Accelerationism: What Are We Doing to Ourselves?

Here’s your word for today as Apple’s WWDC looks to include an announcement of a major partnership with OpenAI (the folks behind ChatGPT) to make Siri much closer to an artificial intelligence (or “Apple Intelligence” as the marketing goes) assistant.

Accelerationism.

It’s a term that’s been used in the tech world for years, but the mindset (mind virus?) has really reached new levels in the post-ChatGPT 4 era that we now live in before what feels like an imminent release of something even more powerful in the coming months or years.

Here’s an article from 2017 about the term accelerationism and accelerationists: 

Accelerationism: how a fringe philosophy predicted the future we live in – The Guardian: 

Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified – either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative. Accelerationists favour automation. They favour the further merging of the digital and the human. They often favour the deregulation of business, and drastically scaled-back government. They believe that people should stop deluding themselves that economic and technological progress can be controlled. They often believe that social and political upheaval has a value in itself.

With my mind heavy on what the Apple / OpenAI partnership might look like before WWDC starts in just a few minutes (it feels like this could be an important moment for historical events), Ted Gioia made this thought-provoking post on the realization that we are doing to ourselves what Dr. Calhoun did to his poor mice (unknowingly) in the 1960’s famous Universe 25 experiment.

It’s worth your time to read this and ponder our own current situation.

Is Silicon Valley Building Universe 25? – by Ted Gioia:

Even today, Dr. Calhoun’s bold experiment—known as Universe 25—demands our attention. In fact, we need to study Universe 25 far more carefully today, because zealous tech accelerationists—that’s now a word, by the way—aim to create something comparable for human beings.What would you do if AI took care of all your needs?

After being in the classroom for the last three years of “post-Covid” education and seeing how many young people are absolutely struggling with mental health (and how little schools of any sort, from public to private such as the ones where I taught, are doing to help them), it’s shocking that we’ll send stocks soaring on big tech news today that will make our swipes and screen time increase and lead us further down the primrose path of a future of disconnected violence and mental health disaster.

New iPhones Get 5 Year Support

Now add in right-to-repair principles and more ethical mineral procurement (for batteries etc compared to the current terrible conditions and practices) and I’ll be happy!

Apple will update iPhones for at least 5 years in rare public commitment | Ars Technica:

Apple has taken a rare step and publicly committed to a software support timeline for one of its products, as pointed out by MacRumors. A public regulatory filing for the iPhone 15 Pro (PDF) confirms that Apple will support the device with new software updates for at least five years from its “first supply date” of September 22, 2023, which would guarantee support until at least 2028.

Anxious Generation Study

Ted’s entire newsletter is a worthy read here, but this part about new research indicating that the current genertion of young people growing up in a phone-based culture (globally) is doing real harm and damage. It makes me think back to the tobacco industry trying to pretend that cigarettes don’t hurt people or the petroleum companies hiding the neurological effects of lead-infused gasoline and so on…

Crisis in the Culture: An Update – by Ted Gioia:

Haidt declared victory on social media: “There are now multiple studies showing that a heavily phone-based childhood changes the way the adolescent brain wires up, in many ways including cognitive control and reward valuation.”

We still need more research. But we can already see that we’re dealing with actual physiological decline, not just pundits’ opinions.

At this point, the debate isn’t over whether this is happening. Instead we now need to gauge the extent of the damage, and find ways of protecting people, especially kids.

AI and Bicycle of the Mind

I don’t have the same optimism that Thompson does here, but it’s a good read and worth the thought time!

The Great Flattening – Stratechery by Ben Thompson:

What is increasingly clear, though, is that Jobs’ prediction that future changes would be even more profound raise questions about the “bicycle for the mind” analogy itself: specifically, will AI be a bicycle that we control, or an unstoppable train to destinations unknown? To put it in the same terms as the ad, will human will and initiative be flattened, or expanded?

Why I am Using a Light Phone

I have lots more to say about this, but I wanted to share this vital part of a recent article about “dumbphones” in The New Yorker. I’ve been attempting to be much more deliberate about using technology and devices, especially in front of my children and students.

The Light Phone (and Camp Snap camera) have been a significant part of that effort. I’ve been in love with the Light Phone since converting from an iPhone earlier this year.

The Dumbphone Boom Is Real | The New Yorker:

Like Dumbwireless, Light Phone has recently been experiencing a surge in demand. From 2022 to 2023, its revenue doubled, and it is on track to double again in 2024, the founders told me. Hollier pointed to Jonathan Haidt’s new book, “The Anxious Generation,” about the adverse effects of smartphones on adolescents. Light Phone is receiving increased inquiries and bulk-order requests from churches, schools, and after-school programs. In September, 2022, the company began a partnership with a private school in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to provide Light Phones to the institution’s staff members and students; smartphones are now prohibited on campus. According to the school, the experiment has had a salutary effect both on student classroom productivity and on campus social life. Tang told me, “We’re talking to twenty to twenty-five schools now.”

