  

Even bigger than textbooks and lecture is the idea that online learning would replace classroom learning. Add to that the idea that MOOCs would replace online courses and even make degrees obsolete. Hasn't happened yet.

Transitions are difficult. Maintaining the status quo is so much easier. 

Maybe if I was still around in 2050, I would find that learning happens without printed books, without lectures, without classrooms and without degrees. But I doubt it.

Even Facebook Wishes It Could Clear Its History

FacebookThis year it was revealed that a lot more apps are automatically sending data to Facebook. In some cases this happens  even if the user is logged out of Facebook. For Android devices this includes an odd mix that includes Spotify, Kayak, Yelp, Shazam, Instant Heart Rate, Duolingo, TripAdvisor and The Weather Channel.

More recently, a Wall Street Journal study found that apps in Apple's iOS App Store are doing the same thing. In some cases, you have to wonder why the apps are sending personal data on things like like age, body weight, blood pressure, and menstrual cycles. 

Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor is an app that was sending a user's heart rate to Facebook immediately after it was recorded, and Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker passed on when a user was having her period or when she informed that app about an intention to get pregnant.

Not to exonerate Facebook, but the apps were not "required" to pass that data to Facebook. Part of the blame certainly goes to the app developers for some laziness. Many developers use Facebook's pre-built software development kit (SDK). These pre-built SDKs allow developers to quickly build apps and the SDK will typically transmit most of the data automatically to Facebook.

Actually, Facebook claims that it tells app developers not to send "health, financial information or other categories of sensitive information." Since the WSJ report, they are telling developers of the flagged apps to stop sending that type of information. 

Why would Facebook want that kind of information anyway? It always comes down to targeting advertising. 

Denise Howell's latest free newsletter reminds us that Facebook's mark Zuckerberg had promised last year that there would be a "Clear History" feature that would allow users to check what information applications and websites have shared with Facebook and delete it. So far, it has not been released.

Denise (a well known lawyer due to her podcasting and social media presence) says:

It hasn’t happened yet, but the FTC is expected to impose a record-breaking fine against Facebook resulting from the company’s failure to comply with a 2011 consent order aimed at privacy violations that took place over eight years ago. In the ensuing eight years, Facebook’s privacy record hasn’t exactly been pristine. Accordingly, EPIC, Common Sense Media, and others think Facebook should be fined in excess of $2 billion. Jason Kint told Vice Media, “[a] fine almost certainly would not be enough to change Facebook’s behavior — we’re past that,” and I’m inclined to agree with him. For example: even after all the outrage against and scrutiny of Facebook over the past year, if you as a Facebook user want to make all your past posts private, viewable only to you, and if you want to do this all at once (as opposed to one post at a time; which is possible but who does that), you simply can’t. This is true even though Facebook actually provides a batch feature to limit the visibility of past posts; it just limits the ability to limit, which ends at “Friends.” (Let s/he here who hasn’t over-friended on Facebook cast the first stone.) If Facebook remains tone-deaf to this unfathomable extent, then perhaps it does need more than a record-breaking fine to encourage it to course-correct. Oh, and that “Clear History” tool Zuck announced at F8 last year? The one that was supposed to let people delete Facebook’s record of what they’ve clicked, Web sites they’ve visited, and other information Facebook gets from sites and apps using FB’s ads and analytics, and was ALSO supposed to let people turn off FB’s collection of their browsing history? Yeah, that was last May, and “Clear History” is nowheresville. So, what’s a lawmaker to do?

Working in public relations for Facebook must be a tough job these days. Clear your history, indeed.

In looking back at my own posts about Facebook, I found one from March 2006 in which I said "So You Think Facebook Is a Waste." Thirteen years ago the idea of social media was treated by many as a fad. Facebook was a two-year old site but was alreday the seventh-most heavily trafficked site on the Internet with 5.5 billion page views. It was threatening enough as a business that Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation bought Facebook''s only competitor ta the time - MySpace. There an entire chunk of the younger population who never even heard of MySpace, which in 2005 sold for $580-million. Not a good investment, but who knew because the site still had more than 37 million unique visitors in February 2006 with 23.5 billion page views. It was the second-most trafficked site after Yahoo beating Google. 

How things have changed.