I’ve embarked on some intense Internet peregrinations lately, and work has been super busy. But it keeps me grounded in the real, physical world for which I am eternally grateful. It is captivating, full of generous people and natural wonders. It’s worth fighting to protect, which is why I continue to wander and try to share the information I stumble over along the way.
I’m excited to finally have a free weekend to write. I feel a growing sense of urgency as I connect with more and more folks across the country. Alaska, California, Utah, Illinois, North Dakota, Oklahoma…the pressure is intensifying, everywhere. If these thoughts seem somewhat scattered, bear with me. This is more an exercise in unburdening than some of my other posts.
Our current education system, admittedly far from perfect, is in the process of being dismantled. Its replacement? Digitally mediated, “lifelong learning,” workforce-aligned pathways. They’re being pitched in Colorado and Washington State as the “Swiss Model.” Other states are seeing the emergence of Markle Foundation-funded Skillful initiatives. Then there’s the normalization of gamified behavioral compliance tied to digital economic incentives paralleling this transformation.
Frighteningly, it appears education settings from P-20 are being set up to train future generations to accept and participate in the construction of STEM-centric worlds steeped in cyber-security. No hard hats required, just an up to date eyeglass prescription. Everyone expected to do their part to build and secure these new “worlds.” No one spared, not even preschoolers.
We must understand the nature of worlds built in code.
They will exist as augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality.
They will be digitized, data-rich, and surveilled.
They will come with embedded nudges imposed by algorithms.
They will become automated, eventually beyond human control.
These are worlds where human agency could be extinguished.
They will be alluring, tempting by design.
They serve the interests of finance, technology, and incarceration/defense.
They are fraught with danger, and the oligarchs want our children to build them.
Source: 250 Preschoolers Learning Coding, Global Hour of Code, School4Kidz
If you take a peek behind the curtain, you’ll see transnational global capital is strategically lining up new profit centers to feed off the social disruption wrought by impending (or in many corners of the world, ongoing) economic and climate catastrophe. As the real world falls apart, the masses will be herded into gamified shadow worlds where they can be data-mined and controlled. Norbert Weiner saw it coming decades ago, and now technological advances are catching up. Life processes, including education, are data-driven with a laser focus on performance management and “growth.” Our behaviors are sources of profit, human capital an investable commodity where the elite play with lives, predict futures, and gamble on outcomes. If this is new you, take a minute to read this post.
Given recent remarks by Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, it seems likely today’s toddlers will be navigating a 5G world of ubiquitous computing where wearable technologies track their every movement, and perhaps emotions, in real time. Our interactions in Internet of Things environments will generate the data to run human capital impact markets.
Source: Randall Stephenson, Banking At The Speed Of Light, Fin-Tech in a 5G World
Exactly what kind of education does one get in a panopticon, especially a mixed-reality panopticon where state surveillance and military interests had a hand in building the simulations that surround you? I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by the military’s keen interest in weaponized narrative. In the dreams of Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg, and Pierre Omidyar, our AR future will be navigating worlds with “personalized” digital overlays (see Vernor Vinge’s book Rainbows End for insights into this) that maintain tight control as populations are acclimatized to volatile environments of violence and scarcity.
It continues to amaze me what we attempt to normalize. I learned today that SoftBank’s Nao mini-robots are being piloted for handwriting instruction, and in a cruel plot twist it’s the children who are supposed to be teaching the robots! Scroll through the project list for GAIPS, a Portuguese lab specializing in human-computer interaction, social robots, intelligent agents and synthetic characters. Seriously, take your time and get an eye-full; maybe then you’ll begin to feel the intense dread rising in my gut.
Source: Nao CoWriter Project
What does the rise of social robots and avatar companions portend for the future of work, the digitization of personal relationships, and even our grip on reality? Who put the computer scientists in charge, and why are they building a world where robots replace people?
This, for me, is a somewhat rhetorical question, since I recognize that as we exceed the carrying capacity of the earth, capitalism really has no choice but to jump into the virtual realm and take us, as digital commodities, along with it. That is the logic of overconsumption united with lean production: a redundant workforce continually performing material acquisition on a dying planet. I had a fleeting insight into this back when my child “played” with Webkinz a decade ago. We’re conditioned as consumers to think plush animals “mining gems” in order to furnish virtual rooms is perfectly normal. In retrospect, I’m rather appalled that I didn’t give it a second thought at the time.
Source: ACM / IEEE Human Robot Interaction Conference
Source: EPIC Games, Unreal Engine Presentation, Disney Accelerator 2017
Notre Dame is coordinating a team of researchers tasked with refining wearable sensors to predict workplace performance based on biomarkers including sleep, stress, and daily patterns of behavior. I-ARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency) funded Project Tesserae to the tune of $8 million. Imagine how that will interface with these workforce pathways programs.
