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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Zac Efron is hanging out with Simone Biles while police search for Ryan Lochte.  Couches are attacking kayakers while the U.S. Men’s Basketball team is getting criticized left and right by people sitting on their couches.   Algae is infecting pools while controversial dives across finish lines take place outside of pools.  There sure is a lot going on in Rio right now.  And yet the story that I’m drawn to has nothing to do with the Olympic games at all.  Rather, I’d like to focus on the unheralded Museum of Tomorrow which opened late last year.

As Wired UK explains:

“The project brought together architects, researchers and government to create a space where climate change and the Earth’s future are its core focus. ‘We thought, why not make the social and political discussion of sustainability the main approach of a museum?’ says Hugo Barreto, secretary general at the Roberto Marinho Foundation, which oversaw the building’s development and partly funded its construction.  The two-story building, which opened in December 2015, explores five themes: the Cosmos, the Earth, the Anthropocene, Tomorrow and Us. Inside, a 140-metre-long pearlescent gallery is flanked by parallel spaces where visitors are guided through several future-gazing displays: one is
an egg-shaped auditorium showing a 360° film about the Universe. In another, six ten-meter pillars display images and data that demonstrate humans’ impact on the planet.”

As a futurist I absolutely love this idea.  If it was up to me every major city would have a Museum of the Future sitting adjacent to their Science Center and Museum of Natural History.  Or in the case of San Diego’s Balboa Park next to their 17 museums.  This way there would exist a place where people can go and dream about the future, about creating a better life for themselves.  The kind of place that Disney’s Tomorrowland once exemplified.  The kind of place that the World’s Fair once embodied.  The kind of place that, outside of Rio, just doesn’t exist anymore.

Most museums pay homage to the past, giving citizens a chance to view famous works of art, learn about historical time periods or gaze upon the creatures that once roamed the Earth.  That’s great and all, don’t get me wrong, but perhaps our educational approach has been misguided.  Perhaps a better approach to educating our citizens would be to frame current world problems in a futuristic context the way the Museum of Tomorrow is tackling sustainability.  After all, you can learn a lot about the climate by looking at how the Earth used to look and seeing how much has changed over the years.  But you might not be motivated to care about what it’ll look like going forward until you actually see exactly what it’ll look like going forward.

Now more than ever we need a place like this.  A place where we can emphasis the importance of counteracting climate change.  A place where we can use cold, hard, scary scientific facts to scare ourselves straight.  A place where we can openly debate the awe-inspiring yet fear-inducing promise of Artificial Intelligence and CRISPR based DNA editing.  In short, a place built on hopes and dreams where we can learn to embrace innovation, not fear it.

The stakes have never been higher.  We’ve reached a critical junction in our evolution.  A point in time where we can either plateau, soar to new heights, or digress.  The only way we’ll be able to get over that hurdle, to rise above the challenges facing us, is to tackle our problems head on.  And the other way to do that is to look straight out past the horizon towards the future.  A Museum of Tomorrow in every major city, taking its rightful place at the forefront of our collective consciousness, would do just that.  If only we had the foresight to let it.

Is the Museum of Tomorrow the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#919 – MasterClass

Forget about the Etsy killer Society6 for a second.  I may have found something even better: a website known as MasterClass that offers exclusive video tutorials with famous subject matter experts.  Think of it like Khan Academy for the Real World.  And it’s kind of a big deal.

Want to learn how to write a screenplay?  Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin will show you how.  A book?  There’s James Patterson for that.  Want to get into show business on the other side of things?  Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman will teach you to act, Usher will teach you how to perform, and Christina Aguilera will teach you how to sing.  You basically just got the same education that a finalist on the Voice receives and you didn’t even have to clear your throat.

Unprecedented access to thought leaders on this scale is something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago.  Now it’s a business model.  Take Sorkin for example.  I actually used to work with one of his relatives and tried to pitch a script idea to him.  I never heard back.  Now all I have to do is take his class and I’ll probably wind up getting more useful information than I would have if he had ever written back to me.  You can’t really put a price on that.

