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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Could IBM stop lying about Watson already? I guess not

IBM needs to stop lying. It is getting hard to take. Today alone I saw two outrageous lies about how Watson will save us all.

Here is the first article:


Its headline is:

Big Data: Will We Soon No Longer Need Data Scientists?

As you can guess, the answer is we won’t because Watson.

IBM, for example, believes that it can offer a solution to the skills shortage in big data by cutting out the data scientists entirely and replacing (or supplementing) them with its Watson natural language analytics platform.


I want to keep this simple, so I will say what I was doing today. I didn’t sleep well last night because of a phenomenon called alcohol rebound. I only had 2 drinks, but I had them 2 hours before bedtime  and this caused a rebound at 2 am which kept me up for hours. This has only started to happen to me in the last year or two, so I Googled “alcohol rebound in old people”  and found a long list of articles none of which were any help. I could ask my doctor but I am guessing he hasn’t memorized the literature and doesn’t know the data. But Watson can do it right? Watson wouldn't even understand my question much less my needs and it would not be able to extrapolate from data that might or might not be there. To put this another way, Google can’t answer most of the questions I pose to it and Watson is no better.  Natural language processing is not very good yet, no matter what all the “AI” deep learning people say. Intelligent people are always better to talk to than any AI system we currently envision.

These days we have large life insurance company as a client for one of our data analytics courses. So I imagined a  question they might ask Watson. “What is is the worst policy we could write?” They might ask that. Would Watson even know what “worst” meant in this context? Would it understand all the parameters relevant to determining an answer? I assume this company’s data scientists could answer this while it is safe to assume that Watson wouldn’t even know what the question meant. But this doesn’t stop them from advertising more nonsense about Watson. I had had enough.

And then I saw this:


The headline is

“C” is for cognitive learning
IBM and Sesame Street collaborate to create the next generation of tailored learning tools. This new technology venture combines Sesame Street’s expertise in education and storytelling with IBM Watson technologies.



And what piece of brilliance will Watson bring to education?Apparently they are just hopping on the personalized learning bandwagon, which means we will teach the stuff we are making you learn by tutoring you to get better test scores when we see what answers you got wrong. So, Watson will change learning, or maybe not so much. Watson will help kids who can’t read well by seeing what words they have trouble with and helping the kids practice. I have news for IBM. People can already do that. Good parents and teachers always do that. Is IBM’s view of education that all kids will have everything they do analyzed and then shoved at them again in another form because Watson is good at analyzing data? 

The problem in education is simple enough folks. It is boring. It is irrelevant to the interests and needs of most kids. They don’t need to learn classical Greek, or ancient history. They should be encouraged to learn what they want to learn. Could we do something radical and ask kids what they to learn how to do and then them help then learn to do it? We could, but then if we submitted the answer to Watson it wouldn’t understand a thing the kids responded. (What would it do with “I want to be a fireman?”)


(As an aside, people who read me regularly know that I am a terrible typist. Apple’s Pages does automatic spell correct and is very bad at doing that. But today it corrected my misspelling of Watson to Satan on two different occasions. Maybe Apple’s AI is smarter than Watson’s.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Thank You Indiana for reminding me why the government has no idea what it is doing in education: Knowledge of AI now a requirement for Indiana 8th graders

I was a a professor of Computer Science for 35 years. But, I didn’t learn enough about the subject apparently. I would not be able to pass the new Indiana State standards in computer science for eighth grade.

Here they are: 

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 2.19.33 PM


I will now attempt to deal with these questions (which I assume will be in the form of a multiple choice test that signifies nothing other than memorization.)   I will assume, for now, that Indiana really wants answers, so here I go:

6-8 CD1: (demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between hardware and software)

Hardware is the box (phone, iPad, Macbook). Software is the stuff you type and the things you click on. 

Is that the answer Indiana? If it is, then all you are doing is teaching the names of something kids already know about. If it isn’t and you want some more complex answer, you will be out of luck, and are engaging in a pointless exercise.

6.8 CD2: (identify routine hardware and software problems that occur daily)

Sorry but I don’t know what this question is asking. Are they trying to teach that sometimes you need to re-boot your machine? Otherwise I have no answer.

6.8 CD3: (describe major component of computer systems and networks)

Sorry Indiana, I can’t answer that question. Why not? Because I have no idea what it is about. Is “router” one of the answers? How about “printer”? I haven’t a clue. But I am sure, Indiana, that you can make kids memorize a list of terms and then announce great results about Indiana kids and computer science.

6.8 CD4. (how is machine intelligence different than human intelligence)

This is, of course my favorite question. AI was has been my field since the mid 60s. (For all I know. I might be one the 5 oldest people in AI at this point.) And, Indiana, I cannot answer it. Why not?

