Information Age Education
   Issue Number 206
March 31, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications. All of the IAE materials are free and can be accessed at http://iae-pedia.org/Main_Page.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are available: Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

2017—The Year of the Bot

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

“All education springs from some image of the future. If the image of the future held by a society is grossly inaccurate, its education system will betray its youth.” (Alvin Toffler; American writer and futurist; 1928-.)

“The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet.” (William Gibson; American-Canadian writer who coined the term “cyberspace” in his short story “Burning Chrome” and later popularized the concept in his debut novel, Neuromancer; 1948-.)

 “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” (Arthur C. Clarke; British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist; 1917-2008.)

This IAE Newsletter is about a part of the future that has been approaching for quite some time, and is now here. For many years, I have been collecting quotations that resonate with my views of education. The above quotations from my collection are all relevant to the message in this newsletter (Moursund, 2016d).

Of the three quotes, I consider the first to be the most important. I strongly believe that education should be designed to prepare students for the future. To design and implement such an educational system, we must make reasonably accurate forecasts of the future.

Vivek Wadhwa

I recently encountered some of Vivek Wadhwa’s articles in The Washington Post. Wadhwa is a Distinguished Fellow and professor at Carnegie Mellon University Engineering at Silicon Valley and a director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University. He is writes frequently for The Washington Post. Here is a quote from an article he wrote late last year (Wadhwa, November 15, 2016):

In every field, machines and robots are beginning to do the work of humans. We saw this first happen in the Industrial Revolution, when manual production moved into factories and many millions lost their livelihoods. New jobs were created, but it was a terrifying time, and there was a significant societal dislocation ….
 
The movement to digitize jobs is well underway in low-salary service industries. Amazon relies on robots to do a significant chunk of its warehouse work. Safeway and Home Depot are rapidly increasing their use of self-service checkouts. Soon, self-driving cars will eliminate millions of driving jobs. We are also seeing law jobs disappear as computer programs specializing in discovery eliminate the needs for legions of associates to sift through paper and digital documents. Soon, automated medical diagnosis will replace doctors in fields such as radiology, dermatology, and pathology. The only refuge will be in fields that are creative in some way, such as marketing, entrepreneurship, strategy, and advanced technical fields. New jobs we cannot imagine today will emerge, but they will not replace all the lost jobs. We must be ready for a world of perennially high unemployment rates. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Suppose that you had read this quote five years ago, as a forecast of the future. And, suppose you believed it was likely an accurate forecast. Then, what would you have said to eighth graders who were about to move into the ninth grade, their first year of a four-year high school?

Alternatively, what are today’s eighth graders being told, and what are today’s high schools doing to prepare their students for what the employment situation will likely be when they graduate from high school? And remember, there is far more to life than just college and jobs (Moursund, 1/9/2017).

Personal Bots

A few months ago, I purchased a personal bot, an Echo, from Amazon. I have enjoyed playing with this device, exploring its artificially intelligent capabilities and limitations. The Amazon Echo and the Google Home sold very well this past Christmas season.
 
These bots talk to their users through speakers that can hear a voice from across a small room. When Echo hears the name “Alexa,” its LED ring lights up so you can “see” that it is listening. Echo answers questions, plays music, orders Amazon products, and tells jokes.

Here is an example of a joke:

I said: “Alexa, tell me a joke.”
Alexa responded: “What do lawyers wear to court? (Short pause.) Lawsuits.”

Most of the intelligence of the Echo resides in Amazon’s large computer farms. The Echo receives a voice input from me, uses relatively sophisticated artificial intelligence and powerful computers to “understand” what I am saying, and then tries to respond by drawing on Web resources and artificial intelligence.

I experimented with use of voice input to my computer a number of years ago, but did not find it very useful at the time. This technology has made a huge amount of progress since then. I am really impressed by how well Echo transcribes my spoken words into written text. If I want, I can see the transcription on my computer.

Hmm. Is learning to make effective use of voice input a good substitute for or addition to learning handwriting (hand printing) or keyboarding? This question is certainly important to our educational system. Think about your answer before going on to the next two paragraphs.

My answer is that writing (written communication) is far more than changing voice into text on a piece of paper or in a computer memory. Good writing requires very careful thinking, planning, organizing a body of knowledge and ideas, and the skills to edit, edit, edit. It requires knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of the intended audience. Getting words onto paper or into a word processor is an important part of the writing process, but actually it is only a modest part of good writing.

Also, think about a person (child or adult) learning to write in a language he or she speaks. A computer system that accurately transforms voice input into words on a computer display screen circumvents learning handwriting (hand printing) or keyboarding, and to a large extent circumvents learning to spell. Today’s word processors even can help significantly with grammar problems. Of course, what is circumvented are considered quite important components of the current school curriculum. You might want to practice in your mind arguments for and against using such technology in teaching reading and writing.
 
While I am occasionally surprised by Echo’s capabilities, for the most part Echo has a very long way to go before I would consider it to be reasonably intelligent.

However, a large number of very talented people are working to increase Echo’s capabilities. I find this idea quite interesting. We are all used to the idea of purchasing consumer products, and we know that they depreciate over time. My seven-year-old car still runs fine, but it lacks some of the capabilities of the newest models. That is, it is partially worn out and somewhat out of date. It has none of the accident avoidance or self-driving features of the most modern cars.