Of course, seeing as how this is a business, MasterClass does in fact put prices on their course offerings.  But here’s the thing.  The prices are relatively cheap.  The Sorkin series contains 35 videos, totaling over 7 hours of content, and costs just $90.  For the price of admission you also get a 38 page workbook and have the ability to upload videos to interact with the rest of the class and with Sorkin.  There’s even a chance that he’ll critique your work.

The appeal of these courses isn’t limited to the students though.  As the New York Times writes, “Other instructors said the appeal was more visceral. Mr. Hoffman recalled an evening at his home in the late 1970s when the English actor Sir Laurence Olivier regaled him with tales of his youth on the London stage. ‘Those stories are lost forever,’ Mr. Hoffman said. He saw in MasterClass a chance to create a permanent record of what he has learned.”

It’s with that in mind that I encourage everyone to check out this site and see if there are any classes that may be worth taking.  As for me?  I’ll be busy absorbing every word that Annie Leibovitz has to say about photography.

Is MasterClass the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I love the library.  It’s where I grew up.  Where I spent many a summer hour reading the latest Dirk Pitt adventure.  Where I spent countless hours doing research for this blog.  I can’t speak a lot of Spanish but one thing I can say confidently is “Donde Esta La Biblioteca?!”  I’ve thought about working in a library.  Dreamt of dating a hot librarian.  Whenever I travel to a new city the first thing I do is check out the local public library’s periodicals section.  No back issues of Wired Magazine on premise?  Two demerits for you!

So what I’m about to say next may surprise you: we need to completely overhaul our libraries.  Take a sledgehammer and wrecking ball to them.  Completely redefine what they are all about.  You see, most libraries have become as outdated as some of the books they carry.  Who needs reference books when you have Google?  Who needs microfiche machines when you have computers?  Shelves and shelves of hard covers?  Um, no thanks I’m good with my Kindle.  If it wasn’t for DVD rentals, public workshops, and computer labs would anyone even go there anymore?

We need to change all that.  To make the library the place to be once more.  To make it the innovation hub that it once was; that it should always be.  How do we do that?  It’s simple: we take it’s basic principles and expand upon them.  Instead of just lending out books, magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs and the like let’s also lend out supplies, tools, the latest gadgets, etc.  Anything that someone might need to use to create something or experience something new for the first time.  Essentially, instead of just reading about something let’s also empower someone to try it out first hand at the same time. A one stop shop for the DIY generation.  The perfect embodiment of the sharing economy that we’ve recently embraced.

As Fast Company writes, “Someone interested in knitting, for example, can check out needles alongside how-to books for a week to see if the hobby sticks. Or a parent can borrow a pole and tackle to gauge a child’s interest in fishing before buying expensive gear.”

Creating a tool or gadget library is a great idea but let’s not just stop there.  Let’s also make the library the place to be for using expensive, inaccessible hardware.  The place where people can go to learn about the latest technology from hands on experience.  For example, the Washington Post writes that, “Cleveland and D.C. are part of an expanding club of public libraries making 3-D printers available to patrons, often as part of a “maker lab” type environment.”

While we’re at it let’s also expand upon the basic tenet of library as public meeting place.  Instead of just hosting creative writing workshops or book club meetings or meet the author events lets also host gatherings geared towards millennials, young professionals, and entrepreneurs such as teaching people how to code or start a business.  Let’s create co-working spaces so that like minded individuals can have a place to meet and talk about their business plans.  Kind of like a Starbucks but with fewer hipsters and less douchebaggery.

Libraries have always been quick to adapt to the changing times as they’ve embraced computers, e-books, DVDs and the like over the years.  But somewhere along the line the mission statement got muddled. Instead of continuing to serve the public’s needs regardless of what they were a line was drawn.  It’s time that we crossed that line.  Time that we made our old fashioned book repositories into a dynamic, multi-purpose public use facility that’s a maker lab, co-working space, and gadget library all rolled into one.

