Why are we teaching humans how to code and machines how to learn?

12 : 10 : 2017 Education : Technology : Youth

Youth culture expert Andrés Colmenares, co-founder of the Internet Age Media festival, discusses the dangerous implications of prioritising technical proficiency over problem-solving.

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The perils of kids (and adults) learning how to use technology before learning how to use their own brains are largely ignored.

Andrés Colmenares, co-founder, Internet Age Media

The paradoxical question that forms the title of this piece comes from a thought that my Internet Age Media co-founder Lucy had two years ago while researching the intersection of the futures of work, education and emerging technologies. Back then, the visual echoes of Google’s DeepDream were planting the seed of the term machine learning in the mainstream technology narrative, feeding the unstoppable hype around artificial intelligence (AI).

Now the recent release of Blade Runner 2049 has revived the question of whether androids might one day be capable of dreaming of electric sheep. What we should be questioning is why humans dream of making intelligence artificial instead of realising the relevance of augmenting our own imperfect, yet beautiful, human intellect with the philosophy of metacognition, or in simpler words: learning how to think.

While governments, companies and media are telling kids that learning how to code is essential for a prosperous life and stories of teenage entrepreneur millionaires hit the news with a toxic definition of success, the perils of kids (and adults) learning how to use technology before learning how to use their own brains are largely ignored. Suddenly, the value of a smartphone seems higher than the value of a smart child.

As phones and other less tangible advanced technologies become the operating system of our lives, the need to cultivate critical thinking and technological literacy becomes imperative. We also need alternative role models. We have heard enough from Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. We need to truly think differently. We need more philosophical thinkers – younger [Slavoj] Žižeks, [Noam] Chomskys or [Zygmunt] Baumans, and especially [Donna] Haraways because the gender gap in philosophy is also scary.

The demand for post-binary mindsets is urgent. We need them to challenge the ‘learning how to code’ narrative.

Maybe it is time to invent contemporary philosophy bootcamps and hackathons in order to upgrade the CTO role in companies and cultivate a new generation of Critical Thinking Officers because the current obsession with coding is inflating the gravity of finding the right methods to solve a problem rather than truly understanding the problem itself.

As Taeyoon Choi, co-founder of the School for Poetic Computation, writes in his recently released online book Poetic Computation: Reader: ‘What is both amazing and frightening about the computer is that it is just binary numbers and logic at its core. It’s all zeros and ones, but we are still able to experience and communicate the conditions between zeros and ones. This is important because the world is not completely dark or completely light, it’s always in between, it’s always in transition.’

The binary nature of computers is undoubtedly influencing the real reality, while shaping virtual ones. The demand for post-binary mindsets is urgent. We need them to challenge the ‘learning how to code’ narrative. Learning the basics of computer science should also be encouraged, just as we need theoretical and practical lessons in order to drive cars and move around the city.

If we don’t learn how to drive technologies now and think critically about them, then our kids will end up in the back seat of self-driving cars moving towards a path to fake success predefined by Silicon Valley.

Maybe we should steal Tyrell Corporation's motto and be ‘more human than human’.

IAM – Internet Age Media cultivates an open eco-system emerging from the evolution of the internet as a culture defining the futures of media, learning and the arts. Find out more at internetagemedia.com.

What this means to your brand

  • As we revealed in our Gen Viz macrotrend, many of the jobs that today’s children will one day undertake have not yet been invented, which means we need to re-assess whether traditional educational models are still relevant
  • In the age of automation, brands are increasingly recognising the value of building a neurologically diverse workforce that champions alternative ways of thinking not defined by academic ability