Personal Update: May 2023, Contemporary Issues in Digital Technology

As National Apprenticeship Week 2023 started back at the beginning of February I wrote a brief blog post where I mentioned the start of the Contemporary Issues in Digital Technology for my degree apprenticeship. The module has now been completed, so a good chance for me to reflect a little.

Critical Writing vs Descriptive Writing

One of the reasons I maintain a blog is that I enjoy writing about the things I have learned. However, my degree has helped me to learn that my writing is generally descriptive. For the contemporary issues module I had to be careful not to fall into the “descriptive writing” trap, making sure not to write a history lesson. The writing had to be analytical, show existing research and reveal the different sides to the issues.

Picking an Issue

Digital Technology is a big field with many subjects / technologies that fall within it. Finding an issue that is relevant, something I could research and something that may impact on my work environment was a tough choice. In the end I got it down to cloud technologies, automation or artificial intelligence (A.I.) as I have an interest in all three and all three tick the boxes of relevant, researchable and having an impact. I then decided on A.I.

Research is Hard

If I don’t know the answer to a question I generally say so, then spend some time finding out the answer. However, research is much more than this. First up is finding out about the issue and what the trends / developments of it are. For A.I. I went back to the early seeds of discussion from the 1940s, then the Dartmouth conference in the 1950s, continuing on through the A.I. winters (when the buzz around the topic of A.I. went cold) and A.I. springs (when a breakthrough would occur generating interest). I followed books, journal articles, conference papers and research papers on the various fields of A.I. learning about such areas as machine learning, deep learning, neural networks, perceptrons, knowledge machines, artificial general intelligence and so much more. For each piece of reference I had to check the source was valid and accurate. Then I had to be critical, reducing all the information without losing the key points, maintaining a narrative whilst also sticking to a word limit.

Technology Has Positive and Negative Impacts

Whilst working on the contemporary issue the news (both print media and online media) started to publish more stories on artificial intelligence as ChatGPT (a type of A.I. based on language models known as a Generative Pre-trained Transformer) became bigger and bigger. Opinion on both sides (for / against) of the A.I. fence has seen print, some of which has the names of tech people, business people, scientists or politicians attached.

I’m not going to weigh in on the discussion with this blog post other than to say, technology has both positive and negative impacts. Some of these are known at the beginning of technologies development, some are only found out after the technology has been created. To quote Donald Rumsfeld:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

No matter which contemporary issue I researched I think it would has always have turned up some positives and some negatives.

Recommended Reading

My reference list ended up being quite long but there were a few books that are generally available if you are interested in learning about artificial intelligence that I recommend giving a read:

Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans by Melanie Mitchell (2020, Pelican Books)
Artificial Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction by Margaret Boden (2018, Oxford Press)
Human Compatible: AI and the Problem of Control by Stuart Russell (2020, Penguin Books)
Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine by Hannah Fry (2019, Black Swan)
Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark (2018, Penguin Books)

It’s a small sampling but the above does give a good insight into the history of A.I., the various sub-fields of A.I. and also some of the positives / negatives of A.I. (and technology in general).