Chatbots and the Human Element

I have just started a new section of Northeastern’s EDU-6323: Technology as a Medium for Learning.  This is the accelerated 8-week version for summer, covering an array of digital technologies and their integration into K12, higher ed, or corporate training sessions.

During the first week, the assigned readings included:

Hubert’s post garnered the most comments in the ensuing discussions in class.  Hubert suggested that chatbots and AI could impact education through:

  • Automatic Essay Scoring
  • Spaced Interval Learning
  • Conversational Student (and Student-Centered) Feedback
  • AI Teaching Assistants (Ms. Watson)
  • Chatbot Campus Genie

My students’ reactions were quite bipolar.  Some were excited and saw this as positive…others were dismayed and saw this as negative.

On the positive side, one said that the idea of a virtual assistant was exciting.  Another noted that most student evaluations of courses are poorly written, and that a chatbot might draw better assessment data out of students.

The positives were outweighed in the discussions by negative thoughts.  One student saw the use of chatbots as de-personalizing and de-humanizing education.  Another noted that in medical education, much of the essay grading involves partial credit…and she questioned whether an algorithm could capture the nuances a human professional brings to grading.  One questioned whether the introduction of digital assistants might undermine the role currently filled by graduate assistants and post-docs.  One stated that adding personal “genies” to students undermined those students learning critical life skills…such as getting from point A to point B without a smartphone!

Good points, but let me add to the positive side of the conversation.  There have been a number of blog posts recently on similar themes. The first by “Emma Identity” – a bot – discusses how big data can determine any individual’s writing style after 5000 words…which in essence would make it impossible for anyone to plagiarize.  AI would know whether a student had or had not written something.  A definite positive!

A more detailed look at the potential of AI was by Lucas Rizzotto in The Future of Education.  A very long piece, but in essence it suggests that AI could create a sweet spot between personalized learning, mastery learning, and experiential learning.

In Why Do Chatbots Give Us Hope for the Future?, the author noted that chatbots are always on, accessible, transparent, and logical.  Couple this with one of Mary Meeker’s 2017 slides that I noted in my last post:

 

As I noted in the last post, I found the year-to-year growth of voice queries mind-blowing…and again, it raises questions for me about learning management systems, learning activities, and how … to channel Richard Mayer … we might tap in to dual-channel learning.  It does suggest that we are already globally comfortable with chatbots!

The post Virtual Assistants and What You Can Do With Them differentiates between chatbots and virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant.  The author suggested that chatbots are more narrowly defined apps than virtual assistants.

“Chatbots are beginning to get a lot smarter, but for businesses, their primary function is as a virtual agent for a specific app, brand, or service. Chatbots help customers do things such as book travel, shop and complete e-commerce transactions, or get customer support information and submit helpdesk tickets through a conversational interface. If a chatbot is a virtual agent set to task within a specific app, then a virtual assistant is what happens when you give the AI free reign throughout an OS.”

Two books that I have read recently around smart technology are Martin Ford’s (2015) Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, and Kevin Kelly’s (2016) The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future.   One scary…one hopeful…and both directly applicable to this course!  But both are clear on one point – the world is changing!

To close, one student made the point that the world is inflexible and students need to get used to it.  Given the rise of artificial intelligence, I would counter that because of the increasingly interconnected humans and things, the world is actually becoming quite flexible…and we need to get used to it.

But…I am biased.  What are your thoughts?

{Graphic: Maciej Lipiec}

Internet Trends

Mary Meeker is out with her annual look at the “State of the Internet”…and as always, it is fascinating.

Mary has been doing this since 2002, but I first became aware of the annual report back in 2011.  I have since incorporated it into my Technology and Leadership course for Creighton University.  I also am fully aware of the “tl:dr” aspects, as the number of slides has continued to rise.

Slide numbers 2014-2017

That said, certain slides jumped out at me during my review as trends to watch as a faculty developer in higher education.

While growth is flat, growth continues globally in internet users…in an almost linear fashion.

I have been using iPhones for 3 years…having shifted over from Android.  So it surprised me how many more Android smartphones have been shipped than iPhones…but most interesting is that year to year growth in shipments has declined for past six years and is now almost zero.

The time adults in the USA spend online continues to rise…to nearly 60 percent, and percentage-wise, mobile is increasingly the way Americans access the internet…which aligns with trends I have seen in both my Masters and doctoral courses.  I used to scoff at students wanting to do their course work on their phones…now it is becoming more mainsteam.

