My Reaction to Joseph Aoun’s Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Dr. Joseph Aoun, the president of Northeastern University and a higher ed futurist, was recently published in the Chronicle of Higher Education for this article, Robot-Proof: How Colleges Can Keep People Relevant in the Workplace. He also just came out with a new book, check out the trailer for it. It’s called “Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”.

Quotes from Aoun and my reactions:

Dr. Aoun stated: “Because for all of their dazzling power, machines are incapable of plucking inspiration from the subconscious, forming a new theory of physics after seeing an apple fall to the ground, or seizing a window of opportunity to start a business. Those sorts of cognitive abilities are impervious to automation. They are, indeed, robot-proof.”  Joseph_Aoun
 adam.jpg My response: Robots simply follow a set of instructions that computers can understand. Contrary to popular belief, robots are not yet sentient. In fact, a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison stated that “Sentient machines may never exist, according to a variation on a leading mathematical model of how our brains create consciousness.”  Regardless, computers are much more efficient than humans in performing certain calculations, for example the product of 1,312 and 55,000.  Type that into any calculator and it’ll pop right up as 72160000.  Most humans wouldn’t be able to read that number without the commas, let alone solve that problem in their head!

Takeaway: Regardless of how slow firing neurons, we are the ones who build the calculators.

“Given a world in which machines will perform much of what we view as knowledge work, colleges will have to reduce their emphasis on knowledge transfer, and pivot to building students’ capacity for coming up with original ideas.”  Joseph_Aoun
 adam My thoughts: The human brain is capable of creativity, but it can only hold about 7 pieces of information for less than 30 seconds. If you want to extend your short term memory beyond the 30 seconds it takes to forget something new, you will need to consistently re-expose yourself to the information. What’s the point of remembering facts if you can look up the answers on Google? Knowledge is about understanding the answers that can’t be found on Wikipedia.

In order to remain competitive in the age of the autonomous robot workforce, people must continually learn creative skills that cannot be replicated by machines. Machines are extremely efficient. But humans can innovate big ideas that can change the world:

  • Walmart is thinking of letting ‘runners’ enter into people’s homes and stock their fridge with food – even if the customer isn’t home.  Walmart has partnered with a video surveillance company to verify the delivery driver acts properly while in the customer’s home. Learn more.
  • Elon Musk is like the real life Tony Stark. He founded PayPal, Teslsa Motors, and SpaceX. He’s now pioneering new moonshot ideas like SolarCity and building a livable city on Mars.
  • Companies such as Examity, ProctorU, and Respondus Monitor offer students the option to take online exams using virtual proctoring software.  This is a convenient alternative to requiring students to drive on to a physical testing center on campus.

Takeaway: Convenience and creativity are truly driving the economy these days. Meanwhile, those who don’t adapt, fade into memory. We miss you Blockbuster.

“College should prepare students for meaningful occupations. If workers are fast becoming irrelevant, then how and why should we educate them?”  Joseph_Aoun
 adam My reaction: The answer to this question scares me. IS THERE going to be a demand for workers? The glory days of high pay, low skill jobs are gone.  30 years ago if you didn’t go to college, no big deal. You went and worked at car manufacturing plant or a steel mill and you had a great full time job to earn a decent living. These days, it’s not so simple…

  • Think about all the farming and manufacturing jobs that have been displaced. What happens when Taxi and Uber drivers are replaced by self-driving cars?
  • Are there always going to be a need for cashiers at retail stores? It’s been reported that U.S. retail stores have been closing at a faster rate in 2017 than at any time since the recession in 2008. With more stores closing, it seems the world is moving towards the shipping model.

Counterarguments left in the article’s comments:

  • “Until someone can convince me that creativity will one day be as in-demand, economically, as labor has been up to this point, I cannot see the automated future as anything but a life sentence for my own children.”
  • “The author is being idealistic. The reality is that there will be a new economy the haves and the have nots. The more jobs that are taken the more poverty is going to increase. The rich don’t really give a hoot and if robots are cheaper than hiring people well guess what no more jobs.”

Agreed! The disparity and unequal distribution of wealth may soon reach critical mass. How can a growing population support a new and untested economic model. Unemployment in 2017 is nearly 5%. It’s scary to think about what happens if that number doubles or quadruples.

Technology and machines have destroyed and created jobs over time.
About 100 years ago, most people were farmers. Now less than 1% of US workers are in farming jobs.  There’s been a lot of change in the demand for certain types of workers.  Currently, more than half of jobs worked in the US are white collar jobs.

