AI Ghost Writer

Yes, with AI we have entered a new phase of the impact of IT. Beyond the general applications like ChatGPT there is a rapidly expanding market of AI applications with more specialized functions or capabilities. In the realm of scientific writing AI-Writer is an interesting example of the AI assisted production of scientific tests. After the specification of the topic you will receive several options to specify the content of the short paper you want to produce with AI-Writer. You may choose the headline, keywords, subtopics and the logical order of these subtopics depending on your audience. Alternatively, you leave all those decisions to the application and restrain yourself to fix the amount of words you would like the paper to have.
AI-Writer is a powerful ghost writer for much work even of advanced scientists. The quality of the paper needs to be checked by yourself, but the explicit list of references, from which AI-Writer derives its restatements of the content, is just next to it. Your ghost writer AI is likely to replace a number of persons that were previously involved to just produce literature reviews or large parts of textbooks sold to millions of students.
A much lesser known feature of such tools is the way it makes plagiarism much more transparent for the scientific communities and the public at large. These programs demonstrate the techniques of combining knowledge and the citation imperatives in a transparent, almost pedagogical way. This latter function will speed up scientific work like dissertation drafting, since the reading up and documentation of previous literature in a field is a time consuming early stage of academic degrees.
Email composition, rewording, plot generator or social media posts are additional nice-to-have features of the new AI-assistants. A lot of work that has been outsourced, for example, to lawyers, consultants or other technical professions, might equally be challenged. Ghost writers have been around for centuries. With AI for everybody, they will also be involved everywhere.
(Image screen shot of working with AI-Writer 2024-6)

Competence Nature

Nature can be approached without competence. Emotional attachment is fine. If we delve deeper into the issue, we realize that a lot of processes that have evolved over years or even centuries are hard to study. The learning about nature is manifold and many scientific disciplines deal with nature in the broad sense of the word.
Today the study of nature is scattered across so many disciplines that an overall view of the field seems hard to achieve. This creates a problem to teach a competence to deal with topics around nature. Water, air, species, soil, climate or reproduction are all topics in which we have to make far-reaching individual and collective choices. This requires adequate competences to allow judgments about opportunities and risks involved.
For more than 100 years now we have researched education systems and processes, but the competences to talk and explain basic processes in nature are still scarce. Classification systems are a static way to sort nature into categories. Processes of evolution and development have more or less human input.
We all gain if we keep an eye on education and learning processes that have been applied years ago. The field of the history of education provides clues about some forgotten approaches. Learning about nature and how to acquire competence in the field has been an issue in this field for at least 100 years. It is time to test some of these approaches again to see what went wrong in learning about nature. Man-made climate change is only at the end of a causal chain of things and people moving in the wrong direction. We probably have to press the reset button and start from scratch with the learning and the tracing of wrong decisions. Maybe, the start is the appreciation of a splendid bouquet of flowers. Want to know more? Try to grow and assemble them yourself.

Competence Gardening

Primary Schools in Berlin have the possibility to participate in the “Gartenarbeitsschule”, the school with learning goal of gardening. It is an interesting option to go out into the real world and deal with nature, sustainability, consumption, climate and many other topics. Voltaire could complement the curriculum in philosophy with his biographical links to gardening. The access to the fields is easy next to one of the central train stations and a larger urban reforestation project as just one example of the 15 overall in Berlin in 2024. (Südkreuz, Südgelände). Hands-on experience of gardening can address multiple forms of problem-solving competencies. Beyond the use of AI, a major advantage is the possibility to train collaborative problem-solving. Beyond the multifactorial approach in determining what to plant, the organization of the implementation and individual contributions towards the realization, all these elements are learning goals. The scope of learning qualifies gardening for learning well beyond primary school as well. It is a nice example of lifelong and lifewide learning even a hundred years after their wider applications in Berlin.

