I discovered computers on the last year of my psychology degree at Warwick University. I picked an introductory class in Artificial Intelligence and our first experience was to talk to a natural language understanding programme called Eliza. We call these chat-bots today and think nothing of chatting to them online. In my day, more years ago than I care to remember, this was leading edge research. I decided there and then I wanted to learn how to do this amazing thing that could create a ‘person in a box’. Here is a sample transcript, the interaction in CAPITALS are from the computer:
Men are all alike.
IN WHAT WAY?
They’re always bugging us about something or other.
CAN YOU THINK OF A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE?
Well, my boyfriend made me come here.
YOUR BOYFRIEND MADE YOU COME HERE
He says I’m depressed much of the time.
I AM SORRY TO HEAR YOU ARE DEPRESSED
It’s true. I am unhappy
DO YOU THINK COMING HERE WILL HELP YOU NOT TO BE UNHAPPY
I need some help, that much seems certain.
If you want to try your own conversation you can, click on this image:
I never looked back. I completed my psychology degree taking all the options I could to learn more about Artificial Intelligence (AI) : philosophy of mind, natural language understanding , cognitive science, psycholinguistics. It soon became clear that I was never going to do this unless I got the technical know how to program computers. There was nothing for it, I completed an Electrical Engineering Masters to become a techie – learnt to enjoy being a geek, spending the night in the computer lab waiting for my programmes to run, finding missing brackets, and drinking lots of coffee late at night. The journey did not end there, after a PhD in computer science and years in pure research in AI I joined the corporate world working for a company run by Carnegie Mellon University lecturers, the mecca of AI researchers at the time.
At some point I set up my own consultancy working with leading edge Expert Computer Systems software. I went into businesses developing AI systems they did not know they needed. And most of the time my work life was like this:
My life in front of a computer was great and the more I consultancy projects I completed the more I saw that it was the people side of business that often got in the way of computer systems working properly. I developed an expert system for a printed circuit board factory in Italy. All worked so well and yet the system was not giving the company the results they wanted. We discovered that users were not happy with the system and sabotaged it by hiding components and half finished circuit boards. I decided to go back to people and how they communicated in business, as this seemed more important to get things working than fancy computer systems.
My career has now come full circle. I started to get interested in the use of technology in teaching and learning as I have now spent many years as a teacher and group facilitator in business. I work with top teams, senior executives who never have time for anything and I find that the use of technology can help them learn between meetings and long flights. I did a course on learning to teach online, a course on how to Moodle, and it was all very basic for me as my background in technology and software development is as extensive as my experience as an executive coach and cognitive psychologist in business. But they did get me started developing online resources and blended learning programmes for my clients both corporate and in my private practice as a cognitive coach.
I am now doing a Masters in Online Education in the hope that I can bring together my life long interest in technology and how people do or do not use it with the design of creative online learning resources for my clients. I am dazzled by the possibilities of new technologies, and both excited and scared by how they may impact our psychological well-being.
And yet, if Delia Smith can give up the BBC for online tutorials because she believes it to be the medium for learning of the future, then I can hope I will come back to sit in front of my computer, listening to my IPhone rather than my Walkman as I did in the early days of my career, and design effective online learning events for my clients. The idea of massively open learning throws up implications that are hard to grasp even for futurologists. Why am I MOOCing? To have a lived experience of a massive open learning course and explore for myself its implications for the educational landscape of the future.