What Happens If Web 3.0 Brings Skynet?

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The coming of Web 3.0 is potentially huge. As I listened to Philippe Modard discuss the Internet of Things (IoT), I was seeing something very different than a fridge that can help me track what my husband will and will not eat and know what groceries I need or whether my milk has expired.

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I was seeing an even more inclusive panopticon. All my information about just about everything there for the taking. Because let’s be honest, any information that goes through the internet can be taken. In many cases we give it away for free already. I use Gmail and Hangouts so Google already knows way too much. I use Facebook and Messenger so Facebook knows all sorts of things. I refer to the companies as almost sentient entities and, to some extent, they are getting there. Both of those sites filter things based on algorithms which are influenced by my previous acts. They are a preview of the IoT with our world being filtered based on our personal preferences, actions, and knowledge. Sure, I’d love a thermostat that knows what temperature I want my house to be or keys that beep for me (my husband already has Tile on his keys). My iPhone suggests apps based on my current location and the time, tells me how long it will take to get home or to other destinations.

What’s my concern? Someone out there could compile this information. Data from just a few sources would tell someone my daily routine, how healthy I am likely to be, what kinds of food I like, what my political opinions are, where I shop, and far more personal data like confidences I have shared or even things I have searched that I might not want everyone knowing I have searched (yes, it is time for Duck Duck Go).

Okay, so that is creepy and scary. It would make identity theft far too easy and make stalking almost effortless. But so what? Those things are a little more extreme. So let’s get more everyday. Let’s talk about my searching and the idea of Web 3.0 that suggests everything should be tailored to me specifically. It should all be personalized.

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Welcome to the filter bubble. Why should I be exposed to anything that would make me uncomfortable? It should be easy to find again things that matter to me, even if they are obscure. I should be able to see things that are relevant, even if they are wrong.

When it comes to education, that is a scary thought.

Although I absolutely love Gerstein‘s conception of Education 3.0 being learner-controlled, driven by what learners want and where their interests lie, I cannot help but worry. I am pretty well informed about many things but not everything. So what is Google doing to my searches when I search for something I know less about? Equally, if all the results look familiar and appear to be in agreement, what happens to my knowledge?

There was a particular pattern to writing an argument historically in India which involved presenting one’s argument, then presenting the challenge to that argument, then presenting a rebuttal. Now imagine if we just take out the challenge. Imagine if we take out the challenge everywhere.

Now think about the student experience. Web 3.0 is about tailoring everything to each individual. No longer is there a concern for consensus or even exposure to critique or disagreement. If your searches suggest you would not be interested in something, it will be further down the search list. And let us be truthful, how often do we look past the first page of search results? How often will our students do that?

And now we get to it. The problems in terms of privilege and disadvantage. Students who have more experience, more exposure, are more likely to have solid basis for evaluation. They are more likely to know when to move on, when to search elsewhere, other options. Yes, in Education 3.0 the teacher is supposed to be there to guide the searching but… will that always work? Are our classrooms structured around that kind of one-on-one support? Nope. They aren’t. I am imagining if The Onion and Beaverton taking over. Imagine searches on vaccines, for example, only returning anti-vaxxer sites (or only returning vaxxer sites with no sense of the argument).

Sure, that’s about information literacy. We can work to combat that in the classroom. What about other issues? Who is able to have all the devices that connect? Well, not the students who may or may not even have a home computer let alone high speed or wifi. So they might be safer but they are cut off from a lot of the resources. Their learning is not as tailored. Or what about students who are vulnerable in some way? Custody battle subjects, bullied kids, refugees, those are all students who could be more at risk. Add in that companies are making money from studying students and you get a bit more disturbing. Minority Report could suddenly become real and without precogs. We could have all our data for that. Imagine the algorithms that would predict student success and future employment based on current data. Well, fewer resources would be needed for students with less expectation, right? They could continue to be underserved.

And, of course, Skynet. Who decides based on all this data whether or not someone is worth keeping or investing in?

Yes, this is a pretty dystopian view. I’m looking at the worst. I’m not totally alone since Liz also mentioned Skynet. And this leaves out issues like who is going to support teachers as Benita so wonderfully described her own struggles.

So do I welcome Web 3.0? Well so far it’s been invading my house bit by bit but less so my work. I love the idea of Education 3.0 but I worry about what comes along with that. Mostly because Web 3.0 is driven by companies. It is driven by products and capitalism far more than the semantic web. It is about the personal over the collective. How quickly will we lose sight of the human race? At what point will we give up collective knowledge and opt for individual knowledge? Is that a problem? Do we need shared knowledge? (If anyone is into particular fandoms and gets blank looks when they get excited or make a reference, you will understand my concern if wider knowledge starts to head that way).

So while I am hopeful that we can put more emphasis on student interests and have students own their learning far more, I am wary of what that could bring when taken to the extreme. And I am even more wary of protecting student data. What about you?

One thought on “What Happens If Web 3.0 Brings Skynet?”

  1. Kirsten,
    You brought up so many good points. I like that you highlighted concern for consensus and exposure to critique. There is a deep societal problem if we all start to think the same way.

    “Knowledge is a social construction, not an individual one”. I wonder if this will ring true with the future of Web 3.0 . Hoping that the ‘collective’ will win over the ‘personal’.
    Great post!

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