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My final thoughts:

stevejobs

Steve Jobs was quoted saying, “What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”  Meaning the computational tools we build make us perform certain tasks better than any person could do without the technology.  Humans and technology, when used properly, have the potential to change the world in countless positive ways.

Questions to ponder:

  • As computers get smarter and more ubiquitous, how do you think the modern workforce will change?
  • What jobs will not be automated?
  • Should governments consider modifying laws to regulate the usage of robotics to ensure human workers are not displaced?
  • How can we better prepare students to compete with robotics and AI for high paying jobs?
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Digital Rights Management: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Father Digital Rights Management: Peer-to-Peer file sharing

Peer-to-peer file applications have left a scar on the music and movie industries. Just a few years ago, it was commonplace for users to use peer-to-peer file sharing apps such as Limewire and Napster to download entire albums and movies – completely free. At the time, it seemed like everyone was doing it and nothing was “wrong” with doing it. However, musicians do own the copyright to their music meaning it is illegal to download without paying. For big musicians like Lincoln Park, it’s hard for most people to sympathize since they’re rich anyway. Imagine for a minute how harmful free distribution of music is to a smaller band just trying to make a living and get by.

In terms of the music industry, digital rights management is an issue that has been hard to solve. Some banks, like Metallica, perceive the ownership of their music’s license like a fire-and-brimstone issue – they once sued fans and Napster for using P2P sites to down download their albums:

Metallica Sues Napster Universities Fans 

Sure, it’s is a serious issue for musicians, but suing one’s own fans is a bit extreme. Metallica isn’t exactly going broke because of this. Technically, Metallica was justified because they own the copyright to their music, but do you think that it was “right” of the band to go after individuals? What do you think Metallica should have done?

The other end of the spectrum is bands who think that Digital Rights Management is killing the music industry all together and encourage fans to listen to their music – by any means necessary. Radiohead, for instance, allowed fans to download their entire new album, for free, but allowed fans to donate however much they deemed fit :
Radiohead’s Donation Album Idea Spread Over the InternetAngels and Airwaves let fans download their album from their website during a 24 hour promotional period. I attended a concert once where the band Thursday said to get ahold of their music – even if that meant downloading it off the Internet for free! Obviously, there is some debate as to a solution for solving the illegal peer-to-peer file applications.

Congress is even proposing to impose penalties for people for making YouTube videos with copyrighted content. If I want to use my favorite band as the background music for my skate video, should I be put in jail? If anything, I’m spreading awareness about the band!

Read more at: http://act.demandprogress.org/sign/ten_strikes/ 

Usage Enforcement and its Effect on Consumers

Hollywood and record companies have taken 1 giant step to protect the copyright of the media they license: this step is usage enforcement. Usage enforcement is a very sophisticated, yet inconvenient, technology which changes the file format of media to enforce copyright. For instance, if you buy a music track from iTunes, the track is configured so that you can only store the file on a certain number of devices. In other words, even though you bought the track, it’s not completely yours to use however you’d like. The reason usage enforcement was implemented was to cut down on the sharing of files.

It’s quite possible that video games and movies will soon do something similar to cut down on sharing. They could use the Internet to register a video, therefore tracking the number of licenses which a certain video has used. This is also inconvenient because you’d need to be connected to the Internet just to register. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t be able to play a music file which you copied from a flash drive to a PC without first registering it. While most people view P2P file sharing as stealing, do you think it should be considered stealing to simply burn an album on to a CD for a friend?

Of course the copyright owner has the legal right to limit the use of an audio/video file license. However, usage enforcement is typically considered extremely unfair to people who are not distributing the music illegally. It comes as no surprise that the UK is updating their copyright laws to incorporate common sense: Changes Outdated Copyright Law Set Legalise Format Shifting Do you think that this is a good move forward for the industry? Do you think that the US should follow suit?

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Taxing Radio

Radio broadcasts are a live performance of music. Live performances are definitely covered in the constraints of copyright law. Due to this, however, law makers are pushing to tax radio. Because local radio stations would not be able to cover the royalty fees to play songs, this law would hurt many local radio stations. Where do you stand on this issue? Should radio be taxed? Aren’t radio stations just providing free advertisement for musicians and a great way for people to discover new music?

The Business Model of “Hollywood” and “Big record labels”

Technology and the Internet are surely changing the business models of Hollywood and Big music record labels, but they aren’t completely obsolete. It’s great to have a label to provide structure, funding, and marketing. The traditional model of purchasing an entire album is outdated – thus Apple’s popular model of purchasing tracks. However, being limited with how many systems or devices a track can be licensed to is very frustrating to users.