Source: The Tesserae Project: Large-Scale Longitudinal, In Situ, Multimodal Sensing of Information Workers
It’s the type of labor surveillance Frederick Taylor and the scientific management crew could only dream of. Bluetooth beacons tracking movement throughout one’s home, and based on the data predicting one’s future performance. Precision tools to rate productivity; it’s just the thing for an era in which only top-tier applicants will actually be allowed to work. The Hunger Games funded with our tax dollars, rolled out in cooperation with esteemed institutions of higher education. Are we getting our money’s worth?
As the Davos crowd gears up for a Fourth Industrial Revolution that doesn’t need all that many people, employment desirability is going to hinge on a worker’s proof of compliance, conformity, flexibility, and resilience. The elite want cogs that can be re-machined as needed. No squeaky wheels allowed in a digital economy that moves like the wind. Schools are being re-tooled to accommodate the new industrial system. With that re-tooling comes disruption and destruction. The existing system has started to crumble, but not enough people realize the nature of what is to come.
According to a talk Robert McChesney gave in 2016 for his book “People Get Ready: The Fight Against A Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy” major industrial firms are poised to gut their workforce. They have the capacity to do it now, but the transition would burn down the middle class, and so they’re trying to figure it out. See the excerpt from his talk below:
Source: Robert McChesney and John Nichols-The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy, 2016
“Just a couple of professors at Oxford researching artificial intelligence, economists actually, now have determined that roughly fifty percent of existing jobs in the United States will be eliminated within the next ten to twenty years by robotics and artificial intelligence. That’s not an uncommon feeling at all.
There’s a leading CEO a few months ago, of one of the largest industrial corporations in the world, in a private meeting a former PhD student of mine was able to attend recently in Germany. He gave a very interesting presentation. He’s head of a large company, several hundred thousand workers in Germany and factories all over the world, and his workers in Germany are union workers. They have really good wages, the sort of jobs American workers had forty years ago. They’re the backbone of the German middle class, and someone in the question and answer period asked the CEO, he said is all that stuff about automation and robotics really something serious that we should be concerned with?
And he (the CEO) said, not only is it serious, we have the capacity right now to completely automate every factory we have in the world, including Germany. And he said, but we can’t do it politically right now; that’s the only thing that is stopping us. Because, and this is the quote translated from German, “If we were to automate our factories in Germany, the middle class would burn.” German social order would collapse. That’s how serious, in his view, it was. In Germany companies like the one he has, has workers on the board of directors by law, so it makes a bit dicier to do things like that than it would be in the United States, but he also said it’s just a matter of time until that happens.”
People sense something is wrong. They realize neighborhood schools are becoming places of dread: toxic buildings, live shooter drills, teachers held captive to rigid curricula, and students data-mined in ever more intrusive ways. Universities are merging, shuttering whole departments, reinventing themselves as digital diploma mills, an outcome predicted by David F. Noble. All of this this is happening as a full court press is being made to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. If you’re not already aware, education is UN SDG 4 and fully embraces digital technology as the “solution” to global poverty. Not coincidentally it creates markets for ed-tech, cloud computing, and human capital social impact investments, too.
Living wage employment opportunities shrink as student debt grows, and we are confronted with the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) gatekeepers that deploy facial recognition technology to determine if a job candidate’s smile is fake or if they’re prone to boredom. It’s looking pretty bleak out there.
With all of that weighing me down, it’s hard to motivate myself to sit and focus and sift through my scattered thoughts to bring some order to these trends that are both grim and overwhelming. So, before I took to my chair I made a batch of scones, chocolate chip scones. And as I prepared the dough I listened to the reassuring words of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s audiobook “Braiding Sweetgrass.” I so love her voice.
In the chapter I was listening to Kimmerer spoke of the Windigo, a mythic beast of the north woods’ winter that stalks families during the hunger time. It represents insatiable, destructive, all-consuming greed. The Windigo’s nature is isolation. It stands in opposition to the affirming qualities of reciprocity, connection, and belonging. It is cast out, a prisoner to a hunger that can never be satisfied. You see, the Windigo is a manifestation of capitalism, a force that would turn all our social relations, including knowledge creation, into commodities to be devoured and obliterated.
As Tim Scott notes in Common Schools and the Nationalistic Aims of Public Education in the U.S., “compulsory mass education serves as an essential element in cultivating dutiful citizen subjects who will consent to (or champion) the demands and interests of those in power.” In the United States those are the capitalists, the ones who demand the digital worlds be built.
With the rise of technology public education has become a node not only of social reproduction, but also of profit extraction. The Carnegie Corporation (Andrew Carnegie, steel money) created the “Carnegie Unit” credit hour to ensure children would be systematically exposed to the ideas that would maintain the his social order. Schools were set up to transform agricultural laborers into the factory workers needed by the new economic system. Scott notes this social order was born of a marriage of nationalism and industrialization. For over a century, children had to be physically present in a school building with other children and a teacher to accomplish the required conditioning.