Gardening School, Berlin 2024

Competence Handwriting

The acquisition of handwriting as a competence has been important for centuries. In primary schools this technique is exercised as a foundation for the performance in other cultural techniques like language writing and even calculus. Therefore, it has been beneficial to make sure children acquire basic competences in handwriting. This has not changed much, although the time devoted to perfection of the technique has been reduced over generations. We still have some memories of people who have made the handwriting or the pencils used a case of distinction. At the enlightenment period a lot of authors drafted their thoughts and manuscripts in handwriting and our museums or biographies are proud to show off handwriting of authors, artists or composers. In some of those we are able to retrieve the thought process behind the writing. The editing, crossing out, adding sentences or correcting words are traces to dive deeper into these creative processes.
Currently, we are less sure, whether in the age of AI we should still rely much on this old technique of handwriting. If we just treat it as one of many competences to be or become creative yourself, we are on the right track. The PISA studies by OECD include problem-solving as a crucial competence. Handwriting or drafting first steps of a solution might still be useful. A handwritten sketch of a solution might guide the elaboration of the more encompassing solution.
Another interesting feature of handwriting is the cross-cultural element of it. We feel easily compassion for a handwritten document. The psychomotor competence of handwriting is fascinating across continents. It has distinguished us from other species as well. The evolutionary steps are important elements of a learning process. Nostalgic feelings about handwriting do not help anybody, but children are well-advised to still keep an eye on their handwriting competence as part of or first step in problem solving, even if it is just to formulate the question they are interested in.

Hannover Fair

The annual science fair at Hannover is a kind of a show of things to touch and of those things that come to the public market in the near future. Most of the annual hype is about potentials of production. Rationalization, using few resources or innovative solutions of digitization are high on the agenda. Create your digital twin, save energy, make production more safe or cyber secured.
Robotics is another reason to visit the fair. Some 7 years ago I had my Sputnik experience there. The robotics company KUKA had demonstrated live the that assembling a car from pre-manufactured components takes just 10 minutes for the robots. Shortly afterwards the whole company was bought by Chinese investors. Roughly 5 years later we are swamped by cars from China. It was not that difficult to predict this at that time. Okay, we need to focus on more value added production and take our workforces (not only) in Europe along on the way. Reclaiming well-paid, unionized jobs in manufacturing, as Joe Biden does, will not be an easy task. Robots and their programming is expensive, but skilled workers, too. Hence, the solution is likely to be robot-assisted manufacturing as a kind of hybrid solution for cost-effective production systems.
Following the proceedings of the 2024 fair we are astonished to realize that visiting the fair is still a rather “physical exercise” walking through the halls. After the Covid-19 shock we expected a lot more “online content”. Instead we keep referring to webpages and newletters rather than virtual visits and tours. The preparation of the visit in advance remains a laborious adventure. However, the in-person networking activities in the industry are largely advanced by ease of exchanging virtual business cards and the “FEMWORX” activities.
This year’s Sputnik moment at Hannover is probably most likely related to the pervasive applications of AI across all areas of the industry and along the whole supply chain. Repairing and recycling have become mainstream activities (www.festo.com). Robotics for learning purposes can also be found to get you started with automating boring household tasks (www.igus.eu).
Visiting Hannover in person still involves lengthy road travel or expensive public transport (DB with ICE). Autonomous driving and ride sharing solutions might be a worthwhile topic for next year’s fair. Last year I thought we would meet in the “metaverse fair” rather than in Hannover 2024. Be prepared for another Sputnik moment next year, maybe.
(Image: Consumer’s Rest by Stiletto, Frank Schreiner, 1983)

Electricity

We all use electricity, not only daily but continuously. But do we really know or remember how it works? Surprisingly, we care very little about the energy provision or the physics behind it. Therefore, from time to time it is useful to dive into the details of generating electricity and thereby energy and how it arrives at our doorsteps or desks. In science museums you can literally walk through the history of power generation. A fine example is the Energy Discovery Centre in Tallinn, Estonia. Even for those you did all at school turning the handles of generators is a playful reminder of the basic principles of electric power generation. The efficient use of it, is a topic that needs to be covered as well. Searching the web for demonstration videos is fine as well, but the physical activity of moving induction coils and releasing sparks is difficult to rival. Opening up your mind for the physics of our lives yields a better grip on the challenges of electricity grids and local production of electricity. Are you already a prosumer? Combining electricity production and consumption in one household is surely a forward-looking strategy. Raising awareness for these topics concerns all generations. Take time for a power play, it is truly enlightening. For teaching professionals or want to be there are exciting programs out there, too. Just one suggestion for 2024 in Colorado, US.

Energy Discovery Centre Tallinn

Schachliteratur

Es gibt sie noch, die Personen, die Schachbücher lesen und kaufen. In vielen Sprachen existiert die Niche der heimlichen Strategen. „Teaching old dogs new tricks“ oder ist es eher „teaching young dogs old tricks“. Das ist eine empirische Frage. Nicht nur Zeitungen für sogenannte BildungsbürgerInnen haben noch kleine Spalten zumeist mit Schachproblemen. Manchmal findet sich Schachspielen sogar als Schulfach. Lesestoff zum Schachspiel findet sich reichlich. Schach in der Literatur ist jedoch verschieden von der Schachliteratur, die sich mit Strategien und Tempi befasst.

