Monthly Archives: December 2014

For Your Consideration : 4 Links : 12/5/2014

1. Stop 20th Century Thinking : Or Educating for the Late 1900’s

I like the author’s title but I think something is lost when he uses the phrase “20th Century”. It sounds decidedly too modern. If it were instead “Stop Late 1900’s thinking” I believe it would better carry the weight of the piece.

The model of education that most of us are products of was designed for a different time and for a different purpose. The system was created to benefit industry as much, if not more so, than it was to create a freethinking society.

Technology, contrary to science fiction writers’ predictions, will not replace teachers. It will however change the model of how we teach from the 19th and 20th centuries, which was teacher-controlled and teacher-directed learning to a 21st century model of learner-directed learning. The teacher becomes more of a mentor and co learner with students. When it comes to teaching students in the 21st century I have come to believe that it is more important to teach kids how to learn than it is to teach them what to learn.

A very great disconnect in all of this occurs when we try to use the 21st century technology tools for learning and fit them into the 19th & 20th century model of teaching. I have witnessed English teachers having students do a composition assignment. They had students do a handwritten rough draft, revise it, do a final handwritten copy, and then put it on a word processor without accessing a spell check or grammar check. Those teachers learned that way, and taught that way, and added the technology to their 20th century model of teaching. The tech tool was not used for learning. In their future lives those students will certainly use word processors for any writing that they do. Is it not incumbent on their teachers to teach students how to do it correctly? (Yes, as an adult I effectively use a grammar check and a spell check on everything I write. Most people do, even the really smart ones.)

2. Terms Of Service – Our Role In A World Of Big Data

“The media’s coverage of Big Data is often dense, jargon-heavy and difficult to understand,” said Mark Coatney, Senior Vice President, Digital Media, Al Jazeera America. “Keller and Neufeld’s Terms of Service is a fun, graphic way to cut through the noise and boost the signal.”

Between social media profiles, browsing histories, discount programs and new tools controlling our energy use, there’s no escape.  As we put ourselves into our technology through text messages and photos, and use technology to record new information about ourselves such as FitBit data, what are the questions a smart consumer should be asking? What is the tradeoff between giving up personal data and how that data could be used against you? And what are the technologies that might seem invasive today that five years from now will seem quaint?  How do we as technology users keep up with the pace while not letting our data determine who we are?

3. DeepMind : Designing Intelligence For Google

Artificial intelligence researchers have been tinkering with reinforcement learning for decades. But until DeepMind’s Atari demo, no one had built a system capable of learning anything nearly as complex as how to play a computer game, says Hassabis. One reason it was possible was a trick borrowed from his favorite area of the brain. Part of the Atari-playing software’s learning process involved replaying its past experiences over and over to try and extract the most accurate hints on what it should do in the future. “That’s something that we know the brain does,” says Hassabis. “When you go to sleep your hippocampus replays the memory of the day back to your cortex.”

A year later, Russell and other researchers are still puzzling over exactly how that trick, and others used by DeepMind, led to such remarkable results, and what else they might be used for. Google didn’t take long to recognize the importance of the effort, announcing a month after the Tahoe demonstration that it had acquired DeepMind

Interesting to note that they are still trying to figure out how their system accomplished their remarkable results. How to they improve something they don’t understand? How long before the code of the more sophisticated systems is beyond us and requires another AI to interpret it?

4. We Are All Confident Idiots – The Dunning Kruger Effect

In 1999, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my then graduate student Justin Kruger and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers—and we are all poor performers at some things—fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack.

What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.

Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to you. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that visits us all. And over the years, I’ve become convinced of one key, overarching fact about the ignorant mind. One should not think of it as uninformed. Rather, one should think of it as misinformed.

An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge. This clutter is an unfortunate by-product of one of our greatest strengths as a species. We are unbridled pattern recognizers and profligate theorizers. Often, our theories are good enough to get us through the day, or at least to an age when we can procreate. But our genius for creative storytelling, combined with our inability to detect our own ignorance, can sometimes lead to situations that are embarrassing, unfortunate, or downright dangerous—especially in a technologically advanced, complex democratic society that occasionally invests mistaken popular beliefs with immense destructive power (See: crisis, financial; war, Iraq). As the humorist Josh Billings once put it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (Ironically, one thing many people “know” about this quote is that it was first uttered by Mark Twain or Will Rogers—which just ain’t so.)

