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Appendix D Statement by Alan Kay2 Technology and Peace? People who like to make war are avid to use technology. And so are people who like to make peace. In the end, war and peace are really about âhumans as they are,â namely, âanthropology without apologies.â Mutual economic comfort and various substitutes for naked power seem to be a better deterrent to war than philosophical arguments. This calls for âwealth,â and most wealth-making since the invention of agriculture has come from scientific engineering, especially in the last 400 years after science was invented and started to guide engineering. As Bob Noyce3 liked to say, âScientists, Engineers and Artists create wealth, everyone else just moves it around!â So âenticingâ (a nicer word than bribing) people with comfort and ideas is likely a good initial strategy for peace making. For a country like the US that is very good at creating wealth (and its tangible projection in the form of money), this suggests that we should not wage war but instead âessentially buy out competitorsâ via goods and education. (This needs to go far beyond simple bribery, but it is startling to divide population counts into the amounts we spend for war-making. Most people are âbribableâ for much less.) In the larger sense of âgoods and education,â we should put much more effort into stealthily re-educating the world (and, by the way, ourselves) rather than trying to force matters, and using âmatters of force.â Technologies are part of âstealth education,â because the form of a technology can have gradual effects not readily apparent in its initial invention and use. As McLuhan said, âWe shape tools and then they reshape us.â Earlier, Thoreau noted less approvingly: âWe become the tools of our tools.â A beautiful Amish saying is: âWhat you take into your hands, you take into your heart.â Sometimes this is beneficial. Anthropologists gradually discovered that literate cultures have qualitatively different thought patterns than oral cultures, and could only ascribe the difference to mental changes brought by gaining the skills of reading and writing, which gradually lead to new forms of exposition and argument. The printing press made a huge difference, not just by spreading ideas around, but by changing how people learned and thought, and in what terms. Another McLuhan gem: âYou can argue about a lot of things with stained glass windows, but Democracy is not one of them!â This point of view on the relations between media, knowledge and ways of thinking is as startling to most people as âthe world is not as is seemsâ is to most non-scientists (in fact, it is part of âthe world is not as it seemsâ as related to human beings). If media are not neutral to ideas and thought, we should be as careful with the invention and deployment of new media as we would with infectious biological agents with no vaccines. For example, we would be able to see that television is one of the most pernicious and dangerous mediums to introduce into society, since with almost no sense of loss it can displace media that can better carry important ideas. Many of the electronic communication devices of the last 150 years bring back oral communications modes and ways of thinking. This delivers âAir Guitar:â how to use lots of transistors without advancing anything important! This is what McLuhan feared when he predicted a âglobal villageâ and a return to tribal thinking and senses of identity, fear, and actions. And it is part of Thoreauâs terse warning. 2 http://www.vpri.org/pdf/ACK-Pic-Bio-05-16-07.pdf. 3 The co-inventor of the integrated circuit and co-founder of Intel. 42
So, a seemingly innocent technological benefitâsuch as using mobile telephones to provide needed and useful information, or encouraging television as âan information technology that doesnât need to be learnedââcould derail the larger needs of a society to learn to think non-orally. What if the very difficulties of learning to read and write are the real benefits when surmounted? What if the real difficulties of math, science and engineering are the real benefits when mastered? Science is the most important of all of these because it represents humanityâs strongest attempt at processes which try to get around the âpoor thinkingâ built into our brains. It is not about just trying to think better, but to learn to think in very different ways about very different perspectives that are taken on the world. These powerful error-detecting and correcting processes are even more needed for the difficulties of political thinking than for the physical and biological worlds. Good teachers are scarce everywhere in the world, and the situation is particularly acute in less-developed regions. Scienceâs very different âthe world is not as it seemsâ epistemology is difficult for most adults not brought up with this non-commonsense point of view (and thus this is not part of most teachersâ world view). Developing better teachers, and enough more of them, is not easy or swift, even with will and resources. What can technology do to help here? We know from the history of the printing press that much learning can be done through books without teachers if the learners can read for content. This was one of the main educational goals of the 19th century and early 20th century, but can hardly be found now. It is now possible to provide books (and more) on electronic devices for about 20 cents a book providing one is willing to purchase 500 books. This fits very well into the needs of K-8 education and can be thought of as access to many more than 500 books (and many other educational activities as well) for an amortized cost of about $10-$15 per year. Given that the teaching and mentoring problem for non-obvious epistemologies is the largest part of improving education, the most interesting and important question is not how inexpensively can personal laptop computers be made to provide âbooksâ and other âinformationâ for the underprivileged, but whether the 50 year old question âcan the computer be programmed to act better than no teacher and better than a poor teacherâ be answered in the affirmative? If so, then for the first time there exists a route to provide âa teacher for every learner,â and it should be easy to see that that this is one of the âGrandest Challenges For Humanityâ (and especially for the STEM fields). One of the hardest, but most useful and important âteachersâ to make that could act above the needed thresholds would be to create âa teacherâ that can help most children learn to read and write in their indigenous language without needing any other special human assistance. Or to help children learn âreal scienceâ and âreal math.â One of the important intellectual transitions that have to be managed for children are those that necessarily start with stories (because they are strongly built into human minds) and move toward the ânon-storyâ forms of math and science that have been so powerful. Another learning sequence moves through âmuscular learningâ by direct contact with the world through âconfigurational learningâ (including visual and auditory figurations), and then to the more abstract world of symbolic representations. Of course, it would be great to involve other members of family and society as much as possible, but this really needs to work for the learners alone if necessary. This has been a dream in computing for more than 50 years now, and some of the best people in our field have failed to create above threshold systems (the several interesting exceptions have been brute force designs that are very expensive and time-consuming to produce). However, if we are trying to do better than a poor teacher, and we are not trying to do as well as a great teacher, the computing resources and accumulated techniques today should be sufficient to make a 43
concerted effort and succeed. This would qualitatively change the world by qualitatively changing how education can happen and be delivered. It would cost considerably less than a B2 bomber to pull off, and would have immeasurably more positive impact. 44