Weather or Not: The Technology Behind Weather Forecasting

Photo of weather satellite orbiting Earth.A recent paper published in Nature shows a correlation between the surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean and US east coast temperatures. The hypothesis is that sea surface temperature anomalies called the Pacific Extreme Pattern can predict east coast temperatures and rainfall up to 50 days in advance. In order to make meaningful and current predictions, this means that the data needs to be collected real time, which requires devices that can measure and transmit. This is a great example of Internet of Things thinking to be able to gather and utilize data without sampling by humans, especially in the middle of the ocean. I wondered about other weather activities that were being assisted by technology, so I did some research.

Radar

Radar has been used for many years to predict weather. Radar works by sending out radio waves that bounce off of dust, precipitation, or ice particles in the atmosphere. By measuring and comparing the strength of the signal going out and the return signal, forecasters can see the location and intensity of an oncoming storm. Simple radar, however, leaves meteorologists blind to the actual shape of an object being measured so they cannot differentiate between a raindrop and a hailstone. Dual polarization technology helps give that raindrop shape so that forecasters can better predict what is coming and what the precipitation rate will be. Another technology being tested is phased array radar. Traditional Doppler radar systems scan the skies in slices until they have scanned the entire atmosphere. This takes four to six minutes. A phased array system sends out multiple signals simultaneously and can scan the atmosphere in under a minute. This could make a big difference when providing storm warnings.

Of course, all of this probing and sampling generates large amounts of data so the meteorologist also needs to rely on his friendly information professional to sort it and create visualizations that convey the information.

Satellites

Forecasters also rely on satellites to monitor weather patterns around the globe. This provides a wider view of the weather and can predict movement with greater accuracy. A new satellite, called a Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R Series or GOES-R is set to launch this year on October 13. According to officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “The weather imaging capabilities of GOES-R are like going from a black and white television to HDTV.” This will expand our ability to monitor and predict weather.

Computer Modeling

Computer models are a mathematical way of predicting the future based on what has happened in the past. In terms of weather, a model can forecast actual conditions based on patterns that have already occurred. The more historical data is available, the better the potential forecast. Your friendly television meteorologist uses a combination of computer models and current weather patterns to predict tomorrow’s weather. As noted above, these models require an information professional to sort the data and eliminate anomalies that would give false predictions. Because of the large amount of past data available, some of this modeling is done on supercomputers that can process the information quickly and efficiently.

Thoughts

There are a lot of exciting developments in meteorological science and we are getting better at accurately predicting the weather and providing more lead time in front of damaging storms such as tornadoes and hurricanes. With this work we should be able to predict with better accuracy whether to leave the house with an umbrella or get to the nearest storm shelter.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Accessibility Through Technology

Photo of assistive device on a computer keyboard.In previous blog posts I talked about ways technology assists different people. Lately I have been thinking about how technology enhances accessibility. A number of breakthroughs in the last few years allow alter-abled people to participate in activities many of us take for granted. I will highlight just a few products and I hope that you will share others that you are familiar with.

Lights, Camera, Action

Sony introduced Entertainment Access Glasses in the fall of 2012. Regal Cinemas placed them in theaters nationwide in 2013. This is a wireless device that connects to the digital server and projector. The glasses aid hearing impaired patrons by projecting closed captioning using holographic technology and aid the vision impaired with an audio assist function.

The Access Glasses look like normal glasses, although larger, but they broadcast closed captioning in the wearer’s field of vision. The wearer gets private assistance without disturbing other theatergoers. I know people who use this device and it really does help them to take part in social gatherings such as a night at the movies. This also sets the theater chain apart and allows them to attract additional customers for a small investment.

Classroom Accessibility Technology

There are several products that help low vision students in the classroom, but Dolphin SuperNova integrates a number of technologies into one package. It can be a screen reader with audible voice; it can magnify a screen; and it can connect to an interactive whiteboard in the classroom linked to a student’s laptop, allowing them to magnify text or employ the screen reader to deliver the information audibly. This is a great way to assist low vision students. Of course, as an instructor I need to be diligent in designing lessons and material that can be interpreted by screen readers and magnifiers such as SuperNova.

