I need your boots, your clothes, and your job. Oh, and possibly your child’s mind too.
Why teachers should be afraid of autocrats using automation to replace them.
As journalists laud automation in the classroom, are dictators smelling opportunities to sharpen technological tools of social control.
Automation threatening minimum wage jobs isn’t a new story. But now the claim that middle income jobs are also under threat, with skilled professions such as lawyers, doctors, accountants and teachers (like myself) likely to face extinction via automation. But losing teachers to automation might present far worse existential threats to our children’s future that extends beyond job security.
With society beginning to feel the encroachment of automation commentators approach the issue with wildly varied opinions. From the Universal Basic Income driven utopian Hollywood Ending version all the way down to the coming 4th Industrial Revolution Job Apocalypse, the concerns and potential benefits are becoming clearer as people continue to decide how much to embrace automation.
“It seems to me vital to remember that we ourselves are human beings and not machines and that the dignity of human work and interaction is essential to our psychological well-being,” [The Prince of Wales]
Even unlikely candidates such as the Prince of Wales threw in his two cents, trying to convince people to not replace humans (see ‘Forgive me your highness, but the AI revolution is inevitable’) the reporting of automation can be described as at best, a mixed bag, so too opinions on the developments specific to education automation seem to be mixed. Overall there seems to be a slight lean towards the potential benefits with technological advancements being reported in a more positive light.
Articles describing hazards to society through uses of automation in education by autocrats and dictators, is lacking.
The introduction of technology into the classroom is pernicious and dressed as a helpful robot. Meet the innocuous Nao, the robot that helps treat kids with autism become more used to human contact, or the language teaching robot named Elias, what’s clear is that educators are suggesting robots have a place in the classroom, and moreover are pinning their hopes that intelligent teaching systems might create novel learning opportunities for students.
Our natural reaction to this news is positive— followed immediately by premonitions of potential disaster. It is not remotely difficult to envision how classroom based automations might be abused.
It doesn’t help that some leading educators are claiming teaching as a profession is doomed…
Ever since the revolutionary supermarket opened by Amazon, netizens and reporters have been warning that automation will soon take all minimum wage jobs, with some articles helpfully scaremongering and helping their readers prepare their futures’ accordingly.
Human tutors will be sidelined in near future as AI takes central role in education, suggests Sir Anthony Sheldon of Wellington College [The Independent, UK]
…But no one is asking what happens if a ruler decide to actively make teachers are obsolete.
Luckily the current disconnect between reality and being served our groceries by T-800’s still seems sizeable. There is no fear that our children taught won’t be taught by humans. I’m not arguing that they ever wouldn’t be. But the extent that technology comes to have a role in teaching is the subject that needs to be discussed.
But is there a real threat here? There doesn’t seem to be a lack of teachers. A simple job search in any developed country shows the demand for teachers is still high. Even companies that are in a position to introduce automation are on the whole, still reluctant to invest in automation in the short term as implementation costs are high, and in the long term as customer service interactions require a human touch.
People have to engage with the debate over whether to fight automation vs. embrace it. Some of our most leading minds have warned us of A.I. Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking being among the most well-known. Should we be stamping mass A.I led automation out like the early forest fire threatening our children’s education that it might be? My argument requires us to project ourselves into the future and ask is it possible, just necessarily required but simply possible that people in charge of policy and decision-making in classroom technology might over
Teachers I’ve spoken to on the subject of automation are sweating from their elbow patches now that talk of middle income earners might be displaced, and tech journalists are sowing fear like crazy trying to sell stories. Worry among educators is on the rise with more reporting that they feel their job security is less safe than in previous years. But if we’re going to go down the fear mongering route, why not take it to it’s full conclusion?
The worry of technology taking away jobs been present in our cultural consciousness, the same fears and arguments keep coming back with each change that technology brings to the workplace, but this time it really could be different.
Technology and teaching practices evolve hand in hand for most parts of the world today and our global society has no qualms with integrating all things digital into learning. Unfortunately, issues isn’t as limited as allowing a few iPads or a bit of photoshop in class as we’re now potentially facing teachers that never tire and always teach in a repeatable and uniform manner.
And burnt-out, jaded teachers are real, making automation attractive.
In my experience (over six years) and backed by research conducted on teacher stress, burnout and efficacy over time it’s known that not all teachers are made nor perform equally. Common sense and our memories of past teachers helps paint a picture that whilst many teachers (usually newer) are absolutely dedicated to making the difference in a kid’s life there are also large swathes who are simply getting through the day with as little stress or become repetitive and boring, which ultimately leads to drops in efficacy and learning opportunities for students.
Machines don’t burnout.
Take this tomato sorting machine. It works insanely faster than any group of people could and doesn’t get tired. This advanced method simply gets more work done, which means more food, faster.
Machines not only don’t talk back or question the commands issued but are tireless in their ability to perform. This means that more children could be taught by machines that don’t ever waiver in their ability to engage your children’s attention. This might at first sound like a good thing, teachers with endless stamina would be awe-inspiring, but what if the lesson being taught wasn’t something you had a choice on, or wouldn’t choose rationally detached from your situation.
Future Nazi’s with iPads would be more dangerous than Nazi’s with guns.
What if the Pol Pot or the Nazi party were well-organized and technologically advanced educational machines pumping out ideas non-stop 24 hours a day to fragile young minds who aren’t able to question their teacher in any meaningful way? What’s to stop a technologically advanced radical group or state actor from gaining control in another foreign country’s education system and introduce calibrated subtle hidden curriculums that are hard to spot but push agendas that benefit those who implement the machines. Ideas are far more dangerous than any single weapon, and so education is the frontier battlefield yet to be fought.
The Luddites famously smashed their cotton mills, and as the Wikipedia article mentions, it was out of fear that ‘the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste, as machines would replace their role in the industry in the early 19th Century.’
Concerns with the imprisonment of consciousness, societies children, and automated teachers — Who’s in charge?
With claims that China is now just another autocracy, and the NSA collecting over 5 billion mobile phone location records every day, the fear that leaders of advanced countries could begin using automated transmissions of government positive propaganda, via a curriculum the leading minority choose, is growing, and it’s already happening to a certain extent.
News recently broke about an app that the Chinese Communist Party has begun using to promote its ideology. Worries that this is just the start of a trend toward forms of enforced technologies used at home and in the classroom by those in power looking to pass on state friendly values and ideas.
Younger generations indoctrinated with on-screen rewards and the gamification of ‘correct’ moral education could become widespread. In many ways it already has. China’s social credit system has already been introduced in certain areas and this could well be the tip of the iceberg in terms of methodological means of population control. Skinner box style technological behaviourism educating young minds into the correct shape, opening the cage door that our children’s consciousnesses will inhabit, as they’re taught to constantly use smartphones and screens as a norm.
And the worst part? It could happen without anyone noticing it.
In between the steady stream of never ending information that demands our attention and our time, the pernicious oppression emerges without being noticed. We’ll be too busy looking also at our screens.