Talking with Teenagers: What can they learn about that's relevant?

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

(Photo by Luke Porter on Unsplash)

Teenagers. It can be hard for them to feel engaged in learning. Most live in an intensely stimulating environment, constantly distracted by advertising, music, games and social media. Much of their lives is lived online, and it is becoming harder than ever to engage many young learners in traditional schooling. However at the root of all this lies young people who are sensitive to their environment, well-informed and possessing a critical world view. Most have strong opinions about how they perceive the world works and what's right and wrong, and we can help unlock that and stimulate learning.

So what can and do kids need to learn about? What can we discuss in class? What can we explore? We've come across some articles and issues in recent weeks that could be used as provocations or scenarios to spark engagement and thinking - do you have any others that might work?

This article from the New York Times looks at how technology will transform humanity. It follows a discussion between a geneticist, an oncologist, a roboticist, a novelist and an A.I. researcher, sharing what they think will become of medicine, healthcare and what it means to be a human being. Examples include:

1. The potential to engineer ourselves and out children. The good? Elimination of hereditary diseases such as Alzheimers? The bad? Engineering children to become 'perfect' accessories or project children?

2. Will AI transform medicine? Should we allow it to? We know that AI can help, and sharing information across systems can be powerful, but what about the privacy of medical data? AI needs massive amounts of data to work - the more the better. Do we need to rewrite our privacy laws?

3. Cheap genome sequencing - should we all do it? The more genetic data that's collected the more AI and researchers can learn and better predict and treat illness and support life extension. This technology, integrated with real-time monitoring of health through implants and wearable devices, will be able to give us a real-time 'health score'. Again, what about privacy? For this to really work, information needs to be shared. Should it all be open access?

4. Will we live longer, and should we? Will we be happier? Isn't the key to living a full life the knowledge that we are mortal? Does the fact that we will confront less death make us more or less happier as a society? Would we be free to master the arts and humanities? Would all of this be a good thing?

Privacy is a big theme in the conversation above, and continues in this article. It looks at how phone companies are selling their users' location data to companies who can track their phones in real time. These companies operate in a legal grey area, privacy laws are not keeping up, and anyone with a bit of money can pay companies to track down any individual.

The data is sold in the first instance to 'reputable' companies (location aggregators) that use it for legal means by people such as bondsmen and car salesmen, and others who are trying to find people as part of their jobs. However these companies also on-sell the data to organisations about which less is known, with the end result being anyone can easily find your phone without your knowledge or permission.

Our mobile phones are constantly communicating with cellphone towers, even when not in use, and this communication can be triangulated to provide users' real-time location. In short, there is almost no regulation of the data ecosystem in the united states. An extract:

"Microbilt buys access to location data from an aggregator called Zumigo and then sells it to a dizzying number of sectors, including landlords to scope out potential renters; motor vehicle salesmen, and others who are conducting credit checks. Armed with just a phone number, Microbilt’s “Mobile Device Verify” product can return a target’s full name and address, geolocate a phone in an individual instance, or operate as a continuous tracking service.

"You can set up monitoring with control over the weeks, days and even hours that location on a device is checked as well as the start and end dates of monitoring,” a company brochure Motherboard found online reads."

The implications are serious and worthy of discussion: predators can know when someone is home alone, houses are empty, and when workers in sensitive industries leave the office. Some phone companies are claiming to have terminated their agreements with location aggregators, but are now coming to new arrangements in which data is still shared. Is regulation needed?

This video has been doing the rounds recently - two 17 year olds trying to make a call using an old phone. One the one hand, funny. One the other, should we be worried about this loss of process knowledge? Does it even matter?

The faster we race forward, and more we leave the past behind. The sequence of technologies that led to our current understandings are becoming lost. What if we lost all current technical knowledge due to some global catastrophe? Would be need to start again at the very beginning, or could we pick up halfway if we still retain the knowledge of how to design, build and use technology like that in the old phone? Am I overthinking this?

More privacy provocations, and one that our teenagers need to grapple with - for their own sakes. Guess what the most heavily funded AI startup in the world is, right now? The Chinese facial recognition company Sensetime. It's working on technology that sources 100,000 real time video and data streams to keep track of individuals using CCTV, facial recognition technology, mobile and Internet data, apps, location services, everything.

Nervous? We should be. Privacy? There won't be any. Have a look at their strategic partners below, and take a good read through their website. Follow the money - this could be our future if we're not careful, and we need to engage our young people in this discussion.

Something slightly less scary now. Transportation is about to be transformed, and it will all be thanks to a coming explosion in light electric vehicles (LEVs). The premise is that there's no more room for cars in our cities, and LEVs will provide a fast, cheap and cost-effective way for people to move around cities. They have a range of up to 30km with no problem, can travel at 30km/h, and the technology is proven and improving.

Companies such as Bird and Lime are exploding globally, and users are starting to grapple with whether to own or share their LEV. The main growth areas are in scooters and bikes, and trips are forecast to grow 10x annually for the next 5 to 6 years. So what are the opportunities for young people? Some extracts:

"Many of the established bicycle dealers are not ready to accommodate the e-bike demand. They either do not understand the market or are not able to provide services like maintenance and custom work. Custom work can include everything from custom paint to modifying an e-bike’s carrying capabilities for delivery companies..."


"LEVs can have an ownership model similar to mobile phones. This can happen in two ways.

1. An upgrade service, similar to T-Mobile’s Jump mobile phone program, allowing a purchaser to upgrade to the latest LEV after 12 months or once half of the device is paid off.

2. A monthly rent to own service, similar to Aaron’s, allowing people to avoid large upfront payments by making affordable monthly payments instead. And once all of the payments are made, it is owned. Total payments cover the cost of the device and cost of the rental.

These services can be offered directly from the manufacturer but, due to most manufacturers being unknown, they probably will be more successful coming through a third party."

Some rich discussions around potential business opportunities here.

To finish today's post, we're going back to the scary space again. Deepfaking is very much a part of young people's lives, and again will only continue to grow. So what's Deepfake? Here's a definition from

"Deepfake is an AI-based technology used to produce or alter video content so that it presents something that didn't, in fact, occur. The word, which applies to both the technologies and the videos created with it, is a portmanteau of deep learning and fake."

Here's one example that provides a good idea (who though of a Steve Buscemi and Jennifer Lawrence mashup?) of what can be done, and the implications for young people are quite concerning. We're already seeing examples of young women's faces being superimposed over porn actresses (bullying), politicians' speeches being altered (post truth) and completely false news being shared by respected broadcasters.

To grapple with each of the above examples, learning knowledge by traditional means is not enough - our young people need to understand how to think, and be aware of what's going on.

Thank you for following us this week. We welcome any and all feedback on this new weekly format, and please contact me with any questions or suggestions you have.


#StudentEngagement #Learning #Technology #ArtificialIntelligence #Transformation #Pedagogy

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