Alec Ross’ (@AlecJRoss) February 2016 book, “The Industries of the Future,” offers a prescient and extremely important glimpse into the future of theAlec Ross’ (@AlecJRoss) February 2016 book, “The Industries of the Future,” offers a prescient and extremely important glimpse into the future of the global labor market. We can likely agree we are living in rapidly changing times, but it’s challenging to understand from a 100,000 foot perspective how advances in technology, communication and media are reshaping our economy, our lives, governance, warfare, and society writ large. Ross offers this kind of rare view in “The Industries of the Future,” Books like “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century” (2005) by Thomas Friedman (@tomfriedman) and “The Third Wave” (1984) by Alvin Toffler have helped me better understand seismic changes underway in our society wrought by a variety of technological as well as societal inputs. I put Alec Ross’ book in the same category as these by Friedman and Toffler. It’s essential for us as educators, parents, and citizens to not only understand how technological changes are affecting our labor market and economy, but also predict how these changes affect causes we need to champion in our K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. Ross helps “connect the dots” for many of the changes we read about as current events, but may not fully understand in context together.
I discovered Alec Ross and his ideas thanks to my PocketCasts (@pocketcasts) subscription to the World Affairs Podcast (@world_affairs). World Affairs is a San Fancisco-based nonprofit which hosts a wide variety of lectures by amazing speakers, and shares both audio and video versions of these talks free online.
After I tweeted some quotations from Alec’s February 2016 presentation for The World Affairs Council, he replied to me on Twitter and encouraged me to check out his new book. I listened to it via Audible in April and May 2016.
To view all my tweeted quotations and learning points from Alex Ross, check out my archived tweets using his Twitter handle in my personal Tweet Nest archive. Here are a few of the most important highlights.
Cyberattacks, cyberwarfare and cybersecurity are some of the most important arenas of transformational technological change today, but they are also very poorly understood by the vast majority of people. There are many ways in which the pace of technological change has outstripped our collective abilities as humans to meaningfully process and understand those changes, and the “realm of cyber” is one of those key arenas.
My April 13, 2016, post, “Glimpsing the Future with Alec Ross,” includes more quotations and learning points I took away from that World Affairs presentation. Those included the following two nuggets:
"Land was the raw material of the agricultural age. Iron was the raw material of the industrial age. Data is the raw material of the information age."
"In coming decades, robots will increasingly be able to do work which is cognitive & non-routine"
Among other things, these insights mean:
We should be teaching data analysis and data analytics to all our students in schools today, not just a few who choose to major in informatics or computer science. We need to be discussing UBI (universal basic income) and its necessity in labor markets fundamentally disrupted and transformed by artificial intelligence, automation, robotics, and information technology. These topics are not pressing issues of national and international concern today, but they will be in the not-too-distant future. Automation and AI are poised to displace thousands of workers in the next decade, not the next century. The pace of technological change in many arenas is EXPONENTIAL, not LINEAR, which means it defies our natural limitations as humans to process and understand it. Taken along with the insights and advice of other futurists, Ross’ predictions in ‘“The Industries of the Future” should ring alarm bells for politicians, civic leaders, education champions, and anyone else in our society who would be a visionary and shepherd of change in the twenty-first century.
Robotics, cybersecurity, and genomics are the three transformational arenas of technological change which Ross focuses on in his book. If you are counseling your own children, students at school, or adults looking for a new career direction, these are excellent fields to recommend.
After finishing my Ph.D. in 2011 in education, I returned to the classroom in 2013-2015 as a 4th and 5th grade STEM teacher. One of my favorite things to share with students each week were “STEM Curiosity Links,” which were short videos or news articles about interesting STEM topics that were likely to pique student interest. Articles about 3D printing of biological cells, modification of genetics in both plants and living organisms, as well as the uses of robots and drones for warfare all highlighted the importance of STEM ethics. In many ways, I think technology has outpaced our collective ability to process, understand, and normatively evaluate its uses. 23andMe (@23andMe) is a DNA / genetics testing service highlighted by Alec Ross in “Industries of the Future.” According to their website:
"Our Health + Ancestry Service examines your genes to tell you about your ancestry, carrier status,* wellness and traits. We analyze, compile and distill the information extracted from your DNA into 65+ reports you can access online and share with family and friends. See full list of reports offered."
We need to provide opportunities in our schools and communities for people to discuss the implications and potential consequences of genetic testing like this. While the insights it can provide might be intriguing and could, in some cases, be of tremendous medical value, the potential also exists for ANY information which has been digitized to be hacked and thereby fall into unintended hands. The unintended consequences of digitizing medical information, both voluntarily or involuntarily, are a big unknown and worth thoughtful consideration
Ross makes the bold claim in his book that: "Genomics will have a greater impact on our lives then any medical innovation of the 20th century."
