The plans to get the entire planet online

We’ve all lost internet or cell connectivity and been aggravated about it. Perhaps you, like I, have dreamed about how cool it’d be to never need worry about where you go, that you’d always be online. Some of the tech titans actually have pretty lofty ideas to address this.

Mark Zuckerberg recently shared a white paper about plans to create a low-cost worldwide internet. Yes, for real. Know what this would mean for the majority of the world if it happened? The majority that, incidentally, misses out on major advantages and blessings of connectivity. In your mind draw a line between developing and under-developed countries where the separation means a significant difference of medical information, agricultural information, education, connectivity, data, transparency for government… the list goes on. When I think of what this could do to open access to education alone I get giddy.

It’s breathtaking how much more transformational global wifi would be for those in developing countries vis-a-vis people in first world countries. Tech humanitarianism at its best.

Clearly companies are incentivized for this. Google would have billions more for ad revenues and is another example of a company proposing something similar, but on a regional level – Google wants to high-fly blimps and satellites to beam down wifi for Africa.

There will be no stopping one or another of these types of plans from happening and pressure for it will build. I don’t expect we’ll wait forever, and the sooner the better.


Image courtesy Christian Science Monitor @

Gamify! 4 reasons why, from my Gamification “class” homework

Professor Kevin Werbach @ The University of Pennsylvania is one of the best distance learning teachers I’ve ever had the privilege to learn from. Our Gamification class is so good that this is the 2nd time I’ve taken it. I feel pretty solid understanding the ideas behind gamification, but it’s awesome to reiterate solid principles and Werbach’s model.

Here’s the small homework assignment due today (italics), followed by my response:

You are an employee of Cereals Incorporated, a large manufacturer of breakfast food products.  Your supervisor, Madison County, approaches you because she knows you recently took a course on gamification, which she has heard will revolutionize marketing.

She tells you that Cereals Inc. is about to release a new line of ready-to-eat breakfast pastries, and she wants to know whether to use gamification as part of the marketing strategy.  The breakfast pastries will be aimed at the 18-35 age bracket. Surveys show members of this demographic often skip breakfast because they don’t want to eat the typical cereals of their youth, and they are too active to cook their own breakfasts.  Market research indicates that the pastries are likely to appeal more to women than men by a 65%-35% ratio. Cereals Inc. has a 35% share of the overall breakfast food market, but only a 10% share of the fragmented ready-to-eat segment. 

Provide as many reasons as you can why gamification could be a useful technique to apply to the situation your manager has presented to you.  Explain why these reasons address the specific scenario provided.
  At this stage, focus on the problem rather than the solution.  In other words, describe the goals of the project, not the particular game elements or other techniques you plan to use.  We strongly encourage you to watch this week’s lecture segments before attempting this assignment.

Format: Maximum of 300 words.  A normal answer will be 1-2 paragraphs of text, and/or a set of bullet points.

My response:

Gamification could be incredibly useful to compliment marketing for the new line of ready-to-eat breakfast pastries. Here are four reasons why:

1. Our message could resonate with our demo’s lifestyle better than other choices. Because the 18-35 age bracket tends to be highly tech-oriented, gamification will resonate more than “traditional” media. Because they are active they’ll prefer to “do” gamification rather than passively consume traditional media.  This will also help demonstrate that Cereals Inc. and our new product line “gets them” and is a match for who they are.

2. We can truly engage our target demographic (demo) with our brand, and unobtrusively. By making breakfast food “fun”, we capture their attention and affiliation in a novel way that’s cool and unaligned with been-there-done-that cereals of their youth. Additionally we demonstrate respect for their busy lifestyle and facilitate their engagement in a way that meets their needs by leveraging technology that already accommodates their lifestyle vis-à-vis mobile, social networking or other similar.

3. We can tailor our message to what matters most to our female-dominant demo in a way that is superior to other methods. Women tend to be highly sociable. By gamifying we can meet their needs by connecting them with others, mostly women. They’ll share a common ground of enjoyable, interesting activities centered on their mutual interest of yummy foods for people on the go.

