With Automation Looming, the US Needs To Make Education Affordable Or Fail

Crafting Well Rounded Minds

Education is the cornerstone of society. This is because knowledge is the only thing that lets one be an informed and productive member of society. Of course, education is not limited to just traditional schooling (i.e. a classroom), but includes knowledge gleaned from friends, family, mentors, personal experiences, and on and on.

That said, in our society, traditional schooling is a major part of how we educate the coming generations.

Today, we spend our most formative years in school, learning about the world and how to function in it. In the modern world, which is continually becoming more globalized, it is more important than ever to be able to think critically and analytically about all aspects of our world—from politics, to economics, to the arts, to (of course) science and technology.

[Save For Jolene] *3* Higher Education Needs to Evolve to Meet the Needs of the Future
Getty

A well-rounded liberal arts education can provide this to its students. According to Willard Dix, a college admissions expert and contributor to Forbes, “a liberal arts education provides a multi-faceted view of the world. It enables students to see beyond one perspective, encouraging them to understand others’ even if they don’t agree. It instructs us to base our opinions on reason, not emotion.”

And at a time of increasing polarization, dialogue and understanding are invaluable qualities.

Even disciplines that are thought to be exclusively “fact-based,” such as the STEM fields, can greatly benefit from a liberal arts focus, as critical thinking skills are what allow individuals to analyze and make meaning from new information and move fluidly through society and careers. Case in point, the current president of Miami University, Gregory Crawford, went to school to study physics and now, as an education administrator, he advocates for an educational system that is multifaceted:

There are extraordinary skill sets to learn from the liberal arts, like communication, analytical skills, writing, global awareness. Can you tell a story in a world of data and analytics? When students are exposed to the liberal arts they become more self-aware, more self-disciplined and develop other virtues like empathy and courage.

A liberal arts focus not only can prepare students for the job market, but also life after college in general.

Dwindling Market

Speaking of the job market, education, in general, is about to become even more of a requirement, thanks to the steady rise of automation. Experts predict that developed countries may lose a staggering 30 percent of jobs in the next 15 years. Much of this job loss, if not all of it, will impact blue collar workers—a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research says that each robot that makes its way into the workforce replaces six humans.

Thus, as the years progress, industries that used to be home to extremely well paying blue collar positions will increasingly become a thing of the past.

However, individuals that have an understanding of a broad spectrum of fields will largely be able to protect themselves from the impact of automation, as they will be able to seamlessly (or more seamlessly) move between industries. This adaptability is precisely what a liberal arts education, at its best, provides. But there is a problem for those pursuing such an education in the United States: Money.

Tackling Affordability

One of the most significant obstacles to an education for young adults today is debt, and a significant portion of that comes from education. Student debt in the United States has hit an unbelievable $1.2 trillion, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A trillion of those dollars belong to federal student loans. While other nations face affordability issues of their own, the situation in the United States is extreme.

The United States is the fourth most expensive country in which to get a college education, with the average cost being greater than $29,300 each year, according to a list compiled by FairFX. Increases in cost are not showing any signs of slowing, and with figures like that, higher education is no longer just out of reach to the poorest Americans. Now, many mid-level American families also can’t make the cut.

What can be done to ensure everyone will be equipped to thrive in the workforce of the very near future?

In Germany, they answered that question by eliminating tuition costs altogether. The country abolished tuition all the way back in 1971. They were briefly brought back from 2006 – 2014, but they were removed again due to widespread problems, even though the costs only averaged €500 ($630 USD).

In fact, more than 40 countries around the world offer free higher education. Obviously, when people use the word “free” what they really mean is that nations use tax dollars to pay for education in the same way that they use tax dollars to pay for subsidies for corn and fossil fuels and to pay for war efforts (do keep in mind, the United States has a defense budget larger than many developed nations combined).

But now, thanks to a recent development, it looks like the United States is going to start reallocating funds to test the free tuition waters.

Empire State of Mind

Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo made New York the first state in the country to offer a tuition-free four-year education for residents. Dubbed the Excelsior Scholarship program, it will provide four years of college tuition for families who make less than $100,000 per year. The program will begin this fall, with the income cap raising by $10,000 in 2018 and an additional $15,000 the following year.

The governor said, “Today, college is what high school was—it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it.”

