COVID-19 has posed a major learning issue to students, parents, and educators. In the face of a sudden paradigm shift, online learning now finds itself at the forefront of mainstream learning. For the first time, students everywhere are completely dependent on digital methods to fulfill their daily learning needs.
“The pandemic has become an inflection point for education, and you can see this in how different stakeholders have responded to the crisis. A majority of educational institutes are conducting their classes online, parents are encouraging their children to learn from a screen, and students themselves are experimenting with new methods of learning from home. While I don’t expect things to remain 100% online or even 100% offline on the other side of the pandemic, I believe certain aspects of the ‘new normal’ will make their way into the ‘Classrooms of Tomorrow,” says Divya Gokulnath, co-founder and teacher of BYJU’S.
Few trends we will see post the pandemic:
- Blended learning will be the new normal: In the post-corona era, we will witness the rise of a blended form of education, with seamless integration of the best of both online and offline learning. The proliferation of smart devices coupled with the democratization of the internet will fasten this process. With teachers now understanding the advantages of online learning tools, we will see tech-enabled learning gain importance even in a classroom setting. The ‘Classrooms of Tomorrow’ will have technology at its core, empowering students to cross over from passive to active learning. The future will see us take a leap from the traditional one-to-many approach to blended one-on-one learning experiences, providing students the best of both physical and digital worlds.
- Interactivity will take center stage: Given the prolonged exposure to online learning tools during this period, engagement and interactivity will emerge as a priority for students, parents and teachers. Newer dimensions to quizzes, interactive games, story-based Q&As, engaging lessons that strengthen concepts, will see greater inclusion and adoption.
- Personalization will be the need of the hour: Students are looking for learning solutions customized to their own style and pace and a majority of innovation will be geared towards making personalization as effective as possible. Data and analytics will play a major role in making this a reality. Virtual mentoring for personal guidance and tutoring will also emerge as a key service.
- Early learning will become more innovative: As the importance of formative learning and early conceptual understanding gains more acceptance, we will see a lot more innovation in products, tools, and ideas to help young children get learning right from the beginning. From storified concepts to their favorite cartoon characters playing teachers, kids will experience a highly engaging form of learning from their early years
- Vernacular learning will gain importance: As internet penetration and smart device adoption continue to increase across India, learning will become more customized. To cater to the huge student population outside metros, learning programs will be effectively created and delivered in all key vernacular languages.
- Digital learning tools will see greater adoption from teachers: The on-going pandemic has caused teachers to become digitally empowered. Even teachers who were hesitant to adopt digital tools are now using them in different capacities. This has enabled them to see the advantages of digital learning. Because of better awareness, the coming year will see teachers/educators increasingly adopt tech-enabled learning tools to support their students’ learning needs. This could be in a classroom or in an after-school learning setup.
Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi.
The role of Intellectual Property Law and Trade Policies in Innovation and the access to medicines and medical technologies compete against each other in the Corona impacted world.
COVID-19 has shaken the world and medical technological breakthroughs with new vaccines or drugs would be the only way to save mankind. A global health crisis always triggers concerns over patented medicines and treatments that may impede access to affordable healthcare. A global pandemic or a health crisis stimulates the need for better access to medicines, creating a gray area between the protection of ideas, investments, and access to medicines for the larger good of public health.
The Emerging Issue
Intellectual Property Rights awards exclusivity to the inventor or the owner to manufacture and sell their invention.
Almost a decade ago when HIV/AIDS had become a global crisis, concerns of better access to medicines were raised. Developing nations had concerns with regard to the implementation of strong Intellectual Property regimes as it would have a negative effect on the efforts to improve public health, thereby making it difficult for governments to have policies for affordable healthcare.
The major problem in developing nations is that the prime population pays for their own drugs and state provisions are selective and constrained. Though the concept of state health insurance schemes is blooming, its effectiveness, to date, is questionable.
A similar situation exists in the current scenario for COVID-19 where not only are the beds in each hospital limited, but extravagant costs have to be borne by patients.
In Tamil Nadu, India, private hospitals are charging a whopping amount of Rs 30,000 per day, even though government orders state otherwise, capping the charges at Rs 7500 for mildly asymptomatic patients and in case they have been admitted to Intensive Care Unit then the charges are capped at maximum Rs. 15,000 per day. Claims of unfair charges are popping up every day where hospitals are being accused of merely robbing patients.
Not only that, exploitative pricing has become a common predicament in most Asian Countries where hospitals are overcharging in COVID-19 rapid tests. The rapid test packages offered by hospitals have been differing from 500,000 rupiah to 5.7 million rupiah ($32 to $365). Exorbitant pricing remains an issue in the United States as well, where an individual faced a $1.1 million hospital bill.
