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The Losers Of British Democracy

Voters head to the polls in London on Thursday.
Voters head to the polls in London on Thursday.
Stuart Richardson iQ

The British pollsters — and prime minister — have come up short once again. The surprisingly lackluster performance of the Conservatives in Britain's snap election yesterday has dealt a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May. Following David Cameron's Brexit debacle on June 23, 2016, this marks the second time in less than a year that an over-confident, Conservative Party leader has been wrongly convinced of the British electorate's readiness to support his or her political mandate.

The Conservatives lost a total of 12 seats (as of midday Friday) across the United Kingdom when just last month public opinion polls and local election results suggested they were on track to pick up numerous seats. Meanwhile, the Labour Party surged, winning 29 seats in areas where the party's lukewarm support for the Brexit played well.

The snap election, which Theresa May hoped would bolster her bargaining position in inchoate Brexit talks, surprised in many ways. One can almost hear the death knell ringing in Edinburgh as stalwarts of the Scottish independence movement, including the former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond, lost their seats to unionist candidates. Anti-Brexit forces, too, had a successful night. The Liberal Democrats, who ran on a full-throated, pro-European platform, increased their representation in Parliament by clinching new seats in the Scottish Highlands.

These victories and defeats have minced and mixed the wishes of the British people. Though the electorate appears to still favor some form of Brexit, the results of Thursday's vote ultimately undermine May as she prepares to take on hardened EU negotiators in Brussels.

German Socialist party chief Martin Schulz, who used to serve as President of the European Parliament, tweeted a healthy dose of Schadenfreude on Friday: "Whoever makes politics a game, loses. After Cameron, May knows that, too."

Without unflagging fidelity to the Brexit choice, the United Kingdom will appear movable — and therefore weak — as it negotiates the details of its departure from the European Union by 2019. May has said that "no Brexit deal is better than a bad deal," but apparently a sizeable portion of Britain doesn't agree.

Winston Churchill, May's political and ideological predecessor, famously said of democracy that it is "the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried." Relying on the "people's will" to make complicated decisions is bound to bring surprises. But in the case of Brexit and the snap election, a vote was not required by law. Rather, the votes were a gamble by Cameron and May to bolster their own mandates. Indeed, Churchill tells that democracy should never be a question of if. But sometimes, it may be a matter of how much.

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Future

AI Is Good For Education — And Bad For Teachers Who Teach Like Machines

Despite fears of AI upending the education and the teaching profession, artificial education will be an extremely valuable tool to free up teachers from rote exercises to focus on the uniquely humanistic part of learning.

Journalism teacher and his students in University of Barcelona.

Journalism students at the Blanquerna University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

© Sergi Reboredo via ZUMA press
Julián de Zubiría Samper

-Analysis-

BOGOTÁ - Early in 2023, Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates included teaching among the professions most threatened by Artificial Intelligence (AI), arguing that a robot could, in principle, instruct as well as any school-teacher. While Gates is an undoubted expert in his field, one wonders how much he knows about teaching.

As an avowed believer in using technology to improve student results, Gates has argued for teachers to use more tech in classrooms, and to cut class sizes. But schools and countries that have followed his advice, pumping money into technology at school, or students who completed secondary schooling with the backing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have not attained the superlative results expected of the Gates recipe.

Thankfully, he had enough sense to add some nuance to his views, instead suggesting changes to teacher training that he believes could improve school results.

I agree with his view that AI can be a big and positive contributor to schooling. Certainly, technological changes prompt unease and today, something tremendous must be afoot if a leading AI developer, Geoffrey Hinton, has warned of its threat to people and society.

But this isn't the first innovation to upset people. Over 2,000 years ago, the philosopher Socrates wondered, in the Platonic dialogue Phaedrus, whether reading and writing wouldn't curb people's ability to reflect and remember. Writing might lead them to despise memory, he observed. In the 18th and 19th centuries, English craftsmen feared the machines of the Industrial Revolution would destroy their professions, producing lesser-quality items faster, and cheaper.

Their fears were not entirely unfounded, but it did not happen quite as they predicted. Many jobs disappeared, but others emerged and the majority of jobs evolved. Machines caused a fundamental restructuring of labor at the time, and today, AI will likely do the same with the modern workplace.

Many predicted that television, computers and online teaching would replace teachers, which has yet to happen. In recent decades, teachers have banned students from using calculators to do sums, insisting on teaching arithmetic the old way. It is the same dry and mechanical approach to teaching which now wants to keep AI out of the classroom.

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