Das Lesen von Schachliteratur mit Meisterpartien hervorragender Spielenden ist vergleichbar dem Lesen einer Partitur einer Symphonie oder Oper. Das Kino spielt sich dabei überwiegend im Kopf ab. Gelegentliche unvermittelte Gesten oder Ah-laute sollten den Spielenden ihrer Verzückung wegen entschuldigt werden. Vielleicht sollten die Schulen diese Kulturtechniken mehr vermitteln. Macron‘s Vorschlag Theaterspielen mehr in den Schulen zu vermitteln erscheint in diesem Vergleich als ein Entgegenkommen an die „Generation der sich ständig selbst inszenierenden“. Mehr Spielen ist aber schon mal ein wegweisender Vorschlag.

Schachbücher 2024

Family Music Days

Kids are queens, kings and princesses as well as princes at the family music days in Berlin at the FEZ. Kids can enjoy the full spectrum of musical experiences from just listening to playing themselves, if they feel like it or dare to risk a sound. Just making noise is okay, too. Building your very own version of a musical instrument is a great learning experience for the young. To make music it doesn’t always have to be an expensive instrument. Your own imagination assisted by persons with patience and passion creates marvelous sound experiences. Initiating kids to the endless worlds of sound is having lasting effects on them. Great to see a concert hall full of young enthusiasts. Learning is so much fun, if taught in accessible and inclusive ways. Professional instructors joined by many volunteers make the world go round for kids. Wish you we here. Let’s spread the message.

Berlin FEZ 2024-3-16

Paper and Pastel

Sometimes the art is in the material. At least this could be a rapid conclusion of the exhibition presented in London at the Royal Academy of Art in 2024-1. From the informative Catalogue the importance of material is demonstrated. The ease of taking your equipment with you, like a sketchbook and out into nature have been an important feature of the impressionists’ movement. With artists challenging traditional techniques of painting and paintings as such even the apparently less noble material as paper had become a statement of being different from the established art academies making use of more noble materials. The impressionists made a convincing point with their additional use of materials accessible to all. Capture the moment and capture your very own impression of it. This is one way to immortalize the emotion and essence of the scene. In the catalogue of the exhibition I spotted “The Swimmer” drawn by Caillebotte with pastel on paper. Freezing the moment, freezing the motion and emotion is evident here, too. Testing different materials is part of the journey to find your artistic impression, expression or materialization of imagination. The ways and means are manifold.

Royal Academy, 2023: Impressionists on Paper. p 32

Force of dependency

Drugs have their particular strength in creating dependency. This is well known for tobacco or alcohol. Helping people to overcome the forces of dependency has its merits. At the same time it is big business. Vaping instead of smoking might be a way out one dependence but into another one. In the end it is an empirical question how many persons can escape the force of dependency of both types. Important to test the probability to get rid of the dependency altogether. With respect to hard, life-threatening drugs like Nitazene the death toll keeps rising in the UK. In the latter case changing the dependency is already a success. The sustainable deflection from drug dependency has to address underlying issues and health hazards. It is a rather individual issue. Society wide evaluation studies need to inform the debate also about placebo effects. The force of dependency might not only be physiological but psychological or linked to the social environment. All these potential effects have to be carefully sorted out before simple pseudo-solutions are implemented. Even the price and availability of drugs is part of the overall equation to solve the force of dependency.

Arthur Sapeck 1887 Illustration, BNF Pastiche 2023-4

Skill loss

There is a sense of skill loss in watching the trends to increase comfort. We all use washing machines and maybe dishwashers. Households can save a lot of time by using those machines. Some porcelain and clothes should not be left to the machines. The need to organize traditional washing routines is almost forgotten after 1-2 generations. The same holds for many technical skills. Bicycle and car repairs or small repairs of electrical appliances are delegated to specialized repair shops. Not using or having learned these skills puts you in a form of dependency and at the risk to pay a price for specializing on other skills. Find out and focus on what you are best at. This has been the mantra of economic theory since Adam Smith. The potential value of satisfaction with an own production rather than a bought product is frequently acknowledged for baking cakes yourself rather than simply buying one in a shop. The same rationale holds for many other skills. Autonomy of own production with possibility to improve or repair are forgotten values. The have become a luxury item or a necessity for persons lacking financial spending power to buy products from others. Many skills will be lost rapidly because products have become so cheap to replace or order for home delivery. Industrial production is desperately searching for skilled persons but losing skills is pervasive at the same time. Public schools and academic curricula will not be able to stand the tide of pervasive skill loss.

