Recently, a number of schools have started using a CourseSmart program, which uses e-book analytics to alert teachers if their students are studying the night before tests, rather than taking a long-haul approach to learning.
In addition to test scores, the CourseSmart algorithm assigns each student an “engagement index” which can determine not just if a student is studying, but also if they’re studying properly. In theory, a person could receive a “satisfactory” C grade in a particular class, only to fail on engagement.
CourseSmart developers say that their development is not simply shows the results of tests, but constantly monitors the inclusion index. Thus, it determines not only the result but also pupil’s attitude to learning.
This immediately reminded me of Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel, "Snow Crash" where a government employee’s reading behavior has been thoroughly warped into simulacrum by a lifetime of overbearing surveillance:
“Y.T.’s mom pulls up the new memo, checks the time, and starts reading it. The estimated reading time is 15.62 minutes. Later, when Marietta does her end-of-day statistical roundup, sitting in her private office at 9:00 P.M., she will see the name of each employee and next to it, the amount of time spent reading this memo, and her reaction, based on the time spent, will go something like this:
Y.T.’s mom decides to spend between fourteen and fifteen minutes reading the memo. It’s better for younger workers to spend too long, to show that they’re careful, not cocky. It’s better for older workers to go a little fast, to show good management potential. She’s pushing forty. She scans through the memo, hitting the Page Down button at reasonably regular intervals, occasionally paging back up to pretend to reread some earlier section.”
The computer is going to notice all this. It approves of rereading. It’s a small thing, but over a decade or so this stuff really shows up on your work-habits summary. Dystopian panoptical horrors were supposed to be cautionary tales – not specifications for new projects.
As one Hacker News commenter put it: in the future, you don’t read books; books read you!