Now we have new system, one where robots will push out human labor: physical labor, service labor, and knowledge labor. For this new age Carnegie plans to jettison the eponymous credit unit, along with the old-fashioned notion of “seat time.” Adoption of 1:1 device-based education means learning IN school buildings is no longer required. The ruling class will soon be able to farm out young children under pay for success contracts to non-profit providers and send the older kids home.
Work-based learning is the new thing. “Learn to earn.” People are drawn to it, hoping such a program will offer their children stability, when precisely the opposite is true. Regional workforce plans being adopted under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act foresee a world where a majority of folks are yoked to the gig economy; the education level required only a bit above a high school diploma. It doesn’t serve the interests of the elite to over-educate people they plan to control. Too much free thought is a threat. Washington State is on the leading edge. Seattle is tech’s test-bed.
Source: Talent and Prosperity For All: The Strategic Plan For Unlocking Washington’s Workforce Potential, 2016
Personalized learning will advance social efficiency in ruthless new ways, turbocharged by AI feedback loops. Gamification will condition students to loyalty and competition. Instead of relying on school communities to instill social cohesion, the elite are tapping learning engineers to maximize the profit that can be squeezed from the “educational process,” while tracking students into career pathways that will replicate long-standing patterns of oppression tied to race and class. In digital systems of education, students have no idea how the system is set up (rigged). Those who make the rules have the advantage as Wharton professor Kevin Werbach points out in the clip below. Rules can be surprising; therefore it’s always better to be the person making the rules. Thus, hegemony is maintained even as the population transitions to digital “second lives.”
Source: Professor Kevin Werbach on Gamification, Wharton Lifelong Learning Tour
Today, playlist education is becoming the default. Device-based instruction isolates children, making them vulnerable to the Windigo. Ed-tech conditions students to see themselves as the center of their own universe, to view their accomplishments numerically, to work within the set system, to be obedient. In the “knowledge” economy, brains are commodities to be mined and shaped through “evidence-based” interventions. As digital worlds gain prominence, we will see a doubling-down on systems of control, discipline of body and thought. In a world of centralized power, creativity will be seen as a threat, unless channeled into acceptable outlets like video game design.
Thus a new system of education will be established to meet the needs of the new world of digital capitalism as it is being constructed, for it is a very substantial undertaking that will require extraordinary effort. This education system will be designed for a globalized gig economy; “human capital” futures traders; and carceral systems tapped to police surplus labor. As STEM takes center stage, the humanities and arts are left to wither. How will the digital worlds be built on schedule if students are given the option to paint, write stories, perform concerts, deconstruct historical mythologies, or theorize new economic systems? Those in power do not want alternate thinking. Executive function, focus, grit and resilience are traits they deem desirable for a world where the speed of technological advances will constantly test the mental endurance of the global labor pool.
Capitalism continues to evolve. Many say that the system cannot hold; it is has come to a breaking point. That I would dispute, because I can see its tentacles already reaching into nascent virtual worlds. I suspect the Windigo is already poking around the corners of Minecraft, seeing what it can turn up. Gates knows this and has been preparing along with the Entertainment Software Association. Disney, the military, the simulation experts are out there setting the templates for the worlds to come. They will attempt to herd us into false universes, populated with avatars and synthetic people. For many it will be hard to tell what is real from what is not. It will be difficult to construct a cohesive identity. It will be a strain. Those in power know that, which is why we are seeing a ramp up in mental health assessments. They will use Big Data to cull those perceived to be weak, even in the trans-humanist realm.
The building of these new worlds and the plan to track private property as digital assets on Blockchain demonstrates the flexibility and tenacity of empire. As in previous eras, colonizers are bound to seize assets. While some contemplate a utopian crypto-commons, the reality is corporate and carceral interests will have already staked out the choicest amenities well before commoners make themselves at home. The crypto valley is the playground of global finance and the state (surveillance / military). Battalions of cyber soldiers are being assembled across the country in places like the Virginia Cyber Range.
Source: Virginia Cyber Range
Assets will be seized as they are created, new worlds stolen, even as they are made manifest, through the unwaged or under-waged labor of refugees, prisoners, and students. It is their lives that will be sacrificed to the creation of the virtual realm. After the frontier was closed and imperial pursuits exhausted, Silicon Valley stepped up to offer a new world ripe for plunder. They’ve been laying the groundwork for nearly fifty years. Capitalism always has a back up plan.