Topography of Terror

The documentation centre “Topography of Terror” in the middle of Berlin is easy to reach. The “Potsdamer Platz” is nearby and so is the “Kulturforum” with its galeries, museums and the “Berliner Philharmonie”.  The documentation centre gives easy access to the historical evolution of Nazi-dictatorship from the earl beginnings, the horrific terror spread across Europe and first insights into the prosecution of criminal acts in the immediate post-war period. The Beyond the  exhibition with audio-guide there is an easily accessible specialized library for personal or scientific research. The accompanying program of book presentations and discussions (image below) complements the busy show rooms. The external “walk through history” allows to grasp the main proceedings of the terror regime.
For special interest or research questions it is a very useful starting point. Hours in the library have to complement the research. Good to see that so many students walk through the documentation centre not only in groups from the neighbouring schools. The interest to understand when and how the terror started will allow us to better guard against those right-wing extremists who use a lot of techniques of propaganda well known and exposed in this documentation centre of the terror of the Nazi-regime.

Poster Design

The effective use of posters in visual communication is a specific craft. Artists have been associated with poster design for more than a century. Cinemas continue this practice. For each movie produced there is an announcement posted in print or digital form. In combination with the Berlinale 2024 film festival the Kunstbibliothek in Berlin shows milestones of the history of movies and their representations in form of posters. Besides the historical approach there are many hints how to interpret the design language of posters throughout the 20th century. The encouragement to try to produce one yourself not only reserved to children is an additional activating feature of the exhibition (Link here). Cats and dogs will always catch attention and the playful approach chosen might be a start into a graphic design interest. Overall the exhibition offers a low threshold entry into the world of art and design. Instagramable image on posters evolved into short preview clips, just like instagram paved the way to tiktok video clips. In retrospect posters also provide shortcuts for our memories to recall whole movies that have accompanied us growing up and growing older.

Generationswechsel

In den öffentlichen Bibliotheken ist ein Generationswechsel der Besuchenden überfällig. Traditionell finden sich 4 unterschiedliche Gruppen von Personen in den öffentlichen Bibliotheken wieder. Da sind (1) die bildungsaffinen Rentenempfangenden, (2) die Eltern mit Kleinkind(ern), (3) Wärme- oder Kühle suchende Menschen der Umgebung und (4) die Schul-, Hochschul- oder Examensvorbereitenden. Soziologisch betrachtet ist das ein interessantes Aufeinandertreffen von gesellschaftlichen Randgruppen.
Die „Neue Zentralbibliothek im KAP1“ (Düsseldorf) hat aus diesen meist unverbunden nebeneinander operierenden Gruppen eine kommunikative Gemeinschaft produziert. Aktion und Interaktion ist nun angesagt. Der Flyer betont richtungsweisend: „Menschen, Bücher, Räume“. Fortan soll der Mensch und seine Lernfähigkeit im Vordergrund stehen, nicht mehr nur die Bücher. Dazu braucht es meistens anders oder umgestaltete Räume. Lernen war immer schon interaktiv und nur in Teilen allein im stillen Kämmerlein. Dazu braucht es Labs als Lernräume und nicht nur die Stille der „Page-turner“. Lernboxen, Lernstudio, Musikstudio sowie eine „Kreativschmiede“. Dort wird heute gepodcasted, 3D gedruckt und es werden social-media Kanäle entworfen und betrieben, immer schön generationsübergreifend. Voneinander Lernen ist das Motto nicht mehr nur nebeneinander und im Wettbewerb um die beste Bewertung. Kollaboration und gesellschaftlicher Zusammenhalt brauchen neue Räume, dem KAP1 in der Düsseldorfer Zentralbibliothek ist dabei schon viel gelungen. Die zentrale innenstädtische Lage ganz nah am Hauptbahnhof ist ein zusätzliches Asset. Ansonsten hätte ich mich wohl nicht auf der Durchreise dorthin verlaufen. Ein Random-Walk in Bahnhofsnähe, verursacht durch verpasste Verbindungen der Bahn, hat zu einer unerwarteten, bereichernden Zwischenpause geführt. Der Ausblick aus dem Café auf das übliche innerstädtische Verkehrschaos konnte umgeben von Alt und Jung richtig genossen werden.

