It’s the system that trains itself. They are pretty good, although the results are not perfect.
The development of speech recognition illustrates one aspect of the relationship between technology and people. We must change ourselves and up with the technology to meet where it is. But the objective is the other way to enhance the technology as we are, to match us.
That is why it’s interesting to reflect on some exceptions to this rule — instances where technology is not only a tool but also a teacher. When technology is a teacher, it isn’t enough for the technology to adapt; we need to change ourselves.
Consider a few examples. Tutoring systems, language learning programs, and games are designed to modify our abilities. Posture detectors Weight loss programs and workout monitors are designed to change. The ultimate target is for YOU to learn Mandarin or achieve some targeted weight, not to have a device that translates your English or creates the illusion of mass.
It is when we consider what is necessary to alter mental skills or behaviors that things begin to get interesting. The teacher is the flexible teacher, or the instructor, or the teacher. We know from research in psychology and education the best way is not likely to be the easiest or the one which provides you the sense of mastery. There’s value in difficulties that are desired — features of a task that increase effort but support better long-term performance. Additionally, there are a lot of examples of learning interventions which increase learning that is immediate, or the feeling of having learned, but that is ultimately less effective than choices that are effortful.
This implies that shaping technology into the aim we care about in such cases — some learning — could leave pretty radically in the more familiar purpose of shaping technology to how we are now: making it comfy, easy, convenient, etc. We want them vetted by our selves; it.
These problems also apply to technologies designed to alter behavior, but often there is an extra twist. When our good intentions prove inadequate, we resort to technology for behavior change. For all my exertion not to slouch at the keyboard or have a second cookie, I’m guilty of both on a regular basis.
Tech tools for behavior change are a way to nudge ourselves to better behavior. We intervene on our environment to shape ourselves because we can not simply will ourselves in the target behavior. As a result, these tech tools aren’t just teachers in the business of sharing information and rational persuasion; they’re tricksters of manipulating us in the company at our bidding.
The connection between technology and people is more complicated (as Alva Noë has written about here in 13.7). It is that people adapt to technology, and people are adapted to by that technology. But our tools are implements; they are tricksters and teachers, balancing our present and future selves’ values.