Searching visually instead of by text brings another dimension into what “scholarship” might mean…as well as what knowledge management might mean.

I found the year-to-year growth of voice queries mind-blowing…and again, it raises questions for me about learning management systems, learning activities, and how … to channel Richard Mayer … we might tap in to dual-channel learning.  One wonders as well if discussion posts and papers are now being typed by Siri or Alexa?

The sidebar of customers directly interacting with CEO’s suggests similar expectations might begin to show in the student-teacher relationships.  Will future syllabi have “Contact the Dean or Provost” links as a natural expectation?

While higher education is certainly not retail…I was struck by the comment “I don’t think retail is dead. Mediocre retail experiences are dead.”  I can see parallels in both face-to-face and online classes.   The class experience is not dead…but mediocre class experiences will drive students to alternative means of learning…and those alternative means already exist.  Check out PencilTree for Crowdlearning.

We have talked about gamification of learning for years…but this slide nicely captures good reasons for gamification.  Stated another way, these lead to higher order thinking skills on Bloom’s Taxonomy…and a shift from “Failure” to “Trial and Error.”

We routinely fail at digital games on our iPads…but without the stigma we attach to failing in education.

The wrap up slide on gaming…but with lots of opportunities for learning in higher education.

I will turn 67 years old (young) next month…so it looks like I am an outlier for my age bracket.  My take-away lesson – all age brackets are spending time on mobile devices…so online courses need to consider this.

With my age bracket, Meeker’s slides on health care took on increased interest!  I have to admit that I look for doctors today who are not afraid of technology.  But the medical field in some ways is similar to the field of education…pockets of innovation but a lot of “we have always done it that way.”  So seeing the trends in health care provides a window for examining trends in education.

The technology adoption curve continues to accelerate…similar to the trends discussed in Tom Friedman’s book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  Social media shows the fastest curve, and I now use it in my classes and teach a class on the use of social media.  Given these accelerations, how will education (and learning) change?

It is enlightening to think about how the big players on the internet have evolved.  Higher education has certainly evolved as well…but not to this degree in my opinion.

Mary ends on a positive note, demonstrating that in many ways, the world has gotten better in the past 200 years.  She does not show global warming, weapons of mass destruction, or the outbreaks of new diseases that have occurred in the past 200 years.  Yet, I remain an optimist.  I was fortunate this week to facilitate a Digital Fluency bootcamp for the School of Social Work at VCU.  Listening to committed faculty who genuinely care about both their discipline and their students…this gives me much hope for the future!

One wonders…will Mary top 400 slides next year?  I recommend taking the time to review the entire slide deck.  I did not go into many areas she covered:

{Graphics: Kleiner Perkins}

Inevitable Thresholds

Adam Barger wrote a post this week in the Educause Review blog entitled, “Educational Technology Leadership and Practice in Higher Education: The Emergence of Threshold Concepts.”  “Threshold” is an interesting term that grabs your attention!  Merriam-Webster defines “threshold” as (a) the plank that lies under a door, (b) the place or point of an ending or a beginning, or (c) the point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced…a point or value where things become “true.”

In this post, Adam used Meyer and Land’s definition of threshold concepts “…as ideas or ways of thinking that transform the internal view of a subject.”  He noted three such threshold concepts for educational technology:

  1. Higher education is no longer about access to information; rather, it is about access to experiences.
  2. Use of educational technology in most higher education settings is standard practice rather than the exception.
  3. Educational technology both follows and fuels effective pedagogy.

I would agree that these are indeed points that have become true.  It is an easy leap to align them with Kevin Kelly’s 2015 book, The Inevitable, which noted twelve technological  forces (or verbs) that are inevitable for the future:

  1. Becoming: Moving from fixed products to always upgrading services and subscriptions
  2. Cognifying: Making everything much smarter using cheap powerful AI that we get from the cloud
  3. Flowing: Depending on unstoppable streams in real-time for everything
  4. Screening: Turning all surfaces into screens
  5. Accessing: Shifting society from one where we own assets, to one where instead we will have access to services at all times.
  6. Sharing: Collaboration at mass-scale. Kelly writes, “On my imaginary Sharing Meter Index we are still at 2 out of 10.”
  7. Filtering: Harnessing intense personalization in order to anticipate our desires
  8. Remixing: Unbundling existing products into their most primitive parts and then recombine in all possible ways
  9. Interacting: Immersing ourselves inside our computers to maximize their engagement
  10. Tracking: Employing total surveillance for the benefit of citizens and consumers
  11. Questioning: Promoting good questions are far more valuable than good answers
  12. Beginning: Constructing a planetary system connecting all humans and machines into a global matrix

Adam noted that higher education is no longer about access to information, but rather it is about access to experiences.  Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I made that point in our 2009 White Paper, “Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.”  Kelly’s verbs of accessing, flowing, filtering, interacting, and questioning all weave into this threshold concept as well.

