Archive for ‘technology’

October 14, 2014

It looks like ‘the demand for lawyers will keep shrinking’

by Grace

The surplus of lawyers looking for jobs has been apparent for several years now, “and the number of jobs is apt to shrink further as technology sinks its teeth into legal work”.

In his recent City Journal article Machines v. Lawyers, Northwestern Law School professor John O. McGinnis explained why the demand for lawyers will keep shrinking. “Law is, in effect, an information technology – a code that regulates social life. And as the machinery of information technology grows exponentially in power, the legal profession faces a great disruption not unlike that already experienced by journalism, which has seen employment drop by about a third….”

Throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, law was a growth industry and a great many people (especially students who had taken “soft” majors in college) figured that earning a JD was an attractive option. Naturally, law schools expanded to accommodate the throngs of degree seekers, who were aided by federal student loan programs. Going to law school both delayed the need to start repaying undergraduate loans and appeared to be the pathway into a bright and lucrative career.

That’s not true anymore.

McGinnis gives details on how technology is disrupting the legal profession.

Discovering information, finding precedents, drafting documents and briefs, and predicting the outcomes of lawsuits—these tasks encompass the bulk of legal practice. The rise of machine intelligence will therefore disrupt and transform the legal profession.

Fewer lawyers will be needed, but superstar lawyers will prosper.

A relatively small number of very talented lawyers will benefit from the coming changes. These superstars will prosper by using the new technology to extend their reach and influence. For instance, the best lawyers will need fewer associates; they can use computers to enhance the value that they offer their clients. Already, the ratio of associates to partners in big law firms appears to be declining. In complex cases, lawyers will continue to add value to machine intelligence through uniquely human judgment. Even now, when computers regularly beat the best chess grandmaster, a good chess player and a good computer combined can often beat the best computers. Thus, for important cases and transactions, good lawyers will still add substantial value, even if computers do more of the work.

As McGinnis noted, journalism is another profession severely impacted by technology, possibly pointing to a future where computers will be handling many of today’s white-collar jobs.

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George Leef, “The Canary in the Law School Coal Mine?”, Minding The Campus, October 9, 2014.

John, O. McGinnis, “Machines v. Lawyers”, City Journal, Spring 2014.

September 24, 2014

Negative consequences of believing the STEM shortage myth

by Grace

In his book Falling Behind: Boom, Bust & the Global Race for Scientific Talent, author Michael Teitelbaum challenges the commonly held belief that the United States suffers from a shortage of STEM workers.

The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce….

A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more. Were there to be a genuine shortage at present, there would be evidence of employers raising wage offers to attract the scientists and engineers they want. But the evidence points in the other direction: Most studies report that real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations.

Although some STEM fields are booming and employers find it difficult to fill professional positions, by no means is that true across the board.

Teitelbaum lists five episodes of STEM ‘“alarm/boom/bust” cycles since World War II’ where in all cases government policies intended to address false claims of shortages only exacerbated the problem.

… Each lasted about 10 to 15 years, and was initiated by alarms of “shortages,” followed by policies to increase the supply of scientists and engineers. Unfortunately most were followed by painful busts—mass layoffs, hiring freezes, and funding cuts that inflicted severe damage to careers of both mature professionals and the booming numbers of emerging graduates, while also discouraging new entrants to these fields.

The current administration has fallen into the same trap, pushing for more STEM graduates who may actually find jobs in short supply.  This year New York began allocating taxpayer funds to encourage college students to pursue STEM majors.

Ignoring “science-based evidence” produces “large unintended costs”.

Ironically the vigorous claims of shortages concern occupations in science and engineering, yet manage to ignore or reject most of the science-based evidence on the subject. The repeated past cycles of “alarm/boom/bust” have misallocated public and private resources by periodically expanding higher education in science and engineering beyond levels for which there were attractive career opportunities. In so doing they produced large unintended costs for those talented students who devoted many years of advanced education to prepare for careers that turned out to be unattractive by the time they graduated, or who later experienced massive layoffs in mid-career with few prospects to be rehired.

George Leef is another critic of these government interventions.

… Strong business and educational groups lobby for nice-sounding policies that benefit themselves, frequently employing dubious arguments and misleading claims. The costs of the resulting pro-STEM policies are dispersed among the public, and fall particularly hard on the unfortunate individuals who invest a lot of money and years of their lives in pursuit of credentials that are apt to become almost worthless.

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Michael S. Teitelbaum, “The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage”, The Atlantic, March 19 2014.

George Leef, “True Or False: America Desperately Needs More STEM Workers”, Forbes, June 6, 2014.

