The One and Only Ivan – Art and Autonomy

“For AI to get to where chimpanzees are, two steps are needed. First, AI must be able to generate its own goals. The goals of today’s AI are designed by human programmers, who write so-called evaluation functions to calculate how well or poorly an algorithm is doing at any given time. The first piece of machine-made art that qualifies for category 4 will need to be able to write its own evaluation functions.”

Earlier this year I read a book with my son called “The One and Only Ivan” which is basically a story about this idea above. A gorilla (Ivan) is the main attraction in a sort of strip-mall zoo.

Ivan sometimes scribbles with crayons on paper to create “art” for the zoo owner to sell. Then, a new cell-mate moves into Ivan’s zoo, and Ivan starts to reflect on the impact that captivity and loneliness has on this new cell mate. He steps up his creativity and starts making art for a purpose.

Discussions about machine/human intelligence are fascinating, and a book like “Ivan” make philosophical discussions accessible to kids. Ditto for discussion about the nature or definition of art, especially because kids usually love making art and are very good at it. Talking about definitions of art with kids is an educational experience. Art is probably one of the first ways that kids learn to develop their own goals, and learn to adapt and build on the ideas of others. (“What are you going to draw?”)

FWIW, my definition of art hinges on two ideas. One is using a medium to express an idea which usually is difficult to express in language alone. And two is an expression that makes explicit its medium.

More: In This Corner of the World is a great movie for kids, also, it is not about war.


Public Democracy

“Liberalism both needs and fears democracy. It needs democracy because it needs the legitimation that democracy provides. It fears, however, that its dependence on, yet fundamental difference from, democracy will be finally and irrevocably exposed by a sustained course of nonliberal popular opinion.”

The original is here and worth the read if your interested in reading about democracy:

The quote reminded me of this:

“The democratic fallacy has been its preoccupation with the origin of government rather than with the processes and results. The democrat has always assumed that if political power could be derived in the right way, it would be benificient. His whole attention has been on the source of power, since he is hypnotized by the belief that the great thing is to express the will of the people, first because expression is the highest interest of man, and second because the will is instinctively good. But no amount of regulation at the source of a river will completely control its behavior, and while democrats have been absorbed in trying to find a good mechanism for originating social power…they neglected almost every other interest of men. For no matter how power originates, the crucial interest is in how power is exercised. What determines the quality of civilization is the use made of power. And that use cannot be controlled at the source.”

In my opinion, democracy for mass society is a young process. One of the points that Lippmann makes in Public Opinion (where the quote is from) is that one of the obstacles of democracy is the distance that representation tries to gap in such a large and populous country. Back when he was writing, distance (physical, psychological, cultural, etc) was indeed difficult to gap. Nowadays, communication technology has advanced, and democracy has an opportunity to mature beyond idealistic origins.

More: Accreditation and democracy

Adobe’s Exciting Journey

“And now, we’re pleased to announce that beginning May 15, 2018, the full suite of Adobe Creative Cloud apps will be available to K-12 schools via their authorized Adobe reseller for $4.99 per user license, per year, with a minimum purchase quantity of 500 licenses for a single school, or 2,500 licenses for a school district.”

“We are on an exciting journey, collaborating with educators to empower the next generation to be lifelong creators.”

So, Adobe is giving their Creative Cloud Suite to K-12 schools for next to nothing.

I’ve already started teaching my 10-year old Adobe Audition and Photoshop. She picks it up easily, and I honestly think that these are the sorts of skills that kids can learn easily if you just help them along with some fun projects.

That being said, I also try to maintain a balance. I keep her time limited in front of the screen and in using these programs. I’m not worried about her “keeping up to date with 21st century skills” or stuff like that, mainly because there’s so much non-digital things that she can use her time to experience now while she’s a kid, before her life gets taken over by virtual environments as she gets older.

This is nice news from Adobe. I would be a bit worried that this is one company, getting kids culturalized to one type of literacy, but that worry might be taking it too far (despite the red flag that comes up from that “exciting journey” sentence). My bigger worry is that introducing digital too much too early will detach future generations from our physical world and physical space.

There’s nothing wrong with scissors, glue, and cardboard paper – I hope schools are not so quick to discard such fun, fulfilling, and slowed down activities.

More: When Real Worlds Collide

Success of the Four

“What is the endgame for this, the greatest concentration of human and financial capital ever assembled? What is their mission? Cure cancer? Eliminate poverty? Explore the universe? No, their goal: to sell another f***ing Nissan.”

I just finished The Four by Scott Galloway. It’s great, it’s useful for understanding the workings of the major four tech companies. If you’re like me and not very business minded, you will learn a lot because Galloway uses language that is easy to understand (if not littered with start-up slang, which is pretty much commonplace nowadays). I particularly liked the chapter on google, Galloway has an informative, front-line perspective.

