Thursday, April 9, 2015

Meet Your New Cyber-Replacement

Billboard ran the news yesterday:  A company is trying to get the funding to create a hologram version of the murdered Tejano singer Selena.

The company is Acrovirt, a company that is intent in creating digital versions of people. Not simply like the image of Tupac that was hologrammed at Coachella 2012, but one that could perform music-- even new music.

Granted, it's expensive as all get out and extraordinarily difficult to program. But that's now.

I have always joked to my students that I will teach until I'm ancient and die with a piece of chalk in my hand, with instructions to my estate that I be stuffed, mounted, and animatronically installed in the front of a classroom where I can just keep doing my thing. But this seems so much more.... elegant.

A hologram would be better than a robot, particularly if combined with a full-room scanning system that can watch and analyze the behavior of students. Holo-me would have eyes in the back of my head and then some. True, that could be combined with robot tech, but a hologram would have fewer moving parts to be damaged by age or aggressive spitball assault. The thought of a version of me that can automatically adjust opacity is rather entertaining. Could it be programmed so that I'm a better dancer? Will my joke delivery be improved? Could I float in mid-air for extra scary effect?

Would a teacher hologram solve the eternal teaching machine problem-- a mechanistic view of content delivery that lacks any human touch and so becomes ultimately as uncompelling as a ballpoint pen. Would it allow for adaptive and supportive learning by modulating teacher performance in response to the subtle cues like wrinkled brows and upturned answer-as-question responses? Could it be programmed with the sort of peculiar quirks that make it possible for students to do lunch-room imitations and work-book caricatures? Selena 2.0's handlers promise that she'll be able to sing new songs. Will holo-me be interesting?

It is always a little remarkable to consider how little the march of technology has affected teaching. Rocketship charter chains have reminded us once again that computers are able to transform everyday life better than they can effectively transform a classroom.

Could that be because we simply don't have the right technology yet? Is teaching such a human activity that only as tech approaches human simulation, can it hope to help? Is trying to create a teaching machine the same order of difficulty as creating a satisfactory robot spouse?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions, but the possibility of a holographic computer-driven chanteuse reminds us that the questions are there to be asked. Can it be done? Should it be done? And can we program my hologram memorial teacher-in-perpetuity to have the same amount of hair I had thirty years ago?

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