Access to proper healthcare has already started becoming a concern with hospitals turning the major crisis into a money minting machine, even when there is no absolute drug or vaccine for the disease. The concern is, if every entity starts to look at this crisis as an opportunity, sustaining public policy will be a distant task for the government.
The Exclusivity of a Patent
The key objective of the patent system is to reward exclusively to the innovator for an invention that is novel and has some industrially enhanced efficacy to it. The patented innovation could be a product or a process, as engraved in the TRIPs (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Right) Agreement, 1995. The patentee creates a solution to a problem and as an incentive, an exclusive right is given to the owner, to produce and sell it, for 20 long years. The pharmaceutical industry is majorly dependent on the patent system to recover its research and development cost and to generate profits for future innovation.
The Competing Interest: Public Health
Compulsory licensing is an act where the government authorizes a third-party to use, make and sell a patent without the permission of the patentee or the owner, when the medicine is not available at a reasonable and affordable price or when it is not obtainable in a justified quantity. Compulsory Licensing and competition from generic or biosimilar products are general issues that threaten many patent holders. A competing interest is involved here, where on one side, there is a greater good of public interest where the ownership of technological innovation should be with the public, and on the other side, there is private ownership of patents fuelling further innovations.
Biosimilar and generic drugs are sold at a cheaper price and are said to have a trade-distorting effect. However, the provision of consensual licensing instead of any legal compulsion might be a silver lining to this whole circumstance. The possibility stems from the current world scenario where corporate social responsibilities on Multinational Corporations (MNC’s) are an obligation and a single-minded pursuit of business is no more encouraged. This can definitely balance the competing interests of the right holders and the public interest at large.
With the current COVID-19 scenario, the World Health Organization has accepted a proposal for patent pooling in order to collectively share the patent right, test data, and information required to create drugs and vaccines. It showcases an attempt towards navigating patent rights for all countries thereby making new innovations available to everyone.
Patent Pooling is a framework where one or two patent holders enter into an agreement to share their innovation by means of licensing with each other or with a third party in order to provide fruitful technological solutions. Patent pooling can even help in the scenario where technology is not entirely developed and thereby lead to new innovations without any hindrance to access.
However, with the United States trying to quit the World Health Organization, a question emerges – ‘in case they do terminate their relationship, how is the patent pool going to function?’ We all know what happened to the International Trade Organization when the United States chose not to be a part of it and now with the changes in the current arrangement, the question emerges again. The world is approaching multilateralism and is finally able to compromise with nationalism in order to work in solidarity.
Lahama Mazumdar is currently working as a Teaching Assistant in National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi and is a doctoral student at National Law University Odisha.
The Chinese government banned Facebook in 2009. And even Mark Zuckerberg — despite having a wife of Chinese origin; learning Mandarin; and doing public relations stunts such as jogging in the smog-filled streets of Beijing to say how much he loved China — was not able to have it change its policy. Zuckerberg even went to the extent of creating new tools to censor and suppress content — to please the communists.
But the Chinese were smarter than he was. They saw no advantages in letting a foreign company dominate their technology industry. China also blocked Google, Twitter, and Netflix, and tripped up companies such as Uber. Chinese technology companies are now among the most valuable few in the world. Facebook’s Chinese competitor, Tencent, eclipsed it in market capitalization in November 2017, passing the $500-billion mark. Its social media platform, WeChat, enables bill payment, ordering taxis, and booking hotels while chatting with friends. It is so far ahead in innovation that Facebook is desperately trying to copy its features in the payment system it added to WhatsApp. Other Chinese companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, and DJI, have also raced ahead. Huawei has become a global threat with its 5G technologies and deep government links.
The protectionism that economists have long decried — which favors domestic supplies of physical goods and services — supposedly limits competition, creates monopolies, raises costs, and stifles competitiveness and productivity. But that is not a problem in the technology world. Over the Internet, knowledge, and ideas spread instantaneously. Entrepreneurs in one country can easily learn about the innovations and business models of another country and duplicate them. Technologies are advancing on exponential curves and becoming faster and cheaper, making them affordable to every country. Technology companies that don’t innovate risk going out of business because local start-ups are constantly emerging to challenge them.
Chinese technology protectionism created a fertile ground for local start-ups by eliminating the threat of foreign predators. The government selected what companies it could best control and gave them the advantage.