NBC News tells us that this plan will benefit a remarkable 80 percent of the state’s families with college-age kids. The plan also requires that students complete at least 30 credits per year and stay within their program’s minimum GPA requirements. There are also requirements regarding living and working in the state for a certain period after graduation, which will ensure that students give back to the state that is paying for their education. Governor Cuomo explained the importance of this move in his statement:

The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students and shows the difference that government can make. There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say, ‘I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because my parents can’t afford it.’ With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.

While many families may be overjoyed with the opportunities this will provide their children, other entities were not so keen when the idea was proposed. Some private colleges, including the Governor’s own alma-mater, even went so far as to ask their students to oppose this historic move.

For example, the president of Keuka College, a small liberal arts school in central New York, Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, sent an email to his students urging them to oppose the program.

While it is understandable that private colleges may fear the future, efforts such as the ones outlined here come off as tone-deaf, at best, or selfish, at worst. Keuka is a school that is well out of the price range of most individuals, costing a staggering 40K a year. And while there are some programs that assist low-income students, the cost is beyond the affordability of most.

Ultimately, such call to action does not seem to fully weigh the (very justifiable) panic of students, which has become endemic in today’s higher education climate. And of course, the letter makes no mention of the “940,000 middle-class families” who will be able to send their children to school as a result of this legislation, many of which may not have had the luxury before its passing.

Since the passing earlier this month, Keuka has released another statement.

It’s too early for any of us in New York’s private colleges and universities to know what this will mean for recruitment and retention at our institutions. But what we do know is that competition is the bedrock of our economic system. To stay competitive, Keuka College must continue to adapt and change.

They may not be celebrating the news, but they have gotten to the heart of the matter: Just as the workforce is going to have to adapt and change with the proliferation of automation, our educational institutions are going to have to change to accommodate that workforce and lead them to be fully capable of thriving in the economy and society of tomorrow.

To remain a global leader, we will need to rethink how we educate and seriously consider the barriers that exist that limit who can benefit. Those conversations need to start now.

The post With Automation Looming, the US Needs To Make Education Affordable Or Fail appeared first on Futurism.

Astronomers Might Have Finally Taken the First Image of a Black Hole

The Point Where Nothing Escapes

Finally,  scientists have captured an image of a black hole…sort of. The subject of the picture isn’t a black hole per se, but rather the area surrounding a black hole where nothing passes through called the event horizon. And, while it is exciting news, the photo won’t actually be available until later this year or early 2018.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that the achievement isn’t worth celebrating now. After all, to finally have a “negative” of sorts of one of the Universe’s most mysterious phenomena is certainly worth a few hurrahs.

This unique portrait was made possible by a team of researchers operating an international satellite dish network known as the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). The subjects of the portrait are two supermassive black holes: Sagittarius A*, which is located at the center of the Milky Way and as large as four million suns, and a black hole 1,500 times heavier, sitting at the heart of nearby galaxy M87.

Sagittarius A*. Image credit: Farhad Zadeh, VLA, NRAO, APOD
Sagittarius A* seen in radio. Image credit: Farhad Zadeh, VLA, NRAO, APOD

After a five-night observation which ended on April 11, researchers finally managed to capture the image they’ve long been shooting for. “I’m very happy and very relieved, and I’m looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep,” team member Vincent Fish, an astronomer from the MIT Haystack Observatory, told National Geographic.

Seeing Far and Wide

Apart from demystifying black holes, portraits of these space giants could help researchers to better understand the many mysteries of the known universe. “Even if the first images are still crappy and washed out, we can already test for the first time some basic predictions of Einstein’s theory of gravity in the extreme environment of a black hole,” said Heino Falcke, radio astronomer at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands.

“Over the next ten to 50 years,” Falcke added, “we should even be able to make razor-sharp images as we extend the network into Africa, and ultimately, into space.”

This recent observation, however, wasn’t the first time the EHT has been hard at work. There have been previous observations that targeted the two super-huge black holes. This latest run, however, was different because it was the first time that the network included the South Pole telescope and a group of 66 radio dishes known as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile.

Indeed, many of the recent discoveries about what lies beyond our planet have occurred because of instruments such as these. For instance, the discovery of gravitational waves, probably 2016’s greatest scientific feat, was thanks to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). There have also been numerous recent discoveries about planets, exoplanets, and other cosmic bodies courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler missions — which also gave us the first images of the newly discovered Trappist System. Our ability to “see” the known universe and beyond will soon have another tool, as the long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) readies to debut.