4. Gamifying marketing of the ready-to-eat breakfast pastries can grow more of our share of the ready-to-eat segment. Gamification typically has a beginning, middle and end, where participants often progress in an experience. This easily leads to other tie-ins and offshoots, like other ready-to-eat lines and even more of the breakfast food market as a whole.

Ready-to-eat breakfast pastries are the perfect line for gamification; let’s meet soon so I can provide details.

I’m thinking Google Glass may epitomize “disruptive” learning (& many other things)

Google released a full explainer video of Google Glass today. And wow. Here’s my initial take on why this could be a game-changer.

Imagine you have a sophisticated but tiny computer with you all the time. Actually many of us already do – smartphones! Google simply ups the ante. Now imagine having the benefits of the computer without needing to manhandle a device. Glasses you wear that project the “monitor” on to your eyes. You talk with your computer to direct it using Google’s version of Siri.

So learning, video, connecting, communicating – it’s all right there built-into your field of vision. I think the video below should be watched to really grasp the implications. The next stage would logically be contact lenses. Why would it not be? You control how much you use it, just like a phone, and it’s massively empowering to have knowledge and collaboration and communicating tools all rolled on-demand into your vision and control without needing to touch a thing. This is the beginning of great trend.

A MUST-watch (it’s long so I made this link start right where they demo Glass so you can see it in action & instantly “get it”):

Holy cow! IBM’s Watson has the knowledge of a medical school student, now the size of a pizza box. Implications:

OK, so pause and just think of the following not just in terms of medicine (which is amazing!) but also other fields: education, engineering, biology, etc…

IBM’s Watson kicked jeopardy champs’ butts, & we all got a cool quote out of it about welcoming our new computer overlords. But as we move on from this memeful moment in history and stopping thinking about it all, Watson’s still there, progressing, becoming inexorably smarter. It’s staggering to watch this unfold as Watson is now rolling out to the medical field. This is a bit of a tangential extension of my previous thoughts on Apple’s Siri.

According to some, health care pros make accurate treatment decisions only 50% of the time. Watson has shown the capability of being accurate in its decisions 90% of the time, although not yet near that level with cancer diagnoses. Patients need 100% accuracy of course, but making the leap from being right half the time to being right nine out of ten times will be a huge boon for patient care. The best part is the potential for distributing the intelligence anywhere via the cloud, right at the point of care. This could be the most powerful tool we’ve seen to date for improving care and lowering everyone’s costs via standardization and reduced error.

Watson has made huge strides in its medical prowess in two short years. In May 2011 IBM had already trained Watson to have the knowledge of a second-year medical student. In March 2012 IBM struck a deal with Memorial Sloan Kettering to ingest and analyze tens of thousands of the renowned cancer center’s patient records and histories, as well as all the publicly available clinical research it can get its hard drives on. Today Watson has analyzed 605,000 pieces of medical evidence, 2 million pages of text, 25,000 training cases and had the assist of 14,700 clinician hours fine-tuning its decision accuracy. Six “instances” of Watson have already been installed in the last 12 months.

Watson doesn’t tell a doctor what to do, it provides several options with degrees of confidence for each, along with the supporting evidence it used to arrive at the optimal treatment. Doctors using an iPad can input a new bit of information in plain text, such as “my patient has blood in her phlegm,” and within half a minute Watson will come back with an entirely different drug regimen that suits the individual. IBM Watson’s business chief Manoj Saxena says that 90% of nurses in the field who use Watson now follow its guidance. That’s remarkable.

Imagine several years from now combining Watson version 7, with Siri version 9. “Siri, I’m not feeling that well can you help me…?” (yes, probably.)

Over the past two years, IBM’s researchers have shrunk Watson from the size of a master bedroom to a pizza-box-sized server that can fit in any data center. And they improved its processing speed by 240%. Where will it be by 2020?
So coming full circle where will this (or, Watson’s cousins, similar programs) take us with education? Who knows. But imagine what this could do for third world countries as they access smart phones (coming soon.) It’s inspiring to imagine. We can only stay curious, hungry to learn, always learning, staying on top of trends and technology so we can help facilitate this. Let’s be ready.

