Universities of the Future: Education, Jobs, and Drugs
BY PEADER COYLE
Nick Bostrom, a philosopher with a scientific background, serves on the faculty of the Future of Humanity Institute at the James Martin School at Oxford University. He has written on artificial intelligence, transhumanism, cognitive enhancement, and cataclysmic scenarios for the distant future. Given the current economic malaise, Nick is also very thoughtful of the role of the university, its relationship to the labor market, and the impact of cognitive enhancers on the student body.
You have spoke about a need to cultivate a big picture understanding of the world as a source of competitive advantage. This was intended as an antidote to the STEM fetishising that is a part of contemporary political discourse. Do you have any recommendations on how universities could cultivate this, or is this a case of temperament?
Nick: Universities could facilitate sampling courses from different areas, allowing students to combine many smaller pieces of study into adegree. There would have to be some restrictions, but the more flexibility that could be built into the system, the better. I think it wouldalso be desirable if the exam system could be set up in such a way that students who fail or do poorly in an exam could re-sit it withouta penalty. With such a failsafe, exams could be made harder and students could still feel more emboldened to experiment with differenttopics. I should also say that many STEM subjects provide excellent tools for thinking of big picture questions; for example, computerscience and economics.
Do you have any views on what online video learning offers students of this generation? The AI class by Stanford was an extremelyinteresting experiment, even opening up a Stanford education to some students in Afghanistan.
Nick: For many topics, it would be quite feasible for a motivated student to learn on their own, with or without formal enrolment in on-campus oronline courses. One could just pick up a textbook or two and start reading and doing the exercises. Much about getting an education,however, is not about learning the subject but about getting accredited. If online courses gain in prestige, they might start being betterable to substitute as accreditation providers. A third function of the university is to provide a social experience. It’s harder to see how theonline course could fully substitute for this in the near future. You've spoken a lot about cognitive enhancers.
Do you have any views about whether students should use these? If so which ones doyou feel are promising?
Nick: Alleged cognitive enhancers range from caffeine to nicotine chewing gum to pharmaceuticals like Modafinil or Ritalin. Some individualsmight benefit from one or another of these, but I’m sceptical that there is any one thing on the market today that would benefit almosteverybody. Getting enough sleep and some exercise, on the other hand, seem universally beneficial.
Nick’s comments highlight the potential for online learning tool and other mechanisms to erode the centrality of our formal university system. However, these are often most taken advantage of by those who already have attained a certain degree of education and knowledge. At the same time, issues such as accreditation and social environment are very difficult to replace or substitute. Those advocating a radical shift towards a market-based model of education will need to consider these factors as they innovate and seek to serve the broader public education market.
You can learn more about Professor Nick Bostrom on his homepage.
Peader Coyle is a Researcher with the Hybrid Reality Institute, a research and advisory group that focuses on human-technology co-evolution, geotechnology and innovation.
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity
- Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
- And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
- If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist
Chicagoland is Obamaland
Image: The Pudding
Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.
Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).
The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.
The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.
How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."
‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'
Image: The Pudding
Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.
That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.
Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.
The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.
The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".
Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.
Royals and (other) mortals
Image: The Pudding
There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.
Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.
But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.
Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).
Freaks and angels
The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.
It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.
Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.
As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...
Average waiting time for hitchhikers in Ireland: Less than 30 minutes. In southern Spain: More than 90 minutes.
- A popular means of transportation from the 1920s to the 1980s, hitchhiking has since fallen in disrepute.
- However, as this map shows, thumbing a ride still occupies a thriving niche – if at great geographic variance.
- In some countries and areas, you'll be off the street in no time. In other places, it's much harder to thumb your way from A to B.
Technology may soon grant us immortality, in a sense. Here's how.
- Through the Connectome Project we may soon be able to map the pathways of the entire human brain, including memories, and create computer programs that evoke the person the digitization is stemmed from.
- We age because errors build up in our cells — mitochondria to be exact.
- With CRISPR technology we may soon be able to edit out errors that build up as we age, and extend the human lifespan.
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