With all of this technological advancement, photos of black holes may become more common in the near future. And, as these photos and others surface, we will continue to discover more about the objects that populate the known Universe.

The post Astronomers Might Have Finally Taken the First Image of a Black Hole appeared first on Futurism.

Here’s Proof That Automation is Transforming Every Aspect of Our Society

Cashing Out

There’s little question in my mind that advances in artificial intelligence and robotics will significantly displace humans in the workplace.

We’re not talking about every job, but most of today’s jobs (as currently configured) will eventually be performed by AI and robots or in partnership with AI and robots.

In the beginning, the jobs displaced by technology will be those that are dull, dangerous or dirty; eventually, it will include jobs like surgeons, anesthesiologists or diagnosticians.

What jobs will we lose first?

Three that come to mind: Truck drivers, retail, and supermarket workers and cashiers.

In this blog, I’ll write about the future of cashiers…

When I’m shopping at Whole Foods or CVS, my goal is to get in and out of the store as soon as possible: find what I need, pay for it and leave.

As such, I imagine a near-term future in which an AI agent will guide me rapidly to the exact aisle and shelf to help me find the product. Then, as I leave the store, the system will charge me automatically – no need to stop, stand in line and pull out my wallet.

Taking it one step further, imagine a future where I never go to the store in the first place. My refrigerator can sense that I’m low on milk or eggs, order it all from the store, and have those products delivered by autonomous vehicle or drone. In this near-term scenario, all I do is take the products off my front doorstep and stock them in my refrigerator.

High-level autonomy is already underway…

Over the last few months, up in Seattle, Amazon has established a store called Amazon Go, which is a cashierless retail store for Amazon employees only. The reason it’s only for Amazon employees is that they’re doing tests to see how it works.

Currently, Amazon employees access an app, enter the store, and then simply take what they want off the shelf. That’s it. A system of cameras and sensors can observe what you’re taking and how many, and Amazon charges the correct amount to your account. All you do is walk out — no checkout and no cashiers. The tech isn’t perfect yet, which is why Amazon is doing this as a test, but it will get better and it will ultimately become how stores transact purchases.

Will some retail stores only employ humans? Skip the automation? It’s possible, but I doubt it.

Imagine comparing two stores: one that embraces the technology and another that does not.

The store that’s fully autonomous enables you to walk in, get your products, and leave twice as fast — and, by the way, those products are cheaper because the business doesn’t have overhead due to employees.


Jason Costanza/Flickr

Early Passions

How will the autonomous store compare to a retail competitor that offers slower and more expensive services?

You got it — the store that employs humans and has a slower, more expensive customer experience will go out of business, and those jobs will ultimately disappear.

For those who are cashiers… when will this happen?

I would imagine it’s probably not in the next couple years, but likely within five years, and definitely within the next decade.

Knowing that, how do you prepare yourself?

Here’s my question: what did you want to do when you were younger? Did you always want to be a cashier, or did you want to be a nurse, teacher or to travel the world?

Ultimately, going back to your early passions and taking on the education needed to achieve your earlier goal(s) is what’s needed. Take caution, though, as those jobs may also get displaced by AI and robots.

We’re heading into a period where technological employment will cause us to struggle — with how we find meaning in our lives, with how we earn our living.

Incredibly important experiments are going on today with Universal Basic Income (UBI), a methodology in which everyone is paid a salary, whether they work or not.

UBI will help ensure we have food on the table, insurance, medical care, and so on, but it’s not going to solve the issue of giving meaning to our life.

This is something we need to think about and solve — not in 20 years or 10 years, but in the next five years.

The post Here’s Proof That Automation is Transforming Every Aspect of Our Society appeared first on Futurism.

Why Apple Should Buy Tesla and Make Elon Musk CEO

Apple: A Bit Lost

Elon Musk is the unstoppable innovation juggernaut of our time. He has taken us to space, and is single-handedly leading us into a new age in energy. However his company, Tesla, is plagued by issues related to capital. Conversely, Apple is a powerhouse of stability. Their sales are steady, probably because they continually pour out the same tired products that (they know) people are willing to buy. They also don’t take risks. Ever.