Low Tech Assistive Solutions

There are some decidedly low tech aids for young people with sensory processing issues or autism or attention deficit disorder. It is difficult to sit still in a classroom when learning is interrupted by the need to move. Therapy Seat Cushion is an inflatable cushion with soft rubber spikes on one side so children can sit in one place but still get the sensory stimulation they need. It allows the child to focus on their learning and not on their need for movement. It can also be overinflated to create an uneven surface for balancing. Similarly, the FootFidget is designed to allow a child to move their feet quietly. I know several adults who could benefit from these products so I am not certain they are just for kids. These are great solutions that fill an often overlooked need.

Thoughts

These are just a few products that allow people with different abilities to thrive in and enjoy their world. I would love to extend this topic to future posts so let me know what accessibility products you are excited about.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Why You Need to be a 5 Tool Player to be Successful

MultitaskingThe following guest blog is provided by alumni Thomas Failor, who is speaking from the perspective of an IT practitioner. AIM graduates practice in a wide variety of disciplines, both technical and non-technical.

You might think that when you graduate with your AIM degree, you’ll be working in a purely IT role, either in engineering, IT development or service delivery, or otherwise focused on a single thread type of task. You also might think that you’ll only work in a technical role or never have to talk to pesky customers again. But that’s not always the case.

With the professional baseball season just underway, I am reminded of an analogy between sports and business that I’ve found valuable. Most companies, even very large ones, expect a knowledge worker with an advanced degree to be what in baseball is referred to as a “5 Tool Player.” In the big leagues, a 5 Tool Player can hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, throw for distance, and field the ball. The broad technology field is no different. Here’s my take on the 5 Tools you need to thrive on the technical side of business.

To be a 5 Tool Player in IT or elsewhere, you must be able to listen with intent, advocate for your customer, consult, collaborate, and communicate, both internally and externally, to be effective.

Listen with Intent

This is pure Steven Covey and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Don’t listen with the intent only to reply. Stop trying to think up your next reply while your associate is still speaking. It’s a challenge, but it’s so much more effective to listen with the intent to understand than just to come up with an answer quickly. Try counting to five before you answer, and preface your response with a validation of the other party’s statement, like “You bring up a good point” or, “That’s a great question.”

Advocate for the Customer

Some people refer to this as the “Voice of the Customer” or VOC in Six Sigma. After you listen with intent, you need to express the VOC or advocate for your customer to get your project done, solution approved, capital expenditures funded, or what have you. Promoting understanding and empathy by advocating for the customer makes you much more effective, (especially in the eyes of the customer), but also demonstrates to the teams you collaborate with your understanding of requirements when it comes time to dig deep into a project. If you fail to listen, you really can’t advocate and you waste business cycles trying to get things like requirements approved and your project moving forward.

Consult

Flex your technical muscles, and provide advice and solutions sets. This is usually the part of our work that we love the most but get to do the least. The truth is that the other 5 Tools get you to your consultation role more effectively. Consulting isn’t all about what you know. Often it’s about providing a range of solutions as a set of choices to your customer. In general, I’ve found that customers hate to be “sold” but they love to “choose.” (Credit: Jeffrey Gitomer)

In offering multiple consultative choices, you increase the likelihood that your customer will choose one of them and thus move your project/process/program forward without delay.

Collaborate

Play nicely with others. One of the pitfalls encountered by some brilliant technical people is that they’ve spent much of their career “heads down” perfecting their craft. Surely that’s important, but if you aren’t able to work with diverse groups with widely ranging technical skills, you only make more work for yourself. Project managers and program managers who may not have a technical background likely depend on you to translate and communicate with your friends on the development/engineering team and drive issues to resolution. I do this type of work every day. If you are able to gather stakeholders, project managers, and solution providers in a room and act as a collaboration facilitator, your work gets done more quickly and you’ve made allies for next time.

