Sunday, April 10, 2022

Cory Doctorow And Tech Baloney

Sometimes in this space I mostly just want to say "Hey, look at this!" This is one of those posts.  When it comes to ed tech, there's nobody better to read than Audrey Watters. But when it comes to slicing modern tech baloney, Cory Doctorow has a pretty sharp knife, and while he doesn't directly address education very often, many of his critiques make some points instantly recognizable to education folks. 

Take this interview from 2020 in the Guardian.

Technologists have failed to listen to non-technologists. In technological circles, there’s a quantitative fallacy that if you can’t do maths on it, you can just ignore it. And so you just incinerate the qualitative elements and do maths on the dubious quantitative residue that remains. This is how you get physicists designing models for reopening American schools – because they completely fail to take on board the possibility that students might engage in, say, drunken eyeball-licking parties, which completely trips up the models.

We've been suffering from the "if you can't do maths on it" fallacy for a couple of decades now, and it is showing little sign of abating.

Here he is in that interview talking about The Social Dilemma, a documentary in which some "prodigal tech bros" make sad face noises about their work in big tech.

One of the problems with The Social Dilemma is that it supposes that tech did what it claims it did – that these are actually such incredible geniuses that they figured out how to use machine learning to control minds. And that’s the problem – the mind control thing they designed to sell you fidget spinners got hijacked to make your uncle racist. But there’s another possibility, which is that their claims are rubbish. They just overpromised in their sales material, and that what actually happened with that growth of monopolies and corruption in the public sphere made people cynical, angry, bitter and violent. In which case the problem isn’t that their tools were misused. The problem is that the structures in which those tools were developed are intrinsically corrupt and corrupting.

And he offers this cool frame for understanding what Facebook does, and why that's making the world worse.

What Facebook does is it locates people. So if you want to locate people, because you want to say something heterodox, which you might get punished for if you shouted it aloud, you can quietly find and talk to them.

That’s not an unalloyed evil – this is how we got Black Lives Matter, non-binary gender identity and so on. People have been able to find one another and quietly share the fact that they disagreed with the overarching consensus and build a coalition.

But you also get people locating people and saying: “Hey, you know, I’m not gonna openly call myself a racist when I’m running for office, but you and I, we’re both quite racist. And I just wanted you to know that.”

So you can build a coalition of racists who would otherwise struggle to find one another because of the social risk that they take if they go public with their views, but it’s really not the same thing as mind control.

So, it's not that these folks are being created so much as they're being connected and given the feelinmg that they aren't outliers and don't have to stay silent any more. 

If you don't follow Doctorow on the tweeter or elsewhere, I recommend him. You probably won't always agree, but his insights are usually brain-slapping thought stimulation. 

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