I decided to write a couple of draft/work in progress texts under the title Augmenting human intelligence with artificial intelligence. I am publishing the texts in several parts. The first part is called metamedia and attempts to explain the essence of technology that affects human intelligence.
Part 1: Metamedia (or New Media, or programmable media)
You may have heard the story of two dogs. Two hard working dogs — a young dog and an old dog. One day, after another long day at work, the dogs went to a pub. They sat down at the bar and asked for beers. The bartender nodded and soon handed over the beers for the dogs. The dogs started to sip their drinks.
– Uh . . what a day again, said the young dog.
– Yeah . . . . terrible day. I am getting old, too. I am not sure how long I can go on”, the old dog said.
Still, the dogs felt good and relaxed. The day at work was over. Cold beer tasted great. Suddenly, the bartender’s old Nokia phone rang angerly: “ti-di, tii-dii, ti-di, tii-dii, tii . . . ”
The dogs shuddered and looked each other. The bartender was reaching the phone. The young dog screamed:
– Wait, wait !!! . . . if it is Pavlov, we are not here!
What is special about the dogs of this story? Yes, they are working dogs. They go to a pub. They like beer. They are like humans. What makes them most human? Not the fact that they have jobs and drink beer. Their humanity lies first in their fear of Pavlov and secondly in their ability to reflect and self-regulate.
The technology we call today artificial intelligence is not very good either of these. Machines hardly have emotions. They already may change their behavior based on data analysis, but hardly reflect on their actions in the meaning of dictionary definition of reflect as an intransitive verb:
To think seriously; to ponder or consider. People do that sort of thing every day, without ever stopping to reflect on the consequences. (Reflect on Wiktionary)
In the story of the dogs, the phone also plays a role. The phone is the technology that is triggering both, the emotion of fear, as well as the reflection and the self-regulation processes. It makes the dogs to have non-verbal communication with each other, and then verbal communication with the owner and operator of the technology, the bartender. Damn technology.
Instead of an old Nokia phone, today most of us are carrying in our pockets something we may call metamedia (or New Media or programmable media). A computer with an internet connection, whatever a desktop, laptop of a smartphone is metamedia.
Firstly, metamedia is able to imitate all earlier forms of media. It is a phone. You may call your friends. It is a tool for messaging the way postcards and letters use to work. You may send text messages with images and longer letters as emails. It imitates very well newspapers, magazines, books, mail-order catalogues, coupon news and booklets. It imitates TV with online video services and radio with podcasts.
Secondly, metamedia is programmable and runs algorithms. You may program your metamedia: from simply setting an alarm to your clock app, to code your own operating system. Between these there are millions of other ways metamedia is programmed. There are software that runs “You Won an iPhone” and “Your Computer May Be Infected” – advertising scams that have made millionaires. Data is gathered to feed algorithms to target people in elections with hyper-specific appeals based on psychographic modeling and targeting.
This leads us to the third characteristic of metamedia. Metamedia remembers everything and is ubiquitous. The words of warning we say for teenagers really are true: what you put to internet, stays in the Internet forever. The Internet’s memory is endless and with our metamedia in our pocket, if not always us ourselves, someone can get to the data saved to the internet at anytime, anywhere.
When thinking technology augmenting us to solve the challenges of our time, to build a better society and to be better humans, we should keep in mind these characteristics of metamedia.
Also, the joke of the two hard working dogs could be rewritten. The bartender could be an AI-agent, the boss could program the AI calling the dogs. But who is the boss programming the AI? What should be the dogs reaction?
In the next part I will write about how metamedia is affecting the landscape of knowledge, learning and teaching.