Contrast this with a bot such as Echo. Instead of giving me poorer performance over time, the performance of my Echo is improving over time. This is because the real power of Echo and other similar bots resides in the computers (the computer farms) that provide their input, information processing and output skills. The artificial intelligence and speed of these computer systems are steadily being improved.

Here is another quote from Wadhwa (January 6, 2017).

Long ago, our home appliances became electrified. Soon, they will be “cognified”: integrated into artificially intelligent systems that are accessed through voice commands. We will be able to talk to our machines in a way that seems natural. Microsoft has developed a voice-recognition technology that can transcribe speech as well as a human and translate it into multiple languages. Google has demonstrated a voice synthesis capability that is hard to differentiate from human.

This statement reminded me of the time when an IBM’s computer named Watson defeated a pair of human “champions” in the game of Jeopardy (Engadget Today, January 13, 2011).

When such technological progress is made available in consumer products, individual people get to make the decisions on whether to acquire and use the product. But, when the product is also useful in the schooling of our children, this decision is partially taken out of the hands of parents and gets mired in the bureaucracy and politics of public and private school systems.

Think back to the “good old days,” when a business person in an executive position had a stenographer and a typist. The stenographer received voice input and wrote it in shorthand. The secretary read the shorthand and typed it in the speaker’s natural language. Of course, the stenographer and the secretary might have been the same person. In any case, the boss’s grammar was corrected and perhaps the message was rewritten to make it communicate more effectively.

My Recommendations

As with any technology, there are early adopters, middle adopters, late adopters, and “never” adopters. When the pace of technological change is slow, individual people and organizations can take a slow, carefully considered approach to adoption. People and organizations can observe the results of early adoption. However, our current pace of technological change is quite rapid. In some cases, there is a good chance that the somewhat late or quite late adopters will be left far behind and may not be able to adjust to the still more recent changes that are occurring.

In terms of your own personal ongoing, lifelong education, you can decide to experiment with the changes that seem likely to become relevant and important in your life. Somewhat similarly, parents can experiment with providing technologies to their children that the parents believe may be appropriate in their children’s upbringing and future life.

However, that leaves open what our educational systems could or should be doing for all of their students. It will be interesting to see how the various educational systems in the world deal with the problems of rapid technological change. Will the top-down country-wide school systems do better than the locally-controlled systems, or vice versa?

I strongly encourage you to read my recent (free) book, The Fourth R (Moursund, 12/23/2016). It presents the case that the current three R’s of education (Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic) should be expanded to include Reasoning—computational thinking that integrates human and computer intelligence and general capabilities throughout the curriculum and at all grade levels (Moursund, 2016b).

References and Resources

Engadget Today (January 13, 2011). IBM's Watson supercomputer destroys humans in Jeopardy. Retrieved 1/12/2017 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFR3lOm_xhE.

Moursund, D. (1/9/2017). College and job ready—and what else? IAE Blog. Retrieved 1/13/2017 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/college-and-job-ready-and-what-else.html.

Moursund, D. (12/23/2016). The Fourth R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/289-the-fourth-r/file.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/290-the-fourth-r-1/file.html. Access the book online at http://iae-pedia.org/The_Fourth_R.

Moursund, D. (6/5/2016). Virtual reality in the science lab. IAE Blog. Retrieved 1/10/2017 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/virtual-reality-in-the-science-lab.html.

Moursund, D. (2016a). Artificial intelligence. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 1/10/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Artificial_Intelligence.

Moursund, D. (2016b). Computational thinking. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 1/12/2016 from http://iae-pedia.org/Computational_Thinking.

Moursund, D. (2016c). History of computers in education. IAE-pedia. Retrieve d 1/20/20167 from http://iae-pedia.org/History_of_Computers_in_Education.

Moursund, D. (2016d). Quotations collected by David Moursund. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 1/12/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Quotations_Collected_by_David_Moursund.

Moursund, D. (2016e). What the future is bringing us. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 1/10/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us.

Wadhwa, V. (January 6, 2017). Why 2017 is the year of the bot. The Washington Post. Retrieved 1/12/2017 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2017/01/06/why-2017-is-the-year-of-the-bot/?utm_term=.31fcf1ac8d06.

Wadhwa, V. (November 15, 2016). These 6 new technology rules will govern our future. The Washington Post. Retrieved 1/12/2017 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2016/11/15/these-six-new-technology-rules-will-govern-our-future/?utm_term=.3c5f591fe060.

Wadhwa, V. (November 9, 2016). Why technology may prevent Trump from delivering on his jobs promise. The Washington Post. Retrieved 1/12/2017 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2016/11/09/why-technology-may-prevent-trump-from-delivering-on-his-jobs-promise/?utm_term=.f7120726b088)

Wadhwa, V. (July 20, 2015). We need a new version of capitalism for the jobless future. The Washington Post. Retrieved 1/12/2017 from
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2015/07/20/we-need-a-new-version-of-capitalism-for-the-jobless-future/?utm_term=.fb7da04a1198.

Author

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books.

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell. Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.

Email: moursund@uoregon.edu.

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Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at http://iae-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://i-a-e.org/, a Blog at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Blog and all back issues of the Newsletter at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.