China actually learned some of its tactics from Silicon Valley, which doesn’t believe in free markets either. The Valley’s moguls openly tout the need to build monopolies and gain an unfair competitive advantage by dumping capital. They take pride in their position in a global economy in which money is the ultimate weapon and winners take all. If tech companies cannot copy a technology, they buy the competitor.
And then there is data, the most valuable of all technical resources. Data analysis enables everything from micro-targeting of advertisements to voter suppression and population control. Mobile applications are the greatest spying devices ever invented, monitoring not only their users’ interests but also their locations, purchasing habits, connections, political opinions, and health.
That is why the top technology companies from both East and West, the monopolists and predators, see India as the juiciest of all spoils. It has a massive market ripe for the picking, and data gold mines. India has also been naïve in its data protection policies and support for domestic innovation; it bought the old propaganda about the need for open markets.
There are some big differences, though, between the Chinese and American companies that are vying for the Indian markets. The Chinese government largely controls the actions of its companies, feeds them resources and technologies it has stolen from the West. It gives them every unfair advantage so that it can steal more and subvert democracies. Silicon Valley companies want more data so that they can sell more products. They may show bad judgment and cross ethical lines, but they aren’t playing geopolitics or endangering the sovereignty of free nations.
This is why the Indian government’s decision to ban TikTok and other Chinese companies makes sense. What was long holding Indian entrepreneurs back was the lack of Internet connectivity and mobile phones. When these became pervasive, the foreign companies stepped in. Eliminating some of that competition will give Indian entrepreneurs a chance to build world-changing technologies. These will benefit not only India but also the rest of the world, which is desperately looking for an alternative to Chinese influence and domination.
This is not to say that, without broad data and privacy protection policies, Indian technology companies won’t abuse the data that they gather. Such policies are needed as well. But the day politicians talk of breaking up companies such as Inmobi or Jio because they have become global monopolies and gained too much power will be the day of recognition that India has taken strides forward. Right now, what the country has to worry about is the dire threat from the East.
This article was republished with permission from the author and can be originally found here.
This year Cinequest celebrates thirty years of elating audiences, artists, and innovators, honoring its legacy of bringing together Silicon Valley’s technologies and spirit of innovation with the arts to empower great creations – Connecting audiences, youth, artists, and innovators with these creations and with each other.
Showcasing premier films, renowned and emerging artists, and breakthrough technology—the festival’s stellar reputation not only hinges on its knack for creating a powerful line-up, but also for securing distribution for many of its honored filmmakers.
With over 200 international movies from 44 countries, the festival will once again bring a world of cinema, fans and moviemakers to downtown San Jose and Redwood City. Cinequest is renowned for its many socials, soirees, and parties, fusing the community of film lovers with film creators, so do plan on attending one or more and meet directors, artists and like-minded enthusiasts.
Here is a sneak peek into films of Indian origin:
The Elder One (Moothon)
An action thriller film features a bilingual narrative in Malayalam and Hindi. The film tells the story of a 14 year old child from Lakshadweep who comes to Mumbai in search of his elder brother.
Ghost of the Golden Groves
Strange incidents occur in the heart of “Shonajhuri” forest in rural Bengal, which develops an ominous character of its own that allures and finally engulfs the protagonists.
In the heart of an Indian market, the captivating portrait of lives of everyday people with everyday stories, not dignified as heroes, but nevertheless people who make the lives of each other better.
Nirmal Anand’s Puppy
An ambitious super-fit Pharma salesman is faced with a major dilemma after being diagnosed with a health condition. Shattered, he is forced to relook at his life’s priorities. He then decides to listen to his heart’s calling and embarks on a new path that he believes will make him happy. But little does he realize that this quirky pursuit of happiness is going to shake up his married life and threaten its very foundation.
Opening Night Screening and Celebration: John Pinette: You Go Now is director Bob Krakower’s loving tribute to the funny man who made us forget our troubles and laugh at our foibles. Famed comedian, Matt Donaher will lead the screening with a ten-minute live set. Tuesday, March 3, 7:15pm, California Theatre
Closing Night Screening and Celebration: The world premiere of Resistance, the powerful retelling of the story of Marcel Marceau and his incredible efforts to save lives during WWII. Sunday, March 15, 6:00pm, California Theatre
Cinequest 2020: March 3 – 15 in San Jose and Redwood City. www.cinequest.org
AI is widely misunderstood and still too rudimentary for us to be worrying. But it’s not too soon to contemplate the ethical implications of intelligent machines and systems. An AI system is only as good as the data it receives. It is able to interpret them only within the narrow confines of the supplied context. It can’t distinguish causation from correlation.