Describe what distinguishes human from machines: 

A machine is what I am using to type this. I cannot type on people. I used a machine to make toast this morning. No human I know can make toast. I drove from the airport to my home yesterday. I used this machine called a car. Even it was an AI car it would not confuse me. I know it isn’t human.

The difference between how machines and humans communicate:

Humans talk to each other. Sometime they type to each other. Some computers say stuff to you such as “can’t find file”  or "a new update is available." But they don’t fool me. The machine is not saying this actually. It is displaying something a human wrote when the software (or was it the hardware?) was made that I am using. The machine is not talking to me even if it used a human voice to do this. I am not delusional. Apparently Indiana is.

Siri, chatbots, Watson, and every other so called AI is doing the same thing: giving voices to something a human wrote, or, in extreme cases giving voices to something some software found and making believe that it is talking to you and giving you an answer. This is not machine intelligence. It is a game that various companies are playing to make you think these machine are intelligent. Is that the right answer Indiana?

Describe how computers use models of intelligent behavior?

At least this question isn’t asinine. I have been working on it for more than 50 years. It is an important question. I am willing to believe that there is not a single person in the entire state of Indiana who knows the answer. Wait. I remembered that one my students is a professor at Indiana University. He knows what the answer is: "we haven’t really figured it out yet." Guess they didn’t ask his advice.

Good job Indiana. You have made school even stupider than it already is.







Sunday, April 17, 2016

Former slaves studying Latin and Greek; nothing has changed

I am in the middle of reading a book called “The Black Calhouns,” written by Gail Buckley. It is a story of one African American family starting in the times of slavery and going to the present. I was not reading this book because of my interest in education, but, as often happens to me, I became infuriated by something I read that related to education.

The book says that in October 1870, the Georgia State Legislature provided money to educate “Negroes” at schools set up for this purpose, but there was “widespread belief that this would not work.” So, they held examinations, “overseen by a board from the old slaveholding class.” A previous Georgia governor said: “I know these Negroes. Some of these pupils were my slaves. I know that they can acquire the rudiments of an education, but they cannot go beyond. The are an inferior race, and for that reason, we had a right to hold them as slaves, and I mean to attend these examinations to prove that we are right.”

After the examinations, the Atlanta Constitution wrote: “we are not prepared to believe what we witnessed:  To see colored boys and girls fourteen and eighteen years of age, reading Greek and Latin, and demonstrating correctly problems in Algebra and Geometry, and seemingly understanding what they demonstrated appears almost wonderful.”

I was taken aback by this since I wasn’t really thinking about the idea that what upsets me most about education has been going on that long. They were teaching the newly freed slaves to read Latin and Greek and to do Algebra. Why?

If you asked me to design a curriculum for these children it would have had two main principles. First, it would have offered choices. I have never understood why every child must learn the same stuff. Second, the choices would relate to the real possibilities of the future lives these children faced. Were these kids going to become scholars in the Classics? Were they going to ever use algebra for any reason?  I would have taught them how to open a business, how to run their own farm, how to fight for their political and economic rights, how to think critically about life decisions they might actually have to make, how to become articulate, how to get along.

I hadn’t realized that today’s silliness was going on in those days as well. Today, for example, in New York City, there is a charter school that seems to be everywhere with lots of funding, called Success Academy. When you look at their website the faces of kids that they show are almost all non-white. The curriculum that they offer might as well be the one offered in 1870 to the former slave children. It is the same nonsense.

What was going on then, and what is going on now, is the attempt to prove that these kids can go to Harvard and become scholars and Supreme Court Justices. I am sure that some of them can. But how many? One percent of them? Not that many even.

We have held the collective insane belief, and now I realize that this belief has been around a long time, that the way we help poor children to live better lives is to treat them as if they were very wealthy children who may not actually ever have to work and for whom the world is wide open to them.

Poor children should be treated the same as rich children. Sounds good. Sounds democratic. A lovely ideal. Because we want to believe this, we have closed up vocational schools and made education all about preparing for college.

Let me remind the people who do this, that going to college is just as likely to leave a student in massive debt and with no ability to work because he was convinced to become a literature major.

Even in 1870 we were preparing children to be scholars. Why were they learning Latin and Greek? The answer was that all the “important books” were written in Latin and Greek, but that was never the real answer. Even in 1870 there were books written in English. And, although we don’t make every child learn Latin and Greek any more, we do still make every child algebra. (And, I might add that my daughter was made to learn Latin, so this still goes on.)