Communicate

This is the Achilles heel of many technical practitioners. If we can’t convey our analyses in writing, pitch an idea to an audience without reading 20 slides of PowerPoint word-for-word, or expectations with a customer, you’ll likely be less effective. Don’t depend on your manager or the department extrovert to communicate for you. Speaking and writing effectively are learned skills. Being able to communicate an idea clearly gets your budget approved, a new headcount, more servers, etc.

I have to use the 5 Tools every day to be effective in my work as the liaison between IT and the many needs of the business. It’s all very good to be a highly technical player, and if you work specifically within software development, networking, or security you may be able to get by without work days like mine, but it’s not very likely. Businesses depend on technology leaders to deliver technology solutions, but they also depend on you to be a 5 Tool Player.

 

Thomas Failor photograph.Guest blogger Thomas Failor (’14) is a senior program manager with T-Mobile in the In-Store Technology and Front Line Systems group, part of the Sales Operations Center of Excellence.

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Facing Digital Disruption

Image of airplanes in formation, one plane climbing straight up. In a recent Accenture report, 24% of surveyed CFOs believe that their company will cease to exist in its current form due to disruptive competition. Fifty-eight percent think their industry will be disrupted and 41% believe more than half of their competitors will disappear. The telling statistic, however, is that only 6% are preparing for the anticipated changes.

As I prepare to teach the summer AIM course Creating Business Solutions with Technology, I have been thinking a lot about disruption, particularly digital disruption. I define this as the forces of change, either within or outside the organization, which cause us to operate differently. Sometimes these are slight process changes or adjustments, but sometimes they completely change the way we do business and the way we serve customers. If only 6% of CFOs are preparing for these changes, I hope more CIOs and CEOs are planning ahead.

That’s Not How We Used To Do Things

Particularly for the IT department, technology changes are coming at a rapid pace. We need to become more efficient and deploy our resources and talents differently than ever before. No longer do we have a room full of hardware that we keep locked away from mere mortals. Our hardware and applications are now in the cloud and we are tasked with being service managers instead of systems or software managers. Because of the advances in networking, security, storage, and processing, our jobs have changed dramatically. At least they should have changed. If we are still doing our jobs the way we were 10 years ago, then there is a software or infrastructure service provider that would love to take our business.

Business Changes

Think about some of the things that you do differently as a consumer and you can begin to understand what businesses are facing in the way of new and different competition. The last time I went downtown to visit a travel agent was 10 years ago. I can’t think of the last time I phoned a hotel call center or front desk to make a room reservation. I do it all online. Sometimes I don’t even stay in traditional hotels but prefer a service like Airbnb. Taxi and even rental car services have been disrupted by new business models from companies such as Uber or Lyft. Tesla is threatening to disrupt the traditional dealership model by selling cars in small retail storefronts instead of huge showrooms with massive inventories supplied by the manufacturer. Not surprising, in a number of these disruptions, state legislators are trying to protect business as usual. That’s not how we do things around here, they say.

I send fewer letters than I did even a year ago. It is much easier to write and pay bills online. Mobile and online banking has disrupted the traditional bank downtown. I am sure that you can think of a lot more changes in your own lives due to advances in technology. These are the changes businesses need to grapple with or they risk becoming obsolete.

What To Do

Here are three steps that Accenture recommends to prepare for digital disruption:

  1. Conduct scenario planning to highlight areas of the operating model or current cost structure that need to be transformed.
  2. Create and implement an action plan to redefine your cost base with digital at the core. This is specific advice to the CFO, but applicable to all.
  3. Live and breathe customer obsession. Create strategies throughout the entire organization that focus on the customer first. What would make their lives easier and their transactions more efficient?

These strategies will help to ensure that you will be a viable competitor for the foreseeable future.

