Concluding the Second Machine Age

Second Machine Age1389195493With this post I come to the end of a public reading of Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s The Second Machine Age (previous posts).

Reflecting on this final chapter, I was more interested in SMA-themed stories from the past week than on the very short text itself.

Item: can museums use Watson to analyze art? The Center for the Future of Museums considers.

Item: Toyota workers are trying new ways to make themselves valuable in robot-rich environments.

Item: Brad Delong, a high-profile economist, presents two stark choices for a Second Machine Age world in the New York Times.

The optimistic view is that our collective ingenuity will create so many things for people to do that are so attractive to the rich that they will pay through the nose for them and so recreate a middle-class society.

The pessimistic view…: our future is one of human beings chained to desks and screens acting as numbed-mind cogs for Amazon Mechanical Turk, forever.

Item: economist Dean Baker doesn’t think education plus technology skills yields high income.

The patterns in the data show that inequality is not a question of the more-educated gaining at the expense of the less-educated due to inevitable technological trends. Rather, it has been a story in which a small group of especially well-situated workers — for example, those in finance, doctors, and top-level corporate executives — have been able to gain at the expense of almost everyone else.

On to the final chapter, 15, entitled “Technology and the Future (which is very different from Technology Is the Future)”. Continue reading

Posted in research topics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Peak higher education hits Bloomberg

Bloomberg logoBloomberg News caught on to the peak higher education idea this week.  They offer a different term, “the college contraction“, and add some excited language:

Small U.S. Colleges Battle Death Spiral

The article does a fine job of summarizing trends. For example, this passage hits enrollment decline, students shifting institutional types, and the queen sacrifice – in two sentences:

Dozens of schools have seen drops of more than 10 percent in enrollment, according to Moody’s. As faculty and staff have been cut and programs closed, some students have faced a choice between transferring or finishing degrees that may have diminished value.

Michael McDonald emphasizes institutional bond ratings, unsurprising given Bloomberg’s financial focus.  Note the post-recession upward spike from 2011 on:

Number of universities receiving Moody's downgrades Continue reading

Posted in research topics | Tagged | 2 Comments

Backing away from one queen sacrifice

In this season of colleges and universities performing queen sacrifices, one institution has backed away from its attempt.

The University of Southern Maine announced it would cut faculty, staff, and programs last month.  Student and faculty protests ensued (see Doug Henwood’s podcast for more on this). But the institution’s president changed her mind on Friday.

Why did president Kalikow reverse the sacrifice?    She explained herself in terms of faculty governance:

“The faculty made a good case that they had possibly better ideas… it’s best for USM for the faculty and administration to be more tightly involved in these crucial decisions.”

Lambert Strether (of the splendid Naked Capitalism blog) argues that student and faculty pressure caused the reversal.  Bad publicity on the national stage (i.e., Krugman) also played a role.

However, the ax is still out: Continue reading

Posted in research topics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Signs of peak higher education: the return of vo tech

How does America’s education system change, if we just passed peak higher ed?  One response might be a return to vocational technology curricula.

Consider: if the college world is starting to shrink, how will people learn skills for careers? The state of Minnesota has apparently decided to expand classic vo tech.  For example, one Democratic legislator makes the connection explicit:

“The leading voices have been the students and the business sector – students with their comments about crushing debt and job insecurity and industry with their complaints that they’re not able to fill the jobs that they currently have open,” said Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka and chair of the higher education committee.

It’s not just one state’s Democrats:

Although some state lawmakers have long advocated for vocational education, [Minnesota Commissioner of Higher Education Larry Pogemiller] said, Obama played a large role in raising its profile here.

shop class, 1960

Shop class, 1960

Again, education economics are crucial here. Continue reading

Posted in education and technology, future of education | 2 Comments

How to survive our robot overlords

Second Machine Age1389195493This week our reading of Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s The Second Machine Age advances to policy recommendations.  (If you haven’t followed along, here are all of the posts)

Chapter 13: Policy Recommendations

Here the authors focus on the short term, and their primary piece of advice: “For now the best way to tackle our labor force challenges is to grow the economy.” (207)  And they follow through on this score, outlining ways to improve the national (or global) economy: improve schools; boost entrepreneurship; make hiring and finding jobs more efficient; spend more on scientific research; repair infrastructure; try out new forms of taxation. Continue reading

Posted in future of education, research topics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Have we reached peak higher education?

InsideHigherEd_logoInside Higher Ed published my essay entitled Has Higher Ed Peaked?  In it I raise the idea of applying peak models to the entire sector of American higher education.  It’s a think piece, a provocation.

Yes, it sprang from last year’s blog post on that topic, and owes much to the generous commentators who helped think it through.

Mountain peak

(photo by Kevin Dooley)

Posted in future of education, research topics, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

Technology versus workers, or technology for workers?

Second Machine Age1389195493When will technology throw people out of work, and when can people use technology to improve their careers?  These are questions for this week’s reading from Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s The Second Machine Age (previous posts here).

As before, there are several stories from the past week’s news which bear on this book’s topics.

  • Item: some leading bankers urged automating setting of the LIBOR spread.  This key financial data has been the scene of still more misdeeds by major banks.  Perhaps, as with automated cars, an automated LIBOR would minimize humans’ capacity to cause damage.
  • Item: Bloomberg News surveys the idea of technological unemployment.  Randall references many of the authors cited in Second Machine Age, but not, curiously, Brynjolfsson and McAfee.

Now, in these two chapters Brynjolfsson and McAfee continue to explore their notions of technological bounty and economic spread, then move on to offer policy recommendations. Continue reading

Posted in research topics | Tagged | Leave a comment