If you know anyone involved in agriculture or who has been in agriculture for the past 10+ years, you can ask them to tell you stories about the transformative power of technology. “Precision agriculture” is astonishing in its potential to maximize the yield of crops with specific fertilizer, water, and pesticide needs. Combined with genetically modified crops, technologies have fundamentally transformed “modern farming techniques” in ways that would not be recognized or predicted by the dryland farmers of a century ago. Ross highlights these changes well in his book, and emphasizes that students who prepare themselves for careers in genomics today are likely to have bright career opportunities in the near future.
We hear a great deal of discussion when it comes to technology innovation about Silicon Valley and the Bay Area of San Francisco, but Ross points out there are plenty of other examples of technological innovation to study and try to emulate. Estonia is one country he highlights which has benefited from government policies supportive of entrepreneurial risk taking and the intentional cultivation of tech-focused industry.This is a case study which belongs in our economics and social studies classes.
No one has a perfect crystal ball to see the future or predict it with complete certainly, but Alex Ross offers us extremely valuable insights in “The Industries of the Future,” I highly commend it to you as a positive and implication-laden window on a future we're collectively rushing into much faster than any of us likely realize....more
“Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime-from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door” by Brian Krebs (@briankrebs) is an eye opening dive in“Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime-from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door” by Brian Krebs (@briankrebs) is an eye opening dive into the world of Internet spam, pharmaceutical drugs sold online, cyberattacks, malware, the dark web, and corruption within the Russian justice system. It should be required reading (or listening) for anyone working in or interested in the field of information technology today.
Do you know someone who has had their email account hacked? A few years ago I helped a woman in our church whose Yahoo account was hacked not once but several times. After reading "Spam Nation," I strongly suspect that one of the main reasons she was a victim of email hacking was her online purchase of pharmaceutical drugs for herself and her husband. Before reading Brain's book I knew online drugs were very prevalent, but his research and analysis helped "connect the dots" for me to better understand this landscape of medical needs and financial opportunities. Many of the same drug manufacturers in India whose products we purchase at corner drugstores in the United States like WalGreens and CVS are also sold by Russian pharma peddlers who have extremely sophisticated networks of malware-infested spam sending computers. Brian's book was published in 2015 and his stories are a few years old, but they are still very important to understand within the broader security landscape of our twenty-first century communications and media environment.
"Spam Nation" helped me better understand the economics and political environment (especially in Russia) which have created fertile ground for spamming and malware. The high prices of pharmaceutical drugs in the United States, and our ongoing need for comprehensive health care reform, also play an important role in these complex relationships. I certainly have a greater motivation to help members of our family, my school community, our church, and other groups understand the need for and know how to follow better personal digital security practices. See my recent post, "Give the Gift of Digital Security to Your Family," for more on those topics. That post, along with my ongoing work at school to upgrade our firewall, develop a plan to adopt two-factor authentication for all faculty/staff, and support other secure password and digital security initiatives were all influenced strongly by my reading (actually listening via Audible) to "Spam Nation" by Brian Krebs.
The large scale cyberattack which took place in October 2016 was powered primarily by a new IoT (Internet of Things) botnet which allows hackers to compromise and exploit home wifi devices like security cameras. The malware, named Mirai, is documented well by WikiPedia. Incidentally, current issues and events like this highlight the value of WikiPedia as an information source. This is something many educators do not yet fully understand or appreciate. When you're seeking information about a very new topic like the latest botnet cyberattack, however, it becomes clear immediately that archaic forms of information analysis and distribution (like printed books) are far less helpful than crowdsourced digital platforms like WikiPedia and Twitter.
"Scareware" is an important cybersecurity and digital security term which Brian Krebs introduced me to through "Spam Nation." I personally know several individuals at school and through our church who have been challenged by these kinds of advertisements and software programs. Scareware programs are promoted by website popup advertisements which try to convince users their computer has been compromised by a hacker, and they need to install recommended "security software" to remove the vulnerable malware programs. In some cases these scareware ads are effective, convincing users to install software which is itself malware, and/or part with money to purchase "software protection" which is bogus and not needed.
Part of digital literacy today must include the ongoing development of what Neil Postman termed a "crap detector" in his excellent (and prescient) 1985 book, "Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business." As a technology director and digital citizenship advocate at our school, "scareware" is a vocabulary term I'm using now and will continue to use with students, parents, faculty and staff in the months ahead.
During the 1990s and into the 2000s, Apple / Macintosh computer users were relatively immune from the computer virus and malware attacks which plagued users of Microsoft's dominant Windows operating systems. In 2016, that's not the case anymore. According to Krebs, in 2011 scareware and malware developers started large scale efforts to compromise Apple computers. Apple computer systems need to run security software today just as Windows systems do. This is true for school computers or the computers you use at home.