This is why Apple should buy Tesla and make Elon Musk the CEO—Apple lacks innovation and growth, and Tesla lacks cash and financial stability. To understand this rationale you only need to turn to Apple’s stock.

Apple has tremendously priced stock, thanks to the success of the iPhone, iPad, and to a lesser extent, the Apple Watch. This gives the company an amazingly high budget to work with. The choice that they now face is how to best invest that budget. To this end, what Apple needs is to produce something new and inventive, which it hasn’t done in a very long time.

Who says Apple doesn’t innovate anymore? Well, almost everyone. Just Google search, “Apple is no longer innovative.” On the first page alone you get this:

screenshot

The Observer: “Last week, Apple unveiled iPhone 7 — or, rather, the company’s Twitter account accidentally leaked the release video before CEO Tim Cook could make the announcement. It’s no big deal because iPhone 7’s most noteworthy upgrades are that it comes in black, is water resistant and no longer has a headphone jack. Nothing earth-shaking.”

screenshot

The Conversation (John Rice, Professor of Management, University of New England and Nigel Martin, College of Business and Economics, Australian National University): “Not only is Apple suffering from a major lack of hardware innovation but it’s also being outdone in software and online, where apps reign supreme. It quite possibly signals the company’s eventual demise.”

screenshot

Dezeen: “Has Apple lost its touch? Dezeen readers are unconvinced by the tech giant’s latest product announcements and feel the company has lost its way. This special edition of our regular comments update looks at reactions to its controversial new wireless headphones (pictured), updated Apple Watch and the iPhone 7.”

screenshot

Forbes: “[Like] previous years we have grown to accept that the polish and style of delivery masks a growing problem at Cupertino: Apple has run out of juice.”

screenshot

CNBC: “’There’s no real world shocking innovation happening anymore from Apple,’ the fellow at Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, told ‘Closing Bell.’ ‘It was nine years ago that the iPhone came out … since then it’s been giving us bigger screens and smaller screens … and we go along,’ he noted, before adding that Apple’s series imitates Netflix.”

Ouch.

Even friendlies will agree that Apple is much stronger when it comes to customer experience and selling its own ecosystem than it is at generating new products. But just keeping your existing customers happy isn’t enough. Perhaps most telling is the fact that Apple is losing out to other companies in contests that it started. For example, according to the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Tablet Satisfaction Survey, customers like Microsoft’s Surface tablets more than iPads.

Tesla: Dynamism is Costly

Meanwhile, Tesla is amazingly innovative, transforming our society in a number of sectors, all united by a future-facing commitment to clean energy and better design. The company makes cars, energy storage systems, solar roofs—and they likely won’t stop there. It seems like every few months, they come out with a new major R&D announcement. This is because Tesla places an enormous emphasis on new ideas, and although not all of them work, enough of them do that investors are inspired to buy Tesla.

Musk’s company is also growing at a staggering rate, but it is also unstable – vacillating between stocks that surge and plummet (and all the while, they are hemorrhaging cash). When you search “Tesla losing money,” you get a slightly more mixed result:

screenshot

Forbes wants you to know that, although Tesla is, in fact, losing money, people like its CEO.

screenshot

CNBC: “Wall Street sees Tesla, not classic companies like Ford, as the future of cars. Tesla is aiming to be the Apple of the car business.”

screenshot

MarketWatch: “But even the average investor can tell the difference between a profitable and unprofitable company, and Tesla is definitely the latter.”

Several outlets reveal just how much Tesla has fluctuated over the years in relation to its sales and figures. Particularly telling is the conversation regarding how much money the company loses on every car it sells.

screenshot

Reuters: “It’s crunch time for Tesla Motors. The Silicon Valley automaker is losing more than $4,000 on every Model S electric sedan it sells, using its reckoning of operating losses, and it burned $359 million in cash last quarter in a bull market for luxury vehicles.”

And a few other notable examples from Seeking Alpha and Investopedia showcase that the debate is still raging:

Why Apple Should Buy Tesla and Make Elon Musk CEO

screenshot

Of course, saying that Tesla has money problems raises some (rather fair) questions. Case in point, if Tesla is losing so much money, why is their stock still worth so much? Just this past week, Elon Musk responded to critics that called Tesla “overvalued,” pointing out that its value is based not only on cash flow, but also on the innovation consumers see in its products.

In other words, investors see the work that Tesla does as being highly relevant in the future. They feel confident that it will hold its value and grow. But that’s betting on the future, and it doesn’t help Tesla achieve stability today.

