Open Thinkering


Tag: films

Robots: the elephant(s) in the room?

Robots!Almost every sci-fi film you will ever see will feature some kind of robot. In some of these robots can be a force for good (WALL-E), in some a force for bad (I, Robot) and in some, just a fact of life in the future (Star Wars). The trouble is that the environments these cinematic robots inhabit seems distant from our present reality. The question I want to pose in this post is what happens to society when robots become part of the fabric?

One of the films I’ve already mentioned, I, Robot, is a dystopian vision of how things could go spectacularly wrong. Surrogates is another, potentially even more problematic, vision. In line with my previous post on growing inequalities in global society, I want to consider what would happen if robots became good enough to carry out more of the human jobs that currently attract the lowest levels of renumeration. In other words, what happens when the financial elite can obtain ‘efficiency savings’ by employing robots instead of paying minimum wage to some of the poorest in our society?

We have a historical precedent for people who violently oppose technological innovation. In the 19th century a loosely-organised group of people collectively known as Luddites smashed machines that made it easier, quicker and cheaper to produce textiles. Although I don’t condone their violence (they attempted to assassinate factory owners) I’m in full agreement that ‘efficiency’ is less important than human welfare. So who thinks it’s a safe bet that the first wave of robots to take (visible) jobs from humans will be set-upon and destroyed? I do. In countries like the USA where guns are a normal part of society this could lead to robot owners arguing that they should be able to arm them to protect their investment. If that happens, it’s armageddon time.

And what about education? If you consider learning to be akin to knowledge transfer, then before Matrix-style human brain ‘upgrades’ become commonplace, some states/countries will seriously consider using robots to teach children. Japan will be first, no doubt. Unless we undergo a transformation in our collective thinking, we will end up sending our children to institutions with high fences to drill-and-practice skills that are not needed now, never mind in 2020 and beyond. Sometimes it’s good to investigate the thick end of the wedge to test our intuitions.

Part of the problem is that our view of human flourishing is based on a scientific rationality that, at its logical extreme culminates in us ‘uprading’ ourselves to be functionally indistinguishable from robots. When I mentioned this to Louise Thomas from the RSA recently she said that something similar to this forms the basis of one of Iain M. Banks’ novels. I shall have to investigate. All in all, I think that not only do I think we need a conversation about the purpose(s) of education, but we also need a conversation about what it means to be human. People will do what they can get away with, what it is socially acceptable to do, what gives them a competitive advantage. Once robots become involved, things get serious on a whole new level. And I haven’t even mentioned robots for security, warfare and policing… 😮

Image CC BY-NC-SA STCroiss

Weeknote #13

This week I have been mostly…

In the office

I had a rare week where I spent each day in the office. But then it’s August – not exactly busy time on the education and/or conference front…

Helping with #edjournal

I was pleased to be able to connect James Michie and Nick Dennis, who each independently came up with the idea for a learning-focused educational journal. They’ve run with the idea and #edjournal: where’s the learning? looks like it’s soon going to be a reality. I’m delighted! 😀

Setting up a touchscreen kitchen PC

This has been too long in coming, but finally we’ve got a solution for family organization and cohesion. I’ve sold some stuff on eBay and have bought an MSI Wind Top AE1900 touchscreen PC. It fits rather wonderfully in the kitchen. We’re using it for calendars (, news (, music (Spotify) and  TV/radio (BBC iPlayer). It’s on been in there three days but now I can’t imagine life without it!

Watching the Wrestler

My Dad and I attempted to go and see The A-Team movie on Wednesday. Not a good time to go as Orange Wednesdays meant we couldn’t even get near the box office! We came back to my house and watched The Wrestler in our cinema room. What a powerful and well-written/directed/produced film! Moving.

Being lax on the exercise front

I only ran twice this week and did my weights once. Must. Do. Better. It really does affect my productivity! 😮

Wixi: a bizarre yet useful free file-sharing / web-desktop hybrid

I stumbled across Wixi today. It’s a combination of desktop operating system, file-sharing application and personal file repository. It reminds me of EyeOS with which I experimented a year or more ago. It’s currently supposed to be in invitation-only beta, but you can sign-up using this page and get unlimited storage!

Wixi desktop

Once you’ve created your account and logged-in, you can create folders and upload your media to the site. This can then be tagged and set as ‘private’ or ‘public’. If you set, say, some video as ‘public’, it can be streamed (but not downloaded) by visitors to your Wixi profile page. You, however, as the owner of the content, can both stream and download it no matter where you are. Wixi does not require any special software to run, other than a web browser (currently only Firefox and Internet Explorer).

Although I experienced a few minor and not-too-irritating bugs whilst uploading, I’ve found it a great (free!) service so far. I’m stumped, however, as to how they’re going to deal with potential copyright infringement law suits. A quick search for ‘DVD rip’ brought up a whole host of films uploaded by other users that I was able to add to my Wixi page and stream (full-screen!) almost immediately:

Wixi - films

Wixi is definitely one to keep your eye on, especially as you are able to embed widgets to share your content in blogs, wikis, etc. I’m certainly not recommending this one for educational uses. I think this one’s for personal use only… 😉

Give it a spin, and add me as a friend – I’m on there as dajbelshaw. 😀