OEB in Berlin was intense this year, with a three hour workshop, in a packed room, the Big Debate and a live podcast with my friend John Helmer. Disappointed that the Christmas markets were not yet open but there was plenty to one’s teeth into than a Bratwurst.
As is often the case, I found the keynotes a bit odd. An American jumped around like a firecracker, confusing shouting with substance, followed by a soporific speaker recommending a return to pencils. She was selling 'critical thinking' but seemed to have little of it. Truly mind numbing. Read every single word from a piece of paper. Then Luciano Floridi. I was looking forward to this having read his work but what a strange talk. He presented himself as a philosopher…. I’m not so sure. He’s actually more of psychologist, who has made a name for himself as a philosopher of the ‘digital’; can’t remember seeing a philosopher of the ‘pencil’. He claimed you could split the whole of philosophy, nay human affairs, into “just two things” - the Socratic and Hobbesian view – people are either stupid or evil. I have been reading philosophy all of my life and have never come across a more idiotic and simplistic summary of either philosophy or human nature. He then massacred Wittgenstein. It is clear he was playing to the crowd.
Undeterred I had some great conversations with people who actually know what they are talking about. That’s what makes conferences so odd – the showbiz v substance. Substance is to be found in the casual encounters with new people, the smaller rooms, the bar, over a coffee. Lovely to see Gabor’s AI project progress from just an idea last year, our Norwegian friends seem to have cracked the HE assessment issue, Glean are progressing with AI and there were some real projects on AI that were lifting us out of the old paradigm.
So what did I learn?
People are still stuck in the LMS/ cartoon content/video world
The exhibition seemed stuck in that world, a bit dead and often empty
Conversations were full of new ideas and ambition
AI is here and here to stay and lots of real projects shown
Superficial AI moralising was noticeable absent
AI is at a technology way beyond what we’ve seen before
HE is in a panic over AI
L&D once again thinks it is about to be taken seriously at Board level – it is not
‘Critical thinking’ has become the predictable phrase people use when they don’t know what else to say – it’s now my litmus test for people who are walking away…
After three days of intense discussion people were ready to let rip in the Friday night and we did – a big meal, followed by a party. As usual, it was one of the best conferences of the year. It’s about the people, many who were there last year and the year before. It’s not in some hideous Casino in Las Vegas, or worse a Disney venue in Florida, or some god-awful, anonymous conference centre. Fun three days? Damn right it was.