In the mean time if anyone knows of any hot, single librarians please send them my way!

Isn’t it time that we redefined what a library is?

 

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The other day I discussed my desire to create a foundation that would be dedicated to speeding up and then maintaining a faster pace of innovation.  I mentioned that such a foundation could be well suited for ensuring the creation of a standard for the Internet of Things and for making a push for a habitable colony on Mars.  Continuing with that theme here is a look at some other initiatives that would be ideal candidates for this foundation to pursue.  Keep in mind that these are all things that relate to innovation or inventiveness, that would otherwise get neglected, and whose implementation or wide spread adaptation would lead to significant gains towards scientific knowledge or the advancement of mankind as a whole. 

Access to Scientific Papers 

Jack Andraka may not even be old enough to drive but when he speaks I listen.  After all, despite not knowing anything about the pancreas this teenage wunderkind was able to create a test that detects pancreatic cancer.  Now while most kids his age are consumed with sending disappearing photos to one another Andraka has set his sights on something more annoying to him than a bout of acne on a first date: limited access to scientific papers.  The way Andraka see it there is no greater deterrent to the pace of innovation than when professors can’t even share their own work because some journal owns the copyright to it.  By pursuing profits we’re stifling innovation.  

This point is driven home in the most recent issue of Wired UK in a profile on Andraka: 

“Andraka pointed out that although you can buy a Katy Perry track for less than a pound, it costs £22 to view a seminal research paper, and that Harvard Universitey – the richest academic institution in the world – said it can no longer afford research journals. ‘Science benefits from the open flow of information, not paywalls,’ Andraka argued.  One percent of the population has access to scientific papers, he said – a ‘knowledge aristocracy’, whereas, he said, ‘we could live in a knowledge democracy’.” 

Unfortunately for Andraka and scientists everywhere there is no end in sight to this business model.  The Innovation Foundation could aim to change that. 

Space Agenda 

Just like the way that putting a man on the moon inspired an entire generation of people so too could a global effort to establish a habitable colony on Mars.  Unfortunately, that’s never going to happen if we leave it up to NASA.  That’s because right now they are more concerned with returning to the Moon….to grow plants.  What the what?!!?! 

If we are ever going to colonize Mars or anywhere else for that matter and ensure the long term survival of our species we’re going to have to take matters in our own hands.  As of now that means putting our faith into the hands of some TV programmers who want to turn the colonization of the red planet into a reality show in order to help foot the bill.  Surely there must be a better way.  And there is.  All we have to do is let the Innovation Foundation set a global Space Agenda ensuring that we’re maximizing resources, utilizing key manpower, and keeping costs down while achieving all of our goals from colonization to mining asteroids to creating better methods of detecting exo-planets. 

This is not only achievable, it’s dare I say necessary. 

Education Curriculum 

I mentioned the potential for this foundation to get involved in setting a global education agenda in yesterday’s post but it bears repeating.  Whether we’re talking about putting a 3-D printer in every school or a laptop in the hand of every child or making it mandatory to learn programming there are no shortage of important education based innovation initiatives.  For example, this foundation could continue to follow the Udacity business model and help corporations design courses that lead to the creation of a workforce that’s actually equipped to handle a modern day workload.  They could even get involved in government advocacy ensuring that all senators and congressmen are tech savvy and up to speed on all the important issues so that personal biases don’t cloud people’s judgment and lead to bureaucratic slowdowns.  Of course that’s easier said than done but if anyone could do it a collective of the greatest minds of our time certainly could.  

Approach to Artificial Intelligence

In the same issue of The Atlantic that gave me the idea for the Innovation Foundation there was an article about Douglas Hofstadter, the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book about Artificial Intelligence, Godel, Escher, Bach.  That book is often referred to as the bible of Artificial Intelligence and in it Hofstadter outlines his desire to use AI to understand human intelligence.  Unfortunately for him, modern day computer scientists are more results oriented, concerning themselves with programs like IBM’s Watson that can analyze large data sets even if that means they aren’t becoming truly intelligent.  Hofstadter’s inability to reconcile the modern day approach to AI has caused his star to fade and has lead to a sense of loneliness for someone who was once on top of the world.