AI has the potential to be as transformative to the world as electricity, by helping us understand the patterns of information around us. But it is not close to living up to the hype. The super-intelligent machines and runaway AI that we fear are far from reality; what we have today is a rudimentary technology that requires lots of training. What’s more, the phrase artificial intelligence might be a misnomer — because human intelligence and spirit amount to much more than what bits and bytes can encapsulate.
I encourage readers to go back to the ancient wisdoms of their faith to understand the role of the soul and the deeper self. This is what shapes our consciousness and makes us human, what we are always striving to evolve and perfect. Can this be uploaded to the cloud or duplicated with computer algorithms? I don’t think so.
What about the predictions that AI will enable machines to have human-like feeling and emotions? This, too, is hype. Love, hate and compassion aren’t things that can be codified. Not to say that a machine interaction can’t seem human — we humans are gullible, after all. According to Amazon, more than 1 million people had asked their Alexa-powered devices to marry them in 2017 alone. I doubt those marriages, should Alexa agree, would last very long!
Today’s AI systems do their best to replicate the functioning of the human brain’s neural networks, but their emulations are very limited. They use a technique called Deep Learning. After you tell a machine exactly what you want it to learn and provide it with clearly labelled examples, it analyses the patterns in those data and stores them for future application. The accuracy of its patterns depends on completeness of data. So the more examples you give it, the more useful it becomes.
Herein lies a problem, though — an AI system is only as good as the data it receives. It is able to interpret them only within the narrow confines of the supplied context. It doesn’t “understand” what it has analysed — so it is unable to apply its analysis to other scenarios. And it can’t distinguish causation from correlation.
AI shines in performing tasks that match patterns in order to obtain objective outcomes. Examples of what it does well include playing chess, driving a car on a street and identifying a cancer lesion in a mammogram. These systems can be incredibly helpful extensions of how humans work, and with more data, the systems will keep improving. Although an AI machine may best a human radiologist in spotting cancer, it will not, for many years to come, replicate the wisdom and perspective of the best human radiologists. And it won’t be able to empathise with a patient in the way that a doctor does. This is where AI presents its greatest risk and what we really need to worry about — use of AI in tasks that may have objective outcomes but incorporate what we would normally call judgement. Some such tasks exercise much influence over people’s lives. Granting a loan, admitting a student to a university, or deciding whether children should be separated from their birth parents due to suspicions of abuse falls into this category. Such judgements are highly susceptible to human biases — but they are biases that only humans themselves have the ability to detect.
And AI throws up many ethical dilemmas around how we use technology. It is being used to create killing machines for the battlefield with drones which can recognise faces and attack people. China is using AI for mass surveillance, and wielding its analytical capabilities to assign each citizen a social credit based on their behaviour. In America, AI is mostly being built by white people and Asians. So, it amplifies their inbuilt biases and misreads African Americans. It can lead to outcomes that prefer males over females for jobs and give men higher loan amount than women. One of the biggest problems we are facing with Facebook and YouTube is that you are shown more and more of the same thing based on your past views, which creates filter bubbles and a hotbed of misinformation. That’s all thanks to AI.
Rather than worrying about super-intelligence, we need to focus on the ethical issues about how we should be using this technology. Should it be used to recognise the faces of students who are protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act? Should India install cameras and systems like China has? These are the types of questions the country needs to be asking.
Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow and professor, Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, Silicon Valley.
This article was republished with permission from the author.
International Yoga Day is right around the corner, on June 21st, the same day as the summer solstice.
Doing yoga every day has many benefits for physical and mental health. Tracking these yoga habits can also prove beneficial. Here’s a way for you to start your yoga practice with a high tech way of keeping track.
Yoga Bharati recently created an app to help track your yoga practice. The app was created in accordance with their 2019 Yoga Yagna. The Yoga Yagna is a challenge to do yoga and track your yoga habits for 21 days, until the summer solstice, because it is said that it takes 21 days to form a habit.
Yoga Bharati will continue hosting the app even after Yoga Yagna is over.
The app is extremely easy to use, and with a simple click of the ‘I Did Yoga Today’ button, your exercise habits can be tracked.
Through the app and website, you can join a number of different groups based on which yoga habits you would like to track.The link below will guide you in how to use the app and the benefits of tracking your yoga habits.
Washington, D.C. also celebrated International Yoga Day. While the holiday falls on the summer solstice, June 21st, the celebration took place on June 16th at the Washington Monument.
The Indian Embassy in D.C. partnered with Friends of Yoga to give everyone, no matter their yoga experience or age, a chance to bring out their inner Yogi or Yogini.