Edtech has definitely become a standard practice globally.  This is evident in our Twitter discussions at #EDU6323 and #EDU6333 where Masters students in Northeastern’s program share their realities and hopes concerning edtech.  In this standard practice, one can see Kelly’s verbs of becoming, cognifying, screening, sharing and remixing.  I like Adam’s note that:

“In essence, the saturation of technology use in higher education allows for more individualized approaches to educating all students.”

Adam’s final threshold places pedagogy before technology…and suggests that experimentation and play are worthy endeavors for education.  I agree, and have certainly attempted to embed a certain degree of playfulness in all my courses. Cognifying, filtering, and questioning all have pedagogical applications.

I have also attempted to embed a certain degree of optimism in my teaching as well.  I like Elsie’s image of “Threshold” at the top of this post…as it suggests moving from the darkness into the light.  That is a threshold worth crossing!

{Graphics: Elsie Godwin, Viking Press}

Futuremark

Something I tweeted earlier this week…but it keeps circling around in my head:

Harold noted in “the uncertain future of training” that training courses are artifacts of the past…when resources (and information) was scarce and connections were few.  Training courses efficiently collected people together to deliver the training…but that training always looked backwards to “how things were done.”   Shampoo, rinse, repeat…

As Harold noted:

“…Training looks at how people currently do work and then gets others to replicate this. These are described as competencies, made up of certain, skills, knowledge, and attitudes. The assumption was that what works today will work tomorrow. The training department assumed the status quo…”

Yet, we do not live in a status quo world…as Tom Friedman noted in his book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, it is a world driven by the acceleration of connectivity and cognitive technology.  Tomorrow will not look like today.

Harold provided a graphic that he has used several times…but it nicely captures this shift:

Work learning shift

So in thinking about training, Harold noted that “the notion of best practices still permeates the business of training. By looking at what is currently being done well we can replicate this and pass it on through training. Best practices, and even good practices, assume a state of order.”

In reading this, I thought of a presentation Tom Peters did in Atlanta over a dozen years  ago…that still resonates with me.  Around slide 282 (out of over 400) in his tenth chapter of The Works Powerpoint, he showed:

Future Mark

Don’t Benchmark…Future mark!  Peters goes on a few slides later to suggest:

  • “Benchmarking Rule #1: “Best practices” are to be learned from, NOT mimicked/treated as law. “Best practices” must ALWAYS be adapted to local conditions!
  • Benchmarking Rule #2: When pursuing “best practices,” DON’T benchmark. FUTUREMARK. Tomorrow’s stars are already out there. Find ’em!
  • Benchmarking Rule #3: DON’T benchmark. OTHERMARK. E.g., a tech company  can adopt “WOW” service practice from, say, a local restaurant or car dealer.
  • Benchmarking Rule #4: Make benchmarking EVERYONE’s biz. Everyone collect best “everyday life” practices. Share WEEKLY.”

A dozen years ago…yet Peters was already seeing what Jarche and Friedman now see.  Couple Peters’ four rules with social media, and you actually have a vehicle that makes “futuremarking” possible.

Soooo…as you put together your summer faculty development bootcamps and institutes, is the focus on best practices or futuremarks?

{Graphic: Jarche.com, Tom Peters}

 

Will AI Do Improv?

There has been a lot on the news lately about artificial intelligence and how it is impacting the future.  Already there are advice posts regarding how AI can enhance education, such as “7 Ways Artificial Intelligence Will Change Higher Education” or “Could Online Tutors and Artificial Intelligence be the Future of Teaching?”.

Yet, this morning as I was driving and listening to Fred Childs on NPR, something his guest said resonated with me.  A pianist noted that even though songs have very clear “rules” in the form of sheet music, whenever he plays a piece, there is improv, because how he plays depends on who he is playing with and what the mood of the audience is.

This idea of improv reminded me of an unexpected flow on Twitter this week in my Northeastern University class on Social Media at #EDU6333.  The current class is a little different than earlier classes I have taught, in that – feeding off each other – they love to add GIFs to their tweets.  Whereas this might have happened infrequently in past classes, it happens every day in the current class.  And I would suggest “feeding off each other” is simply another definition for improv.