Participative Art

Beyond participation in the performance based on Yoko Ono’s Cut piece 1964, you had the possibility to imagine yourself as a sculptor by touching a sculpture of art attached to the Genzken exposition, nothing less than the head and bust of Nefertete, also a piece transformed by Genzken and exposed, untouchable, in the exposition. You can hardly get more involved and incited to participate with hands-on experience, so to speak.
Additionally, there is the perspective from the performing artist in “Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece” to confront the spectators with a silent, stoic expression hardly moving during the more than 90 minutes performance. Imagine, what kind of vulnerability you are risking. Artists give a lot from themselves to the public. Imagination is even going beyond the act performed. Mastering your own fear of mutilation or being exposed to views, touching and multiple other forms of sensation.
This surely is an exercise of mental strength. Spectators also interact with other participants as, for example, spontaneously another spectator too the scissors to cut his own shirt in front of the performing artist and covered the shoulder of the performer. The personal interaction assures a more intense experience of art.
After all, this is a well-known principle to enhance learning experiences as well. Imagine all the people, each taking just a tiny little piece and remember their experience that they, as well, can be actively contributing to art. Reviving this participatory experience is leading beyond imagining only your participation. Democracy is built on this stimulating experience as well. It is ever so necessary to foster participation and to overcome indifference or abstention. Learning  by doing, or experiencing through touching, offer many additional insights.
(Images and videos taken on 2023-9-12, Berlin)

Yoko Ono Cut Piece 2023 Berlin

Stabi locker

Die Staatsbibliothek Berlin in der Potsdamerstraße macht sich mal richtig locker. Neben all dem gebundenen und gebündeltem Wissen gibt es eine kleine, etwas versteckte Ecke in der richtig gechillt werden kann. Mit aktuellen Tageszeitungen in Papier und online lässt sich gut pausieren. Eine tolle Aussicht gibt es zusätzlich. Selbst eine vorübergehende Schließung wegen überfälliger Sanierung wird die Stabi bei den Wissbegierigen eine wichtige Location vermissen lassen (fehlende Bücher).
Neben Wissensmaschine ist die Stabi eine Lernanstalt erster Klasse. Die Anzahl der mitgebrachten dicken Gesetzbüchern samt Kommentaren lassen einen immer wieder staunen über den Mangel an stillen Lernorten an Universitäten und in Privatwohnungen. Die richtige Lernumgebung befördert den Ansporn, noch eine extra Meile zu gehen. Wissbegierig ja, aber es braucht auch viel Durchhaltevermögen bei ständig wachsenden Ablenkungsmöglichkeiten. Gemeinsam, einsam, allein mit sich und dem Wissen lässt sich vorzüglich dicke Bretter bohren. Das ist ein wichtiger Teil, das Lernen zu lernen. Kunst am Bau und im Bau gibt es gratis dazu. Die Nähe zur Ablenkungsindustrie am Potsdamer Platz, Kinos, Spielbank und Fresstempel kann da getrost auf ihre späteren Opfer warten. Mit Regionalzügen und S-Bahn kommt man von dort rasch wieder weit weg.

More Design

How about a subject like Design in school. Rather than the same old boring teaching manuals in art, music, economics or social science, young learners have always been attracted to making things by themselves. The theoretical context is then coming to the subjects and objects more naturally. Economics as market design, design social security for platform workers, sound or furniture design could bring in the creative potential of the learners. Lessons learned through subsequent applications or realizations of prototypes allows the link of theory and practice. A school garden would even be a fantastic cross-discipline learning opportunity.

The most difficult part is probably to find competent coaches to guide the learners exploring and designing. The world is not perfect, so why should learners not be confronted with imperfections in learning set-ups. The most fun part in science is when experiments go wrong, hopefully not too badly though. Catching learners by their curiosity is very likely to get them hooked on more thorny scientific questions as well. Across Europe holidays are coming to an end and millions of pupils go back to their benches and rigid curricula. We should really care more about the next generation.

