The Singularity

July 14, 2019

For decades now we’ve been talking about that point in our technological evolution when computers start thinking for themselves, when artificial intelligence becomes more adept at strategizing, planning, recalling, and learning than humans, when, in effect, humans are no longer necessary in the grand design of the machines we’ve created, the point in time known as the “singularity.”

In a recent interview, Ted Dintersmith, the venture capitalist, education reformer, and author of What Schools Could Be, asked a question that a lot of teachers have begun to grapple with, especially when schools frame their effectiveness against measures of assessment that reward memorization and following instructions. He asked, “If what we want kids to get good at is right in the crosshairs of machine intelligence, and machine intelligence is accelerating its capability, how does this play out?”

With all the world’s knowledge now available in our hands—literally with our smart phones—what is the purpose of school? Our phones do our calculations, our memorizing, they give us directions, they can talk in any language, they are our external brains, collectively more powerful than our internal brains can even conceive. But what our computers can’t do is use all that information, all those tools, to get us to understand each other, help each other, and love each other. Ultimately, that may be the point of human evolution. Maybe what we need to measure is not just facts and functions, but feelings. The question that a human or a computer can answer is: Can you name the causes of the Civil War? The question only a human can answer is: How are we still fighting the Civil War? Google can tell us how long it would take to get to Mars. Only we can figure out why we want to go there. Maybe it’s time for schools to focus as much on context as content. And maybe that point in time when humans become truly self-aware is the real singularity.

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