Google Glass and the coming Technological Singularity

google glass

We may have to rethink what we consider to be “Mobile” all over again. Earlier this year Google announced the creation of a wearable computer which responds to voice commands and projects a holographic display unobtrusively into our peripheral vision. They are calling it simply Glass.  While this may not yet be an example of the kind of artificial intelligence associated with the technological singularity (the theoretical moment in time when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence), it may be a precursor of things to come. And though my initial reaction to it is one of “I gotta have it!” deeper consideration has cooled my senses to a reverent awe.

On the one hand, products like Google Glass may revolutionize the communications industry and quickly replace the smartphone; no small feat considering the smartphone era only just begun. It also has interesting potential for cutting edge educational reform, which makes all of us teachers want to be the first to get one. On the other hand, I am not entirely sure where we currently stand with regard to the nature of technology in the classroom, and at times feel a bit overwhelmed trying to figure out how to adapt to our current level of technology.

It seems only a couple of years back I was watching people absorbed in smart phones on the train thinking how they were missing out on real life while they popped bubbles or reorganized colorful animated tiles. Now I am part of the collective, and damn if those angry birds don’t blow my mind with their realistic physics. Again, a few years back and all the teachers in my department were being handed out iPads in a push for more tech in the classroom. I proudly displayed mine as a glorified paper weight, taking some kind of obscure philosophical high road. Now I own a tablet running windows 8 and can’t imagine teaching without it. And of course, before e-books, there was the actual smell of old paper and ink which was a pleasurable accompaniment to slowly digesting a classic piece of literature on a rainy afternoon. Now we have the environmentally ambiguous e-reader which while using less renewable resources contributes to more mercury in our water supply.

This fall, I have been working with some writing students to collaboratively create a class web site. While I feel this approach is current and helps to give students a skill beyond just English composition, I have been troubled by a student in the class who has voiced continued discomfort with the technological aspect of the course. He is certainly an oddity in that he may be the only university student in Japan who does not yet have a smartphone, and from what I can gather his PC at home is covered in dust and still employs a 3.5 inch floppy drive.  He seems to be very good at math and has notebooks full of mathematical equations; and yet, he has persisted with the mantra, “I am not good with computers.” Despite his lack of enthusiasm, I maintain the belief that at some point in his career he will need to interact with computers and with this in mind have endlessly cajoled him toward joining the 21st century.  After weeks of meandering excuses he gave me a moment of pause by stating that he was an “analogue human being”.

While the current trend in teaching is to be more tech oriented, thinking back I wonder if we haven’t lost something in the slow pencil and paper method of composition, and of life. As we bask in the glow of products like Google Glass, perhaps we should take a moment to consider what is happening to us as human beings. Are we replacing actual thought with instant on-line search?  Do we look for an app to show us true north when the sun in the sky or the moss on the trees might continue to serve us as they have for thousands of years? In short, are we replacing our innate human problem solving skills with artificial instant gnosia? If so, perhaps the singularity is already upon us.

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