Open Thinkering


Tag: digital literacies

Applying my digital literacies model to ‘AI literacy’

I haven’t yet been able to prioritise thinking deeply about what it would look like to apply my Essential Elements of Digital Literacies to the field of AI.

But hey, why not just ask ChatGPT 4?

AI literacy refers to the understanding of artificial intelligence and the ability to use and interact with AI technologies effectively. It is essential in today’s world, as AI becomes increasingly integrated into various aspects of daily life. To apply Doug Belshaw’s 8 elements of digital literacies to the concept of AI literacy, we can adapt each element to focus on AI-related skills and understanding:

Cultural: Recognizing how AI technologies impact different cultures and societies, as well as understanding the ethical considerations related to AI deployment. This includes being aware of cultural biases in AI systems and acknowledging the implications of AI on the workforce and social structures.

Cognitive: Developing the mental processes involved in using AI tools, such as understanding the basic principles of AI, machine learning, and data analysis. This encompasses skills like interpreting AI-generated insights, recognizing the limitations of AI systems, and understanding the potential consequences of AI decision-making.

Constructive: Gaining the ability to create, modify, and contribute to AI technologies, including working with AI algorithms, designing AI-based solutions, and understanding the software and hardware components of AI systems.

Communicative: Effectively communicating and collaborating with others regarding AI concepts, tools, and applications. This includes being able to explain AI systems to non-experts, discussing ethical and social implications, and sharing AI-related knowledge with others.

Confident: Becoming comfortable and confident in using AI tools and navigating AI-based systems. This involves having the self-assurance to explore, learn, and adapt to new AI technologies and applications.

Creative: Leveraging AI technologies to express oneself creatively and inventively, such as using AI-generated art, music, or writing tools, and applying AI to develop innovative solutions to problems.

Critical: Critically evaluating AI technologies, algorithms, and their implications on society. This involves understanding issues like fairness, accountability, transparency, and privacy in AI systems, as well as assessing the reliability and limitations of AI-generated outputs.

Civic: Engaging with AI technologies to participate in civic activities and social and political life. This includes using AI for social good, advocating for responsible AI policies, and promoting digital equity in AI access and education.

By incorporating these adapted elements into AI literacy, individuals can develop a comprehensive understanding of AI and its impact on society, as well as the skills necessary to thrive in an AI-driven world.

That’s… not bad? I think this would actually be a decent basis to create a framework for an institution that could end up as a curriculum.

Gamify or be gamified

Seven years ago, I wrote a post entitled Curate or Be Curated: Why Our Information Environment is Crucial to a Flourishing Democracy, Civil Society. I come back to it often, as it was a bit of a warning that, if we all outsource our news-reading and information-gathering to algorithms, then we’re in trouble.

I wrote that post at a time when Twitter was proposing to turn its previously “raw” feed into an algorithmically-curated one. It completely spoiled the social network for me, and my use of it has dwindled since 2014. It’s also had nefarious effects, amplifying hate and disinformation — as we’ve seen with countless examples around the world. Our democratic institutions are at stake.

Listening to the latest episode of It’s Not Just In Your Head, a podcast from two mental health professionals exploring how capitalism, I was fascinated by their most recent guest’s insights. Dr. Alfie Bown, a lecturer in Digital Media Culture and Technology at Royal Holloway in London, and author of a number of books, spoke eloquently about gamification in our everyday lives.

Gamification is the strategic attempt to enhance systems, services, organizations, and activities in order to create similar experiences to those experienced when playing games in order to motivate and engage users This is generally accomplished through the application of game-design elements and game principles (dynamics and mechanics) in non-game contexts. (Wikipedia)

What I found particularly interesting was Bown’s inclusion of social media in his tallying-up of everyone who plays “video games” around the world. As he points out, the feedback loops and rewards for certain types of behaviour on social networks certainly mesh with what we’d consider to be video game mechanics.

I’m a gamer, and have been most of my 41 years on this earth. The games I see my kids playing, though, are quite different to the ones I used to play at their age. There’s a very positive angle to this, as they’re a lot more positive and social than many of the ones I played when I was younger. But there’s downsides as well, and that’s what I want to talk about here.