The Blend

Apple will find itself in an increasingly precarious position unless it chooses another course. The company has benefitted from Samsung’s woes (what with all the phones exploding and catching fire), but that isn’t going to last. Samsung may, and very likely will, recover. The company unveiled a new smartphone at the end of March, for example, and similar ventures indicate that it is working hard to rectify its current, troubled reputation. Thus, Apple will soon (once again) find itself going head-to-head with competitors that are just as capable of turning out devices with the most notable “new” feature being that they come in a new color.

Imagine you’re one of the best and brightest new minds, and you’re graduating from the best engineering and science programs in existence. You can write your own ticket. Would you rather work on never-before-seen breakthroughs in technology or endless iterations of the same products?

No one is called to create the latest version of the same passable earbuds; that’s not a calling. It’s just a job. Transforming the way people think about storing solar power? Creating entirely new ways to produce enough power to get off-grid? Disrupting the automobile industry? Those are callings.

If Apple buys Tesla, Apple will be able to attract the kind of talent they want (and need) to regain their place at the forefront of new technologies.

Tesla and Elon Musk have already seen that the future demands diversified product lines. This seems rather obvious, as we can’t predict what will happen in the world of tomorrow: what we will want and need, or how new generations of people will think, live, work, and play. The longer Apple stays within its narrow computer/tablet/smartphone lanes, the tougher it will be to break free and diversify.

Alright, so one final question: why does Musk have to be the one who runs this mega technology machine? Because Tim Cook is a careful, strategic, incremental manager of assets focused on protecting what’s there and coaxing slow growth. That’s what he does, and he’s extremely skilled at that. However, that’s not what’s called for in this pairing. And while that kind of strategic management might provide a very useful counterpoint to Musk’s style of leadership, it seems unlikely that both would stick around.

Of course, it is very unlikely that Cook will step down (very unlikely). Yet, in all probability, the only way Elon Musk would even dream about accepting this offer is if he is offered the CEO position. As a result, the only way that this proposition is truly feasible is if Apple’s Board goes after this option and, essentially, pushes Tim Cook out. It’s an interesting idea—one that could be very beneficial for both companies—but don’t hold your breath.

The post Why Apple Should Buy Tesla and Make Elon Musk CEO appeared first on Futurism.

It’s Time to Rethink How We Are Educating Our Children

Educating for the Future

Elon Musk seems to be making headlines every day with his spaceships and solar panels and gigafactories and colonies on mars and secret tunnels and AI labs and self-driving cars. However, there is one thing he did that might be even more noteworthy yet did not draw nearly as much attention. He didn’t like the way his kids were being educated so he pulled them out of their fancy private school and started his own.

The school’s name is Ad Astra, meaning ‘to the stars’, and seems to be based around Musk’s belief that schools should “teach to the problem, not to the tools.” ‘Let’s say you’re trying to teach people how engines work. A traditional approach would be to give you courses on screwdrivers and wrenches. A much better way would be, here is an engine, now how are we going to take it apart? Well, you need a screwdriver. And then a very important thing happens, the relevance of the tool becomes apparent.’

Musk’s decision highlights a bigger issue, how we educate people needs to change. Education today really isn’t that much different from what it was a hundred years ago. It’s still classrooms crammed full of students all learning the same thing at the same pace from overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated teachers who spend thirty years teaching more or less the same thing.


Wikimedia Commons

Parents should be the most concerned. From the time kids are old enough to start school until they are independent enough to make their own decisions, parents consume themselves worrying about their child’s education. It made sense, after all getting your kids a good education was always thought to be the best thing you could do to assure them a bright future. And parents all around the world go to crazy lengths to do whatever they can to make sure their kids get the education they need. They’ll move houses to be in a better school district, spend thousands of dollars a year on after-school and summer programs, and hire tutors, all to make sure little Jimmy or Sally are prepared to face the world of tomorrow.

However for parents today things have gotten even more complicated. The world that the next generation will grow up in will be radically different from anything we have seen in the past. A world filled with artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, automation, virtual reality, personalized medicine, self-driving cars, and people on Mars. A world where people might not even have jobs and where society itself may be arranged in fundamentally different ways. How are parents, and society for that matter, supposed to know how to prepare them to succeed in a world that we cannot predict?

