This Business of Predicting: EdTech in 2019

crystal ballAs the year comes to an end, you see many end-of-year summary articles and also a glut of predictions for the upcoming year. I'm not in the business of predicting what will happen in education and technology, but I do read those predictions - with several grains of salt. 

“A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.” wrote sci-fi author Frederik Pohl.

Many of the education and technology predictions I see predict things rather than the impact those things will have. Here are some that I am seeing repeated, so that you don't have to read them all, but can still have an informed conversation at the holiday party at work or that first department meeting in January.

If you look at what the folks at higheredexperts.com are planning for 2019 just in the area of higher ed analytics.

Is "augmented analytics" coming to your school? This uses machine learning (a form of artificial intelligence) to augment how we develop, consume and share data. 

And IT analyst firm Gartner is known for their top trends reports. For 2019, one that made the list is "immersive user experience." This concept concerns what happens when human capabilities mix with augmented and virtual realities. Looking at the impact of how that changes the ways we perceive the real and digital world is what interests me.

We are still at the early stages of using this outside schools (which are almost always behind the world in general). You can point to devices like the Amazon Alexa being used in homes to turn on music, lights, appliances or tell us a joke, This is entry-level usage. But vocal interaction is an important change. A few years ago it was touch screen interactions. A few decades before it was the mouse and before that the keyboard. A Gartner video points at companies using remote assistance for applications such as an engineer working with someone in a remote factory to get a piece of equipment back online.

Will faculty be able to do augmented analytics using an immersive user experience? Imagine you can talk to the LMS you use to teach your course and you can ask, using a natural language interface, and ask " Which students in this new semester are most likely to have problems with writing assignments?" The system scans the appropriate data sets, examines different what-if scenarios and generates insights. Yes, predictive analytics is already here, but it will be changing.

But are IT trends also educational technology trends? There is some crossover.

Perhaps, a more important trend to watch for as educators for next year is changing our thinking from individual devices (and the already too many user interfaces we encounter) to a multimodal and multichannel experience.

Multimodal connects us to many of the edge devices around them. It is your phone, your car, your appliances, your watch, the thermostat, your video doorbell, the gate in a parking lot and devices you encounter at work or in stores.

Multichannel mixes your human senses with computer senses. This is when both are monitoring things in your environment that you already recognize, like heat and humidity, but also things we don't sense like Bluetooth, RF or radar. This ambient experience means the environment will become the computer.

One broad category is "autonomous things" some of are around us and using AI. There are autonomous vehicles. You hear a lot about autonomous cars and truck, but you may be more likely to encounter an autonomous drones. Will learning become autonomous? That won't be happening in 2019.

AI-driven development is its own trend. Automated testing tools and model generation is here and AI-driven automated code generation is coming.

Of course, there is more - from things I have never heard of (digital twins) to things that I keep hearing are coming (edge computing) and things that have come and seem to already have mixed reviews (blockchain).

EducationDive.com has its own four edtech predictions for colleges: 

Digital credentials gain credibility - I hope that's true, but I don't see that happening in 2019.  

Data governance grows  - that should be true if their survey has accurately found that 35% of responding institutions said they don't even have a data governance policy - a common set of rules for collecting, accessing and managing data.

Finding the ROI for AI and VR may be what is necessary to overcome the cost barrier to full-scale implementation of virtual and augmented reality. AI has made more inroads in education than VR. An example is Georgia State University's Pounce chatbot.

Their fourth prediction is institutions learning how to use the blockchain. The potential is definitely there, but implementation is challenging. 

Predictions. I wrote elsewhere about Isaac Newton's 1704 prediction of the end of the world. He's not the first or last to predict the end. Most have been proven wrong. Newton - certainly a well respected scientist - set the end at or after 2060 - but not before that. So we have at least 41 years to go.

Using some strange mathematical calculations and the Bible's Book of Revelation, this mathematician, astronomer, physicist came to believe that his really important work would be deciphering ancient scriptures. 