Thoughts

Let me know your thoughts. How has technology changed the way that you do business? How do you think things will be different five year from now? Are you ready?

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Robots Among Us

Road sign: Robots Ahead.I grew up watching robots on television, among them B9 from “Lost In Space” and Rosie the Robot from “The Jetsons.” I thought such humanoid robots were already in use or at least were just around the corner. Such was the power of television working on a young mind. Here we are decades later and while we have utilized industrial robots for many years, the development of a humanoid robot is still in its infancy. What exactly do humanoid robots look like now and how close are they to the ideal Rosie? More importantly, how will we react to these machines as they come close to replicating or surpassing human capabilities?

From NAO to Pepper

Aldebaran, a French company that is now a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Softbank, first created the NAO robot in 2006. This humanoid robot was designed to educate students at different levels. In primary education, they work well with young learners and even learners with disabilities. They can help teach simple skills, such as counting or the ABCs, and are encouraging without judging. NAO can be used with secondary and even university students to introduce programming and robotics. This is a very real way to get feedback on successful coding and motion engineering projects. Working with this robot could stimulate the visual, auditory, tactile, and even kinesthetic learner.

Pepper, also from Aldebaran, is billed as the “robot that understands your emotions.” Pepper has multiple microphones and high definition cameras in order to make sense of its surroundings, plus an array of sensors and fine motors. It is programmed to perceive and analyze emotions and to get to know a person. It has been used to work with children and adults with autism to help them develop coping mechanisms and understand their own emotions when working through problems. It also comes with a built in tablet so that it can convey its own emotions. It has a wireless internet connection so it could be a Siri or Alexa substitute, providing information in android form instead of a smartphone or speaker. Pepper has motion sensors and collision detection systems so it could be programmed to vacuum the house or walk the dog. Just remember to dress it in a raincoat before it goes out.

Human-Robot Interaction

The Aldebaran machines are cute and they promote social interaction but there still seems to be a general angst towards functional robots, particularly those that take on humanoid form. A recent Discover magazine article speculated that the stigma stems from science fiction stories, or even the old “Terminator” movie series, about robots that suddenly take on very dark and dangerous human thought. Another concern is that robots will take over our jobs as opposed to simply assisting us with difficult and dangerous tasks. Some industrial robots have already done just that and there is fear that it will continue. Google reportedly has decided to sell its 2013 Boston Dynamics acquisition, partly due to social reaction to their humanoid robot development. There appears to be a very fine line between cute, helpful robots and threatening robots.

Thoughts

I would love to hear your thoughts on humanoid robots. Can we overcome our fears and social stigmas to welcome them into our environment, or have we created an artificial intelligence that is too close to human thought and emotion? I think we need to face the challenges, real or perceived, before we can move on and figure out how to improve our own productivity and human existence. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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March Madness Apps 2016: Technology to the Rescue

Basketball bursts through cell phone.As I write this blog entry, the NCAA basketball tournament is just getting underway. My Ducks are a number one seed as the men’s Pac-12 champions so I will be watching their progress closely. This is the time of year that information technology departments send out their obligatory “don’t stream basketball games over the company internet” message. So, what is a die-hard bracket watching basketball fan to do—take a two week vacation from work? Is there another way to keep up on the drama and still be a productive worker?

NCAA March Madness Live

I was at a technical conference last week during the final games of the Pac-12 championship. People were streaming or monitoring the score of the game on tablets and smartphones. I learned that NCAA March Madness Live is a free app that allows users to live-stream games. The added tournament bracket also provides the schedule, scores, and stats, reporting the action via video highlights and photos.

ESPN Tournament Challenge

For bracket-building, this app shows the entire live bracket and lets you make your own picks, which you can then share with your friends. This app provides alerts to keep you updated on the status of your bracket. This is an easy way to build and monitor the office pool.

Fanatic

If you are traveling during the tournament but you want to root for the home team, there is the Fanatic app. This is a free app available for Android or iPhone devices. It can connect you to fans of your team in the area, including information on nearby sports bars loyal to your team. It also lets you invite friends to watch the game with you, and can help you plan a party if you’d rather watch at home.