This bothers me.  Why is it that Hofstadter’s approach to AI has been abandoned when it was once celebrated?  Just because he’s asking hard questions?  Just because no one else is willing to dedicate their lives to finding the answers?  What if his approach was the right one?  What if we’re limiting ourselves by creating systems that are great are translating text from one language to another but not so great at mostly everything else that makes us human?  What if we could advance civilization a hundred fold if we could build a truly intelligent system based on our understanding of how our own minds work?  This is where the Innovation Foundation would come into play.  The various thought leaders that comprise its membership would ensure that we keep an open mind and don’t get bogged down into any one approach to artificial intelligence or any field for that matter.

The Greatest Ideas Ever

As someone who has come up with literally thousands of ideas that will never see the light of day I often wonder if there are any other people out there like me.  People like Douglas Hofstadter that maybe broke through with one seminal idea and were never heard of from again despite the fact that they still have more great ideas to share.  People like Elon Musk who up until last year was sitting on the idea for the Hyperloop because he was too busy to develop it on his own.

I’d love for the Innovation Foundation to make a push to retrieve those ideas.  Perhaps a vast database, maintained by Watson, could be created to get every idea, every thought, every morsel of human intelligence into one place for future generations to reference.  Anything and everything from a doodle on a diner napkin to a published research paper would be fair game.  Anything that could help us fill in the missing pieces and help us move forward.

Final Thoughts

How is it possible that two people on opposite ends of the planet can come up with reasonable facsimiles of the same idea at roughly the same time as was the case with the theory of evolution?

Why is it that the wheel was around for hundreds of years before anyone thought of creating a wheel barrow?

Conversely why is it that the pace of technological advancements quickened in the last ten years when compared to the ten that preceded it?

Why is it that some people are creative while others are not?

How it is that some people can patent hundreds of inventions while others never get past a sketch on a piece of paper?

All in all, as those questions demonstrate, the mechanics of innovation are so complex, so unwieldy that they require our full attention.   Demand it even.  How we can sit idly by watching the world change all around us is beyond me.  We need to be taking a proactive approach to ensuring our future.  Need to be taking steps to ensure that we’re not caught off guard and that we keep driving forward, keep pushing ourselves to new heights.  The Innovation Foundation could do exactly that.  Let’s make it happen.

I know how you feel, Jack. I want access to scientific papers too.

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When I was watching the news this morning I saw a story about a 90 year old principal who was finally retiring from her post. It blew my mind to think that this woman has literally lived the equivalent of two more of my lifetimes.  Naturally I soon began wondering what it would be like if I had to relive my own life twice over.  Would I be annoyed by the prospect of having to go through all those years of schooling all over again or would I look forward to the opportunity to continue my personal growth?  Would I make the same mistakes, spend my free time doing the same things, and continue to hang out with the same people?  Or would I change things up, become more open minded, meet new people, and head down a different path? 

Of course there’s only one way to find out and that’s to actually turn this exercise from a thought experiment into reality.  This is why I think that all of us should have to relive our entire lives every thirty years.  Here’s how it would work: 

You’d start out as a baby which means that you’d get to hang out with your mom all day.  Then when you’re a toddler the time that you’d normally use to learn your primary language you’d use to learn a second language.  Since you already know how to walk you can instead use that time to learn ball room dancing.  Eventually you’d start elementary school again doing your best Billy Madison impression.  This time around you’re older and wiser so instead of asking “when am I ever going to need this” you’d already know exactly when you’d need it.  In fact, instead of receiving a broad liberal arts education like you did the first time through you could instead use your second pass to brush up on all of the specific skills that you now know that you need while targeting your weaknesses.  On days when you didn’t feel like being in class you’d make your way to the nurse’s office where instead of pretending to be sick you’d have a whole litany of legitimate ailments to choose from.  On the bright side you’d get to spend your summers attending an adult science camp where you’d learn how to code and make smores.   