September 17, 2014

GoFundMe can help pay your college tuition bills

by Grace

Education is the second-most-popular category on GoFundMe.

It’s easy to do.

… GoFundMe and other sites, like Crowdrise, let individuals pursue personal fund-raising. You create a profile, including a photo and an explanation of what you’re seeking the money for, and then spread the word on networks like Facebook and Twitter.

The rules are loose.

Unlike Kickstarter, which requires its users to meet a goal to get the money, GoFundMe and Crowdrise allow individuals to keep the donations whether or not the goal is met.

Crowdrise’s chief executive, Robert Wolfe, said his site had recently added an option for individuals — rather than recognized charities — to raise funds and that the educational category is growing….

Neither GoFundMe nor Crowdrise independently verifies the claims made in profiles.

Since most donors are friends and family, low-income students often find it challenging to raise substantial funds.  Another barrier is that contributions to individuals are not eligible for tax deductions.

Other similar sites, like ScholarMatch, use more stringent criteria and do not allow donations to specific individuals.

A dramatic story helps raise more money.

Heart-rending stories tend to gain the most attention and donations from beyond a student’s circle of friends. A Vanderbilt University student whose profile told of her mother’s suicide shortly before her freshman year raised $50,000, double her goal. And GoFundMe says its most successful campaign raised more than a million dollars for a child with a rare genetic disease.

For students who are willing to share their stories, crowdfunding seems like a no-brainer.  Given that young people seem eager to share many details of their personal lives online, I can see how this idea will continue to grow.

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Ann Carrnssept, “That Selfie Is So Good, It Could Help You Pay for College”, New York Times, Sept. 11, 2014.

September 3, 2014

Michigan governor celebrated Labor Day accompanied by a robot

by Grace

Do robots celebrate Labor Day?

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in the Labor Day walk across the Mackinac Bridge and they were joined by one robot.

Gov. Rick Snyder led the annual trek Monday across the 5-mile-long bridge linking Michigan’s two peninsulas. He walked with a robot constructed for the occasion by the FIRST robotics team from Macomb International Academy in the town of Armada.

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Governor Snyder signed Michigan’s right to work law earlier this year, leading this comment by the Daily Kos:

Maybe after right-to-work he couldn’t find any real people to walk with.

The question of how robots will affect job growth remains unsettled.

… Optimists say that more robots will lead to greater productivity and economic growth, while pessimists complain that huge swaths of the labor force will see their employment options automated out of existence.

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August 25, 2014

Buying and selling college class notes is made easier by technology

by Grace

Selling class notes can be a way for college students to make extra money, but is it a good idea?

Every student could use a little extra spending money, and selling your class notes and study materials is one way to make some on the side for something you’re doing for free already. Flashnotes lets you sign up by school, post your notes for specific classes, and sell them to other students.

Sharing class notes and tests has been going on for years, but somehow using technology to escalate this practice to an efficient business transaction seems to go over the edge.

… Flashnotes says their average students pick up a couple hundred dollars on the site, and that their in-house team reviews and monitors materials uploaded to make sure the notes being sold are actually of decent quality before they’re posted. Plus, you can preview any notes before you buy them, to make sure you’re not shelling out for what amounts to be useless. They also offer a money-back guarantee if you’re displeased with your purchase. For their part, Flashnotes doesn’t add listing fees, but they take 30% of every sale, so price accordingly….

Some pushback in the comments to the original article included a discussion about the legality of profiting from someone else’s intellectual property, which apparently is not a problem since the students’ notes are considered “their own personal interpretations of what has been taught within the class”.

At least one commenter gave several reasons why buying and selling class notes is generally a bad idea.

Speaking as a college professor of 4 decades’ experience, please, please don’t do this. Buying classnotes is a lucrative business for the resellers, but leaving aside the issue of intellectual property, buying classnotes is no substitute for being present and taking notes yourself. Buying notes is to entirely misunderstand why we take notes: it’s not in order to capture a set of objects, but in order to process heard & seen data intellectually into our own words, which form unique mnemonics and significantly enhance recollection, synthesis, and critical thinking. With respect, Alan: please reconsider this recommendation—it is highly problematic, possibly unethical, and certainly unstrategic and counterproductive for learning. I respect Lifehacker enormously, but this is a very bad idea.

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Alan Henry, “Flashnotes Offers College Students a Place to Buy and Sell Class Notes”, Lifehacker, August 8, 2014.

June 3, 2014

What will happen when computers can handle most white-collar jobs?

by Grace

Computers may soon be able to do white-collar jobs meant for college graduates.

