Signal Searching in the New Deep-fake Reality of Education and IT

Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

Pondering the Pied Piper

We can no longer discern fact from fake. We don’t know what or who to trust. Increasingly, our senses are being numbed by small screens and infinite feeds full of falsities and digitized dopamine. So, as I sit and ponder this new (un)reality having recently attended the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference (a premier U.S. education event), I can’t help but wonder whether such communities, the ones I assume I should turn to for clarity and truth in troubled times, are surfacing signals amongst the noise or just leading me further down the deep-fake rabbit hole.

Mission Critical

On one hand, you do find pockets (albeit minority ones) of skepticism and criticality from courageous practitioners and scholars like Michael Caulfield, Chris Gilliard, and Autumm Caines/Erin Glass; longtime educators who sense the existential dangers that accompany a data-race to the bottom, and as opposed to silent acquiescence, have been vigilant in offering a critical counterbalance to the prevailing narrative.

On the other hand, you also find overlit, logo-littered vendor halls packed full of devious smiles from data-driven IT giants like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and many others looking to “seal a deal” and extract one more consumer data point — which downstream, all-too-often means from students. A quick scan of the EDUCAUSE conference hashtag on Twitter quickly uncovers the other side of the contradiction coin; a stream of promotional punchlines intended to satisfy my (or perhaps my CIO’s) insatiable hunger for the latest SaaS solution, API, algorithm, or AI-bot (i.e. more data, more noise).

With #AI and analytics, this #HigherEd institution was able to look for patterns in students’ behavior. Discover their findings using GCPcloud. #EDU19

Leverage the ⚡ #power ⚡ of data to drive innovation & student success, accelerate research and improve campus life. #EDU19

Do we want more data or less? Is education about critical inquiry or corporate interests? As you might expect, I think it depends. While the benefits that can surface from events like EDUCAUSE are unquestionable (e.g. novel insights, lasting relationships, and bottomless coffee), in aggregate, I question whether the contradictions and cognitive dissonance at scale are helping to turn the tides and mend the fraying fabric of our obscured reality.

Toward New Signals; New Symbols

For example, Learning Economy, a non-profit organization with a mission to accelerate the world’s transition to 21st-century education and workplace infrastructures, is designing an exciting new protocol leveraging many of these nascent innovations to connect the fragmented learning ecosystem into a unified value chain. This would allow schools, employers, researchers, and any number of institutions to translate information between multiple standards and systems without changing behavior or sacrificing proprietary data or privacy. This new deep-truth reality isn’t fiction, it’s here now. It’s possible today. We just need the collective courage and will to band together and make it so.

If, as a species, we intend to emerge from the current era of data gluttony and surveillance capitalism, we need to take a longer view and be thoughtful about the systems we’re building for future generations. The institutions that comprise democracy are not static and predestined. They bend, morph, meander, and if we’re not careful, they can break. I hope you’ll join me in my ongoing search to find new signals among the deep-fake noise.

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Edu • Web3 • Culture • Travel • Identity → #BUIDL a rational mental map one neural node at a time. // Systems thinker; work in progress; thoughts derivative.