In closing, I want to bring in Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE). Tucker made a lengthy career as a tool of Carnegie. In the late 1980s NCEE floated the idea of restructuring education, planting the seeds of the Competency-Based Education agenda that would eventually be wedded to technology through SCORM and xAPI interfaces. Its progressive branding cloaked the toxic elements it advanced, including a technology-based “total quality management” approach that relied on national standards and constant assessment. Marc played a key role in setting up the “cradle to gray” human capital pipeline.
Source: Marc Tucker Testimony, Competitiveness of the American Worker, 1987
In revisiting Tucker’s 1992 “Dear Hillary Letter,” it is clear the NCEE program is well underway. I’ve shared a summary of its recommendations at the end of this post, so you can see for yourself. The problem is that few on the Left have directly engaged with the content of the letter, which was read into the Congressional Record six years later in 1998. Why? Because it has been taken up by conservative interests as evidence of a globalist Socialist or Communist plot to undermine the United States Constitution.
The letter Tucker sent to Hillary Clinton on the eve of Bill’s inauguration has become a touchstone for those on the right who oppose Common Core State Standards and the United Nation’s education initiatives. Now is the time to move beyond partisan politics and do a “close read” of NCEE’s extensive proposition. It is remarkable how much of the program has been put into place with bipartisan support over the past twenty-five plus years.
In that time, data-driven device-based learning has replaced authentic human instruction for even our youngest learners; ten year olds are being pressured to choose career pathways; third-party software programs are tracking the social-emotional traits “soft skills” of students; community college course offerings are being shaped by regional labor boards; as four year colleges are dismantled through debt, austerity, and mismanagement.
What many conservatives fail to recognize is that we (the United States) ARE the “globalists.” Sure, the United Nations has been structured as a vehicle to turn the dispossessed into human capital for “impact investment” purposes. That’s what ID2020 is about after all, the interests of Microsoft and Accenture are inextricably woven into the advancement of digital identity systems. But is it vital to understand that the UN is doing this in service of transnational global capital, which in turn is dominated by US technology, finance, and manufacturing interests.
We are fighting the Windigo, that which would consume through greed and destruction, all that is good in the world. We are at a point of crisis. That crisis is capitalism. We are rapidly approaching the creation of a techno-fascist state the likes of which has never before been seen.
Source: Escaping From Children’s Abuse of Social Robots
How do we organize to stop this? My bet is on the kids from Kyoto. I think they’re on to something and should probably be tapped as leaders in the anti-robot resistance.
We must wake people up and collectively knit back together the rent social fabric needed ward off the Windigo’s depredations. It is community versus corporatism; but the community must be mobilized. We can refuse to code this world of domination. It cannot be built against the will of the people, but the people have to know what is happening and unite.
Can we embrace lessons of Indigenous resistance and begin to reclaim our humanity in the face of those who would perpetrate a planet-killing Fourth Industrial Revolution? Can we in unity stand up to techno-fascists and expose the digital “freedoms” temptingly proffered by oligarchs for the lies that they are? Can we stop capitalism’s next phase of colonization by creating an education system that starves digital worlds rather than feeds them?
In this liminal time, we must come to terms with and own up to the destructive history of this nation. It is imperative that we look to the example of those who have continually resisted both the destruction of human relationships and of the planet. We must build something new, in right relationship. There is not an “ism” out there that can do what must be done, stand up to the Windigo, cut the Doctrine of Discovery off at the knees. We must look hard at the destruction wrought by Whiteness and begin to set it to right. I want so much for us to make it past this Hunger Moon to the sweetness of the Sugar Moon beyond.
Summary of the Dear Hillary Letter recommendations for an engineered economy where people are re-skilled as human capital in service of global investment markets:
Emphasize perpetual skill development.
Create a board to set uniform professional and technical standards, performance standards, licensures, and to administer related exams.
Align national standards, exams, and licensure systems to international benchmarks: K12, sub-baccalaureate and four-year degrees, technical degrees, and certificates established by employers.
Modular system of occupations established, each with specified skill requirements.
Institutions taking public funds must provide outcomes data in a uniform format.
Data remitted to government includes client characteristics, program costs, and “success rates.”
Consolidate dislocated worker programs, adopt national vouchers, and integrate those programs into the national education and training system.
Free market “choice” embedded into standards-aligned pathways.
General education certificates awarded at age 16 to students meeting basic standards.
A certificate makes students eligible for additional education or training.
Combine the last two years of high school with the first two years of college into a three-year program resulting in sub-baccalaureate degrees / credentials.
Shift to work-based learning, “learn to earn.”
Phase in national implementation starting with a cohort of willing states, some with big cities. Later scale it up through “voluntary” federal government grant incentives.
A single unified training system is used by all: young adults, dislocated workers, unemployed, and returning citizens.
A comprehensive computerized database of job openings and candidates is maintained.
A system of local, state and federal labor market boards is established to oversee training and placement, linking education to the workforce.
Deregulate, eliminate means-tested programs, tie compensation to outcomes.
Make service providers compete.