Category Archives: The Future

Imagining the internet. It’s what futurists do.

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The 2014 Survey: Impacts of AI and robotics by 2025

A very good read. Opinions from all the hot shots. VInt Cerf, Jerry Michalski, Ben Schneiderman, Hal Varian, Howard Rheingold, Tiffany Shlain, Stowe Boyd, JP Rangaswami, John Markoff, danah boyd, Doc Searles, and more.

My contribution was chopped to three sentences:

Jay Cross, chief scientist at Internet Time Group, responded, “The nature of work will change. Heaven only knows what comes after the service economy but it won’t be mass unemployment. Perhaps finally people will only need to work a few hours a day.”

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Future of Education 2020 Summit

mastheadcollegesiloAt a Stanford education conference this morning, speakers made presentation after presentation without once involving the audience, not even asking for questions. For the first couple of hours there was zero audience participation. Finally, following a panel session, we were invited to stand at a microphone if we had questions. Naturally, I was first in line.

I explained that I came to this event as an outsider. I am not an academic. In fact, my corporate title is “Chief Unlearning Officer.” A speaker had mentioned silos, referring to departments at schools. I said I felt like I was in a college silo. It’s as if the world outside didn’t exist.

Take STEM (Science, tech, engineering, math). All of these folks are vitally interested in STEM. After all, that’s what the Gates Foundation, the NSF, and the other benefactors are paying them hundreds of millions to produce. I said I don’t get it. The shelf life of STEM knowledge is about the same as for French mustard, several years. After that, the mustard begins to smell funny and the STEM knowledge is obsolete.

I didn’t mention my suspicion that STEM dumbs down education. It’s explicit knowledge. Life’s grand lessons are largely tacit. Besides, isn’t STEM often the algorithmic knowledge that robots are going to being doing in a few years? When that happens, lots of STEM grads may find themselves in the position of John Henry, the steel-drivin’ man. Nobody here was talking about liberal arts and continuing the culture.

Consider the role of STEM education in someone’s career arc. A career is a marathon. College teaches people to run the first 100 yards. Running the rest of the race is the individual’s problem.

“But we are working with industry,” replied the panel. Oh yeah? People have been touting big data as the ultimate quality control and planning tool in education. Are any of you looking at big data on people outside your walls? Correlating education with what happens after graduation? No; it’s a closed system.

Big data can help Arizona State University refine their algebra course to near perfection, but unless they go off campus to look at the world of work, no data will tell them whether algebra is worth studying at all. (I love Roger Schank’s putdown of the quadratic equation. When’s the last time you had to solve for AX2 + BX +C = 0?)

How’s the water?

It was troubling to hear one person after another lecture about learning more about how people learn whlle violating most of the principles we already know. Aside from the Push format, problems included no hashtag, no Tweeting, no backchannel, no power outlets, inoperable wi-fi (for me, at least), slow wi-fi at the podium cut several presentations short, weak visuals overall, and no encouragement to network online (although many probably already know one another). I don’t know how someone as astute at Peter Norvig could sit through an entire day of this stuff.

A few highlights. The president of Capella talked of converting their curriculum to competencies. Competencies can be counted up after the fact to give credit for courses. I suggested he wasn’t going for enough. Who needs courses? He wisely pointed out that accrediting bodies have a fixed mindset on this one.

Arizona State has put an entire first year curriculum on line. For free. Pass a course, no matter how many tries it takes, and you can pay a fee for credits. He sees no reason the entire four years shouldn’t go online this way. (And the guy from Capella suggested that as in the UK, we could probably have three-year bachelor degrees without losing that much.)

True to form, the LMS vendor supporting the show twisted the definition of “informal learning” so it could claim to have some:

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What’s informal about purpose-built content? Most people probably missed this because next up was a hip-hop singer who claimed to be a customer of the LMS (he lists his tracks there). Naturally, he had put together a song for us. As he began his incomprehensible lyric, the batteries on my hearing aids ran out and I bailed out from the event.

The other attendees seemed quite satisfied, even impressed. “Brilliant presentations.” I guess events like this are de rigueur.

The Stanford campus is beautiful, the weather cooperated perfectly, and nobody was keeping score.

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Mobile is inevitable

You don’t have to be a futurist to see the way some things are headed. Take the Volkswagen as an example. As anyone who has driven an early Volkswagen can attest, the rear windows were very difficult to see out of.

 

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Volkswagen printed one of their wonderful, sarcastic ads when they bowed to the inevitable and enlarged the back window in 1958: “The famous Italian designer suggested Continue reading

Technical Knowledge and Practical Knowledge

In a New York Times Op-Ed, David Brooks poses the ultimate higher-ed question: What is a university for?

Brooks separates knowledge into technical knowledge and practical knowledge.

Technical Knowledge enables us to understand a field. These are basics like statistics or fundamentals of biology. You can find it in books. The faculty teaches it. In many cases, a MOOC or a robot could teach it. It’s the mainstay on campus.

Practical Knowledge is about being rather than knowing. It can’t be taught in the classrooms or books. You learn it through experience. You absorb it from your environment. You can pick it up from your communities of practice.

Examples of Practice Knowledge abound in Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, “Lean In.” Says Brooks,

… tasks she describes as being important for anybody who wants to rise in this economy: the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t.

 

Brooks would have students master Practical Knowledge by leading the band or joining the debate club, something on campus. I think he’s off. Back to his “What is a university?” For most of us, the answer is “Not the best place to master Practical Knowledge for the workplace.”

What if we think of Technical Knowledge as explicit and Practical Knowledge as tacit?