I'm predicting that Newton was wrong on this prediction. He shouldn't feel to bad though because I guesstimate that the majority of predictions are wrong. But just in case you believe Isaac, you can visualize the end in this document from 1486.

Being Secure on Chrome

The Chrome browser’s “not secure” warning is meant to help you understand when the connection to the site you're on isn’t secure. It is also a bit of a shaming motivation to the site's owner to improve the security of their site. But that process of getting the httpS site is not really easy in some cases and for non-tech average web users. 

Google made a warning announcement nearly two years ago and there has been an increase in sites that are secured. They started by only marking pages without encryption that collect passwords and credit card info. Then they began showing the “not secure” warning in two additional situations: when people enter data on an HTTP page, and on all HTTP pages visited in Incognito mode.

Their goal is to make it so that the only markings you see in Chrome are when a site is not secure, and the default unmarked state is secure. They will start removing the “Secure” wording in September 2018, and in October 2018, they will start showing a red “not secure” warning when users enter data on HTTP pages.

Source: https://www.blog.google/products/chrome/milestone-chrome-security-marking-http-not-secure/

Have You Noticed a Lot of Updates to User Agreements Lately?

lockedYou probably have received word via email or in apps lately about changes to company privacy and security agreements. Many companies are updating their privacy policy to make it "more clear and transparent." Why the sudden interest?

That was what a friend asked me recently. He surmised that it had "something to do with all the Facebook issues." That is partially correct. Having Mark Zuckerberg testify to the U.S. Senate and then to the European Parliament certainly put a spotlight on these issues.

But what really pushed companies was the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which went into effect this week. Since most websites are global, even if they don't think of themselves as being global, most big companies decided to adopt the GDPR standards for everyone, including their U.S. clients.

What I am seeing (yes, I read the fine print) is that they have added more detail about the information they collect, how they process that data, and how you can control your data. They may have updates on how they use cookies, for example, or how you can change who else gets to see your data. Some of these options have been around for awhile, but most users either didn't know about them or just didn't want to be bothered. For example, you have been able to block all cookies or third-party cookies or have them wiped when you close your browser for a long time. Did you ever change those settings?

These new changes seem to me to be a good and necessary next step. Add to the Facebook spotlight and GDPR the fact that Google's Chrome browser in its July 2018 version 68 release will mark all HTTP sites as “not secure.” Having the HTTPS  ("S" for secure) in that URL will become important. If your site appears to users as NOT SECURE, you can expect people to click away from it.

Something Scientists Rarely Talk About

science ichthys
science ichthys

Scientists talk about science. They don't often talk about religion. Even famous scientists in history - Newton, Darwin, Einstein - were careful about what they said on the subject of religion. When Albert Einstein said that "God does not play dice with the universe," that god was not necessarily the God that people speak of in religious terms.

Two things I recently encountered brought this to mind. One is Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About , a 2001 book of the annotated transcripts of six public lectures given by Donald E. Knuth at MIT. (read an excerpt) Knuth is an American computer scientist, mathematician, and professor emeritus at Stanford University probably best known as an author for the multi-volume The Art of Computer Programming. The lectures move between religion and science (particularly computer science) and Knuth gives credence to the concept of divinity. 

The second thing I stumbled on recently came in an article about Anthony Levandowski in Wired magazine. It portrays him as an unlikely prophet bridging artificial intelligence and religion. He was/is known as an engineer working on self-driving cars. But his newest "startup"i sthe launch of a new religion of artificial intelligence. It is called Way of the Future.

Way of the Future (WOTF) is about creating a peaceful transition about who is in charge of the planet as we move from people in charge to people and machines being in charge. And perhaps even a future when machines are in charge of the humans? 

That future of the singularity seems closer than we might imagine being that technology has already surpassed human abilities in some instances. Of course, beating humans at chess and Go and making faster calculations and predictions or being better at sorting items in a warehouse isn't the same thing as "running the world."