I’m for a subscription model where users pay a monthly fee and never own music, but rent it. Netflix does this with movies and they put Blockbuster out of business. Obviously, it works for the film industry, now we need a mainstream way of doing this with music. Rhapsody offers this, but it needs more buzz and better access methods to become mainstream: Will DRM Free Music Subscription Model Threaten iTunes?. In short, big record labels are quickly becoming obsolete.

Obviously, the music industry is changing with the times. It’s probably just a matter of time before paying for music is a thing of the past. Pandora, for instance, let you listen to music for free from a web browser. What happens when Internet speeds are powerful and widespread enough for users to consistently access free music from mobile devices?

Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist at Google & also the person recognized as The Father of the Internet, wrote on his blog in 2008: “In the next decade, around 70% of the human population will have fixed or mobile access to the Internet at increasingly high speeds, up to gigabits per second. We can reliably expect that mobile devices will become a major component of the Internet”

The music industry has to evolve its business strategy. Advertising will likely be a big part of it considering that’s how free services like Google and Facebook make a profit.

Hollywood certainly isn’t obsolete by any means. Even with the exponential growth of self-produced media – like Shane Dawson’s YouTube channel – I just don’t see Hollywood going away anytime soon. People love movies – high quality movies. Simply put, YouTube videos will never be better than Paranormal Activity 3. There’s still a big demand for blockbuster movies.

Accessing music and movies

I use Pandora when I have access to a PC or laptop. If I want to hear a specific song, I just go to YouTube and look it up with the word “Lyrics” after the band name & song title. Otherwise, you’ll get the band’s label page (usually VEVO) and typically have to watch an advertisement…a long advertisement (almost 30 seconds!)…an advertisement you can’t always skip. Otherwise, I use my iPod when I’m driving in the car.

Just a few years ago I only used CDs and never thought anything of burning a copy for a friend. There’s an old saying that if you love a book don’t let friend borrow it. The rational is you’re costing the author from gaining a potential profit. I don’t agree with that quote. I think you’re helping promote the book (or band if you’re burning a CD). Further, the person might get hooked on the series of books or band and start purchasing concert tickets or book sequels. You wouldn’t want to waste you’re money on a bad book or CD, so this is a great way to test the waters.

Big labels are just too controlling. Recently, Justin Bieber uploaded his own song to YouTube on his personal account and that video was removed – by his own record label, Universal Music Group. Here is a link to the full article:Justin Bieber infringes copyright of his own songs by uploading YouTube video Shouldn’t the copyright to a song belong to the person who created it or do the creators sacrifice that right when they sell the copyright’s exclusive license?

For more reading about Digital Rights Management, check out:
The Top 10 Arguments Against DRM 
Digital Rights Management Controversy

QUESTIONS TO YOU:

How has copyright affected the way you listen and acquire music and videos? Have you ever been frustrated by the overbearingness of usage enforcement? What changes do you see occurring in the music and movie industries in the future? 

Do you or have you ever used a peer-to-peer file sharing application to download music or movies? Do you consider it stealing? Is it stealing to burn an album on to a CD for a friend?

The Slippery Slope of SOPA: Censorship in America

I strongly oppose SOPA and PIPA as they represent a big step towards Internet censorship in America.  The United States government currently censors content in schools and libraries – they have filters used for blocking certain websites due to their obscene/pornographic nature; I agree with this type of censorship as it helps to protect our young children. Other than those filters, the American government doesn’t censor the Internet – nor should it.

Authoritarian governments, such as China, see the massive power the Internet has, so they limited it as a means of controlling its people.  That is why when things get dicey, authoritarian governments just flip the kill switch and start turning off parts of the Internet.  That’s what happened during the protests in Egypt in January 2011.  In America, I hope that the Internet remains uncensored to ensure our First Amendment right of freedom of expression remains protected. The First Amendment guarantees the creation of any US laws against freedom of speech or of the press. Basically this means individuals can legally express themselves anyway they want without the government saying otherwise.  SOPA and PIPA would circumvent these first amendment rights and ultimately fail to do what it was created to do – enforce copyright licenses. While the rights of copyright owners do need to be protected, SOPA and PIPA are not the answer.

What do you think is the answer to enforce copyright licenses?

PS – Kudos to Wikipedia for taking a stand and blacking out their site down for entire day to protest this.

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