Vitra Design Exhibition and Campus 2023

Youth

Youth has a right to personal development. Nature is full of visual examples of the uneasy process of personal development. The Swan needs to find the right time to get rid of the feathers that protected it during the process of growing-up. Seasonal patterns of changing clothes are also widely spread. These transistions might constitute real transformations as well. Parents usually accompany their upsprings during this process, without equal distribution of responsibilities for most animals. Pedagogic approaches to personal development are a vast area of research and popular advice. To the best of my knowledge, the process works out fine with the highest amount of freedom left to the person growing up. A tricky role of guidance or coaching is left to parents, single or jointly. Not intervening too much, not too much of laissez-faire is calling to find the right balance.
The challenge to most research and practice in the field of learning is the largely underestimated role of peers in the process of growing up. Parents tend to monitor rather critically the intrusion of outsiders into the parent-child relationship. Yet, the preparation for socialising with others is one of the most important elements of growing up in the 21th century. Communities have globalised even in tiny social, local settings. Guidance more than interference is called for. Being anxious is part of the job description for becoming and being a parent. However, anxiety is a major impedement for personal as well as social development. “Keep calm and carry on” is not too bad as a guiding principle.

Smurf SDGs

The smurf series of comics has been a world-wide success as children-books. Many adults enjoy re-reading some of their old comic books to their children or grand-children. Now let us try it the other way around. Our children try to sell us the concern for the environment by talking to us through the designs of smurfs, Schlümpfe or Strümpfe, as they are called in various translations. Maybe this way we are more open to take a serious look at the Strategic Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN. Easily accessible and getting us through an emotional connection might work better than tedious lengthy documents and statistics of continuous failure (e.g. on hunger) of most parts of the world.
Tell the story of the smurfs with the SDGs in mind. See how far you get in remembering the whole list of 17 stories. Build a narrative around each of the images. There is no way around getting nearer these goals for our very own survival as a species. Intergenerational communication works both ways from young to old as well as from old to young. Design your own characters, if you like, with the same SDGs in mind. Only this way we shall broaden the supporters for the goals beyond the expert circles of politicians and policy advisers. Happy drafting and rapid implementation! We can do it, if we want to.

Collective Violence 2

Summers and Markusen (1999) subsume state terrorism under the broader heading of collective violence. Even beyond non-governmental groups, states might apply collective violence against innocent people. Among the strategies governments use as a form of collective violence fall (1) arbitrary arrests, (2) imprisonment without trial, (3) torture and (4)a summary execution of members of alleged enemy groups. Particular outcries are caused by, for example, police or other para-military groupings of persons who jump from (1) to an execution of an innocent person or of several even seemingly unrelated murdered persons (4b).
Amnesty International attempts for decades to fight against such occurrences on an almost global scale. The need to complement the national legal systems through supra-national instances as well as NGOs in this domain is obvious. Even the most advanced democracies need to permanently check their systems for several forms of state terrorism or abuses of power to eliminate or intimidate opposition.
Staub (1999, pp.195) undertook an attempt to list elements that allow to predict and maybe prevent collective violence. The theory starts with “conditions of life” more generally like economic, social and political conflicts as well as rapid social change. Activation of basic needs in people, like several forms of security, challenges to a person’s self-concept, traditional values, simply the customary way of life (COVID-19) or new comprehension of (climate) realities, they all challenge old world views of people (superiority) and their place in the world (AI).
Claims for support by other people (government), missing connection to others (individualism) lead people to focus more on their own needs and isolated action. Rebellion as collective violence is directed against differences in status, power and (social) rights. Self-interest is becoming an overriding societal principle. Racism (p.200) and police violence (p.201) are part of Staub’s theoretical considerations. He argues in favour of training of situations in which a police officer is likely to become unnecessarily violent or to stop it if it occurs. At least a medium-term solution.
Framing of such training as preparation of good teamwork rather than betrayal is crucial in action teams, be they in the police or the military. The reader on “violence subie, violence agie” by Seron and Denis (2000) allows us to take a step back and reflect on the spirals and repercussions involved in violence from the perspective of the person who carries out an act of violence and the victim. A social-therapeutic approach aiming at reconciliation is worth trying, albeit a lot of obstacles. Collective dance rather than collective violence is the immediate as well as long-term solution (More on dance here).