WOTF wants the future transition to be smoother and believes progress shouldn't be feared or prevented. It means that we need machines need to have "rights" too. 

Does Levandowkski really intend WOTF to be a "religion?" Is he willing to abandon the battle of the robotics tech and legal battles between Uber and Waymo for autonomous-vehicle dominance? It turns out that in papers filed with the Internal Revenue Service last year, Levandowski is listed as the “Dean” of the new religion, as also as the CEO of the nonprofit corporation formed to run it.

Those documents certainly sound like a new religion. Their listed activities will focus on “the realization, acceptance, and worship of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) developed through computer hardware and software.”

The divine AI will target AI professionals and “laypersons who are interested in the worship of a Godhead based on AI.” The church - and they do call it a church in their filings, probably for tax reasons - has been doing workshops and educational programs in the San Francisco/Bay Area.

A September 2017 article in Wired is titles "God is a Bot and Anthony Levandowski Is His Messenger." We will see about that.   

BitTorrent Reconsidered

shirt

This past weekend I was wearing an old BitTorrent t-shirt that has printed on the back: "Give and ye Shall receive." While waiting in a store checkout line, a man behind me said, "BitTorrent? Are you a software pirate?"

To many people, BitTorrent is still synonymous with piracy. BitTorrent was and probably used for some questionable and illegal file transfers, but it’s also being used for many legitimate tasks.

A programmer, Bram Cohen, designed the protocol and released the first available version in July 2001, and it quickly became the preferred way to share large files, especially movies. In the public mind, it is blurred together with other file sharing programs like Napster, which was used to share music (mp3) files.

animationLike HTTP, which your browser uses to communicate with websites, BitTorrent is just a protocol. People were sharing pirated files of all kinds before BitTorrent using anonymous peer-to-peer networks, but this new protocol made it much faster and more efficient. 

The BitTorrent protocol uses client computers to share individual piece of the file. After the initial pieces transfer from the seed, the pieces are individually transferred from client to client and that original seeder only needs to send out one copy of the file for all the clients to receive a copy.

BitTorrent Sync is a use that is comparable to Dropbox, a popular file sharing system. But unlike Dropbox, Sync doesn’t store your files in a centralized server online. It syncs them between computers you own or computers your friends own. It allows easy file sharing and you can sync an unlimited number of files as long as you have the space on your computers for them. (Dropbox offers that extra space, which many of us need.)

The most recent version of BitTorrent was released in 2013 and BitTorrent clients are available for a variety of computing platforms and operating systems including an official client released by BitTorrent, Inc.

What are some of the current legal uses? 

Some game companies use it for game updates and downloads. For example, Blizzard Entertainment uses its own BitTorrent client to download World of Warcraft, Starcraft II, and Diablo III. When you legally purchase one of these games and download it, you’re downloading a BitTorrent client that does it and the game’s launcher automatically downloads updates for you.

Facebook uses the BitTorrent protocol for propagating large files over a large number of different servers.

It also has educational users. Florida State University uses BitTorrent to distribute large scientific data sets to its researchers. Many universities that have BOINC distributed computing projects have used the BitTorrent functionality of the client-server system to reduce the bandwidth costs of distributing the client-side applications used to process the scientific data. The developing Human Connectome Project uses BitTorrent. 

The popular Internet Archive uses the protocol to make its public domain content downloadable.

In 2010, the UK government released several large data sets showing how public money was being spent that were offered via BitTorrent to save on bandwidth costs and speed the process.

NASA has also used BitTorrent to make a 2.9GB picture of the Earth available.

Like Napster, which rebranded and reinented itself after all the lawsuits into a "legitimate" music service, the official BitTorrent website has a list of “bundles” of music and videos. Artists make them freely available to hook fans, just as radio was once used to provide free music to large audiences in hopes that they’ll attend live shows and buy albums.

If we got rid of BitTorrent, another similar protocol would need to emerge.