From the Net

Introducing The Automatic Professor Machine

(Langdon Winner)

Readers of NetFuture may be interested to learn that there's now a streaming video version of my "Introducing the Automatic Professor Machine" satire available on my web page:

The skit begins at the yearly meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Education where I am about to give the keynote address. Soon I step aside, introducing my alter ego, Mr. L.C. Winner, dynamic global entrepreneur and C.E.O. of the exciting new start-up, Educational Smart Hardware Alma Mater, Inc. From there L.C. rolls out his vision of the "forces driving education today" and his sales pitch for the APM and other innovative products from EDU-SHAM.

The 20-minute video is best seen if you have a fast ethernet or cable connection. Please note that the skit is in two parts that load automatically (of course), but with a brief break between parts one and two. Also, I regret that the present production still lacks the sound track for applause and crowd noise, although L.C. obviously hears them. In the as yet unfinished final version, these sound effects will be included along with "credits" at the conclusion and a musical theme, "March of the Distant Educators".

The video is a shorter version of a lecture I've given at conferences and universities during the past couple of years. It offers my response to the premises and pretensions of initiatives in digital, online education that we hear so much about these days. The origin of the piece was a straightforward lecture on globalism and education I first gave at the School of Education, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, in the middle 1990s. After doing the same talk a few more times I decided to present the ideas in a different way, taking the language of globalism, distance education, computers in the classroom, and the like and pushing it over the top. The results now stream away for your edification and enjoyment on my web page.

When I offer the longer, 40-minute version of this shtick, there are two common responses. Some people insist on telling L.C. Winner (who remains at the podium during the question and answer period) that while they appreciate the humor, they themselves have had excellent luck using digital hardware and software in their online schools, colleges and universities. L.C. responds enthusiastically, telling the teachers and administrators that he celebrates their successes; together they can work toward the eventual goal -- "eliminating the inflexible ballast that has come to be known as `education' during the past two centuries!"

Inevitably, there are people in the audience who inform L.C. that his business plan is already out of date, superceded by aggressive corporations and hucksters in the software, communications, university, and info-ed business worlds, who are wiring the world of distance learning in ways far more extensive, lucrative and effective than the ham-fisted schemes he's proposing. L.C. admits that there's stiff competition out there, but that EDU-SHAM still has a few tricks up its sleeve. Among these are developments that will eliminate the "two remaining bottlenecks" that stand in the way of achieving total penetration of education by global, digital technology. Alas, legal issues of "intellectual property, copyrights, and patents" prevent L.C. from saying exactly what the bottlenecks are or how they will be removed.

I hope to polish the Automatic Professor Machine video soon, making it available on VHS tape and CD-ROM, perhaps by late spring. Now that I've gotten used to this medium, I'll move on to do a series of "techno-satires" that raise issues about technology and human responsibility in a variety of contexts. Your comments on the APM streaming video and its approach are most welcome.

Copyright Langdon Winner 2001. Distributed as part of NetFuture: ( You may redistribute this article for noncommercial purposes, with this notice attached.