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The rise of the human machine?

By Tony Sheehan, Associate Dean, Digital Learning

This year, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott have challenged us all to think of the implications of the 100 year life. More recently a major Stanford report, AI100, has explored the 100 year implications of artificial intelligence. The overlap between these two themes – longer, richer human lives and the rise of increasingly intelligent machines – creates some fascinating opportunities and challenges for technology-based learning.

Technology does not always have a positive impact in our lives. We can already see that it is starting to make us lazy learners, accepting that a quick search will give us access to facts or people when needed rather than committing details to long-term memory. Technology also threatens attention, distracting us with related news and mobile updates rather than encouraging knowledge absorption in depth. Combine this with the threat of increasingly intelligent machines and it is easy to imagine a world where people are progressively learning less and machines learning more.

So should we fear the rise of the machines? Quite the opposite. Machines offer the potential to simplify the complex, to deliver contextual knowledge and insight on demand, and to augment the skills of individuals rather than replacing them. Processing of data and repetitive tasks may well be progressively displaced through machine learning, but the potential that then exists for human curiosity, creativity and change beyond the basics is an immense opportunity for new forms of learning.

Machines will increasingly think, but provided we continue to be creative and curious about what to do with our knowledge, the future remains exciting rather than scary. The "Big Brother" of technology is watching us... the good news is that we're all watching what it could do for us too.