It starts by rethinking what a school is. Schools used to be the storehouses of human knowledge and going to school was the best way to learn anything. Now that is no longer the case, knowledge is no longer confined to dusty classrooms or old books. Thanks to the internet it is now accessible to anybody who wants it. All schools have to do is get them to want it.


Intel

The role of school should no longer be to fill heads with information, rather it should be a place that inspires students to be curious about the world they live in. Kids are born explorers, when they are young all they want to do is push boundaries and explore the limits of what they can do. Let’s not suffocate that curiosity by making them spend their childhoods preparing for one test after another while adhering to rigid school policies that stifle creativity and independent thought.

The ability to adapt and learn something new should be valued above all else. Gone are the days where you pick a profession and just do that one thing for the rest of your life. People will need to know how to learn something new multiple times over in their lives. Not only because it will be the only way you’ll still be able to contribute to society, but also because our knowledge of the world and who we are is progressing incredibly quickly. If the last time you learned anything new was when you were in school then you will be missing out on the new ways of understandings the world that are constantly opening up.

And this is not just something that we have to worry about for the younger generation, adults will also need to be re-educated as most of the skills they acquired in school will soon be obsolete.

Blueprint For Education In The 21st Century:

  • Gone should be the days when kids are arbitrarily lumped together into classrooms full of students all forced to learn the same thing at the same pace. We have the ability to customize learning to fit each individual’s needs and desires and should do everything we can to take advantage of that ability. There already exist multiple online learning platforms, such as crash course, that teach a variety of subjects better than just about any teacher could.
  • All active learning should be task driven. No more lessons where you jot down notes off a blackboard, rather students are assigned tasks to complete and given all the tools they might need to figure out how to solve the problem. (3d printers, virtual learning environments, interactive displays, a connection to labs and research facilities all around the world, etc.)
  • Passive learning should not be rigidly structured. Students should be given a topic to learn about and a variety of educational materials to pick from to help them learn, it should then be up to them which they want to use. (podcasts, videos, books, virtual tours, etc.)
  • Teachers become facilitators of learning. Rather than lecturing everyone, they go from student to student or group to group helping them figure out how to learn what they need to know. Teachers no longer need a deep understanding of the given topic but they should know how to learn about it. Students eventually should also be supplied with their own virtual learning assistant to answer any question they may have and help them stay on task.
  • Classrooms themselves will need to be redesigned. No more square boxes with rows of desks, the classrooms of the future should be innovative spaces that promote curiosity while fostering creative social interaction with peers.
  • The goal of education should never be to get an A or pass a test. Making students and parents obsess about grades and scores sucks away all the joy of learning. The goal should be to make students literate in all core subjects and fluent at a select few. Being able to do something that you couldn’t do before or finding a new way of understanding the world is far more rewarding than any score on a piece of paper ever could be.

In addition, education should give people an understanding that the world is not divided up into discreet subjects. Separating knowledge into columns labeled science or history or Chinese is at times pedagogically useful but everyone should realize that the world is not made up of independent subjects, they bleed into each other and none can be fully understood in isolation. Subjects are simply tools to help you understand the world.

Students should also know that no subject is beyond them. We are told lies that some people just can’t do math or can’t draw. Other subjects like physics are presented to us as too dry or too complex for most people to grasp. What should be taught is that a certain level of literacy in any subject is not only attainable by everybody but is necessary to be able to appreciate the world we live in.

Much of this may seem idealistic or unrealistic, but radical change is needed if we are going to figure out how to live in the future we are creating.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

The post It’s Time to Rethink How We Are Educating Our Children appeared first on Futurism.

The Bizarre Story of This AI Drone Calls the Future of Warfare Into Question

Autonomous Warfare

We hear all around us about the major breakthroughs that await just around the bend: of miraculous cures for cancer, of amazing feats of genetic engineering, of robots that will soon take over the job market. And yet, underneath all the hubbub, there lurk the little stories – the occasional bizarre occurrences that indicate the kind of world we’re going into. One of those recent tales happened at the beginning of this year, and it can provide a few hints about the future. I call it – The Tale of the Little Drone that Could.