TuneIn Pro

While not just for March, this app allows you to find and listen to hundreds of radio stations so that you have your ear buds in and still appear to be working although you are listening to the big game. If you can multitask, this may be your best option for getting through March with your job intact. You can configure channels so that you can easily find relevant content for sports or other entertainment.

Television

You can watch games on television with apps available for Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire, and Apple TV. Of course, if you are not taking two weeks off to watch the tournament and you are heeding the advice of your friendly IT person about office streaming, you can always record games to watch AFTER work. Technology has given us a lot of options.

Thoughts

In a recent calculation by consulting firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, the lost productivity due to March Madness could equal $1.9 billion. I am not encouraging that number to go any higher but I have given you some options for tracking the progress of the NCAA tournaments without using all of the company bandwidth and your time.

Do you know of other apps that keep you connected and informed? Which team do you predict will win the final game on April 4? For me, it’s the Ducks all the way.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Cybersecurity: After Ashley, Sony, and Target

Abstract image of padlock against blue tech background.There have been several high profile cyber attacks over the last two years, some for financial gain, some out of malice, and some from hacktivists trying to right what they see as moral wrongs. Has anything changed since these security breaches? Do we take security more seriously now? Do company leaders pay more attention to technology and security?

Grey Hat Hacktivism

I wrote about grey hat hacktivism after the breach of the Ashley Madison website. Hackers threatened to publish the names of Ashley Madison members unless the site was taken down. They did this under the guise of moral outrage that the website was encouraging and enabling adultery by matching members. The hackers later published a few of the names, and then the full list. Whether the full list was published purposefully or accidentally is still unclear.

While the hack and the revelation of member names has interrupted many lives, Ashley Madison and its parent company, Avid Life Media, are still operating as usual. The CEO resigned last year after the breach, but the company states it “continues to have strong fundamentals with tens of thousands of new members joining AshleyMadison.com every week.” If the company claims are true then the hackers did not succeed in their objective. Hopefully it has caused people to be more careful about their own security and dealings on the internet. There is no evidence that Ashley Madison has changed its security policy to prevent future hacks.

Right on Target

In December 2013, Target was breached and 40 million debit and credit card accounts were exposed. In the aftermath, Target hired cybersecurity experts to probe the network and they found that once inside, hackers had access to every single cash register in every store. Target has taken steps to ensure this particular breach will not be repeated. It is thought that the initial entry came through a heating and air conditioning contractor who had a virtual private network (VPN) tunnel into Verizon for the purposes of exchanging contracts and work orders. Once the contractor was breached, the hackers had access to Verizon through the VPN and once in Verizon, they could go out to the point of sales systems to collect customer information. Even one weak link can cause incredible damage.

It is not clear how much customer information was actually used or sold but Target suffered, at least temporarily. Short-term earnings were down after customers lost confidence in the company. The CEO and CIO both resigned over the incident and Target has since worked to examine every aspect of their network for possible security holes. In short, security is serious business now, even at the highest levels.

Sony Hack

In November 2014, hackers breached the Sony Studios network and made public information about personnel, including salaries, unreleased films, and e-mail correspondence between Sony employees. They demanded that the upcoming movie, “The Interview” not be released. The movie was a spoof about North Korea, which led to the conjecture that the North Koreans were behind the hack. I will go on record as saying that I believe that the hack was an inside job, either by disgruntled employees or perhaps even orchestrated by the company to create publicity around a potentially bad movie. In any case, the movie was not released to theaters right away and Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal was fired. It is not clear what Sony has done to shore up their defenses from further attacks but this is a case where limited and targeted inside information was exposed instead of customer information.

