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Catching up on Web3

Photo by DeepMind on Unsplash

A ramble-y post of recs for info and opinions on Web3.

If you were to ask any of my Reclaim colleagues, it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve been just a tad fixated on the ethics of AI and cryptocurrency at the moment.

Our #watercooler channel in Slack is very vulnerable to my somewhat neurotic pings about this-or-that I read/listened to/saw about these topics. They tend to be accompanied by emojis like 😬, 😳, and 🫠.

As someone who got her professional start in the open education world, I was “raised,” in a career sense, with a marked sense of skepticism about “big EdTech,” grounding my work and values in supporting student and instructor autonomy and ownership. Compound that with the healthy luddism my time working explicitly in digital humanities instilled in me, and you get a pretty paranoid instructional technologist. Ok, “paranoid” might be a little harsh, but definitely not far off.

I’m still sorting out exactly how I feel about AI and crypto, and definitely feel like I’m a bit behind. Let me be clear: I have no experience or expertise in either of these fields, so I’m really only coming at it from a potential user and educational standpoint; I want to understand this ecosystem enough to think critically about its impact on our society. For instance, when I hear my in-laws mention that one of the younger cousins is “doing crypto” and is a year away from being a millionaire, I want to be able to make sense of it. Maybe I can’t… but I could certainly understand more.

And, yeah, maybe my early professional career and natural neuroticism have provided me with a penchant for doom-scrolling.

Regardless, since I’m only “catching up” I’m going to share some of the amazing people and resources I’ve learned so much from the past few weeks as a record of what specifically about this space is striking me. Maybe someone can use this as a jumping off point themselves, or maybe it’ll only exist to help me organize my thoughts and feelings. Either way works for me.

Catching up on: cryptocurrency

Molly White

I first came across Molly White when she popped up on one of my very favorite digital thinkers’ podcast, Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human: Episode 232. I’ve since been in a MW rabbit hole, and highly recommend her newsletter, Web 3 Is Going Just Great blog, and Twitter (if you’re still into that kind of thing).

Here are a couple quotes from that episode that stood out to me and related most to my own professional ethos.

“The technology isn’t actually the most interesting piece of [crypto]… what people are trying to do with it and the problems they’re trying to solve and how they’re solving them, I think that’s the more interesting piece.” — MW

“The more STEM we do, the more liberal arts we have to do… STEM… we think of as job readiness whereas liberal arts we think of as job refusal. The more you know the less you want to work for these dudes.” — DR

The news

Most of the additional resources I was able to find about cryptocurrency actually come directly from Molly White’s fantastic reading list. Trust me, her whole web presence is a wealth of information, and I think I’d like to be her when I grow up.

The quotes I pulled from a couple of the news articles I read related to crypto really shed light onto its “realness” and actual value. The fact that these quotes specifically stood out to me I think speaks to my general concern that we’re losing touch a bit when diving into these new types of tech, especially when it involves putting real people’s—often, vulnerable people’s— money on the line.

“[Crypto] will only be valuable if you can find someone to buy it from you.” – Hilary Allen, Marketplace Tech, “FTX bankruptcy points to more difficult times for crypto”

“Crypto is not real. Like the platinum coins in EverQuest, it has no intrinsic value and is untethered to anything but the shared belief by many people that it is actually worth something.” – Matt Ford, New Republic, “Boondoggle of the Year: Cryptocurrency”

Catching up on: AI

Crypto’s one thing… AI, on the other hand? Well… 😬, 😳, and 🫠.

This topic is difficult for me to even begin with. While I believe that AI is an integral part of our future, I think we’re making some serious stumbles in these early stages of building and implementing it. Lessons we’ve learned over and over again in the recent past are being ignored, and while I have faith that things will stabilize eventually, I do worry about the harm that can be done in the interim.

Autumm Caines

Autumm Caines has been a beacon of reason and critical thought when it comes to AI and the edtech space and I can’t recommend her blog Is a Liminal Space enough. The three latest posts (as of when this post was published) are her explorations of and musings on AI— a certain generative AI that’s very hyped at the moment in particular— and its effect in higher education. I especially appreciate the way Autumm clarifies the free labor that these generative AI programs leverage, and the fact that those of us in instructional tech shouldn’t be down with that.

Douglas Rushkoff

Again, a big DR fan over here. He’s had a couple of opening monologues on his Team Human podcast that touch on his experience with AI as a professor recently, specifically as it relates to plagiarism (Autumm also speaks at length about this). Personally, I wish that educators were less worried about cheating and plagiarism as it relates to generative AI, and more concerned about the ethics of them and educating their students about that.

A really helpful overall look at the AI situation from DR is rehashed a few places around the internet, but the one I initially read was his piece “Team Human vs. Team AI.”

Center for Advancing Safety of Machine Intelligence (CASMI)

CASMI is a group of academics and researchers hosted by the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University. This panel brings together experts from various industries with an interest in AI and its ethical implementation. This really helped me understand what some of the differing yet well-informed opinions and perspectives that exist about this topic at the moment.

“Ethics, Safety, and AI: Can We Have it All?”

If there’s one thing that this post has taught me, it’s that I really need to start blogging these things as I come across them and not waiting until I have a ramble-y, unwieldy list of recs to share!

Resource list

For those who are simply here for the recs, here they are, plus a few more: