31 Mar


“What would Jaron say?”

I found myself wondering this in class this week as the question was asked if we thought technology could advance from being the medium to being the teacher itself.  What would Jaron Lanier, author of You are not a gadget, say about that?

I have been meaning to break apart my Prezi on Lanier’s book in individual blog posts since I last December.  I guess since I’ve waited this long, it doesn’t matter that I’m starting closer to the end of Lanier’s book than the beginning.  In the fourth section of the book called Making the Best of Bits, Lanier examines how we make sense of or process all the bits of information we encounter everyday and turn them into usable information and knowledge.  I use the word “process” to lead into the theory of computationalism.  Lanier offers three “less-than-satisfying” common descriptions of computationalism:

  1. “a significantly voluminous computation will take on the qualities we associate with people” (think Moore’s Law)
  2. “a computer program with specific design features [i.e., ‘strange loop‘]… is similar to a person”
  3. any information structure that can be perceived by some real human to also be a person is a person” (think Turing Test)

However, Lanier prefers what he calls realistic computationalism which he defines as “the idea that humans, considered as information systems, …are the result of billions of years of implicit, evolutionary study in the school of hard knocks.”  From those experiences, we create evolutionary storytelling.  Does technology have such a storied history?

Blaze NoseLanier introduces us to the work of computational neuroscientist Jim Bower who suggests that the way humans think is based in the sense of smell.  “Smells are not patterns of energy, like images or sounds,” says Lanier.  Smell comes from molecules (bits of information) that Lanier says “require input from other senses” in order to create meaning.  “Context is everything.”  Where will computers draw upon in their stored memory to put sight, hearing, and feeling together with a smell to create meaning?

And one last argument that Lanier makes about making meaning from bits relates to language and the work of neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran.  Similar to Bower, Ramachandran studied how the senses are interconnected to create meaning when they encounter unfamiliar words.  Can technology master the nuances of language and put them together with other sensory intakes?

As I tried to pull Lanier’s far-flung ideas together in my presentation under the umbrella of implications for adult learning, I drew on my readings about a few other “isms” — cognitivism and constructivism — and for that I returned to a more traditional text by Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner:

The learner is more than a cognitive machine. The learner is a whole person made up of the mind and body and comes to a learning situation with a history, a biography that interacts in individual ways with the experience that generates the nature of the learning.”

Don’t these kinds of learners deserve a teacher who has just as much mind and body, history and biography to add color to the learning?  Lanier proclaims that we are not a gadget, and if I may be so presumptuous to assert, I believe he would say our teachers should not be gadgets either.


Posted by on March 31, 2013 in ADLT 642


Tags: , , , , , ,

6 responses to “WWJS?

  1. MelKoch

    April 1, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Besides Jaron Lanier’s white guy dreads, my favorite part of this post is the puppy nose!

    All joking aside (maybe not about the puppy nose!), this was a great post that tied in many theories from the program. I don’t know if technology is at the point to where we can entirely be taught by computers but I don’t think I would want to be, either. Look, I agree with Jaron Lanier on something!

    • Joanne Even

      April 1, 2013 at 10:07 pm

      As I was reading Lanier’s book, I found myself getting as excited about agreeing with him as disagreeing! Mostly because he made me think so hard about what he was saying before I could even decide if I agreed or disagreed. 🙂 I know it will be a book I refer back to over and over and over again.

  2. Joyce Kincannon

    April 2, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    It seems we each have special books that we continue to refer to as we make our personal meaning. Lydia Plowman writes about the necessity of the teacher for “Getting the Story Straight: The Role of Narrative in Teaching and Learning with Interactive Media.” In the chapter, she describes the co-construction of narrative that helps learners “get the story straight.” My work asks me often to describe the value and role of teacher as we develop MOOCs and other types of courses. I agree how difficult it would be to try to simulate this “highly reciprocal relation.” In Cognition, Education, and Communication Technology (2005)

  3. Wally Wallace

    April 3, 2013 at 10:19 am

    This is a fascinating post which causes one to really think about the concept of computationalism. The Turing Test is particularly interesting, especially that it first surfaced back as the 1950’s. I began reading your blog with the thought that technology cannot replace the teacher and even after reading this and contemplating much of the information, have come back to that opinion. Nevertheless, the process of considering Lanier’s ideas was quite invigorating! Thanks for such a thoughtful blog!

  4. rhettwilcox

    April 3, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    Wonderful post – I’m not sure the question should revolve around medium vs. teacher. For that case, no doubt technology cannot replace the teacher. Maybe the real question is does technology eliminate/reduce the need for the teacher? In the future, will a teacher be necessary for self-directed learning, predetermined courses of study based on automated needs assessments, and technology developed algorithms that identify areas of confusion/misunderstanding that provides feedback (I can see formative & summative) to the learner? I love being a teacher and also am missing my jetpack and hover board that are supposed to exist by now – so maybe technology won’t really evolve to the required level. Then again, Google just released Google nose that allows you to smell through your computer!


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