I’m not usually a reader of the Wall Street Journal, but last Friday I was at a hotel where they were giving out free copies at the front desk. The Journal’s Technology report featured two articles that I found down right frightening – and it wasn’t even Halloween yet!
The first article, “The High Cost of Impeding Automation”, used historical examples dating back to ancient Rome to argue that “slow innovation because of job fears” undermines profit and economic progress. What was amazing was that social dislocation, the impact of technological change on people, was completely discarded and its impact on the environment, including our current climate catastrophe, was ignored. No wonder Greta Thunberg, at the September world climate conference, kept on repeating to world leaders, “How dare you!” The world is “in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth - how dare you!”
As a teacher, I found the second article even more frightening. Just because we have the technological ability, DOES NOT MEAN WE SHOULD USE IT! Apparently, China is engaged in a concerted effort to “lead the way” imposing artificial intelligence in its classrooms – with support from U.S. tech companies. And remember, this is all while China is finding ways to suppress dissent in Hong Kong and minority rights nationwide.
In a major AI experiment, China has elementary school students “begin their lessons not by opening textbooks, but by putting on headbands” so their brain waves and “focus” can be monitored by computers. Students are then encouraged to compete with each other to be the most focused. According to the article, “The headwear measures electric signals from neurons in the brain and translates that into an attention score using an algorithm. The more focused a student is, the higher the score gets, and the higher his or her rocket flies. If the score falls—meaning the student’s attention is waning—the rocket slows.
The two exercises are intended to prepare the students for optimal learning, and the headbands stay on as they proceed through their usual lesson, measuring how focused they are throughout the class.” One teacher, either enamored by the project or afraid to be labeled a dissident, explained that students “feel as if they are being monitored and feel the need to read louder, to pay attention.” Of course, they feel like they are being monitored – because they are!
The headbands are not the only high-tech “monitoring devices” being used in classrooms. “From kindergartens to universities, digital cameras scan students, detecting them raising hands or chatting behind the teacher’s back, and facial-recognition robots take attendance and quiz toddlers. Bluetooth wristbands record heart rates and how much time a student spends in the library or on the playground.” The double-speak claim is that the data will be used, not to control behavior on all levels of society, but so teachers can “quantify learning progress and make education more individualized.” Has anyone seen the movie The Matrix?
The Chinese government figures the electronic monitoring will help it compete with the United States. Ironically, the headbands were developed by an American startup company located in Somerville, Massachusetts. They use electrodes attached to a student’s forehead and behind their ears that transmit brain activity information and “generates real-time alerts about students’ attention levels and gives an analysis at the end of each class.” Parents get updates as well so they can pressure their children to remain more focused in school.
How many steps is it from mind monitoring to electronic thought control?
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