Amazon Echo, and The End of Remembering

‘Never memorize something that you can look up’ – Albert Einstein.
Amazon recently announced the Echo, a personal digital assistant that you converse with – see the video below for some slightly contrived examples. What the Echo and competing technologies like Google Now really highlight for me is that we are entering an age where the act of remembering is increasingly passé. Not only can you find out almost anything if you can craft your search terms well enough, but information tends to come to you ambiently. You could think of the Internet, via these tools, as a sort of neural prosthesis.

It goes without saying that this trend has huge implications for the way we teach and learn, but there is a deeper issue that I touched upon in a recent blog post – we either understand how to control these technologies, or we are controlled by them. This is why I am very interested in projects like Ello, Indie and Unhosted, and in Tim Berners-Lee’s Web We Want campaign. Is it only through surrendering our personal data to the big firms famously described by Bruce Sterling as The Stacks that innovation like Echo can arise? What can we achieve through collective action, and retaining control of our data? Let’s take a bold leap into the unknown, and explore this new frontier together.

[This piece originally appeared on the Jisc Technology Foresight blog]

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