Our story begins towards the end of January 2017, when said little drone was launched at Southern Arizona as part of a simple exercise. The drone was part of the Shadow RQ-7Bv2 series, but we’ll just call it Shady from now on. Drones like Shady are usually being used for surveillance by the US army, and should not stray more than 77 miles (120 km) away from their ground-based control station. But Shady had other plans in the mind it didn’t have: as soon as it was launched, all communications were lost between the drone and the control station.

Auto Draft
Shady the drone. Source: Department of Defense

Other, more primitive drones, would probably have crashed at around this stage, but Shady was a special drone indeed. You see, Shadow drones enjoy a high level of autonomy. In simpler words, they can stay in the air and keep on performing their mission even if they lose their connection with the operator. The only issue was that Shady didn’t know what its mission was. And as the confused operators on the ground realized at that moment – nobody really had any idea what it was about to do.

Autonomous aerial vehicles are usually programmed to perform certain tasks when they lose communication with their operators. Emergency systems are immediately activated as soon as the drone realizes that it’s all alone, up there in the sky. Some of them circle above a certain point until radio connection is reestablished. Others attempt to land straight away on the ground, or try to return to the point from which they were launched. This, at least, is what the emergency systems should be doing. Except that in Shady’s case, a malfunction happened, and they didn’t.

Or maybe they did.

Some believe that Shady’s memory accidentally contained the coordinates of its former home in a military base in Washington state, and valiantly attempted to come back home. Or maybe it didn’t. These are, obviously, just speculations. It’s entirely possible that the emergency systems simply failed to jump into action, and Shady just kept sailing up in the sky, flying towards the unknown.

Be that as it may, our brave (at least in the sense that it felt no fear) little drone left its frustrated operators behind and headed north. It flew up on the strong winds of that day, and sailed over forests and Native American reservations. Throughout its flight, the authorities kept track over the drone by radar, but after five hours it reached the Rocky Mountains. It should not have been able to pass them, and since the military lost track of its radar signature at that point, everyone just assumed Shady crashed down.

But it didn’t.

Instead, Shady rose higher up in the air, to a height of 12,000 feet (4,000 meters), and glided up and above the Rocky Mountains, in environmental conditions it was not designed for and at distances it was never meant to be employed in. Nonetheless, it kept on buzzing north, undeterred, in a 632 miles journey, until it crashed near Denver. We don’t know the reason for the crash yet, but it’s likely that Shady simply ran out of fuel at about that point.


The Rocky Mountains. Shady crossed them too. rh/Flickr

And that is the tale of Shady, the little drone that never thought it could – mainly since it doesn’t have any thinking capabilities at all – but went the distance anyway.

What Does It All Mean?

Shady is just one autonomous robot out of many. Autonomous robots, even limited ones, can perform certain tasks with minimal involvement by a human operator. Shady’s tale is simply a result of a bug in the robot’s operation system. There’s nothing strange in that by itself, since we discover bugs in practically every program we use: the Word program I’m using to write this post occasionally (and rarely, fortunately) gets stuck, or even starts deleting letters and words by itself, for example. These bugs are annoying, but we realize that they’re practically inevitable in programs that are as complex as the ones we use today.

Well, Shady had a bug as well. The only difference between Word and Shady is that the second is a military drone worth $1.5 million USD, and the bug caused it to cross three states and the Rocky Mountains with no human supervision. It can be safely said that we’re all lucky that Shady is normally only used for surveillance, and is thus unarmed. But Shady’s less innocent cousin, the Predator drone, is also being used to attack military targets on the ground, and is thus equipped with two Hellfire anti-tank missiles and with six Griffin Air-to-surface missiles.


A Predator drone firing away.

I rather suspect that we would be less amused by this episode, if one of the armed Predators were to take Shady’s place and sail across America with nobody knowing where it’s going to, or what it’s planning to do once it gets there.

Robots and Urges

I’m sure that the emotionally laden story in the beginning of this post has made some of you laugh, and for a very good reason. Robots have no will of their own. They have no thoughts or self-consciousness. The sophisticated autonomous robots of the present, though, exhibit “urges”. The programmers assimilate into the robots certain urges, which are activated in pre-defined ways.

In many ways, autonomous robots resemble insects. Both are conditioned – by programming or by the structure of their simple neural systems – to act in certain ways, in certain situations. From that viewpoint, insects and autonomous robots both have urges. And while insects are quite complex organisms, they have bugs as well – which is the reason that mosquitos keep flying into the light of electric traps in the night. Their simple urges are incapable of dealing with the new demands placed by modern environment. And if insects can experience bugs in unexpected environments, how much more so for autonomous robots?

