These days our word processing systems can do some of the writing for us—with features that suggest what word you might be about to type and save you the trouble of keying in every letter.
He has been diving into the past to see where our dreams about the internet have come from, and he has a warning for what he thinks is going wrong in how things have evolved in recent years—and what it might be doing to us as learners and thinkers.
A better understanding of the long arc of technology history might just help us make a course correction, he argues.
Smith lays out his views in a new book, “The Internet is Not What You Think It is: A History, a Philosophy, a Warning.”
The big danger, he argues in his book, is that autocorrect and other AI algorithms are altering our lives so much that humans will act more like, say, Twitter bots, rather than Twitter bots acting more like humans.
He even takes the argument a step further when he complains that Twitter itself has become a kind of game for talking about current events and politics, rather than a genuine public sphere. Because of the way the algorithms reward provocative or outrageous statements with more exposure to other users, who then like or share them, people make points online not really to please the humans but to please the algorithms. And then, he worries, we don’t really know what other people believe, even though we’re all typing constantly online.
Even so, he marvels at the knowledge that the internet has opened up, and says he can spend hours a day downloading scans of 17th-century manuscripts from online libraries—what he calls an “unquestionable good.”
As he writes in his book, “the internet is simultaneously our greatest affliction and our greatest hope.”
We connected with Smith for this week’s EdSurge Podcast.