Participants of the celebration were welcomed by Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who noted how yoga has been adopted all over the world. The Ambassador’s welcome was followed by a guided yoga session led by Dr. Moxraj, Teacher of Indian Culture at the Embassy of India. Afterward, an Indian food festival took place at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art. Your health and wellness are important, not only on International Yoga Day, so celebrate with us – but continue on with your yoga journey. And don’t forget to track your yoga habits!
Here are 3 videos to help you do the surya namaskar!
If you haven’t heard of Subtle Curry Traits by now, either a) your kids aren’t on Facebook or b) they don’t want you to be on it. If your answer is the latter, please click next and ignore this article – I’ll be in big trouble otherwise.
Subtle Curry Traits (SCT), a Facebook meme group founded in October of 2018, serves as a platform for youth from the Indian diaspora worldwide to share humorous content. The page, which receives over one thousand submissions a day, strives to bring people together on topics such as identity, heritage, and family. The group’s official mission is to “Be the voice for the unspoken to eliminating cultural boundaries that distance us from our potential.”
Noel Aruliah, an Australian student and founder of the page, recounts its genesis. “One day I was in my room looking through other popular meme pages, and I realized there was a gap in the market for South Asian content.” He started a Facebook group, intended for his close friends, and saw its membership skyrocket to over 10,000 people in just a few days. Aruliah was shocked. “I had second to no experience with content creation. I just like to crack some jokes.” Today, over 365,000 people worldwide enjoy the online community he has created.
The page is a virtual platform to reconcile the challenges of being a part of two cultures. The South Asian diasporic identity spans several countries and continents, but the undercurrent experience is the same. Aruliah says, “Humor is good because there are a lot of things that subcontinental descendants relate to- we are the same, we have similar sorts of struggles.” Subtle Curry Traits often illustrates the good, the bad, and the quirky of South Asian heritage. From reconciling the expectations of the older generation to handling the way the Western world perceives us, South Asians have a unique struggle. Forming community around this experience is a way to show that no one is truly alone.
Comedy, however, is not without its own slew of challenges. For a page dedicated to an ethnic identity, it becomes difficult to toe the line against “problematic” humor.
While the moderators have an internal compass that dictates what can and cannot be posted, it is not always easy to predict how people will perceive the content. Aruliah says that they “aim to post wholesome content,” and “try to steer clear of offensive memes. As much as possible, we try to keep it a family-friendly environment to broaden our reach.” However, subliminal racist, colorist, and caste-ist jokes often find their way onto the platform. While the admins are committed to taking such posts off the page, this points to a larger question about the role of internalized prejudice in our culture, which starts within India and is carried over into the diaspora.
While Subtle Curry Traits exemplifies the good and the bad within the diasporic community, it serves as a technological bridge for the new generation. Ironically, it fills the very role that it often makes fun of. Prime comedic targets of the page are first-generation parents, whose sense of humor and congregation are often laughable to their children. Maybe Subtle Curry Traits is nothing but a glorified WhatsApp group of its own, complete with a worldwide network.
Subtle Curry Traits has developed its own subculture uniquely identifiable by its members. As humorous content evolves within the page, it has become more specific to itself. Memes often build off of each other, and the content’s format develops in a way that only existing members would understand. In other words, the group has become a massive inside joke. This has allowed for people within the site to feel a stronger sense of community with each other. While this subculture has an online presence, it has moved offscreen as well. In Melbourne, the moderators of Subtle Curry Traits organized an in-person meet up, which was very well received. The group continues to build spaces for its members and the diasporic community as a whole.
`Noel Aruliah is thrilled by how far the page has come. “One of the most rewarding experiences was when Hassan Minhaj wanted to host an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session through the page. That’s when I knew that we had made it big.” Aruliah has also been surprised by how many offshoot pages have stemmed from his original creation. Subtle Curry Dating is a page tailored towards helping young desis find romantic partners, while pages like Subtle Tamil Traits and Subtle Telugu Traits have built even more specific communities. The demand for such offshoots shows how SCT has paved the way.
Content from Subtle Tamil Traits
As for the future of Subtle Curry Traits, Noel believes there is a lot of potential. The group has made a commitment to help remove the stigma surrounding mental illness within our culture. They have partnered with renowned acapella group Penn Masala to produce a video “focused on mental wellness in the South Asian community.” Aruliah would like to keep engaging in such content creation and build a stronger, more supportive group. He sees more in-person meetups and maybe a merchandise line in the near future for SCT.
“Subtle Curry Traits is going to be for the people.”
