Kenneth Cocker: “The Next Great Battle of the Digital Age Will Be the Battle of Political Freedom” | technology

Kenneth Cocker has spent decades analyzing how technology is changing the business world and society itself. Executive Editor of the British Weekly The Economist And a researcher in artificial intelligence at the University of Oxford, this 55-year-old American made a name for himself in the world in 2013 with his colleague Viktor Meyer-Schoenberger with the publication of the book Big Data: The Big Data Revolution. Work has been included before New York times on your list Best seller It has been translated into 21 languages. It describes how Amazon, Google or Walmart process the vast amount of data about people flooding the internet to identify patterns of behavior and make associations and expectations of consumption.

Cukier is also very interested in the applications of artificial intelligence (AI) in education, a topic on which he spoke in Madrid as part of the EnlightED conferences, organized by the La Caixa Foundation and the Telefónica Foundation.

ask. How do you think AI can help the education sector?

Answer. There is a great opportunity to apply machine learning and artificial intelligence in this field. For example, if kids are using tablets or connected devices, you can see when they’re reading and when they’re reading; You can consult them and interrupt them with a test to keep them on their toes. It can also help the teacher to be better. I know of a case where a teacher was studying homework and realized that 80% of the students answered wrong and the answer was exactly the same on a math test, indicating that it wasn’t the kids. Wrong, but he needs to improve his teaching style.

Although we must embrace technology and data, we must not do so at the expense of the human element, teachers, and classmates. And if we want to rethink how we teach in a digital environment, we need to realize that these analog functions are really important. Ultimately, what we need to teach is resilience and mental agility to overcome problems and deal with adversity. This is the essence of what I believe will be the needs of many people in the 21st century.

s. She suggests that technology be brought into the classroom along with an increase in the number of teachers, so that there is one teacher for every four students.

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R was found. Everything can be done, it’s a matter of priorities. 150 years ago there were no ambulances, and about 60 or 70 years ago, suddenly, if you got sick, two people would arrive in a truck: a driver and a doctor. Today there are three. Creative formulas should be sought to find more teachers, for example, using professionals with early retirement or employees from other sectors who can be trained with some training as teacher assistants. It is important that children have greater interaction with teachers and that learning is not limited to a certificate based on regurgitation of memorized content, but rather an exploration accompanied by creativity, imagination, facts and learning.

s. Every time the introduction of artificial intelligence is mentioned in a sector, in this case education, several alerts go off. Do you think we tend to exaggerate the negative effects of technology, or are we right to fear it?

R was found. I think both visions must coexist. Complainers of big digital platforms also check their smartphones every morning in the first 15 seconds of being awake. The increasing introduction of technology in all spheres of life must make us tense. But it’s important to be in it for the right things and not be distracted by others. The fact that technology companies collect user data is not the end of the world, we can ignore targeted ads. However, the fact that social networks contribute to an increase in adolescent depression is a serious problem that needs to be resolved. Ideally, on the initiative of the platforms themselves. But if ethics don’t work, we need other ways to deal with it. The UK’s telecoms regulator has just floated the idea of ​​analyzing the algorithms of big tech platforms to determine and prioritize their preferences. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

s. All technology and scientific developments have a good part and a bad part. What do you think of artificial intelligence?

R was found. I think that eventually, little by little, we will stop talking about artificial intelligence, in the same way that we no longer talk about computing. When you go to the hospital, you don’t say you received computerized medical care, even though there are computers everywhere. We are now in an adjustment period. What makes artificial intelligence a little scary is that we lose some of its explainability and causation. The modern version of artificial intelligence, machine learning (or machine learning), he does not know that the red color of the traffic light means stop because we told him so, but because he analyzed the data and came to this conclusion.

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s. Ten years ago, you and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger published Big Data, one of the first writers to warn of the dramatic impact that the massive availability of data will have on society. how old is he

R was found. We hit a few things; In others, we sin terribly. For example, we advanced that there will be algorithm validators. At the time it sounded like science fiction, but they really do exist. Instead, we thought Google Flu Trends, a tool that analyzes searches to predict trends, would be able to predict flu outbreaks, but it didn’t predict Covid. We are also mistaken in thinking that systems will be designed to seek social equilibrium. For example, people have not welcomed social tracking apps, which would have been very useful during a pandemic. When we enter and leave a country, we give away a lot of personal data; I think we should be more willing to transfer personal data to the government in case of need, and attach it to very draconian regulations so that no one dares to abuse the privacy of citizens. Other things that have eluded us are the rise of digital authoritarianism in China and the speed with which facial and voice recognition technologies have developed. The fact that US company Clearview has accessed billions of images of social media users and is able to identify them is thought stimulating. When I wrote the book it never occurred to me that this was possible.

s. Clearview has been fined in countries like Italy or France for using user photos without their consent. Don’t you also think that people have developed a greater awareness of privacy in the digital environment?

R was found. My opinion of privacy is changing. Ten years ago I would have thought that labeling users to serve them with targeted ads wasn’t the end of the world. I thought collecting data was good in itself because it was empirical evidence that could help us build a better world. I assumed goodwill would prevail, but it didn’t. If fundamental freedoms and rights are not respected, the framework within which personal data is collected and used must be questioned and restricted. I think the RGPD is not the correct answer, but every time I enter a website for the first time I deny that my cookies have been collected, which is something the regulation has created. We see what happens in China, but we should know that these tools of citizen monitoring for public safety will also find their way to the West, simply because the technology is there and it is tempting to use it. I am afraid that if we do not provide ourselves with strict rules to maintain freedom and human dignity, we will have problems. The next great battle in the digital age will be over political freedom

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s. In Spain, the police are finalizing the implementation of an automatic facial recognition tool. What do you think of this technology and its use by the police?

R was found. I’m not against it, but I want there to be limits on the police force in this situation. Let this technology be used, but appropriately. And I want to be severely punished for inappropriate uses. I do not want an officer to stop and search a citizen because he is in a minority rather than because he is a threat to society.

s. Do you think the Asian giant has already won the AI ​​race between the US and China?

R was found. The race is on, nothing has been decided. At the moment, the West has a certain advantage in all technologies. It may not last long, but there it is. Next will be the use of AI in weapons and logistics. Here, too, the race is open, and it will be very difficult. On this issue, I have the same opinion as Henry Kissinger said: Those who believe in liberal democracy should investigate smart weapons so as not to lose the advantage of this technology, but at the same time they should start talks to establish control agreements. for these weapons.

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