Review: Futureproof: 9 rules for humans in the age of automation

Kevin Roose, tech columnist for the NYTimes, is worried not so much about technology, but how humans will use it. AI itself is not the issue. But it is like a light saber, beautiful, but deadly, if you don’t know how to use it. People need to learn when to apply it, and when to ignore it. 

In Part 1 he lays out the current situation. He says things that make a lot of sense. For example, there is no such thing as a robot-proof job. It is just a matter of time for most of us. And even if you don’t get replaced, you will need to change how you work. He points out where AI has been beneficial and where it is hurting. My sister just got a nice promotion, and she is lucky because her job has two elements that are dangerous today. She did a lot of rote things, filling forms and creating documents that were very similar. She also “ported” or transferred data from one system to another (she works for a rather large corporation). Both of those activities are easily replaced by new AI capabilities. 

Part 2 is the 9 rules in the title. For us language teachers, some are important. Rule #4 is Leave Handprints. When you use technology, be sure to add your human mark on it. This can be as simple as adding graphics to a handout, or as complex as customizing software for different students. Rule #6, Treat Your AI Like a Chimp Army may not be important right now, but will be very soon. Correction software, for example, often gets most things right, but misses on some really stupid stuff. Teach students to be aware of this weakness in AI too. 

Rule #8 is probably the most important for us language teachers: Learn Machine-Age humanities. He suggests teaching small-h humanities, either instead of, or in addition to, large-h Humanities like anthropology, literature, and psychology. He lists some of the small-h humanities. Attention Guarding is what he calls focusing your attention. Room Reading is the ability to assess a situation (like a room full of people) quickly and accurately. Resting is important so you don’t burn out. Did you know that Harvard has a class on Naps, called Sleep 101? He uses Digital Discernment to mean Media Literacy, or Critical Thinking, or Bullshit Detection. Analog ethics is a way to stay human, to avoid letting the hard edge of Digital to overcome who we are as humans, to look back. Consequentialism means that we need to keep an eye out for unintended consequences (the lousy social environment of Facebook for example) and fix them before they get too bad. 

Other Rules are not so important for teachers. Rule #1 Be Surprising, Social, and Scarce are basic social interactions that most of our students already know. Rule #2, Resisting Machine Drift, using too much tech without thinking about it, is something that most tech-averse teachers do not have a problem with. Unless it is smartphone overuse. Rule #7, Build Big Nets and Small Webs is about social support like national health and support organizations for new jobs, and thus do not enter into the classroom too often. 

Overall, this was a quick read with some good points. The nine rules were a nice distillation of ideas I have encountered before, with authors like Douglas Rushkoff. He makes it easy to digest.