Swathi Ramprasad is a rising junior at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.
A question that students and parents put to me most frequently is whether it is worthwhile to pursue an MBA as a ticket to success in the business world.
I tell them that a master of business administration from Harvard, Stanford or the University of California at Berkeley may be worth the high cost because of the brand, location and network value — but not those from most other business schools over the world. The time and money could be better spent in starting a company that solves real-world problems. Students will gain better practical experiences and have a greater purpose than the investment bankers and consultants that business schools strive to graduate.
With the falling cost of a broad range of technologies, from computing to genomic sequencing to sensors and synthetic biology, entrepreneurs can now do what only big companies and governments have been able to do: Solve the problems of humanity. They can design and build smartphone apps that act as medical assistants, digital tutors to teach almost any subject, and artificial-intelligence-based apps that improve public services and infrastructure. They can even build electric vehicles, spaceships and revolutionary energy-storage technologies.
I encourage graduates to start or join world-changing companies and to be the masters of their own destiny. They will surely be earning a lot less than if they worked for the investment banks; and they will take huge risks, and their startups are likely to fail — as is the norm. And they will have to work extremely hard and endure endless runs of sleepless nights. But they will develop real-life skills that no MBA could train them in; they will gain a far broader and more realistic understanding of the world; and they will have a far greater sense of accomplishment and position themselves for long-term success. If they start the right company, they may well make the world a better place. And you never know: The startup could get really lucky and be worth a fortune.
It wasn’t always this way. When I completed my MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business in the 1980s, I considered it to be the best investment I had ever made. It helped me climb the corporate ladder and become an entrepreneur. As a tech CEO, I also readily paid a premium to hire business-school graduates. I also used to advise tech startups to strengthen their management teams by recruiting professional managers from MBA programs.
That was, however, at a time when there were few other options. The cost of starting a technology company is now less than that of a business degree, and the rewards are much greater.
The world has surely changed since then, but business-school curricula have largely stayed the same. As they say, academia moves at the speed of molasses. That is how it is supposed to be. And, to be fair, I need to acknowledge that the topics that business schools teach do have real value.
Subjects such as management, marketing, law and accounting are still as important as they ever were. The MBA that I completed as a programmer allowed me to become a project leader and then a vice president. I found that I could communicate effectively with user departments and my bosses; I could deliver projects on time; I knew how to manage and motivate employees; and I had the confidence to present business proposals to managing directors and board members. When I became an entrepreneur, I had the knowledge to develop and manage budgets, market products and review legal contracts.
But that was decades ago, in an era in which large companies held the keys to economic growth and competitiveness; when major research labs produced almost all of the cutting-edge innovation. Since then, the cost of developing world-changing technologies has fallen dramatically, and startups can out-innovate the big players.
Higher education certainly makes sense for some students. For students with technical backgrounds who want to pursue higher education and prepare themselves to solve complex engineering problems, I recommend master of engineering programs such as the one I teach at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Engineering. These teach specialized skills in fields such as biomedical engineering and materials science. For students in less technical fields, there are also year-long master of engineering management programs such as those at Duke, Northwestern and the University of Southern California. These teach management, marketing, law and accounting skills and skim over the intricacies of finance and investment banking. And they are half the price of an MBA. After all, the skills that matter aren’t how to conceive new types of financial products, but how to create technologies that actually do good for the world.
Students now have opportunities that their parents could never imagine. My message to them is always the same: Rather than wasting your lives working for a Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs use your intellect and energy to make the world a better place — you surely can.
This article was published with permission from the Author.
Do you know that two media companies in the Silicon Valley are led by women? Representing two of the largest populations in the world, India and China, these two medias serve the immigrants from India and China in the United States.
India Currents has been a thought leader since its founding in 1987. An achievement that speaks to the unique need for a platform that champions South Asian identity of the diaspora . DingDing TV celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Check out this video which shows publisher of India Currents, Vandana Kumar in conversation with Diana Ding, CEO of DingDing TV.
By Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever
One of the signature trends of technology in the Internet age has been the reversal of technology adoption flows.
In the past, the copy machine, the fax, the mobile phone (before smartphones), and the personal computer all started as work tools and then moved into the consumer realm. With the Internet, and with smartphones, that trend reversed. Unexpectedly, consumer tools such as chat, e-mail, and social networks were brought into the workplace — not by IT managers, but by employees looking to increase their productivity. This path had been greased by the demands of workers that they be able to use their own smartphones (and, to a lesser degree, laptops and tablets) to conduct work business such as making phone calls and sending e-mails.