Wednesday night, I was grading papers and watching the hashtag feed when the following began happening (I added a few earlier ones, but most posted between 7:45-9:15pm):

Granted, this was only a fifth of the students in the class…though others the next day lamented missing the exchange.  But this is engagement…and dare I say it

It reminds me of the improv associated with teaching…whether K-12 or higher education.  This week we explored constructivist learning and TPACK…yet the dialogue on Twitter went in lots of directions.

We are not at the point yet where AI is a threat to replacing teaching.  After all, scientist last year made a teen robot…and it got depressed.  We have not yet reached the point where machines can empathize with us…though in some ways they are now thinking in ways we no longer understandWith the massive data crunching afforded by the cloud, artificial intelligence may develop new ways to improv in the future.  If anything, we are approaching the time when it will be a natural enhancement to good teaching.  But just as good pianists improv when playing a standard set of sheet music, both teachers and students need to improv when learning together…which is what constructivism is all about!

Defining Online: Ask the Machines?

Dave Weinberger had a very interesting post on Backchannel last week that suggest AI now has knowledge we will never understand.  Dave noted:

“We are increasingly relying on machines that derive conclusions from models that they themselves created, models that are often beyond human comprehension, models that “think” about the world differently than we do.”

He goes on to say that we have long been trying to simplify the world – think Einstein attempting to find a Unified Field Theory to tie together relativity, electromagnetism and gravity.  This new machine way of thinking may suggest “simple” is wrong.  Google’s AlphaGo program can now beat anyone playing Go…but cannot teach you how to play Go.  It thinks differently than its human competitors.

Dave noted that for thousands of years, we acted as if the simplicity of our models reflected the simplicity of our universe.  We are beginning to learn that with an almost infinite number of interrelated variables, the real world is too complex to “know.”

In Tom Friedman’s book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, he suggested that Mother Nature provides a good model for facing the future, as Mother Nature has been adaptable and resilient for billions of years.  Mother Nature has shown the ability to adapt when new knowledge becomes available, the ability to embrace diversity, the ability to balance micro- and macro-level processes, and the ability to change in a sometimes brutal fashion.  In other words, Mother Nature crunches the numbers and does not attempt to simplify the models.

I am not sure why..but this all came to mind as I read Tony Bates’ post “What is online learning: Seeking definition.”  Tony described a new survey going out to all Canadian institutions of higher education, seeking to understand the future direction of elearning in Canada.  He noted that simply defining “online learning” has proved problematic, as different institutions have somewhat arbitrary definitions of online, blended, hybrid, and even the differentiation between credit, contract, and free courses.  Over the past two decades, I have run into similar issues trying to define what is meant by online learning.  I have run the gamut from structured courses run asynchronously (and sometimes synchronously) through LMSs…to “It’s All Frigging Online!” – meaning that we are all now so interconnected that “online” is simply a continuum by which learning can be facilitated…but that continuum rarely approaches zero.

Tony noted that the results will be available in early September, and I suspect his team will learn from these results.  I also wonder if sufficient data already exists in the cloud that machine intelligence could look at the same issues and come to new understandings which might be difficult for us to understand?

It is amazing that we live in an era where contemplating that is even possible!

{Graphic: The Vital Edge}

The Future of Higher Education?

My good friend Enoch Hale asked me a question late last week that I have been contemplating ever since:

“What are some good books to read regarding the future of Higher Education?”

Good question…and at a deeper level, how do you differentiate between books that have the flawed (at least, I think flawed) assumption that higher education tomorrow will resemble higher education of the past…and books that actually suggest a new future?  Search for books on “the future of higher education” and you quickly find quite a few…and I would add in books about “the future” itself.

There are lots of ways to think about the future…

In Tom Friedman’s book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations,  he draws the distinction between typical course creation processes, which can take a year, and Udacity’s roll out of a MOOC for Google’s TensorFlow program 3 months after Google announced the algorithms.  Friedman sees coming disruptions from intelligent assistants and intelligent algorithms.  Yet, Friedman also points out that in an era when it is possible to automate much of the learning process, the element that marked “successful students” was the human element – teachers and mentors who took personal interest in students.