Shady’s tale shows what happens when a robot obeys the wrong kind of urges. Such bugs are inevitable in any complex system, but their impact could be disastrous when they occur in autonomous robots – especially of the armed variety that can be found in the battlefield.

Scared? Take Action!

If this revelation scares you as well, you may want to sign the open letter that the Future of Life Institute released around a year and a half ago, against the use of autonomous weapons in war. You won’t be alone out there: more than a thousand AI researchers have already signed that letter.

Will governments be deterred from employing autonomous robots in war? I highly doubt that. We failed to stop even the potentially world-shattering nuclear proliferation, so putting a halt to robotic proliferation doesn’t seem likely. But at least when the next Shady or Freddy the Predator get lost next time, you’ll be able to shake your head in disappointment and mention that you just knew that would happen, that you warned everyone in advance, and nobody listened to you.

And when that happens, you’ll finally know what being a futurist feels like.

The post The Bizarre Story of This AI Drone Calls the Future of Warfare Into Question appeared first on Futurism.

Democracy 2.0: What Would a Post-Voting Society Look Like?

Imagine that government tracks your every move. Frankly, they can already do that, so this should not be an immense stretch of imagination. Then imagine that the establishment does the same for everyone you know. Does this wield an absolute power of those in control over the typical citizens? Not so fast. The answer is yes and no.

Now imagine this all-knowing government (or company) noticing a new pattern in their big data sets. Perhaps the citizens have changed their bicycling habits and now take a shortcut over a busy street, which based on the data seems to be a bit risky. Or perhaps the citizens have begun to talk in a way that the establishment needs to start thinking rewording a law on inheritance tax.

Would you say that this future is possible? Plausible? Desirable? I don’t know. But I do know that in human activity systems the power has more than one direction to flow to, although the flows are seldom in balance.

Post-voting society?

Something important about the role of the elections is revealed when we start to speculate that in the future vast datasets can help governments to do fair decision-making without the need for elections.

Technological development connects with political processes and vice versa. What if we connect technologies such as big data and all-monitoring sensor dust directly with political decision-making? Typically these technologies reveal the dystopian control society, but what if we consider the flip side of the coin: When we know that we are being monitored, we can use this information to impact on (automatic/algorithmic/human sense-making based) decision-making. As described in the previous example, if citizens want a new bicycle route, they could simply start cycling the route already and thus demonstrating the need. In other words while companies and governments can more easily follow individuals, groups of individuals can use their behavior to illustrate a point and create political movements. Of course, there still will be politics, but how and where they will take place is uncertain.

By measuring activities and behavior, much more can be perceived from well-being or mobility choices in cities than from political elections and surveys. Thus, in the post-voting society, since we have the capability to know exactly what people do, there’s less need to vote and speculate on certain things, as actions can be considered a vote.

[NT] Speculating Radical Futures: A Post-Voting Society?
Source: Pixabay

How could this kind of development evolve? In the Demos Helsinki scenario publication The Future as told by the Garden and the Streets, it is via sort of a new deal on data that guarantees myData rights to people. Because of radical openness in public data gathering and public algorithms, people are well aware of how society uses the open company data, and thus they can affect societal decisions through their behavior. In the Garden scenario, behind this development is a relatively rapid decline of the representative democracy. The scenario speculates that when less than 45% of the population participated in the municipal elections after 2016, the Finnish government decided to concentrate on enquiring on changes in values in general elections and use more and more behavior-based data in everyday decision-making. Further, encouraged by social experiments supported by the government, the political parties started to move more strongly toward politics which is based on data. This development has led to a decrease in the purpose of the state as a platform for debate.

Based on this thought experiment on the development towards the post-voting society, we can speculate what we would be missing. In the Garden scenario, the true power is held by those who create the algorithms – even though they probably wouldn’t often consider themselves powerful (however, those who currently hold power positions would most likely agree that they have difficulties in identifying when they are actually using their power).

Another important aspect of voting would disappear as well: A part of the voting process is the ritual itself – a sort of a celebration of togetherness in the acts of an individual. Would there be something that takes the place of this ritual? How could people feel that they belong to the same entity?

The post Democracy 2.0: What Would a Post-Voting Society Look Like? appeared first on Futurism.