  • Technical Knowledge lays bare the intricacies of complicated concepts. It’s the facts. It’s clockwork models and the results they gin out time after time. Technical Knowledge deals with certainties and absolutes. In other words, it’s often theoretical and “not found in nature.”
  • Practical Knowledge deals with complex, unpredictable, unruly patterns that emerge in real life. It is nature.

Caveat emptor. This next part is speculation on my part. I’m looking for corroboration.

The world is growing more complex. Outsourcing and automation have eliminated work that is merely complicated. The more interconnections in network, the greater the complexity, and the tendrils of networks everywhere are intertwining at a surreal pace.

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Things kicked into high gear in the last twenty years of the twentieth century. Between 1980 and 2000, the value of the publicly traded companies flip-flopped from 80% tangible assets to 80% intangible assets.

This is an astounding change. Think about it. Most of a company’s worth had been in hard assets: plant, equipment, and cash. Two decades later, most of a company’s worth was in relationships, know-how, and secret sauce — things you can’t even see.

Many managers haven’t seen the light yet. Look at their allegiance to accounting measures that have less and less meaning in the real world. They righteously demand “hard numbers.” Those are the numbers that don’t mean to much any more.

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As the world becomes more complex, are we not in the midst of another phase change? Might it be that the university heyday when explicit knowledge was king, is giving way to a new world where skills for navigating complexity rule?

If you can’t increase your social intelligence at college, isn’t it time to go somewhere else to get it?

The Times also reported that Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break. Seems that elite MOOC consortium EdX is experimenting with automated essay grading. Skeptics of course came out of the woodwork. Anant Agarwal, the EdX chief, points out that the grading software begins by learning how professors would grade; then it gives students instant grades and an opportunity to improve.

That latter bit — instant feedback and opportunity to resubmit a stronger essay — has lots of promise.

The skeptics are fighting a pitched battle. Traditional grades, having to do only with Technical Knowledge, are not correlated to any measure of success outside of schools. A system can’t do much worse than that.

There’s also the myth of the learnèd professor working away into the wee hours marking papers. I’m sure this happens some places but it wasn’t the way things worked at Harvard Business School when I went there. I have reason to know.

Several of my papers were rejected. These were WACs, Written Assessment of Cases. When I explained my logic to my professors, they said my arguments were brilliant and original. In fact, my ideas were so original that they didn’t appear on the grading checklists given to the Radcliffe students who actually graded the papers. I’m not saying every prof did this nor do I know how it works today, but an automated system might be an improvement. #justsayin

Free-form responses on MOOCs+Business

Free-form responses. n=20, Business+MOOCS Survey 2/25-26/2103

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What is positive about MOOCs?

Remote access to material/course heretofore unavailable

2/26/2013 3:48 PMView Responses

I had access to professionally presented information that I otherwise would not.

2/26/2013 3:16 PMView Responses

Available anytime and free. Ability to move at own pace.

2/26/2013 7:36 AM

Access to content, arranged Continue reading

Great, intimate professional gathering on talent management and learning

When people ask me what conferences they should attend, I tell them that small, intensive, participatory events work best for me. Most of these are invitation-only affairs. One exception, assuming you’re astute in talent management or corporate learning, is the annual Future of Talent Retreat.

This year will be the 8th Future of Talent Retreat. I’ve been to every one and will be attending this one in San Francisco, November 16-20.

Past attendees have included senior leaders and HR visionaries from Fortune 500, Global 100, and medium-sized companies from the United States, Australia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Dubai, and Singapore.

We have few presentations. Instead we engage in conversations and collaborative activities that will give you practical information to take back and use in your organization. We have great food, drink wonderful wine, and make long lasting friends.

This is a highly interactive, hands-on event where participants contribute and learn from each other as well as the faculty.

Singularity Summit 12, Day 1

Today I attended the Singularity Summit in San Francisco. The opportunity to hear Temple Grandin, Stephen Pinker, and Daniel Kahneman was irrestible. We’re halfway through and I am disappointed.

Singularity Summit 12

Temple Grandin was great but I had read and heard a much of her message before. Traditional learning styles are bunk except for autistic people who do have their own style. They are totally visual. I told Temple I had read Animals Make Us Human and that my dog thanks her for it.

Singularity Summit 12

Four Thiele fellows were clearly overachievers but unbelievably young. A young woman who entered MIT at age 14 was investigating ways to eradicate death as if it were just another disease. I didn’t understand what the others were talking about.

Singularity Summit 12

An advocate for the Center for Applied Rationality bemoaned humans’ overreliance on the emotional brain. Her colleagues claim I misunderstood her, that she’s calling for balance;  that’s not what I heard. I am advocating the return of emotion to the workplace and this woman was calling for stamping is out.
An advocate for superhuman AI told us it is the future but never explained what it was.
The co-founder of 23 and Me described a little of her new venture Personal Genomics, but since the product is in development, she didn’t tell us much.

Singularity Summit 12

Stephen Pinker read pages from Angels of our Better Nature for half an hour. Pity I already read the book.

Singularity Summit 12

Ray Kurzweil, recipient of 19 honorary doctorates, told the old Singularity story. In case you missed it, growth of communications technology, deflation of Moore’s Law. These lead to the Law of Accelerating Change. Eventually machines will outsmart us.
  • New book: How to Create a Mind
  • You could read Wikipedia, it would take about three years, and Wikipedia would have doubled.
  • Kurzweil has been thinking about how the brain works. Pattern recognition.
  • Be careful who you hang out with. You are what you think.
  • Life extension is a funny field, for it assumes nothing is going to change. You can overcome most diseases.
  • Plan A is to live forever. Also Plan B. And C. Plan D is cryonics.
This is a lackluster event. Scant vision of the future.

Singularity Summit 12
Vernor Vinge, who came up with the concept of the singularity.