The time has come to get over this nonsense. We can offer hundreds of choices and let kids decide how they want to proceed. The argument against this has always been “but if we don’t expose them to Chemistry, how will they know if they like it?” How many chemists are there? Must we expose every kid to every scholarly field? All it does is create trouble. I was “exposed” to mathematics for sixteen years in school. I liked it. But it was a complete waste of time. When I learned what mathematicians actually did all day, I realized that this profession made no sense for me. But I was never taught that and so I kept studying it because I liked it.

It is time to let kids know what job options exist for them and help them make good choices while also teaching to think hard, make life decisions, learn to speak and write effectively, and generally learn how the world around them works.

I have no information on this, but I am pretty sure that the former slave kids did not go on to be scholars. Neither will any more than 1% of the graduates of Success Academy. There really aren’t that many jobs for scholars.

It is time to become realistic about what we teach in school. We can offer a scholar track too but people need to know what scholars do all day and how may jobs there are for scholars. We simply have to stop being stupid about education.



Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A history test from AP; test your ability to stay awake



Below is an article from Sunday’s New York Times Education Supplement. I am simply posting it here. My point is simple enough. Why do we have tests like this? Whose interests do they serve? Who remembers what is “taught” by them?  And, how do they possibly relate to how a student will do in college? (Actually that last one I can answer: college is full of tests like this as well, at least bad college course are.)  No wonder students are bored to death in school and can't remember what they "learned."

U.S. History, Revised
Roundly drubbed as left-wing anti-Americanism, the framework for the Advanced Placement course in United States history was recast for 2015-16. Here are some of the practice questions that were revised to address issues.  


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Refer to these quotes when answering questions 1 to 3.
1The statements of both Truman and Reagan share the same goal of ...
restraining communist military power and ideological influence.
creating alliances with recently decolonized nations.
re-establishing the principle of isolationism.
avoiding a military confrontation with the Soviet Union.
2Truman issued the doctrine primarily to ...
support decolonization in Asia and Africa.
support U.S. allies in Latin America.
protect U.S. interests in the Middle East.
bolster non-communist nations, particularly in Europe.
3Reagan’s speech best reflects which of the following developments in U.S. foreign policy?
Caution resulting from earlier setbacks in international affairs.
Assertions of U.S. opposition to communism.
The expansion of peacekeeping efforts.
The pursuit of free trade worldwide.
pastedGraphic_1.png
Adolph Treidler/Collection of Library of Congress
Refer to this image when answering questions 4 to 6.
4The poster was intended to ...
persuade women to enlist in the military.
promote the ideals of republican motherhood.
advocate for the elimination of sex discrimination in employment.
convince women that they had an essential role in the war effort.
5The poster most directly reflects the ...
wartime mobilization of U.S. society.
emergence of the United States as a leading world power.
expanded access to consumer goods during wartime.
wartime repression of civil liberties.
6Which of the following represents a later example of the change highlighted in the poster?
Feminist challenges to sexual norms in the 1970s.
The growing protests against U.S. military engagements abroad in the 1970s.
The increasing inability of the manufacturing sector to create jobs for women in the 1970s and 1980s.
The growing popular consensus about appropriate women’s roles in the 1980s and 1990s.
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Jacob A. Riis/Bettmann, via Corbis
Refer to this image when answering questions 7 to 9.
7Conditions like those shown in the image at right contributed most directly to which of the following?
The passage of laws restricting immigration to the United States.
An increase in Progressive reform activity.
A decline in efforts to Americanize immigrants.
The weakening of labor unions such as the American Federation of Labor.
8The conditions shown in the image depict which of the following trends in the late 19th century?
The growing gap between rich and poor.
The rise of the settlement house and Populist movements.
Increased corruption in urban politics.
The migration of African-Americans to the North in the late 19th century.
9Advocates for individuals such as those shown in the image would have most likely agreed with which of the following perspectives?
The Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson was justified.
Capitalism, free of government regulation, would improve social conditions.
Both wealth and poverty are the products of natural selection.
Government should act to eliminate the worst abuses of industrial society.
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Refer to this quote when answering questions 10 to 12.
10Which of the following aspects of Muir’s description expresses a major change in Americans’ views of the natural environment?
The idea that wilderness areas are worthy subjects for artistic works.
The idea that wilderness areas serve as evidence of divine creation.
The idea that government should preserve wilderness areas in a natural state.
The idea that mountainous scenery is more picturesque and beautiful than flat terrain.
11 Muir’s ideas are most directly a reaction to the ...
increasing usage and exploitation of western landscapes.
increase in urban populations, including immigrant workers attracted by a growing industrial economy.
westward migration of groups seeking religious refuge.
opening of a new frontier in recently annexed territory.
12Muir’s position regarding wilderness was most strongly supported by which of the following?
Members of the Populist movement.
Urban political bosses.
American Indians living on reservations.

Preservationists concerned about overuse of natural resources.