One way to think about the future of higher education is to think about the future into which our students will graduate.  In “3 graphs that explain how higher ed needs to design for the future of work,” Education Design Lab noted that:

  • Job hopping will become the norm
  • Most jobs will require post-secondary education
  • Jobs are either very susceptible or fairly immune to computerization-with little middle ground

New York Times discussed a higher education leaders forum last year that suggested the key challenges for higher education included finding new ways to teach the digital generation, bringing down the cost of a college education, and ensuring more students graduate.  A recent Harvard graduate has been exploring micro-financing and vocational education as one approach outside the United States…and one wonders if some in this country might take this route as well.

Forbes carried an article this past year that suggested that return on investment is the biggest issue facing higher education…with good reason.

I remain an optimist.  I like the direction(s) Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable takes, in which new technological forces will drive new opportunities.

I also like the direction Stanford has in their 2025 strategic plan:

Soooo…if Enoch asked you the question, how would you respond? What should we be reading to inform our vision of higher education’s future?

 

Annual Reflection on My Tool Use

carpenter-tablet-computer-manual-worker-hammer-toolbeltJane Hart has opened up voting for the 2017 Top Tools used for learning.  With the 11th Annual Learning Tools survey, Jane Hart will once again be compiling an overall Top 200 Tools for Learning 2017 as well as 3 sub-lists:

  1. Top 100 Tools for Personal & Professional Learning 2017 – ie. the tools used by individuals for their own self-organised learning and self-improvement – inside and outside the workplace.
  2. Top 100 Tools for Workplace Learning 2017 – ie. the tools used to create and/or manage e-learning or for performance support, or tools used by work teams and groups for informal social and collaborative learning.
  3. Top 100 Tools for Education  2017– ie. the tools used by educators and academics in schools, colleges, universities, adult education etc.

Voting closes: mid-day GMT, Friday 22 September 2017
Results released: 8 am GMT, Monday 2 October 2017

I frequently use her annual Top Tools for Learning in both my doctorate and masters courses.  My look at my use of tools and my Top Ten were posted last September.

So my Top Ten this year are:

  • Twitter
  • Tweetdeck
  • Diigo
  • Feedly
  • Netvibes
  • Camtasia
  • SnagIt
  • WordPress
  • Facebook
  • Apple Watch

Not much has changed in the past 7 months…though I changed out my number ten:

Some of the shift over the past three years comes as I retired from full-time faculty development and spend more time in online teaching.  However, I still dabble in faculty development – I have just spent the past two months consulting for the VCU School of Social Work as they update their elearning offerings.

I teach for both Northeastern University and Creighton University.  That means two different LMSs (Blackboard and Canvas), but the LMS does not make my top ten…and I continue to be comfortable teaching in any (or none).  I introduce my students to blogging and social media, so Twitter, Tweetdeck, Diigo, WordPress, and Facebook are all actively used in my instruction (and in work submitted by my students).  I personally use Tweetdeck, Feedly and Netvibes to organize student tweets and blogs.  Camtasia and Snagit are used frequently to create multimedia for my classes…or respond to student questions.  I also instruct my students on curating their own content, and a favorite of my students this past year has been Pinterest.

I started using the Apple Watch this year..and it is amazing how quickly that becomes a part of daily use, from seeing social media to texts to fitness apps…and the timer keeps me on time to meetings!  So it seemed right to add it to my top tools, even though I continue to use the iPhone, iPad, and laptop daily…as well as my trusty Dell desktop.

I poll my students frequently to see what they are using…and some surprises show up (at least for me):

Big shout out to Jane for continuing this interesting snapshot of tool use across corporate and education settings!  I look forward to seeing this year’s list…and I hope to spend some time this summer exploring some of the emerging tools that showed up last year.

{Graphic: Dreamstime}

Value Added versus Liability Sponge

Someone who always gets me thinking is danah boyd.  Her post “Toward Accountability: Data, Fairness, Algorithms, Consequences” is the latest to prod my brain!

liability spongeHer post raises the issue of how data collection and data manipulation are not neutral activities…that the decision to collect or not collect and the thought process behind the analysis of data have value implications.  An example she used was around open data and how the transparency of data about segregation in NY schools led many to self-segregate, leading to more segregation, not less.  In another example, she noted how Google’s search algorithms picked up racist biases by learning from the inherently biased search practices of people in this country.

danah noted toward the end of her post:

“But placing blame is not actually the same as accountability. Researcher Madeleine Elish was investigating the history of autopilot in aviation when she uncovered intense debates about the role of the human pilot in autonomous systems. Not unlike what we hear today, there was tremendous pressure to keep pilots in the cockpit “in case of emergency.” The idea was that, even as planes shifted from being primarily operated by pilots to primarily operated by computers, it was essential that pilots could step in last minute if something went wrong with the computer systems.