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” – Max Planck

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For Your Consideration : 4 Links : 12/2/2014

1. Terahertz Scanners Are Now A Real Thing And Graphene Keeps Getting Weirder.

If you don’t know too much about graphene, it is formed by carbon atoms in a single layer only one atom thick, and when submitted to electromagnetic waves, it behaves in a non-linear way, “kind of frequency multiplier. If we make a wave of a particular frequency impinge on graphene, the graphene has the ability to emit another, higher, frequency”, according to David Gómez and Nuria Campos from ITMA Materials Technology.

Until recently, the emission of frequencies in the terahertz band has been accomplished mainly in experimental settings.  In the terahertz band, frequencies are lower than infra-red but higher than those used by mobile phones and satellite communications.

2. The Coming Great Transition Or A View From The Second Half Of The Chessboard

The “automation of everything” has been discussed since the heyday of 50’s science fiction. Self-driving cars, fully automated factories, AI expert systems — the list of labor removing innovations that will be coming down the lane the next few decades is long and distinguished. The simple rule of our future: anything that could be done by a computer (or robot) will be done by a computer. And that means almost everything that currently employs human beings.

Recently, the idea has leapt from the pages of Asimov into conventional awareness. Somewhat astoundingly, the absurdly mainstream international real estate consulting firm CBRE partnered with the China-based property developer Genesis to repeat the theme in their report Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace. They conclude:

50% of occupations in corporations today will no longer exist by 2025Let that sink in. In a decade, 50% of occupations in corporations today will no longer exist. Yes, new jobs will be created to replace some of those lost. But 50% in ten years? No matter how you slice it, historically unprecedented unemployment is going to be a major part of our future.

3. Getting Better At Getting Better

the biggest change in performance over the past few decades—it’s not so much that the best of the best are so much better as that so many people are so extraordinarily good. In fact, McClusky points out that in some sports, particularly in track and field, the performance curve at the top is flattening out (possibly because we’re nearing our biological limits). But the depth of excellence has never been greater. In baseball, a ninety-m.p.h. fastball used to be noteworthy. Today, there are throngs of major-league pitchers who throw that hard. Although a Wilt Chamberlain would still be a great N.B.A. player today, the over-all level of play in the N.B.A. is vastly superior to what it was forty years ago. There are exceptions to this rule—free-throw percentages, for instance, have basically plateaued in the past thirty-five years. But, as the sports columnist Mark Montieth wrote after reviewing a host of games from the nineteen-fifties and sixties, “The difference in skills and athleticism between eras is remarkable. Most players, even the stars, couldn’t dribble well with their off-hand. Compared to today’s athletes, they often appear to be enacting a slow-motion replay.”

What we’re seeing is, in part, the mainstreaming of excellent habits. In the late nineteen-fifties, Raymond Berry, the great wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts, was famous for his attention to detail and his obsessive approach to the game: he took copious notes, he ate well, he studied film of his opponents, he simulated entire games by himself, and so on. But, as the journalist Mark Bowden observed, Berry was considered an oddball. The golfer Ben Hogan, who was said to have “invented practice,” stood out at a time when most pro golfers practiced occasionally, if at all. Today, practicing six to eight hours a day is just the price of admission on the P.G.A. Tour. Everyone works hard. Everyone is really good.

[ BUT ]

In one area above all, the failure to improve is especially egregious: education. Schools are, on the whole, little better than they were three decades ago; test scores have barely budged since the famous “A Nation at Risk” report came out, in the early nineteen-eighties. This isn’t for lack of trying, exactly. We now spend far more per pupil than we once did. We’ve shrunk class sizes, implemented national standards, and amped up testing. We’ve increased competition by allowing charter schools. And some schools have made it a little easier to remove ineffective teachers. None of these changes have made much of a difference.

4. Of Course It’s Been Done Before (Quoted In Total)

John Koenig calls it vemödalen. The fear that you’re doing something that’s already been done before, that everything that can be done has been done.

Just about every successful initiative and project starts from a place of replication. The chances of being fundamentally out of the box over the top omg original are close to being zero.

A better question to ask is, “have you ever done this before?” Or perhaps, “are the people you are seeking to serve going to be bored by this?”

Originality is local. The internet destroys, at some level, the idea of local, so sure, if we look hard enough we’ll find that turn of a phrase or that unique concept or that app, somewhere else.

But no one is asking you to be original. We’re asking you to be generous and brave and to matter. We’re asking you to step up and take responsibility for the work you do, and to add more value than a mere cut and paste. Give credit, definitely, but reject vemödalen.

Sure, it’s been done before. But not by you. And not for us.

“Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes, biology about microscopes, or chemistry about beakers and test tubes. Science is not about tools. It is about how we use them, and what we find out when we do.” — Michael Fellows and Ian Parberry

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