Thoughts

These are just three of the recent high profile attacks perpetrated for financial gain, moral outrage or embarrassment. High-level executives lost their positions and organizations lost credibility in the eyes of customers. Here are three take away messages for me:

  1. Security does matter and it should matter in the highest levels of an organization. In the old days, the shop proprietor locked the front door when she went home at night, but it is not that simple anymore. With the increase in cloud computing and storage, there are a lot more doors to secure. It is complex and it is important.
  2. Organizations need to evaluate their security threats from both the outside and the inside. Employees know the systems and networks better than hackers. Are they with you or against you? How do you know?
  3. Security matters to each individual. We need to be diligent about our own digital presence and tracks on the Internet. Are your transactions secure? Are you using solid passwords? Are you encrypting your personal information when necessary? We all have a personal responsibility in that regard.

Those are my thoughts. Let me know what you think.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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The Power of Resiliency

A lone tree grows in a rugged terrain.I have been thinking for quite some time about resiliency. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, I work with young people as a volunteer teaching them leadership skills, outdoor skills, and general life skills. I have noticed that some are resilient and readily bounce back from adversity, either from a one-time event or chronic problems, while others are down for the count at the first sign of trouble. Last week I read an article in the New Yorker that helped me pull together my thinking and I want to share these thoughts with you while they are still fresh in my mind.

Learned or Natural?

Have you ever known people who seem to overcome any stress? Are they good at covering up their stress or are they more resilient than the rest of us? Do they have a natural ability to overcome problems, or is it something they have developed? What I learned is that while you cannot necessarily change a tragedy or stressor, you do have control over how you react to it. You can let it get you down, sometimes for an extended period, or you can choose to process and learn from it and move on in a constructive manner.

A few years ago a friend and colleague, a former Army Ranger, asked me how my day was going. I rattled off a litany of complaints such as people not coming through on commitments and projects falling behind. He replied, “You know, for me, any day that I don’t get shot at is a great day.” That comment helped me put my minor adversities into perspective and to this day I remember it when I think things are getting tough. Today is a great day.

Going the Distance

I have met people who avoid hard things in life, the things that might cause resistance or discomfort. These are not unforeseen events but the extra challenges that will help them to grow and improve their future. They avoid them because they are hard. As President Kennedy said in his famous 1962 moonshot speech, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard….” To me, that is an example of resilience, when you are willing to tackle the hard things, not for an immediate reward but to expand future opportunities.

As I get to know AIM students I learn about their stories, their backgrounds, and their histories. Many of them have overcome adversity and challenges to get where they are. The majority of AIM students work full time and often have young families that need their attention. They have all chosen to take on the extra work of graduate education and prioritize their time and lives to gain new knowledge and skills. I am impressed with such resiliency to take on a significant challenge and I am honored to guide them in a small part of that journey.

Thoughts

Look around and identify the people who appear the most resilient, those who seem to be in full control of their destiny. Ask them what it is that helps them to weather any storm and emerge even stronger. They can most likely help you to cultivate those same skills. Today is a great day.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Opening the Walls of Academia

Open book in a field.I am just finishing the second in a series of three open courses in computational statistics and machine learning. I wrote earlier about various forms of education delivery but I want to concentrate this week on what is becoming known as open education or open learning. This type of learning goes beyond the traditional university structure to bring knowledge to many more students through nontraditional means.

The Walls of Academia

Aristotle founded the Peripatetic school in the Greek Lyceum in 335 BCE to teach principles of math, philosophy, and rhetoric. A peripatetic school is a strolling school. It is thought that Aristotle walked the grounds discussing philosophy and other subjects with his students. There was a gymnasium for exercise, but learning for the most part took place in the open among the trees.

I get the sense that we are slowly returning to the early days of the lyceum, if only figuratively. We are opening the walls of academia to allow for learning beyond the traditional campus and sharing our expertise and wisdom with a larger audience. The physical campus will continue to be relevant, but successful universities will embrace education beyond the classroom. We have had traditional Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for several years, but consider these other developments.

