2017 Be-ODL Conference

2017 Be-ODL Conference

2017 Be-ODL Conference

Humanizing machine intelligence in tomorrow’s learning landscape

Friday 1st of December 2017 Be-ODL network organized a special event in AXA Trône Brussels dedicated to Artificial Intelligence and its impact on learning process with Nell Walson (expert of Artificial Intelligence), Karl Raats (TEDx Coach) and Alain Gerlache (moderator).


In April 2017, the University of Berkeley announced the death of one of his preeminent scholars, the philosopher Hubert L. Dreyfus. In the academic community, Prof. Dreyfus was known for his visceral criticism on artificial intelligence. In the seventies he published a book entitled “What computers can’t do “in which he argued that disembodied machines cannot mimic higher mental functions. At that time, his book was greeted with hostility in the world of artificial intelligence researchers. At the beginning of the nineties, he reiterated his criticism in another book called “What computers still can’t do”. In another book published in 1985, he wrote: “current claims and hopes for progress in models for making computers intelligent are like the belief that someone climbing a tree is making progress toward reaching the moon”. According to Dreyfus, what distinguishes us from machine intelligence is the fact that “human beings experienced learning as a partly physical interaction with their surroundings, and interpreted the world, in a process of continual revision, through a socially determined filter”.

In 2018, there are still things that computers cannot do, but we should recognize that artificial intelligence is more and more a part of our daily life. To exemplify this point, just think about the exquisite voice of our GPS… She is an artificial intelligence!

At the end of last year, the Belgian Network for Open and Digital Learning (Be-ODL) invited Nell Watson and Karl Raats to talk about the (future) effects of artificial intelligence on learning, education and training in the frame of a conference entitled “Humanizing machine intelligence in tomorrow’s learning landscape”.

The first speaker, Nell Watson is an engineer by training, an entrepreneur and a public speaker who is also a faculty member at the Singularity University, a Silicon Valley think tank according to Wikipedia.  In order to have a better understanding of her thoughts, it is worth reading what she says about her on her website. She writes: “I have a core belief that technology can (and should) be leveraged to free us from the saddest aspects of the human condition. It is this same wellspring of passion that I seek to ignite within others”.

During her speech, Nell Watson brought us on a journey “where humans are very willing to form relationships with artificial intelligence software”. In her world where “artificial intelligence is growing up and is shaping the nature of our humanity”, Nell described what could be the future of learning.  In her views, this future should be made of democratized education in terms of access to learning resources. It should also be made of “minimally invasive education” a term created by Sugata Mitra, a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, meaning a learning experience in the absence of supervision but understood by Nell as a form of non-coercive education.


In her dreamed world, the future of learning is “a place where innovation, talent and skills feature prominently; where new technological solutions grow and spread rapidly; where foresight and effective risk management are at a premium. It is a world transformed by machine intelligence and personalized learning, full of new leadership challenges, a stunning array of opportunities and the looming presence of uncertainty and change”.

The approach took by Karl Raats was different. He animated a workshop where he emphasized the need to stay human in a world surrounded by machine intelligence. His core question was: “what would you change in order to make your humanity back in this digital age?”  Karl had this strong belief that our humanity lays on our capacity to stay connected to each other.

According to him, in our digital age, you need to realize that we count for each other. What is important for me is also important for my fellow humans. This is what distinguishes me from an artificial intelligence.

Franklin Kimbimbi

Member of the board of the BE-ODL

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