Guess what Apple’s $137b, + new job listings for Siri, equals?

Yep this math is easy. Apple has BIG ambitions for Siri – & they should! “We spend so much time with our cellphones that having an effective personal assistant could be revolutionary,” said Andrew Ng, director of Stanford University’s AI Lab.

It’s fun to speculate about how a business will spend $137b, though ultimately it is indeed speculation. But job postings for Siri developers (as noted today by Wired) give a nice heads up about where some of that cash hoard could go.

It makes sense. Apple’s competitor Google seems to be shifting strategy toward some sort of Chrome/mobile combination, to prepare for hybrid, mobile PCs. Ever get frustrated at fumbling to type or navigate on a small phone?

Think of it – a personal omnipresent (artificial intelligence) intelligent assistant – convenient AND smart. It’s not a matter of if but when. It will be a big, big market, one that Apple has early-adopted… and has the resources to split wide open, with plenty to spare for the rest of their business.

Imagine the potential for learning and getting things done, to create and to create change. And imagine that potential when smart phones get into the hands of souls in the 3rd world…

Data indicate worldwide extreme poverty HALVED in the last two decades

Data tell us worldwide extreme poverty halved in the last two decades

There’s a vaccine for corruption, it’s called transparency. Open data sets. Day-light, you could call it. And technology is really turbo-charging this. It’s getting harder to hide if you’re doing bad stuff.

– Bono said this at a recent TED. I 101% agree. He’s spot-on. Policy + technology is fueling it, lives are improving.

Specifically, “extreme” poverty of $1.25/day has halved from 1990 – 2010. WOW. The battle is far from over and far from sure, but at this pace and other things equal extreme poverty (inflation adjusted) is gone by 2028.

In my professional life I look at trends every day and understand them well. This is a clearly a solid trend and something worth understanding, and technology plays a leading role. Most of my intent in writing on this site is to describe that intersection of technology and helping humanity.

10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, “The Lions”, have exemplified this trend and demonstrated positive proof of concept by the following:

100% debt cancellation, 3X aid, 10X foreign direct investment, unlocking 4X local resources …spent wisely (good local governance – meaning mitigated corruption) = cut childhood mortality by 1/3, 2X education completion rates…. and they’re on track for 2028.

Oof, that’s a lot of work and resources, is it worth it? Just ask a mother who loves her children as much as you love yours or as much as you love whoever you love most, look into their eyes and yes, we all know it’s worth it. Here’s to not giving up on good policy, and technology in humanitarianism.

worth it

Tech taking jobs? Let’s do *this* to be prepared

I believe that when we are into learning (for lack of a better way of expressing it) we are curious, explorative, and we progress in ways that provide economic value.

The part of me that is expert on economics and markets is fascinated by the chronic under/unemployment the US has been experiencing. Explanations abound and most major issues have multiple causes. I strongly believe that the private sector tightened belts after the 2008 economic crisis, precisely at a time of budding digital efficiencies. Hiring froze, workers were laid off, and smarter solutions were found for getting work done. We see this in stock valuations. It’s truly the “jobless recovery” and a profits-fiesta out there, using a “lean” (buzzword!) workforce.

Yes the machines – the robots and A.I. and computers – are coming and taking our jobs. They’re snatchin’ your people up. As it was 100 years ago with the agricultural revolution. Technology does that. New industries then arise, like when our ancestors moved to the cities and factory work.

We’re at the start of one of those seismic shifts, but experiencing the lag before the new industries are on the scene. Are we aware of and thinking about what’s happening, are we tracking it? How are we preparing ourselves and our children? It’s an important trend to follow.

As with many others, my job did not exist a decade ago or when I finished college. There’s a good chance each of us have amazing future opportunities in areas we can’t imagine now.

I think one of the best ways to prepare is to yes, in fact, learn learn learn. Be curious, be creating, be contributing. Keep up on trends. Be in the conversations. Make content. Do extra. Do pro-bono. Whatever. Grow.

Scientific American is running a great piece Yes, Robots Are Coming for Our Jobs—Now What? by one of the authors of the book Race Against The Machine (which I thoroughly enjoyed.)