The large price disparities between medications sold in the United States and elsewhere in the world create powerful economic incentives for people to purchase drugs online from unknown or shadowy companies. It's likely we all know people who do this. While the crackdown on credit card processors documented by Krebs in "Spam Nation" had a negative effect on the online pharmaceutical industry, the power of these economic incentives makes it likely to persist. As other authors I cited in a 1993 research paper on drug control in the Americas noted, counter-drug efforts tend to exhibit a "balloon effect" where enforcement in one area pushes traffickers to increase their efforts and drug availability in others. The takeaways here are:
1- It's extremely risky for anyone to purchase drugs from shadowy companies online. 2- Purchasers risk their health and the health of loved ones taking medications which are not adequately checked for quality. 3- Purchasers also risk compromising the security of their computers, phones, and their connected digital identities if they purchase drugs online from mysterious, foreign companies.
I highly recommend reading or listening to "Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime-from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door" by Brian Krebs (@briankrebs). As a result of listening to this book, I am not only better educated to understand many of the malicious and damaging dynamics involving spam and malware which affect us within our increasingly digital society, but am also better equipped to help students, educators and parents in our school community navigate these issues as more savvy digital citizens....more
danah boyd's book, "It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens," should be required reading for every parent and educator today. Living asdanah boyd's book, "It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens," should be required reading for every parent and educator today. Living as we do in a media-saturated society, many adults are prone to believe the hype and buy the overly-simplistic portrayal by mainstream media outlets of how technology is to blame for many ills which beset both teens and our society as a whole. dana has spent years interviewing hundreds of teens around the United States about their uses of social media. Her anecdotes as well as research conclusions paint an important picture (as her book title indicates) of a much more "complicated" landscape of teen social media use and social lives than many people perceive today.
Digital communication technologies, including social media, have definitely changed the landscape of adolescence and "coming of age" in the United States in the 21st century. danah persausively argues in her book, however, that many of the challenges faced by teens and our society which get blamed on technologies stem from other root causes. She observes "For some adults, nostalgia can get in the way of understanding teens real relationship to social technologies today." Reading her book, and following up that reading with personal discussions with teens you have contact with in your life, is one of the best ways to move beyond nostalgic, often overly-simplistic perceptions of teen feelings & desires about online privacy as well as social media use more generally.
danah observes that "persistence, visibility, spreadability & searchability are all unique characteristics of networked digital publics." Teens and young people in their 20s today are the first generation on our planet to grow up simultaneously in a face-to-face as well as virtual (or "mediated") world. It's a mistake to believe that because many teens are on social media websites like Facebook (which have default settings for a public profile) they don't care about privacy. Media articles and TV programs love to hype the slogan, "privacy is dead," but teen use of mobile applications like SnapChat demonstrates this is false. As adults, we are mistaken if we think teen desires to use apps like SnapChat are entirely rooted in a desire to share inappropriate photos and videos. Certainly inappropriate media sharing ("sexting") is a reality for many teens as well as adults, but we should not generalize all desires to use apps and web services offering privacy as automatically suspect and likely inappropriate. As danah states, "The Internet is NOT just a place where people engage in unhealthy interactions." danah explores issues of privacy and publicity in challenging ways in her book. She astutely observes, "Both privacy and publicity are blurred... Being able to achieve privacy is an expression of agency." These issues are not simple, and adults are well advised to consider these complicated contexts carefully rather than assume (falsely) these issues are black and white, or easily understood and navigated.
As a fan of metaphors, I've liked "amplifier" as a description of technology for many years. danah notes in her book, "The Internet mirrors,magnifies, & makes more visible the good, bad & ugly of everyday life." We commit a significant mistake if we perceive the Internet to primarily be a place where teens make and have the opportunity to make big mistakes, however. Among other things, danah's book is a call for adults everywhere to become better and more active listeners to teens and young people as they experience and share their struggles in life. She observes "Many adult anxieties over teen social media use derive from reluctance to let teens fully participate in public life." In many ways we are a fear-driven society today, and danah's book offers a helpful mirror to consider how mainstream media has fanned the flames of fear surrounding technology and how we can view our world with more balance than extremism.
I highly recommend "It's Complicated" to you, whether you listen to it on your commutes to work (as I did) or you read it in print or eBook form. It's a thought provoking, timely, and immensely practical book which will encourage you to have important conversations with others in your family and community about social media, technology, freedom, fear, and other important topics.
As I listened to the audio version of dana's book from Audible, I tweeted numerous ideas and quotations which resonated with me and struck me as particularly notable. You can check those out using the following search link to my Tweet Nest Twitter archive: http://twitter.wesfryer.com/search?q=......more