Announcing the Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance « Computing Education Blog

Announcing the Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance « Computing Education Blog

The future of education requires Computer Science. This is an important acknowledgement by the NSF in the US. Hopefully we can get a similar buy-in at some point in Canada. In many schools Computer Science enrollment is going down at the same time that more and more fields require some form of programming skills. I think Computer Science education needs to be transformed into a broader service approach as with Mathematics where everyone is required to take some basic programming in university and college. But this will only work if courses are tailored to non-majors and to different fields who have different needs for how they use computers. It’s an exciting time for CS education.

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Light Reading: Space Elevators, Brain Uploading and more

I’ve been meaning to get this blog more active, “at least one post a week” I tell myself. But every time I want to write something it always end up being about Canadian Politics. I often start jotting down ideas and then get too picky about being sure and I end up never writing anything. So new rule, if I can’t think of a single new idea to write about I’ll post a short list of interesting articles I read this week and what’s interesting about them:

Reality is all Math : this is a really interesting side topic of philosophy of Math and Science that I think about in my spare time. What is the nature of the universe in relation the mathematics. Why is math so good at describing the universe? Is the universe a computer or is there some beyond computation in the way physics behaves? This article has some interesting news on the latest thoughts from quantum physics about the relation of information and computation to the nature of the universe.

It sounds like there is debate about how central information theory is to explaining the equations of quantum physics. The opinions seem to range from important to central to quantum physics is nothing but information theory. I like that last one, but we’ll have to see what they find. It looks like there is no risk of physicists completely explaining everything before we get workable large scale quantum computers. I am glad to see there is more discussion about why the universe we live in adheres to quantum weirdness rather than just accepting the highly accurate math without any explanation.

Upcoming Technology and Your Job : Andrew Leigh wrote this piece on his experience being that rare thing, a politician who pays attention to science (we could sure use more of those). He presents his list of five technologies that could revolutionize politics in the near future, but really they are disruptive technologies that would widely affect everyone in society. It’s a bit fast and loose but they are genuinely important technologies to keep an eye on, always being wary to look for wide agreement before believing any claims. I’m in favour of anyone who brings up space elevators as a viable technology. Apparently NASA has made some significant advances to powering remote devices with laser that could reduce the weight load for a space elevator cable dramatically.

His discussion of Machine Intelligence is also worth thinking about even if it is jumping the gun a bit. We aren’t exactly near to creating self aware machines or being able to upload our minds into computers. But it is becoming possible to think about computers with the complexity of a human mind so it’s worth thinking through the implications.

He makes the point that replicated minds would be a threat to many people’s job’s as a single person who’ve very good at what they do could farm themselves out to available in many places at once. I suppose this is true but I think there is a much more relevant short term concern of people being made redundant by technological advances before we get to the point of copied human consciousness.

This is one of the topics I’m hoping to blog about here in the future: understanding scientific and technological change from the point of view of the job loss metric. What is the long term viability of your current career? Could it be done by machines or through crowdsourcing the skills of many people? As Leigh points out, typists and human computers in the early 20th Century had a career which would not exist a few decades later. Many factory workers have already found that what they do is fully automatable. Many educators are now starting to wonder if everything they do really needs a live human being present. What is the value of repeating lectures when you could have videos of the best teachers in the world which can be reused over and over?

This is a simple way to make discussion of new advances concrete for the layman and also very relevant. Most people don’t really care about quantum computers, machine vision or robotics. But if you explain how what’s going on in these fields of research could affect people’s jobs down the road, or the jobs which may or may not be viable for their children in the future, then they’ll be more interested in gaining a high level understanding.

If you have other good examples of ongoing research that could make entire jobs obsolete that people should be more aware of let me know.

Women in Computer Science : this article is couple weeks old but it’s worth a repost. Maria Klawe used to be department head at my alma mater doctorum (yes, I made up that phrase, if you know latin then correct me) which has a strong focus on CS Education and making it accessible to womens. She’s done some amazing things changing the CS program at Harvey Mudd to make it more accessible and focussed on solving problems rather than programming for its own sake. They have got their graduation number of female students up to 40% which is stratospheric in Computer Science program terms.

Sure science is great, but how does it make you feel?

A new study indicates that high school teachers in the US overwhelmingly softsell evolution in biology class. Beyond the 13% of teachers that actively teach creationism, apparently around 60% of teachers encourage students to treat this foundation of modern science as a moral belief.  The ‘controversy’ around evolution has been exaggerated to such an extent that teachers who aren’t confident about their grounding in science back off on this essential concept in order to avoid controversy.

This does a real disservice to America’s youth and is one more reason that I just can’t see America continuing to dominate the world for a another generation. Every other schoolkid coming out of highschool and university around the world won’t have any doubts about the effectiveness of science and how to apply it.