A couple points the authors make are, first:

The first [of winners in this new economy] is skilled versus less skilled workers, as a result of what’s called skill-biased technical change. As technology advances, educated workers tend to benefit more, and workers with less education tend to have their jobs automated. It’s not a perfect correlation, but there is a correlation.

So be educated. And I’d add be thoughtful about which education you get, i.e. don’t go get some degree just for the sake of a degree, but design your learning to be tailored to who you are and to marketable passions. Second:

We need to unleash entrepreneurs to find more places where humans have capabilities that machines don’t have, and where the two of them working together can create more value than just the machines alone could—what we call racing with the machine. Just as they did a century ago when people were no longer needed on the farm, people came up with whole new industries. We’re not doing that as well as we could be and have to try to jump-start that.

I love that. Let’s all develop a healthy fascination about the world and position ourselves to be ready to be part of the as-yet unknown, new industries to come.

How many planets exist? As the sand of Earth’s beaches…

So, fun fact for the day!

There are at least between 1/4 – 1/2 trillion stars in our galaxy & scientists (Caltech) now estimate there’s at least 1 planet per star, possibly many more.

+ There are about 1/2 trillion galaxies in the known universe, each with about as many stars and planets as ours. The cosmos & galaxies can be very disparate so these are pretty rough averages but models the right neck of the woods.

Multiply “hundreds of billions” by “hundreds of billions” and you get a fairly unfathomable number. It turns out to be somewhere around the number of grains of sand on all the world’s beaches … that’s how many planets are in the observable universe.


There’s a lot of sand, and that’s a ton of planets. Oh but here’s where things get really fun. A significant portion of them—perhaps 1/3 or more—are earth-like terrestrial planets. This doesn’t even count “rogue planets“, free-floaters ejected from their solar systems and lost to utter the darkness of space. There are at a minimum twice as many of those so two times the world’s beaches and potentially 100,000 to each 1 star. And the exciting science of extremophiles has begun teaching us that they could harbor life as easily as could the hidden oceans inside Jupiter or Saturn’s – no sunlight required thank you!


The very best part of all? These are approximations for the observable universe only. Like, potentially just scratching the surface. Many scientists believe that at a bare minimum all of this is actually just a teeny tiny corner under the couch of the vast expanse of reality. Or, as one NASA site puts it, we can only observe a finite volume of the Universe. All we can truly conclude is that the Universe is much larger than the volume we can directly observe.

So next time you go to the beach bring home a jar full of sand to serve as a reminder of all that is out there: the unimaginable number of planets that likely includes a great number just like ours… and whatever they contain.


Explaining the hard stuff – 10 tips

We’re spending time today at my office discussing how to explain or present difficult/complex content. A colleague discovered this gem on the topic by Dr. Deborah Mowshowitz, Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University.

Having taught complex subject matter going on 8 years, I have a grip on all of these to one degree or another but am weaker in a few and it’s wonderful to see them listed out. Dr. Mowshowitz knows her stuff and it’s a great review or primer if you’re new to teaching hard stuff. Some highlights:

1. Improving Clarity: Avoid pronouns and use nouns instead

2. If you don’t know the answer, admit it, stop, look it up if possible or get back to them.

3. Headline what you’re saying

4. Be on the look out to circumvent sources of confusion and proactively draw attention to/address them

5. Remember to think at their level & consider keeping things simpler, general if needed

6. Probe first, to pinpoint what students don’t understand

7. Chunk it in small bites then don’t continue until A) you’re sure they understand what you explained B) they need the rest

8. Don’t start too far back with the background material

9. Don’t assume too much – it’s not as obvious to them (similar to #5)

10. Figure out what they don’t know by collecting questions, “the old card trick” and asking questions (more relevant for teaching in a physical classroom)

I would add from my experience the following which also helps me a bunch:

  • Connect with relateable analogies (so know your target audience/students) & personal stories
  • Slow it down
  • Common words
  • Repeat
  • Formative assessments
  • Visual if possible
  • Make them teach it back to you
  • Application assignment