Noriko Arai of the Todai Robot Project explains how the future is shaping up.

… a machine should be capable, with appropriate programming, of doing many — perhaps most — jobs now done by university graduates.

With the development of artificial intelligence, computers are starting to crack human skills like information summarization and language processing….

How would college graduates be affected by this technological evolution?

There is a significant danger, Ms. Arai says, that the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence, if not well managed, could lead to a radical restructuring of economic activity and the job market, outpacing the ability of social and education systems to adjust.

Intelligent machines could be used to replace expensive human resources, potentially undermining the economic value of much vocational education, Ms. Arai said.

“Educational investment will not be attractive to those without unique skills,” she said. Graduates, she noted, need to earn a return on their investment in training: “But instead they will lose jobs, replaced by information simulation. They will stay uneducated.”

In such a scenario, high-salary jobs would remain for those equipped with problem-solving skills, she predicted. But many common tasks now done by college graduates might vanish.

Mostly good or mostly bad?

…  A recent study published by the Program on the Impacts of Future Technology, at Oxford University’s Oxford Martin School, predicted that nearly half of all jobs in the United States could be replaced by computers over the next two decades.

Some researchers disagree. Kazumasa Oguro, professor of economics at Hosei University in Tokyo, argues that smart machines should increase employment. “Most economists believe in the principle of comparative advantage,” he said. “Smart machines would help create 20 percent new white-collar jobs because they expand the economy. That’s comparative advantage.”

Others are less sanguine. Noriyuki Yanagawa, professor of economics at Tokyo University, says that Japan, with its large service sector, is particularly vulnerable.

“A.I. will change the labor demand drastically and quickly,” he said. “For many workers, adjusting to the drastic change will be extremely difficult.”

Smart machines will give companies “the opportunity to automate many tasks, redesign jobs, and do things never before possible even with the best human work forces,” according to a report this year by the business consulting firm McKinsey.

Many business leaders dismiss a takeover by machines as “futurist fantasy”.

… Gartner’s 2013 chief executive survey, published in April, found that 60 percent of executives surveyed dismissed as “‘futurist fantasy” the possibility that smart machines could displace many white-collar employees within 15 years.

“Most business and thought leaders underestimate the potential of smart machines to take over millions of middle-class jobs in the coming decades,” Kenneth Brant, research director at Gartner, told a conference in October: “Job destruction will happen at a faster pace, with machine-driven job elimination overwhelming the market’s ability to create valuable new ones.”

Will these changes create a future of leisure and “self-realization”?

Optimists say this could lead to the ultimate elimination of work — an “Athens without the slaves” — and a possible boom for less vocational-style education. Mr. Brant’s hope is that such disruption might lead to a system where individuals are paid a citizen stipend and be free for education and self-realization.

“This optimistic scenario I call Homo Ludens, or ‘Man, the Player,’ because maybe we will not be the smartest thing on the planet after all,” he said. “Maybe our destiny is to create the smartest thing on the planet and use it to follow a course of self-actualization.”

It sounds too good to be true.  Although the concept of a future as an “Athens without the slaves” has its appeal, it sounds too fantastic to believe.  I wonder what will happen to the segment of the population that lacks the highest level of problem-solving skills.

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Michael Fitzpatrick, “Computers Jump to the Head of the Class”, New York Times, December 29, 2013.

May 21, 2014

Apply now for the New York State STEM full-tuition scholarship

by Grace

The deadline to apply for the newly introduced New York State STEM scholarship is August 14.

The NYS STEM Incentive Program provides a full SUNY or CUNY tuition scholarship for the top 10 percent of students in each New York State high school if they pursue a STEM degree in an associates or bachelor degree program and agree to work in a STEM field in New York State for 5 years after graduation.

The dual goals of the program include helping students pursue STEM careers and promoting the state’s economy.

Innovative programs like the STEM Incentive Awards will help students compete in academic fields essential to the future of our state and nation,” said CUNY Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly.

“Through this program, New York State is helping to foster a connection between a student’s interest in STEM and their ability to successfully pursue a STEM career,” said Elsa Magee, Acting President of New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC), the state agency that will administer the program. “These awards will encourage more of our most talented students to pursue their love of science, technology, engineering and math in New York State, which benefits our State economy directly and the global economy, generally.”

Failing to fulfill the program requirements can result in significant penalties.  For example, if a recipient does not complete the STEM degree or does not follow through after graduation on the requirement to work “full-time for five years in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or math in New York State, while maintaining residency within the State”, he must pay back the award.