Anyways, I hope that at least these teachers at least have the sense of fairness to ensure that their doubt filled, “its-not-true-unless-I-feel-comfortable-with-it” generation of students are aware of these other well known scientific ‘controversies’ which were, in their time, sometimes even more vitriolic. Suggest other controversies in the comments section:

  • Where is the centre of the solar system? Kepler and Gallileo say it’s the Sun. But his infallible eminence the Holy Father says it’s the Earth just like the Bible never mentions anywhere. What do you think? It is a little strange to imagine us going around the Sun when it clearly goes around us in the sky everyday isn’t it? Especially since the Moon does go around us. Ha ha ha, well, isn’t the world funny? You need to decide for yourself what you believe.
  • How do we ‘see’ the world around us? Why is it that we only see when our eyes are open? Is it because light is bouncing around the world off of every object and flows into our eyes? Can the thin layer of skin over our eyes really stop electromagnetic radiation that scientists say travelling at 300,000,000 metres for second? Some people, like Isaac Newton, thought that we actually emit light out of our eyes which instantly bounces off the world around us and lets us see. It seems to work right? And just imagine, if we all closed our eyes, then the room would go completely dark. That’s funny isn’t it. Well…maybe its true.  Isaac Newton was kinda smart.
  • Where does heat come from? Some scientists say that heat is the result of the vibration of tiny particles inside all matter. This motion is different than general movement. So this ruler doesn’t heat up just because I wave it in the air but because its ‘atoms’ are vibrating in tiny,tiny,tiny,tiny motions back and forth. Sounds a little complicated, huh? Well, there’s another theory that lots of people believe, who are now all dead. They thought heat is actually caused by an invisible liquid that is all around us called caloric. When more caloric flows into something it heats up and when the caloric flows out the object cools down. That’s why your hot cup of coffee will cool down over time as the caloric flows out into the room. That’s makes sense doesn’t it? Well, this theory has some problems explaining why water boils but hey, you need to make up your own minds. Why not try building your own calorimeter and spending your whole life trying to recreate established experiments so you can see it with your own eyes. That’s the only way you’ll know for sure.

And remember kids, there is no right answer here. The world is whatever you think it is or what your parents drill into your head it is since you were born. As long as they don’t sue me, I frankly don’t care.

Alright class, that’s all for today, tomorrow’s class will be the science of candy, “How do they get the caramel into the Caramilk bar?” Can Science provide an answer?

Never mind Darwinism, watch out for Relativism

The esteemed and wise ladies of the View have tipped off a bit of a firestorm, at least in my head, over their discussion about teaching evolution and creationism in school .  For me the most telling part of this is the fact that everyone, even Whoopi!, accepted the renaming of evolution as Darwinism.  This implies that evolution is some kind of cult of personality, that modern scientists are so enamored with Charles Darwin that they follow his theory of evolution slavishly like a religion.  In this way it is difficult to deny that Christians who don’t believe in evolution are simply not so fond of Darwin and have a different set of beliefs and so it is perfectly valid to teach both beliefs on an equal level.   Its seems a very sensible approach, Barbara Walter introduced the topic as Darwinism vs. Creationism and the other ladies all went right along with it as a valid description.

Having brought up this point, it occurs to me that there is a much more insidious belief system permeating the scientific community that doesn’t receive nearly enough attention.  I speak, of course, of Newtonianism and its more modern form, Relativism.  Did you know that modern physicists hold the absurd idea that all objects fall at the same rate regardless of what they are made up of or how heavy they are?  They would say that 1 ton of lead falls to earth at exactly the same rate as 1 ton of feathers or iron.  I find this whole notion truly strange, I feel gold is a more noble and pure substance and should speed to earth more quickly than lead.  And clearly, 1 ton of feathers is more airy and would not fall to earth as quickly as iron and gold.  Physicists will quibble that they mean this to be true in a vacuum once air resistance is accounted for but what they are really hiding is a love for Issac Newton’s pet theory of Mechanics that purports to explain that this strange belief actually holds true in the world.  All of physics of the past few centuries has been nothing but  a popularity contest between notable theoreticians. Scientific experiments serve mainly to justify the beliefs of one group over another.  In such a way the cult of Albert Einstein usurped Newtonianism in the 1920’s to lead us to a point today where almost all physicists are Relativists, so called after Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.  This belief system is actually consistent with Newtonianism, much as Christianity is with Judaism, but includes additional strange beliefs such as that time slows down as velocity increases and that the universe originated in a Big Bang about 12 Billion years ago.

Newtonianism, Darwinism and now Relativism are a threat to the fabric of our society.  These people are trying to tear down the binds of common sense and reason that hold our society together.  If we have to believe what we are told about the world from people who purport to know simply because they have observed the world in detail and seen that this is how it works then is it really belief?  The ‘truths’ these Relativisits are telling us are not ‘true for me’ and so why should I accept them?  I’m not going to teach Relativism to my children and have them worship at the feet of Einstein, Newton and Gallileo.  I and I alone will decide who’s feet they worship at.

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