The Museum of Me

The Museum of You – Herbert Lui:

I see a lot of discussion on how people miss blogs, and RSS, and internet culture before what we call Web 2.0 (social media, platforms, ecommerce, etc.) came along and wiped it away. 

The best way to pay homage is to bring it back—to set up our own blogs that we control, to preserve our own libraries of content in multiple places so they don’t disappear with social media, to actively document our lives the way we miss and the way we would want to be remembered. We can choose a responsibility, every day, to collect the best of what came before us, to embody it, and to preserve it by sharing its charms with other people.

Much agreed, and this is one of the reasons I’ve kept my own blog and podcast here since 2006. I thought back then, “What if these awesome new tools like MySpace (or early Twitter) somehow go away or fall into the hands of the wrong leaders?” 

I read previous posts and thoughts here occasionally and marvel at how naive, bold, brave, or afraid I was at various points in my life. Now looking back on this Museum of Me, I can glimpse previous iterations of my own self and perceptions and not just remember but learn. 

Blogs like this, however silly they may seem in the face of social media apps, are powerful places!

OpenAI’s Lens on the Near Future

Newton has the best take I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) on the ongoing OpenAI / Sam Altman situation… worth your time:

OpenAI’s alignment problem – by Casey Newton – Platformer:

At the same time, though, it’s worth asking whether we would still be so down on OpenAI’s board had Altman been focused solely on the company and its mission. There’s a world where an Altman, content to do one job and do it well, could have managed his board’s concerns while still building OpenAI into the juggernaut that until Friday it seemed destined to be.

That outcome seems preferable to the world we now find ourselves in, where AI safety folks have been made to look like laughingstocks, tech giants are building superintelligence with a profit motive, and social media flattens and polarizes the debate into warring fandoms. OpenAI’s board got almost everything wrong, but they were right to worry about the terms on which we build the future, and I suspect it will now be a long time before anyone else in this industry attempts anything other than the path of least resistance.

AI Assistants and Education in 5 Years According to Gates

I do agree with his take on what education will look like for the vast majority of young and old people with access to the web in the coming decade. Needless to say, AI is going to be a big driver of what it means to learn and how most humans experience that process in more authentic ways than currently available…

AI is about to completely change how you use computers | Bill Gates:

In the next five years, this will change completely. You won’t have to use different apps for different tasks. You’ll simply tell your device, in everyday language, what you want to do. And depending on how much information you choose to share with it, the software will be able to respond personally because it will have a rich understanding of your life. In the near future, anyone who’s online will be able to have a personal assistant powered by artificial intelligence that’s far beyond today’s technology.

Paper Airplanes

I love incorporating paper airplanes into my classroom lessons on dynamics, flight, movement, gravity… the list goes on and on. They’re so applicable to so many scientific principles but also appeal to the curious nature inside all of us that loves to fold and learn…

History of the Paper Airplane: Paper Flight Technology Inspires Drones:

“The magic of a paper airplane is that all of these little flight corrections are happening continuously throughout its flight,” Ristroph says. “The plane is hanging under a vortex that is constantly swelling and shrinking in just the right ways to keep a smooth and level glide.”

Thinking About Screentime

I’ve become much more of a book person as I’ve gotten older. Also, notebooks. That would seem quizzical to my younger self that reveled in every new productivity and reading app released on iOS or Android as I combed through blogs, subreddits, and Twitter lists, looking for the latest and greatest note-taking app.

Alas, getting old is interesting.

Screentime is definitely something that’s been on the front of my mind for the last few decades as I’ve welcomed children into this world (including Lily as of August 1!) and young people ranging from 12 to 18 into my classrooms. 

I plan to read this book, so I’m using this as a space-saver for myself to return to when I’m done (and in the middle of the school year).

Screentime is a fascinating cultural concept. The amount of “screentime” we actually consume is lower than it’s ever been (no, really). But is the measurement of “time” really what we should be focused on or worried about?

Regardless, my students will still have their devices in the “off” mode, and we’ll focus on the great ideas with our brains, pen/cil, paper, and each other’s voices like we’ll continue to not have devices on during dinners or downstairs time here in our home…

A Different Way to Think About Screentime:

Parents have a hard time when they don’t know something. I’ve written this elsewhere, but I think one of the basic things that underlies a lot of the book bannings and pronoun panics from parent-activists on the far-right is the very simple fact that parents don’t know what their kids do all day. My daughter Maeve is 7, and I volunteered this spring to help with a field trip for her first-grade class. The bus was late, and so I ended up just sitting in her classroom for about 45 minutes while the day went on as usual. Maeve is very talkative, and she loves telling us stories about her day, but it wasn’t until I sat in that classroom that I realized how little I actually knew about what the ordinary beats of that day were like, what the social dynamics were, what kind of job her wonderful teacher — hello, Mr. Diego Fernandez — is tasked with doing.