So the slot machine in our pockets was tossed into the workplace, with unsurprising results. Our work tools began to more closely resemble our consumer products. Chat tool Slack uses numerous techniques that encourage workers to pay attention to it as much as possible and consume as much as possible. The company’s tagline, after all, is “Where Work Happens.” Translation? Don’t leave Slack; you will miss something and fail at your job. Urging us to turn on desktop notifications, e-mail notifications when someone mentions our name, and shortcuts that allow us to post GIFs in the chat channel, the product designers of Slack have clearly read Nir Eyal’s book, Hooked.
Slack is one of many services engaging businesses and work teams using approaches similar to those of consumer product designers. In fact, most providers of work technologies, from human resources systems to document-sharing systems to systems managing customer relationships, now emphasize some sort of interruptive notifications system to alert us to a new message or some other event. The result is a blizzard of notifications and intense pressure to keep many of those notification systems on because ignoring a notification is likely to mean ignoring something that somebody considers important.
This new reality of notification insanity obstructs our concentration not only as individuals but also when we are together — in the flesh, or in a virtual conference. In a study of 1,200 office employees in 2015, videoconferencing company Highfive found that, on average, 4.73 messages, texts, or e-mails are sent by each person during a normal in-person meeting. Seventy-three percent of millennial respondents acknowledged checking their phones during conference calls, and 45 percent acknowledged checking them during in-person meetings. Ironically, 47 percent of respondents’ biggest problem with meetings was that co-workers were not paying attention.
The Silent Start and Other Ways to Rethink Work
Slowing down interruptions and encouraging more deep work is exceptionally difficult when a multitask ethos is ingrained. To combat multitasking during meetings and try to keep meetings meaningful, Amazon mandates that attendees spend the first part of a meeting reading a printed agenda and additional information that sets the table for the meeting. CEO Jeff Bezos calls it “the silent start.” This is very good meeting hygiene and, according to Bezos, a wonderful way to spark innovation and interesting ideas.
It is really up to organizational leaders, such as Bezos, to give workers and their organizations the safe space in which to be creative and productive and fulfill their potential. We advocate that every company create a cohesive productivity policy. Some companies already are performing in-depth reviews on employee productivity and practices, meeting structures, meeting attendance, how quickly e-mails are answered, how documents are shared — all the minutiae that make up the bulk of our working day and can easily create employment hell.
The policy — or we can call it a performance enhancement plan (PEP) if you need an HR-friendly buzzword — could signify both management’s willingness to allow employees to design their work experiences and the willingness of employees to take ownership for the creation of a healthy environment that promotes productivity, balance, flow, and, as a consequence, work satisfaction.
For example, what if your company had a policy to actively discourage employees from checking and responding to e-mails every five minutes, and instead set up the e-mail servers to batch-receive e-mail messages on the hour or the half-hour? (This is entirely possible and almost trivial to implement.) What if companies had a warning system baked into calendars to alert employees that they are allocating more than 20 percent of their time to meetings, and highlighting transmission and reception of messages on weekends or e-mail threads that extend beyond five round trips? What if the system alerted users who overuse “reply all” in environments that don’t generally need it?
We could, in principle, build a work-satisfaction index — a single number that rates an employee’s state of work fulfillment and a manager’s adherence to these kinds of policies. Using the same tools that increasingly track productivity and monitor what employees do, we could easily make visible the unhealthy practices that lead to so much work frustration and discontentment.
Some companies have ad hoc versions of systems that work by giving employees maximum freedom. Netflix, for example, tells employees to take as much vacation as they want to and as much family leave as they want to, and even to show up at the office when they want to; its only requirement is for employees to be top performers.
Best Buy for a while had a “meetings entirely optional policy” as part of its Results Oriented Work Program. That policy was discontinued in 2013, but many employees and managers felt that it worked extremely well by allowing people to design their work engagements and minimize imposition of time-wasting distractions. The core message of all this should be “Design the work environment you need, and we will back you up and let you deliver. Just be sure to deliver.”
Building such a culture of freedom takes a particularly strong stomach, for CEOs, managers, and employees. It necessitates that all of us take personal responsibility to banish FOMO, to avoid interruptions, and to silence our inner technology demons. So far, we collectively have remained unsure whether such drastic approaches could work over the long haul, because the broader pressures to be always “on” amid job uncertainty are so great.
As employees, we should always ask what the realistic expectations are for our roles and the culture of the company. If that culture goes against our notion of designed freedom of choice and flow, then we should vote with our feet and find work somewhere else. As leaders, executives must begin paying more than lip service to notions of holistic approaches to employee and organizational health.