Eventually you’d make your way to high school where instead of being the shy wallflower that you were the first time you’d now be the big man on campus who stars on intramural sports teams and gets all the girls.  You’d still be a nerd at heart though so you’d spend your Friday nights hosting game nights just like the way you used to stay in and play Risk.  When you’re 46 you’ll have to retake your driving test which is probably something that we should be making people do anyway.  When you get to college you’ll finally be able to pick up that Masters degree in sports management that you always wanted enabling you to take an internship after graduation selling tickets for the New York Yankees.  After a few months you get hired to a position in the front office where you spend the next ten years overseeing the team’s international scouting department putting to good use that second language you picked up when you were three years old for the second time.  After retiring to South Florida for two years you’re ready to start all over again.  This time though you’re looking forward to the experience knowing that you’re about to learn how to square dance and speak Mandarin.

Of course none of that is ever really going to happen but it would be great if it did.  By reliving our lives three times over we’d be committing ourselves to a lifetime of learning, of self improvement, of constantly challenging ourselves to overcome our fears which if you think about it are all of the things that we should be doing anyway.  But instead we put all of those things off while we waste away our lives chained to a desk at a 9 to 5.  Is that really the way that we want to live our lives?  More importantly, is that really the way that we want to live the next two of our lives?

They say that youth is wasted on the young.  That by the time you are old enough and wise enough to capitalize on all of the knowledge and life experiences that you have amassed throughout your lifetime you’re too old and broken down to do anything about it.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  We can take back our youth.  All we’d have to do is be willing to start all over again and again.

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Is reliving our lives the answer to finding true happiness?

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You would think that I would love reading bed time stories to my nephew since I am, after all, someone who fancies himself a teller of stories.  And yet it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  There’s only so many times you can feign interest in the exploits of inanimate objects before you want to gouge your eyes out.

Which is why I’m excited to hear about a new iPad app called Magic Story Maker that creates stories that you can read to your kids based not on the overactive imagination of some crackpot author who was probably high at the time that they wrote it but rather on actual news stories.

That’s because Magic Story Maker, as described on PandoDaily.com, ” takes the pain out of reading boring bedtime stories for kids by replacing the text with USA Today news stories. The magic part is quite analog — kids are tricked into thinking you’re reading them children’s books because you read it in your “storytime voice…”

But this app isn’t just a ploy to make telling bedtime stories more enjoyable for parents.  It could have legitimate academic benefits as well.  As the description about the product in iTunes says, “You’ll be doing your child a favor. Research indicates that reading articles such as these helps build vocabulary, which leads to higher IQs later in life (aka early retirement for you). It makes sense – the child who is read science news every day is going to be much smarter than the one who learns that a cow goes moo 8,000 times in a year.”

The only question that remains is what news story will you pick?  Will it be a story about the amazing exploits of King James of the Miami Heat?  A tale about an imprisoned damsel in distress (factory worker) in a land far away (China)?  A dark and stormy night in which a derecho wrecked havoc across the country side?  Whatever it is one thing is for sure.  It’s definitely going to be better than whatever your other options were.

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Based on the images kids think they are being read a typical children’s book but in actuality they are getting read the news.

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Welcome to the first installment of “Week In Review”, a round up of great ideas that I come across in a given week.  It’ll be my goal to assemble a post like this every week or two featuring approximately 4-7 ideas each time.  This week I’ve decided to start things off with an article about a cat because as we all know: cats equal page views.  I then delve into a wide array of topics from artificial hearts to summer vacations.  Enjoy:

1.  CIA’s Spy Cat – During the Cold War some geniuses had the bright idea of turning a cat into a spy.  Unlike actual spooks a spy cat could easily gain access to secure locations just by acting naturally.  Is this the Greatest Idea Ever?  In theory, maybe.  In actuality?  Definitely not.