As an example, I’ve played the FIFA football (soccer) game series ever since the very first one came out over 25 years ago. Over the last few iterations, instead of just being a particular team and playing against another player or the computer, it’s possible to create your own ‘Ultimate Team’. Having experimented with this again recently, I was shocked at how little time I ended up actually playing a football game, and how much time I was spending ‘grinding’ — i.e. doing things to unlock or upgrade things.

As Dr. Alfie Bown pointed out in the podcast episode, everything is gamified these days, from work to dating to shopping. It’s like everyone’s competing in a slightly-different ARG. So this post is a marker and a reminder for me that I can choose to gamify my own life, or have it gamified for me.

There are multiple ways to do this. One very simple one that I’ve found to be unreasonably effective is to use Loop Habit Tracker to define habits that I want to build over time. They could be exercise or nutrition-related, or something else entirely. Right now, I’m trying to do each of the following at least twice a week:

  • Go to the gym
  • Go for a run
  • Go on the exercise bike

Each time I succeed, I put a tick in the box under that day and activity, and it strengthens the habit.

Gamification is not something that is good or bad, in and of itself. For me, it’s all to do with whether you’re being controlled or manipulated into acting in a way which is in alignment with your values and goals in life. For example, I’ve found Duolingo useful for language-learning, and it includes a lot of gamification techniques.

As we enter a new year, I’m on a bit of a mission to remove unhelpful gamified elements from my life, and to add in ones which will help me flourish as the human being I want to be.

Sorry! The lifestyle you ordered is out of stock

Banksy artwork saing "Sorry! The future you ordered is currently out of stock"

From where I sit, the day after having my booster jab, I’m more than a little bit concerned about the level of anti-vaxxer disinformation swirling around me. Yes, I wrote my doctoral thesis on ‘digital literacy’ and I think there’s a level of digital illiteracy involved in all of this. However, there’s a confluence of a few things going on here.

The world is complex, so any simple ‘answer’ to what’s driving particular behaviours are likely to be at best incomplete. For example, I’ve noticed in my interactions with vaccine-hesitant or straight-out ‘anti-vaxxer’ middle-aged white men that there are certain metaphors and tropes that tend to be used.

The rabbithole goes deep, and quickly. It’s likely to be different for varying groups in society, but for those middle-aged white guys I’ve mentioned, there’s at least some pent-up economic frustration going on. I think they also may feel an overall decline in power. At the same time, with the Black Lives Matters movement, increasing equality for women, and wars/climate chaos causing migration, there are culprits for them to pin the blame on.

As a former teacher of the subject, I certainly felt that, until recently, history was the battleground. That’s still the case to some degree, but instead of arguing over representations of the past, we now seem to be arguing over the nation of current reality. Conspiracy theories are rife, and not limited to that weird guy in the pub that you sidle away from after he’s had a few.

If we can’t agree on the past and present, then I’m not sure how we’re going to agree on the future and what it can and should look like. There’s a modicum of consensus that we need to do something about the environment and biodiversity, but how that is going to be acted upon in a period of intense political turmoil is yet to be seen.

Looking back at my TEDx Talk from early 2012 with almost a decade of hindsight, it seems obvious that what started out as playful memes could and would be weaponised for division and political factionism. While my focus at that time was on learning and the technology that can enable it, I feel that I may have been naïve not to see what could have been coming next.

Yet, here we are. Digital literacy is low, political engagement is high. That’s a dangerous and explosive combination, as we saw with the attack on the Capitol building in January 2021. My concern is that we will reap what we have sown and that Big Tech, perfecting algorithms that “give us more of what we want”, will essentially tell us that the lifestyle that we ordered is out of stock, and this will fuel catastrophic rifts in society.

In the face of this, what I can do personally is small and seems insignificant. The same is true of the climate emergency. But individual actions can make a difference, when added together, and we shouldn’t avoid taking small steps just because we can’t take large ones. So, in 2022, having IRL rational and respectful conversations with anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists may be just as important as taking climate action.