For the most part, in a white-collar environment, productivity, engagement, and workplace satisfaction are closely related. Productivity is a measure of the output achieved per hour of input. Note that this is a ratio of one to the other, not an absolute. Numerous studies have shown that beyond a certain point, working excessive hours yields rapidly diminishing returns. True, that balance may shift, for instance when we are under looming project deadlines. But, as when we’ve crammed for exams at university, we need a break afterward: time to recharge our energy and our well-being. This too must be baked into the work environment.
Vivek Wadhwa is Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University Engineering at Silicon Valley and Harvard Law School. This post is partly derived from his book The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future.
To gauge by the news headlines, it would be easy to believe that artificial intelligence (AI) is about to take over the world. Kai-Fu Lee, a Chinese venture capitalist, says that AI will soon create tens of trillions of dollars of wealth and claims China and the U.S. are the two AI superpowers.
There is no doubt that AI has incredible potential. But the technology is still in its infancy; there are no AI superpowers. The race to implement AI has hardly begun, particularly in business. As well, the most advanced AI tools are open source, which means that everyone has access to them.
Tech companies are generating hype with cool demonstrations of AI, such as Google’s AlphaGo Zero, which learned one of the world’s most difficult board games in three days and could easily defeat its top-ranked players. Several companies are claiming breakthroughs with self-driving vehicles. But don’t be fooled: The games are just special cases, and the self-driving cars are still on their training wheels.
AlphaGo, the original iteration of AlphaGo Zero, developed its intelligence through use of generative adversarial networks, a technology that pits two AI systems against each another to allow them to learn from each other. The trick was that before the networks battled each other, they received a lot of coaching. And, more importantly, their problems and outcomes were well defined.
Unlike board games and arcade games, business systems don’t have defined outcomes and rules. They work with very limited datasets, often disjointed and messy. The computers also don’t do critical business analysis; it’s the job of humans to comprehend information that the systems gather and to decide what to do with it. Humans can deal with uncertainty and doubt; AI cannot. Google’s Waymo self-driving cars have collectively driven over 9 million miles, yet are nowhere near ready for release. Tesla’s Autopilot, after gathering 1.5 billion miles’ worth of data, won’t even stop at traffic lights.
Today’s AI systems do their best to reproduce the functioning of the human brain’s neural networks, but their emulations are very limited. They use a technique called deep learning: After you tell an AI exactly what you want it to learn and provide it with clearly labeled examples, it analyzes the patterns in those data and stores them for future application. The accuracy of its patterns depends on completeness of data, so the more examples you give it, the more useful it becomes.
Herein lies a problem, though: An AI is only as good as the data it receives, and is able to interpret them only within the narrow confines of the supplied context. It doesn’t “understand” what it has analyzed, so it is unable to apply its analysis to scenarios in other contexts. And it can’t distinguish causation from correlation.
The larger issue with this form of AI is that what it has learned remains a mystery: a set of indefinable responses to data. Once a neural network has been trained, not even its designer knows exactly how it is doing what it does. They call this the black box of AI.
Businesses can’t afford to have their systems making unexplained decisions, as they have regulatory requirements and reputational concerns and must be able to understand, explain, and prove the logic behind every decision that they make.
Then there is the issue of reliability. Airlines are installing AI-based facial-recognition systems and China is basing its national surveillance systems on such systems. AI is being used for marketing and credit analysis and to control cars, drones, and robots. It is being trained to perform medical data analysis and assist or replace human doctors. The problem is that, in all such uses, AI can be fooled.
Google published a paper last December that showed that it could trick AI systems into recognizing a banana as a toaster. Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science have just demonstrated that they could confuse almost any AI system without even using, as Google did, knowledge of what the system has used as a basis for learning. With AI, security and privacy are an afterthought, just as they were early in the development of computers and the Internet.
Leading AI companies have handed over the keys to their kingdoms by making their tools open source. Software used to be considered a trade secret, but developers realized that having others look at and build on their code could lead to great improvements in it. Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have released their AI code to the public for free to explore, adapt, and improve. China’s Baidu has also made its self-driving software, Apollo, available as open source.
Software’s real value lies in its implementation: what you do with it. Just as China built its tech companies and India created a $160 billion IT services industry on top of tools created by Silicon Valley, anyone can use openly available AI tools to build sophisticated applications. Innovation has now globalized, creating a level playing field—especially in AI.
Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering. He is the co-author of Your Happiness Was Hacked: Why Tech Is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain—and How to Fight Back.
This article first appeared in Fortune magazine.