There’s one glaring strange thing about this book, the tone comes in two sharp contrasts. It’s a great book to learn about what these four companies have done (and are doing) to get where they are. Yet, there are parts of this book (entire chapters) that are a “how to” for young, elite aspiring entrepreneurs. These parts really came out of nowhere for me.

Galloway spends much of the book explaining the evil that these companies do, questioning their intentions and ethics, for example lamenting the fact that such powerful companies use the power only to try to sell another Nissan. This is one of his major critiques about Steve Jobs, is that he never gave to charity or did anything for humanity. Then, in his “how to” sections, he glorifies the blind pursuit of more and more and more. He continually uses language that characterizes people not working for any of the Four companies as rejects, for example.

The effect of this was a weird mixed message, reinforcing a blind spot that even smart business-tech people have these days. Today’s business guy defines success in a way that the average person simply can’t relate to, even when they think they aren’t. It’s built into them that individual business dreams are an ethics all in itself.

Side note: Gallow spends some time talking about who is a potential next member of the”Four” (I guess it would be the Five?). It’ll be someone doing something unique. My suggestion is that it’s already a political party, whichever one is in power at the time.

Detailed Responsibility

“If you raise the speed limit and, predictably, x additional traffic accidents will occur, the legislature is responsible for those accidents. This sounds harsh: you are causing accidents. But it would be insane to say law-makers bear no responsibility for costs, they only get to claim credit for benefits. The fair way to put it would be: the law-makers judge the accidents to be an acceptable cost of people getting to and fro faster. The law-makers share responsibility for the costs with those who vote for them, and support the measure, and take advantage of the convenience of faster driving.

In the gun case: the law-makers judge thousands of gun-related deaths (and the occasional, horrific school shooting) to be an acceptable cost of many, many more people enjoying gun-owning lifestyles. If they pretend they aren’t making this trade they are still responsible, since they ought to known better. They share this responsibility with those who support them.”

This is the fragmentation that happens as systems scale. Things like ‘responsibility’ and ‘guilty’ break apart more distinctly, and need to be detailed.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t fit into how many of our communications systems (read: social media) promote simple messaging through a dichotomy lens.

The polar opposites of expanding systems and society.


More: The first half of this article is relevant “Instead, we’re allowing the education conversation to be defined without enough nuance…”

More: Confidence at scale

The Future Technology of of Days Past

“The – in our opinion misguided – assumption that we need to continually innovate is something that we constantly see in both education and corporate learning.

Why this approach of ‘continuous innovation’ is so dumbfounding, is because we already have access to so many strategies and tools. Many of these have been proven to be effective, yet we’re using them sub optimally if we’re using them at all.”

Make time to bask in the future of days past: today.

I like the idea in this article to pause and look and some current technology a bit closer. They only give three examples, but make their point nonetheless.

I’ll add two of my own examples of current (and even old, by today’s attention depleted standards) technology that are invaluable in my work as an online teacher: email and telephone.

1) In an email, I can detail information in an email that may be too overwhelming for a single conversation, and the student can keep it on file, read it on their own time, basking in the flexibility of online learning.

2) In a phone call, students can hear my voice, feel a sense of immediacy that bridges the psychological distance in an online class. When they lead a conversation with me I learn about them. A phone call is quick, gets students moving ahead before procrastination can creep in.

In my classes, I pay particular attention to the shared space that I design. However, it is the one-to-one channels outside of these shared spaces that set up them up for success, especially before and at the start of a class.

It is my responsibility to connect individually with students on their terms and, more often than not, email and phone are the preferred ways that my students like those connections bridged. Also more often than not, when I try to introduce a newer technology to communicate with my learners, it’s just another literacy they need to learn that taxes their working memory.

Endless Quest for Novelty

“Now for the second level of Wittgenstein’s hostility: his objection to the spirit of ‘the typical western scientist’. Science, he writes, is driven by a commitment to making progress, to ‘onwards movement [and to] building ever larger and more complicated structures’; it involves an endless quest for novelty, ‘add[ing] one construction after another, moving on and up, as it were, from one stage to the next’. Science values knowledge only as a means to an end. And ‘the spirit in which science is carried on nowadays’, he complains, is incompatible with a sense of wonder at nature: ‘Man has to awaken to wonder . . . Science is a way of sending him to sleep again’. We can recognize the kind of spirit that Wittgenstein is talking about, and we may share his distaste for it…He may be right to object to the spirit he identifies, even if he’s wrong to think it’s a specially associated with science.”

In association with education, this spirit is particularly frustrating because that endless quest for progress, for novelty, for the future, leaves students in the past.

It’s also in that category of edtech for edtech’s sake, which largely ignores subject matter and context.