According to the Atlantic

“In an hour-long procedure, a veterinary surgeon transformed the furry feline into an elite spy, implanting a microphone in her ear canal and a small radio transmitter at the base of her skull, and weaving a thin wire antenna into her long gray-and-white fur. This was Operation Acoustic Kitty, a top-secret plan to turn a cat into a living, walking surveillance machine. The leaders of the project hoped that by training the feline to go sit near foreign officials, they could eavesdrop on private conversations.

The problem was that cats are not especially trainable–they don’t have the same deep-seated desire to please a human master that dogs do–and the agency’s robo-cat didn’t seem terribly interested in national security. For its first official test, CIA staffers drove Acoustic Kitty to the park and tasked it with capturing the conversation of two men sitting on a bench. Instead, the cat wandered into the street, where it was promptly squashed by a taxi.”

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2.  Can we cure internet addictions? – The founders of Restart seem to think so and they have created an internet addiction center to try and find out.  According to an article from the telegraph:

“The house, where half a dozen addicts at a time recover, is the antithesis of the internet age. A sign at the door reads “No cell phones” and gadgets are banned. Instead, there are plush armchairs, a grandfather clock and a piano. Caffeine, which fuels many addicts’ screen binges, is also prohibited.

Residents readjust to life by cooking for each other, playing board games, reading books, using Lego, attending sessions with therapists, and looking after an Australian shepherd dog called Dakota. There is an emphasis on physical fitness, with morning CrossFit training at 7.30am and a climbing wall. Hiking and tending a chicken coop help them to experience the natural world.”

Does this idea have merit?  Only time will tell but it’s definitely worth a shot if it can give these addicts a shot at a normal life.  Whatever that even means anymore.

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3.  The Oculus Rift -I’m not a big fan of video games but I have long been intrigued by the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that was funded on Kickstarter, if only because it has such a cool name.  Now my intrigue is heightened even more after one of it’s co-founders was tragically killed a few days ago during a police chase: http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2013/06/02/oculus-rift-co-founder-killed-as-bystander-in-police-chase/

As the article states, “He was struck and killed in a crosswalk four miles away from his office at the end of a police chase. Three suspects tried to flee on foot from their Dodge Charger after Reisse was hit, but all were captured by police.

Hopefully, his loss will be overcome by the other staff members and the World will still get to benefit from the work he put into creating this potentially game changing product.  I’ll be sure to keep close tabs on this project as it continues it’s march towards mass market production.

Oculus-Rift-on-grandma-tn1

4.  An artificial heart that is part cow, part machine – Ever since I watched Battlestar Galactica and District 9 I’ve assumed that it was inevitable that mankind would eventually figure out a way to create hybrid devices that are half machine, half biological.  It just seems logical that the next step in our evolution would involve combining the best of both Worlds.  That vision may be one step closer to fruition with the creation of an article heart that is part cow, part machine.  According to technology review:

“A new kind of artificial heart that combines synthetic and biological materials as well as sensors and software to detect a patient’s level of exertion and adjust output accordingly is to be tested in patients at four cardiac surgery centers in Europe and the Middle East. If the “bioprosthetic” device, made by the Paris-based Carmat, proves to be safe and effective, it could be given to patients waiting for a heart transplant…

Carmat

5.  As the school year winds down it’s a good time to consider why it is that we still have summer vacations

According to psmag.com:

“It exists, most Americans believe, only because in the early days of the United States free primary schools mostly educated the children of farmers. And they needed the kids at home because summer (or, well, roughly May to October) is the primary growing season.

As Harris Cooper, chairman of the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University, explained, “the present nine-month calendar emerged when 85 percent of Americans were involved in agriculture and when climate control in school buildings was limited.” But now that only three percent of Americans live on farms, shouldn’t we keep them in school for much of the summer?”

Perhaps but ideas about education are a lot like M. Night Shyamalan movies: they’re never as good as you think they are but in the end they might surprise you.  Which is why I’m torn about this idea.  More classroom time could be what we need to improve our education system but in the end it seems like it would just be putting a band aide on a gun shot wound.  I don’t think this alone would solve all our problems.

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Be sure to check back next week for more great ideas…

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