Beyond the Walls

The Open University was founded in 1969 in the UK to provide postsecondary education to more UK citizens. This nonprofit school was built on the principles that there would be no formal entry requirements and education would be provided on campuses and through nontraditional delivery. They started out teaching some courses through television programs and now reach a worldwide audience. There are campuses outside of London, in Northern Ireland, The Republic of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland and serve students outside of the UK through their OpenLearn arm, MOOCs, and YouTube lectures.

Open Curriculum

MIT Open Courseware is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. This is free and open to the world through a Creative Commons license. Anyone can watch recorded lectures, read lecture notes, and access the full syllabus complete with readings and required texts. I am working through an introductory quantum physics course right now, which is fantastic. Students can get an introduction to a topic or fill gaps in their knowledge and university instructors can gain insights to help freshen their course. The introductory freshman level courses could also be valuable to high school teachers of advanced classes. High school students can use them to get a feel for university courses and also to advance their high school knowledge. This site has a number of corporate sponsors whose employees could benefit from new skills learned in the courses as well.

Thoughts

These are just a couple of examples of how education and knowledge are moving beyond the walls of traditional colleges and universities. More people than ever have access to higher education thanks to technology and enlightened thinking from the institutions. This can only benefit us as individuals and as a society if we are willing to take advantage of these opportunities. My challenge to you this week is this: if you are not already engaged in full time or part time studies, find a topic that interests you and explore the many resources that are open. Let me know what you find and what you learned.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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Artificial Intelligence Applications in Medicine

Robot holds medical vial.I am currently enrolled in a MOOC on machine learning and am intrigued by the integral role computers played in decoding DNA sequencing and their ongoing role in medical research. Machine learning focuses on learning through repetition, pattern recognition, and algorithms as opposed to programmed instructions. The aim is for computers to learn from previous experiences and add that knowledge to a growing database, much as humans do. As that database grows, machines can take on even more complex tasks.

DNA decoding is just one application in the field of machine learning. I am curious about what other areas, particularly in medicine, will benefit from these algorithms. Can a computer, or group of computers, do cheaper and faster diagnostics? It turns out others are asking these same questions and exploring the benefits and applications of machine learning. What are the benefits for us as patients and how does it change the health care field?

Automated Sampling

As part of a drive to simplify procedures and cut costs, startups such as Theranos developed automated procedures for blood tests. Their procedures and equipment are proprietary but involve sensors and computer algorithms to augment or replace human processing. The cost of their tests is much lower than traditional tests and a patient can get quicker results. As of this writing, the company is under intense scrutiny to reveal their specific technologies and processes. Federal regulatory agencies, particularly those providing Medicaid, are trying to ensure the testing process is safe and the results are accurate. As with any new technology or process, the consumer must go in with eyes open and understand the risks involved. One question to ask is how much do I trust the results? If patients can stop by a drugstore for a blood test, how and when do physicians get involved? With ready access to testing, will patients become more involved in their own health care and treatment decisions?

Radiology

In a recent article on digital diagnoses, it is estimated that radiologists, at least in Australia, review seven times more cases than they did five years ago. As with a pathologist providing lab analysis, all of these reports rely on pattern recognition and they take a great deal of skill and experience to do well. As we make advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, computers can take over some of that workload. If I were a radiologist, I think I would welcome the chance to offload some of my tasks. I am not suggesting that these highly trained medical professionals will be replaced, but there is room for assistance through technology.

Thoughts

I wrote a blog post last year on robots in the surgery and I asked if you would trust a surgeon-directed robot to operate on you. What if the human-robot team had a higher success rate than a human? These same questions apply to medical tests read and interpreted by a computer. Would you trust the diagnosis more or less than if it came solely from a highly trained doctor or technician?

To me it comes down to a matter of trust. Do I trust a machine to take on some of my tasks and perform some of the tests that were previously done solely by humans? With machine learning, computers improve through iterations and experience. In other words, they learn from their mistakes and successes, just like we do. This is a brave new world. Are you ready to embrace it? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

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