The full list of approved occupations includes farmers, computer programmers, web developers, actuaries, cartographers, engineers, and secondary and postsecondary science teachers.

There does seem to be some flexibility in the choice of occupations.

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Related:  “Free tuition at New York state universities for top STEM students?” (Cost of College)

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 Sarah Darville, “State launches STEM scholarship for SUNY, CUNY-bound grads”, Chalkbeat New York, May 6, 2014.

April 29, 2014

How is higher education like the travel business?

by Grace

Is higher education going the way of travel agents?  This question arises from an Inside Higher Ed post by Joshua Kim, Dartmouth Director of Digital Learning Initiatives. 

The Web has put lots of travel agents out of business.

The Web has made lots of things about traveling easier, and probably cheaper.

But in displacing all those travel agents we may have lost something important.  We may have traded convenience and costs for quality.  

The cautionary lesson for higher ed may be that we should always be weary of any technologies that replace people.  We are a people driven business.  A relationship drive enterprise.  Relationships are things that technology does very poorly.

My guess is that the travel agents that are still thriving are the specialists.  The professionals that can combine their knowledge and experience with available technologies to create new opportunities to find and plan great trips.

I see his point, although there are many areas where replacing people makes good sense.

While personal relationships are still valued among the few travel agencies catering to elite travel, for most of us Google has replaced the human touch in planning trips.  In some ways this parallels the path that higher education has taken.  The most selective colleges offer the highest level of  personalized attention, ushering students through a learning experience that rewards them with impressive credentials at the end of four years.  Most other schools provide less, ranging from personalized attention with questionable learning at a high price to online learning that is a scaled-down version of a typical classroom setting.

I believe that we will leverage technology to tackle challenges around costs, access,and quality.

Most people probably agree with Kim that technology has the potential to improve higher education, as it has improved many other aspects of modern life.  But it seems that technology is often viewed as a blanket solution to many problems, including the very serious issue of skyrocketing costs.  In taking this approach, colleges are trading costs for a much diminished level of quality in higher education.

Related:  More on the ‘bifurcation’ of higher education (Cost of College)

March 14, 2014

Is it okay to use cell phones at the dinner table?

by Grace

One of my pet peeves is the use of cell phones at the dinner table.  According to a recent Pew Survey I’m in the majority, even among Millenials.

20140313.COCPewCellPhones1

But norms are changing.

I can see the temptation to use cell phones in social situations.  If I’m with a group of friends but not actively participating in the conversation at that moment, I might find it handy to use that time to check the latest scores, news headlines, or emails on my phone.  This happens all the time, especially with young people, many of whom find it perfectly acceptable.  But it’s incredibly annoying when I find myself sitting next to someone who’s playing games or checking Facebook while I’m engaged in conversation with another person at the dinner table.  Maybe I feel snubbed?  Is it too much to ask everyone to listen with rapt attention to every word at the table?  Perhaps.

I might just have to get used to changing norms and attention spans.

20140313.COCGrumpOldWoman

Related:  Distracted by digital devices (Cost of College)

February 28, 2014

‘We have 500 cable channels and a one-size-fits all school system’

by Grace

Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic political strategist. has been a proponent of school choice ever since he was a kindergartener and his mother fought to allow him to attend a safer school outside his neighborhood.

Trippi was recently interviewed by Reason.tv at a National School Choice Week event.

“… The status quo is not working.  Let’s put everybody’s ideas on the table.  If you’re in support of current public school system the way it is let’s talk about it, but I don’t think it’s working….

The reason for School Choice Week is because technology is moving so fast that most government bureaucracies can’t keep up with it.  One of them is education….

We have 500 cable channels and a one-size-fits all school system.”

Not having school choice has “been wrong for 50 years”.

“…  we have more choice at a 7-Eleven them in the way we educate our children. That’s crazy….”

School choice is becoming more of a bipartisan movement.

Democrats and school choice have a long, tangled relationship. Few know better than Trippi. He’s been deep inside Democratic politics since the 1970s, and his firm, Trippi & Associates, has advised National School Choice Week since its inception in 2010. So what’s he seeing on the ground now? A lot of Democrats coming around on school choice, especially at the local level, especially in inner cities.

Along with the trend of increased support for school choice, Trippi sees a libertarian president in the near future.

… Four important changes in American politics are creating this opportunity: a socially tolerant public, the effective end of the two-party system, disruptive technologies, and the growing popularity of politicians such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

“The younger generation is probably the most libertarian and sort of tolerant, and has more libertarian values, I’d say, than any generation in American history” …

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