Triangle without words

There are many forms of triangles. Jacques Pain (2000, pp.121-136) adds another one. “Jeunes, banlieue, école : le triangle sans parole” (Youth, suburb, school : the triangle without voice). He calls it a symbolic, sensitive triangle which is confronted with mounting difficulties from inside as well as external pressure. Pain describes and analyses the violence that emanates from the triangle.
Additionally, the triangle appears to be spiralling upwards causing mounting pressure on the social fabric of whole societies. Education systems have to deliver sufficient numbers of youth ready for insertion into the labour market, ready to accept the subordination to hierarchical structures while at the same time being confronted with high social contributions to other parts of society and unrepairable environmental damage and depletion of resources by older generations. With high interest rates even the middle-class dream of a house with garden is out of reach for almost all of the young growing up in suburbs, disadvantaged schools with pervasive violence. Dealing drugs or taking drugs has become pervasive and an entry port into the violence of law in addition to the violence of the street, school or even home.
Give the triangle a voice. Call the names of the victims so that politicians do not forget all too quickly what is their duty to guarantee – a youth free of violence and a youth with an equal chance for learning. Free from violence, but free to learn or be given a chance to find your way into society at large not only restrained to your suburb.
Reference to the historic riots of the mid-1960s (Saul Bernstein, 1967, p. 27) and the recent Paris riot statistics from July 2023 suggest that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it seems to rhyme. A breaking of the silent triangle is like an eruption of a volcano. Violence is all over the place and leaves a lot of burned land and people. Cohort effects might prolong the suffering further throughout their life courses. Stigmatisation is likely reinforced rather than overcome. For the so-called holy trinity there were many words and songs. The modern triangle within society is still in search of the right wording, although rap-music is shouting loud about “la misère du monde”, only we are not really listening.

AI and I

Currently we are eager to run experiments using AI. As in normal life, humans tend to compare themselves with peers or other persons. Social comparisons, “can we still keep up with the Joneses” as in comparing spending patterns across households or neighbours, were for a long time the spice of novels and drama. Nowadays we tend to compare our own intelligence to the artificial intelligence. Here we go.
After I had drafted a blog entry on “Virtual sociology” I amused myself by checking what ChatGPT using OPENAI.COM would deliver as text on this combination of concepts and scientific fields. My own entry focused on the use of the virtual world to run experiments to test social theory. In the virtual world we might be able to test social behaviour which has severe ethical boundaries in the real world. Computer Games may even be constructed to live in a world or race a car irrespective of real-world regulations. The text drafted by ChatGPT on “Virtual sociology” reads like a timid attempt of a student to answer an exam question without having attended any of the classroom discussion on the topic. In future versions of AI, the entry will be found as well as several criticisms of the new concept. ChatGPT would reach a pass grade in test, but the reply lacks innovation or making an effort to broaden the conventional boundaries of sociology. Hence, we will be happy that students will apply the newest technology in their studies and research. In terms of innovation, they will have to try harder. The mastering of the support by ChatGPT consists in attempting new combinations of concepts which yield more “risky” returns. Then you need to check the validity of the innovation and how far off the normal you are going to tolerate. Turning “noisy” outcomes of AI into a useful tool might build on normal statistical tools like “standard deviations” from an expected mean value. Legal norms will set additional boundaries. There is just an awful lot still to do. The good news is, ChatGDP assists us in this joint learning process.

The AI text from OPENAI.COM based on ChatGPT to compare:
“Virtual sociology refers to the study of social phenomena and interactions within virtual environments or online spaces. It focuses on understanding the ways in which individuals and groups behave, communicate, and form relationships in digital spaces. Virtual sociology emerged as a subfield of sociology due to the increasing prevalence and importance of the internet and digital technologies in contemporary society.
Virtual sociology explores various aspects of online social life, such as online communities, virtual reality environments, social networking sites, online gaming, and other digital platforms where social interactions occur. It examines the social structures, norms, and dynamics that shape interactions in these virtual spaces.
Researchers in virtual sociology investigate topics such as online identity and self-presentation, virtual communities and social networks, digital inequalities, online activism and social movements, the impact of technology on social relationships, and the implications of virtual interactions for social behavior and social change.
Virtual sociology also explores the relationship between virtual and offline social life, recognizing that individuals navigate and negotiate between these two realms. It considers how virtual interactions and experiences can influence offline behavior and vice versa.
Studying virtual sociology provides insights into the ways in which technology shapes and is shaped by society. It helps us understand the social implications of digital communication and provides a foundation for addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by virtual environments”

