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  • Writer's pictureEric Nentrup

The Week in Review: Shovels & Pans

Image by Michael Bußmann from Pixabay

The gold rush references to AI conjures the age-old axiom that those who get rich are the ones supplying the fanatics: shovels, pans, and other tools—even apparel. In fact, most people likely have at least one artifact from the era thanks to Levi Strauss (bonus points if you’re wearing your favorite jeans while reading this post or working on your own AI app). Yet, in the mid-1800’s here in the United States, capitalism-consumerism wasn’t yet the dominant religion-worldview that it’s since become according to Yuval Noah Harari. And if he was right in his 2011 book (he was), he’s only more prophetic in the AI-enabled present built atop a silicon foundation—and it’s likely worth betting all the gold you own that the venture capitalists attending ASU-GSV this past week were trying to figure out how who was going to make a better pickaxe for education technology.

Yet for educators evaluating a new instructional tool or not, we need to remember what’s at stake when we elect to use certain tools in our schools. For all the benefits of the Internet, It bodes well to remember the World Wide Web's maturation into an always-on reality that’s not so virtual anymore has come at the expense of our own fractured attention and declining mental health. This is because the capitalism-consumerism creed demands it in order to satisfy shareholders and edtech is just as vulnerable as any mainstream technology—but the potential failures are more egregious.

Please remember that we weren’t terribly savvy about this risk when social media first mushroomed. However, we have the chance to be so now with the emerging technology captivating our attention in the present (revisit the 2020 documentary, The Social Dilemma and listen to performer Bo Burnham’s comments which resurfaced at the same time ChatGPT was released). Burnham’s pandemic paean “Welcome to the Internet” from his performance piece, “INSIDE” deserves mention as well, where he takes his awareness of how his growing up on YouTube has contributed to his anxiety by the very design of the entire ecosystem. We can learn from Burnham and Hurari how to frame this moment in the present against the historical comparison to the gold rush—the metaphor has been used extensively in theory, but again, since November, we’re witnessing the conversion to application (pun slightly intended).

Now, back to the 1850’s. The gold rush ghost towns littering the American West that one sees while hiking in the Rockies can offer a framework for helping us understand what we’re experiencing. If you think about the gold rush in phases of behaviour shifts, in expanding concentric circles of questions looking for more and more solutions further away from the impetus, we can build an historical context:

  • Where is the gold?

  • How do I get there?

  • What do I need to mine it?

  • What do I need to survive while doing the work?

  • What do I need to be comfortable?

  • What do I need to do make a living in this new field?

  • How do I care for all my needs and that of my family/friends/colleagues?

  • What are the threats to being successful and how do I protect my life and livelihood in its pursuit?

The list is rudimentary and not likely one that miners considered before committing. Whereas, concentric context for AI may look like this:

  • Where is the value?

  • How do we capitalize upon it?

  • What does it take to turn a profit?

  • Who has the deep pockets to fund our research and development?

  • Who do we need to hire to get there ahead of the competition?

  • How do we sustain ourselves until we go public?

  • What are the threats to being successful and how do I protect my life and livelihood in its pursuit?

  • What’s our exit strategy?

That last question is one that may not yet have been in consideration during the gold rush. There must be more gold in them hills. We may not yet know parties will survive the current gold rush happening in server farms around the globe—if there’s a current brand that will challenge Levi’s longevity. However, as you read the stories posted below from this past week, be cognizant of the claims to separate hyperbole from headlines, promise from purpose, intent from impact.





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