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Cranky Director’s Corner – Hey, you got your electrodes in my gray matter!

I really need to change up my newsfeed to just pull in stories on kittens and sunsets. It’s not the political stories that I find agitating, it’s the stories on tech. You’d think that people like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Ray Kurzweil, and other technology elites would have taken a few minutes out of their busy, social fabric re-weaving, world altering lives to watch Star Trek, Black Mirror, Terminator, The Matrix, or just about every other story involving direct brain-computer interfaces or unfettered AI. Clearly Elon Musk has either never seen The Outer Limits episode “Stream of Consciousness” or failed to get the point.

I do appreciate Mr. Musk’s concerns for the dangers in our headlong dash to develop AI. I am not so sure creating direct computer interfaces in our brains is the best way to respond. Maybe instead of trying to keep up with something WE ALREADY CONTROL we should slow it down. You see, a big part of the problem is the twin illusions of the inevitability of progress and that with more technology we can fix our problems.

Fortunately, none of this has anything to do with us. We’re not tech giants, venture capitalists, or government leaders. (Does the current administration know of any technology besides twitter? Would it turn down the opportunity to tweet directly into our heads? *shudder*) Since we don’t have a collective seat at the table, what’s the fuss? Simple. These undertakings need talented people to make them happen, and there’s a serious shortfall.

We stand astride that long term pipeline. We influence where our students look for work. We can also influence how they think about the work they’ll do. So, we come to a question for us as career development pros, what kind of programming do our offices offer to get students to think hard about the implications of the work they’ll do? How about your institution? Student initiated 1-on-1 sessions might be great, but we know that will hardly scratch the surface of our campus populations. I’m talking about solid, serious engagement with groups and classes, maybe even required curriculum. Ally with student groups, partner with similarly concerned faculty or administrators, research and recommend speakers, launch a conversation series, host panels to debate privacy or poverty or climate change and pair it with a networking event or mini career fair. Do something to raise the level of awareness on your campus and mark your office as one willing to tackle hard issues with your students. Our ethical instruction should not be confined to reneging on job offers and misrepresentations on resumes. Yes, this kind of behavior will make some of us politically unpopular on campus. Maybe there needs to be a reminder that our institutions are predicated on academic freedom and free discourse. Think students don’t care about this? Research on Millenials from Deloitte says otherwise.

Let’s be honest about our work. We’re helping people launch their careers. If we prepare students to write a good resume and run a good job search, but are not equipping them to assess the impact their work will have, are we really fulfilling our obligation to them and to society at large? Have we ethically comported our duties if we do not teach our students to ethically assess who will gain and who may be hurt by the work they do and the organizations they attach themselves to?

Frankly, I’m not terribly thrilled that we’re all in some half-baked social experiment run by Mark Zuckerburg or facing the prospect of AI controlled everything thanks to Uber, Google, and dozens of IoT companies. The same can be said of a lot of other organizations and industries. Just because an employer donates generously to our campus, offers great compensation packages, or sports a cool internal culture, it is not necessarily a good or healthy organization. I’m sure Enron was a great campus recruiter!

But if we as a profession not only enable, but encourage, our students to pursue these kinds of applications of their work blind to the larger implications, we are culpable for the future we’ll inhabit. If we don’t raise questions and consciousness because it’s uncomfortable or bad for our careers, what does that make us?

About the Author:  The cranky director will deliver rants on the economy, technology, social engineering, lack of a really good nearby falafel place, and idiot politicians (broadly defined)  to your computer desktop of preferred mobile device the fourth Friday of every month.

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