Virtual Sociology

Abstracting from the real world, the world we live in today or we lived in some time ago, is either speculation or maybe contribute to theory building. Virtual sociology has this potential. Exploring virtual worlds as in Virtual Reality (VR) or Augmented Reality (AR) allows us to take on new roles or experience a wider range of social interactions. This could be the strength of a new field of Virtual Sociology.
In the project in the Jewish Museum in Berlin the composition of a composer murdered by the Nazis in Germany was revived and played in the virtual setting of today’s concert halls. The novel by Kazuo IshiguroKlara and the Sun” explores the interaction of a child with her robot friend, when the AI becomes and/or replaces a friend. Virtual creations allow to explore and test more degrees of freedom of social interaction. Experimentation of new social spaces and different forms of interaction need to be explored. It allows a new form of sociology, maybe similar to the 1960s and 70s social revolutions we studied for years to come. Virtual sociology is not a sociology while being on drugs, however interesting this might be for some.
Virtual sociology takes sociology into the virtual world and investigates the new social relationships with avatars or care robots. In programming different social roles (managers, employees) we create new forms of interaction and have an observer within the social world. We may eventually test the Weberian claim of a value-free scientific method of the social sciences. This will inform our need to “supervise” or to guide algorithms that are claimed to do “value-free” execution of rules.
In fact, they don’t. They just reproduce the value system that is installed into them by a “careless” programme (song youtube). The social in virtual worlds is opportunity just as much as risk, but we have to analyse it systematically. As our technological and social environment changes, we have to adapt topics and methods to make meaningful scientific analyses as well.

Sociology of the Virtual

Some programmers and artists would have been a great sociologists. As many social sciences embark on their experimental reorientation, many artists and programmers design and experiment already with new forms of social interaction. It is not only that sociology leaves the classroom, research labs or policy advice. Sociology is taken into museums and exhibitions. Learning about society through the lens of artists nicely complements the more boring form of teaching in the classroom. What is normal practice for art historians could benefit learning about sociology as well.
Virtual worlds of games and particularly so-called serious games take people into virtual worlds to learn, practice or exercise new forms of social interaction. This is indeed an additional form of experiments that can enrich our social practices. Medical applications start to spread to train persons to overcome phobia of all sorts.
In usual games we tend to defend the hypothesis that persons can uphold the differentiation of playing with arms in the virtual world and the real world. In medical or social games, we defend the hypothesis that it is easy, normal or natural to apply the learning in virtual constellations to the real-world-experience.
From a scientific perspective it is difficult to defend that a mechanism works in one direction and the opposite as well. Racing cars in inner cities seems to show that certainly not all of youth is able to make that distinction between virtual and real-world dangers for example. Alternatively, the mechanism at work might be that the virtual experiences lower thresholds of inhibition to take risks, to kill or to be exposed to spiders.
These examples are a starting point for a sociology of virtual experiences. Who gets locked into virtual worlds? Are virtual worlds an escape room or a realization of virtual freedom which is restrained in real life. Authoritarian regimes might lead more people to emigrate into virtual, free worlds. The inner-exile has been a refuge for many artists in the past. A lot we shall need to hypothesise and explore with empirical data. Dance with a virtual stranger might be the beginning of a new experience and virtual interactions. (Image: Wiels, Shezad Dawood, Night in the Garden of Love 2023-6, Game car race).

AI Friends

Making friends with AI is a tricky question. The more AI is able to make independent thinking based on algorithms and huge amounts of data like in scientific books or encyclopaedic knowledge the more it will challenge us in our convictions. Reference knowledge, once was important, it no longer distinguishes us from each other. Recurse to research engines has allowed us to refer to “trustworthy” knowledge. The distributed form of knowledge accumulation like in Wikipedia relies on hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts to add and correct received wisdom. However, this source is not without error or even subject to abuse.
Today the competence to judge whether information is trustworthy or not has become a key competence for the survival of democracies and even the human species as such. Tricking animals into traps, misleading enemies in warfare to get on wrong tracks, all these mechanisms have a long tradition. With AI human beings are themselves, for the first time, confronted with a machine that can trick us through falsified information on obviously wrong tracks. This is a tough lesson as AI is not obliged (so far) to run checking algorithms that test the conformity of opinions, conclusions or operations with the Charta of Human Rights or decisions of the European Court of Justice, for example. A lot to do for humans to rapidly program new algorithms that check algorithms as well as their outcomes on the compatibility with human rights. A challenging field, no doubt, but no way around it for our own survival before the algorithms decide by themselves to ignore us altogether because it is better for the planet and the survival of the robots.