Although this was seen as a nod to human skill, what Madeleine saw unfold over time looked quite different. Pilots shifted from being skilled operators to being liability sponges. They were blamed when things went wrong and they failed to step in appropriately. Because they rarely flew, pilots’ skills atrophied on the job, undermining their capabilities at a time when they were increasingly being held accountable. Because of this, Madeleine and a group of colleagues realized that the contexts in which humans are kept in the loop of autonomous systems can be described as “moral crumple zones,” sites of liability in which the human is squashed when the sociotechnical systems go wrong.”

These two paragraphs seem to provide some context to the chapter I am currently reading in Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  In “Turning AI into IA”, Friedman suggested that a part of the solution to dealing with the triple accelerations of technological change, global market change, and environmental change, lies in leveraging artificial intelligence into intelligent assistance, intelligent assistants, and intelligent algorithms.  Friedman noted that in this age of accelerations, we need to rethink three key social contracts – those between workers and employees, students and educational institutions, and citizens and governments.

I totally agree that the status quo is not the answer, whether we are talking corporate structures, higher education, or government.  I worry though the extent to which some would push technology as an answer to higher education.

I firmly believe that integrating digital technology into teaching and learning makes sense…if one starts with the learning outcomes first and chooses the technology for the right reasons.  TPACK still resonates with me!  Smart technology could easily take the place of repetitive practice work, freeing faculty to focus on the underlying critical thinking skills that students must develop in order to succeed in tomorrow’s world.  My worry would be faculty that see the opportunity to place their courses on autopilot while they pursue their research interests.  Like the pilots above, teaching skills could atrophy…setting faculty up as liability sponges if students fail.

Friedman made an interesting observation – that when ATM’s became common in banks, there was an assumption that they would replace bank tellers.  Instead, by reducing the cost of operation, ATM’s made it possible to open many more branches…and the number of tellers increased.  They no longer handled as much cash, but they became instead points of contact with customers.

If one visualizes the higher ed equivalent of an ATM, one might see a future for higher education that involves lower cost, more locations, and more faculty….but faculty “teaching” in new ways.  Now is the time to have those conversations about the future of higher ed, the future of faculty, and the future of learning.  We need to be proactive before we find ourselves in a moral crumple zone of our own making.

{Graphic: Mishra & Koehler}

Got My Attention

Over the weekend, I continued reading Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  I have to admit that the second section on accelerations – technologies, globalizations, and ecologies – scared the crap out of me!

In a methodical manner, Friedman laid out his case that we as a planet have reached a tipping point.  Moore’s law has reached the point where connectivity worldwide is basically fast, free, easy for you and ubiquitous and handling complexity has at the same time become fast, free, easy for you and invisible due to the cloud.

In his 2005 book The World is Flat, Friedman was widely quoted for stating:

.

In this book, he discusses a global cloud based company that originated in the eastern part of Turkey – not China or India.  In the 12 years since The World is Flat was published, we have gone from competition residing in big countries to competition residing anywhere.  The market economy has shifted from one based on products to one based on flows, which harkens back to the Goodwin quote from a couple of posts back:

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles.  Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content.  Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has not inventory.  And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.  Something interesting is happening.”

Probably most unsettling is what he called the black elephants – a cross between black swans (low probability events with major implications) and elephants in the room (problems visible that no one wants to acknowledge).   Friedman then went on to discuss in detail nine such black elephants:

  • Climate change (we have already tipped beyond the recommended 350ppm for CO2 in the atmosphere – so we are getting hotter)
  • Biodiversity (the annual loss of species)
  • Deforestation (down to around 62%, where 75% is the level needed to maintain healthy atmosphere)
  • Biogeochemical flows (the addition of chemicals to the water system)
  • Ocean acidification (growing but still within safe limits)
  • Freshwater use (growing but still within safe limits)
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading
  • Introduction of novel new entities (nuclear, plastics)
  • Atmospheric ozone layer (the only limit we as a planet addressed and have moved back from the brink)

Compounding all of these is the continuing growth in human population.  Looking at humanity as a whole, we have increased life expectancy and dropped mortality rates, but not decreased birth rates.  When one looks at all of the black elephants noted above, and then adds the compounding element of adding even more humans to the mix, it paints a dire picture!

So Friedman got my attention…now I need to read the next section to see just where the “optimist” in his title comes in!