Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Human Side of Moore's Law

Really enjoyed reading this article by journalist Bob Cringely (shared by Vishu Singh on

Cringely asserts that while the performance of personal computers has increased a millionfold over the last 30 years (following Moore's Law), it takes about as much time (30 years) - one human generation - for waves of technological innovation to be completely absorbed by our culture.

He goes on to talk about the impact on education of the "empowerment" that these technologies have brought about among today's younger generation.
"We've reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools."
A few more interesting excerpts that resonate well with what I figure is going on in education today the world over, at varying speeds - in India perhaps slower than in others, but happening nonetheless.

"Google is the best tool for an aging programmer because it remembers when we cannot. Dave Winer, back in 1996, came to the conclusion that it was better to bookmark information than to cut and paste it. I'm sure today Dave wouldn't bother with the bookmark and would simply search from scratch to get the most relevant result. Both men point to the idea that we're moving from a knowledge economy to a search economy, from a kingdom of static values to those that are dynamic. Education still seems to define knowing as more important than being able to find, yet which do you do more of in your work? And what's wrong with crimping a paragraph here or there from Cringely if it shows you understand the topic?

This is, of course, a huge threat to the education establishment, which tends to have a very deterministic view of how knowledge and accomplishment are obtained - a view that doesn't work well in the search economy. At the same time K-12 educators are being pulled back by No Child Left Behind, they are being pulled forward (they probably see it as pulled askew) by kids abetted by their high-tech Generation Y (yes, we're getting well into Y) parents who are using their Ward Cleaver power not to maintain the status quo but to challenge it.

This is an unstable system. Homeschooling, charter schools, these things didn't even exist when I was a kid, but they are everywhere now. There's only one thing missing to keep the whole system from falling apart - ISO certification.


Well reputation still holds in education, though its grip is weakening. I know kids from good families who left high school early with a GED because they were bored or wanted to enter college early. Maybe college is next.

MIT threw videos of all its lecture courses - ALL its lecture courses - up on the web for anyone to watch for free. This was precisely comparable to SGI (remember them?) licensing OpenGL to Microsoft. What is it, then, that makes an MIT education worth $34,986? Is it the seminars that aren't on the web? Faculty guidance? Research experience? Getting drunk and falling in the Charles River without your pants? Right now it is all those things plus a dimensionless concept of educational quality, which might well go out the window if some venture capitalist with too much money decides to fund an ISO certification process not for schools but for students.

The University of Phoenix is supposedly preparing a complete middle and high school online curriculum available anywhere in the world. I live in Charleston, SC where the public schools are atrocious despite spending an average of $16,000 per student each year. Why shouldn't I keep my kids at home and online, demanding that the city pay for it?

Because that's not the way we do it, that's why.

Well times are changing."

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