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Computer-As-Positive-Prosthetic

      My three visions of computers in education, as described above, could be considered as based, respectively, on those three outside-in metaphors - computer-as-source, computer-as-tutor, and computer-as-prosthetic. However, the third vision has a twist which enables us to escape the outside-in framework. It is based on the metaphor of computer as-positive-prosthetic. It does not supplant some biological system which is defective but supplements a biological system which is working perfectly well. This metaphor implies a synergy between natural and artificial intelligence. It is the metaphor used, not in the familiar artificial intelligence (AI) tradition in computer science, but in the intelligence amplification (IA) tradition [Rheingold 1985].

      Acquiring the operating manual is largely a matter of learning how to use tools (the word acquiring is judiciously chose to stress the fact that it is an inside-out job). As the wonderful genetic potential - given to all members of our species as a conception-day gift - unfolds, we reach out for tools which help us realise this human potential. Education could be considered as the process of augmenting the information in the zygote, which represents the experience of our species, with the information we each acquire in our individual lifetimes. There are extragenetic tools (outside the genetic code) and there are extrasomatic tools (outside the body) [Sagan 1977]. The computer is the latest, and most dramatic, extrasomatic tool. It extends the function of the brain as the telescope extends the function of the eye and the car extends the function of the leg. It is a powerful positive prosthetic. To refuse to use this tool is to try to outsee the telescope and to outrun the car.

      Communication tools constitute a large subset of our tools. If you consider media as involving the storage and transmission of information and if you classify tools as extragenetic and extrasomatic, then those two dichotomies yield a taxonomy of four generations of media (Figure 3). In speech, storage and transmission are both extragenetic; in print, storage is extrasomatic; in video, transmission is extrasomatic; in multimedia (the emerging generation of media around computers), both storage and transmission are extrasomatic. Each generation supplements rather than supplants the previous generations. One must therefore acquire the tools of all generations (see Figure 4). To ask which of those generations is best is like asking whether it is better to walk or cycle or drive or fly. Each is appropriate in different contexts - I walk to Hudson to get my mail, cycle to the Willow Inn for lunch, drive to Montreal to the university, and fly to Europe.

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