Deus Ex MOOC Machina

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The machine marks an essay, it is unerringly accurate… the pupil has passed with a grade of 87.342%. The essay pointed out how machines were an essential part of our age. The essay argued how machines had freed people from a life of drudgery, of dirt, of degradation. The writing flowed with platitudes exhorting all to feed data into their smart phones and to do as the smart phone bid them: when to go to the bus stop, when to ride the tram, when to queue up for the ride at Disneyland and when to ‘Uber’ off home. The essay argued for the health benefits of always knowing your calorific intake, burn take, walk rate, heart rate, colonic evacuation profile, laughter generator, depression load, likely day of death and recommended products to buy… The machine enjoyed the essay, a world away from the usual peak of the bell curve nonsense it has to read from the second rate pupils from this ‘good’ suburban school.

The teacher was putting his feet up, happy in the knowledge that the essays were being marked, he is ready to make a feedback YouTube video to distribute to all his socially mediated ‘good suburban’ pupils. He currently teaches a class of 60,247 English speaking, socially sorted ‘suburban’ pupils from around the world, and at least ten times as many who drop in to watch some of his ‘lessons’ after his TedX talk brought him instant infamy due to its bleak look at the current state of ‘Presentstory’ the academic subject he invented, though now it seems all so ‘last week’.

His mark machine has finished the job and it bleats with an insane beep that he used to get confused with the sound the washing machine made when it was ready to ejaculate his clothing… but this time there was something more cloying, more annoying, was it re-marking an essay? He looked closely, he never usually opened the machine up to scrutiny, but this time something unusual seemed to be happening…

The machine had turned its screen green with envy – here was the essay, now remarked to add up to 100%, about ‘how machines were an essential part of our age’. The teacher looked at it and read it a few times, God how dull it was, predictable, making all the ‘right’ noises, in all the ‘right’ places and, indeed, it satisfied all the assessment objectives so, in many ways, it was the perfect piece of work. But it lacked something.

The pupil identification code was: 089464 AB 4690////3638459 ZXE 7494649026500000.797466 TT. This pupil was someone who logged on regularly to his lecture streams so yes ‘it’ should do well but if only he could know more about ‘them’ he could tailor his feedback. However, due to fears over influencing  his students or showing any bias in his feelings and dealings with them the online college authorities demanded anonymity for the pupils – it is our e-safety policy they declared.

That evening a Deus Ex Machina started to send emails to the teacher’s inbox… ‘You Have Mail’ – all of it was being fed directly into his Spam filter – thousands of messages… from pupil: 089464 AB 4690////3638459 ZXE 7494649026500000.797466 TT Ah, he thought, ‘what a coincidence’ and he ventured into his Spam… wondering if this was a virus or a genuine attempt by the pupil to contact him directly, thereby breaking the rules and upsetting the college mail system. He took the plunge…

Three weeks later his resignation email had been accepted. He had lost all faith in the world of MOOC. It seems his marking machine had awarded the first ever 100% grade to an essay entirely written by a machine. Pupil 089464 AB 4690////3638459 ZXE 7494649026500000.797466 TT was paying vast amounts of money to have a machine take the course and write all the essays. Pupil 089464 AB 4690////3638459 ZXE 7494649026500000.797466 TT had passed with straight A grades and the writing machine had gone into celebratory overdrive flooding the college email systems with mail admitting to the fraud. The college, however, decided to keep it quiet and awarded 089464 AB 4690////3638459 ZXE 7494649026500000.797466 TT the title of Pupil of the Year and wished ‘it’ luck with its future.

The teacher unplugged his marking machine for the last time and dumped it in the dustbin.

Ex Machina.

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