EdTech’s Not the Answer to Inadequate American Education

American education has endured an arguably tumultuous journey in the last decade. In particular, the average suburban classroom is now littered with all sorts of high-tech gadgetry: from jaw-droppingly expensive Promethean smartboards to silver iPads to Google Chromebooks for high schoolers and kindergartners alike, technology has integrated itself within the learning environment of our students. But as American education consistently scores below the top-10 threshold, our so-called “EdTech” may not be as important as bureaucrats think, and in fact, I argue an emphasis of it actually impedes the classroom dynamic.

The future of the American classroom.

Is EdTech Really New?

Over 50% of K-12 students have access to laptops or tablets during classroom instruction, while 84% of American teachers consider technology and high-tech devices to be an essential part of each day. Still, being that the majority of middle-class students own similar devices at home, computers and tablets serve as potential distractions for learners. Teachers must set technological boundaries or will succumb to students tempted to play with these devices than to complete classwork. Firewalls are a low-cost solution for blocking these potential distractors, which often include YouTube and popular online games.

Still, we must consider that there are students who don’t have access to certain technology outside of the classroom. Rather than implement district-wide initiatives to promote EdTech solutions, schools should create programs to give less-fortunate kids laptops and related devices. These programs will help alleviate the socioeconomic issues that dampen EdTech’s potential.

The competitive landscape of EdTech is rather complex. Nowadays, with virtually hundreds of innovative startups hungry for leverage in the growing technology and education sector, allegedly “new” tech gadgets are simply upgraded versions of competitors’ devices. School officials, as a result, waste far too much time choosing between a myriad of tech solutions that seem astonishingly similar.

Affecting the Classroom Dynamic… For the Worse

Probably the biggest argument for EdTech is its ability to automate repetitive tasks. Students can easily record information on laptops and tablets, whereas writing an essay on paper, for instance, takes significantly more manpower—and pencil lead.

All to be said, these devices disconnect students from social interaction. For centuries, verbal communication was a key skill learned in the primary and secondary school environment, not necessarily inside the classroom. As students are exposed more and more to handheld technology—and smartphones are intertwined in the lives of kids as young as ten—these roles have flip-flopped. Indeed, the classroom is now becoming the center for social interaction. Technology merely impedes verbal communication and ultimately thwarts the social element of today’s rapidly changing schools.

The Verdict

I believe it’s unlikely that EdTech will replace teachers because EdTech is designed to supplement learning. That being said, online platforms like Khan Academy are specially programmed to teach students independently. Still, we spend too much of our budget on education for it to be replaced by handheld devices.

We must adapt to a changing technological landscape, and while I contend that EdTech is a step in the right direction, it isn’t the underlying solution for our lackluster educational programs. Instead, budgeters must allocate financial resources toward improving the quality of school infrastructure in order to change the social climate of our schools and close the socioeconomic gap between our millions of talented students.


Wozniak’s Khan Academy Carbon-Copy Could Change the Technology Sector

In a press release Friday, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of the Apple computer, launched an online educational platform aimed to get people into the workforce “quickly and affordably.” The website, coined “Woz U,” is a 24/7 online service that grants students of all backgrounds access to programming and related courses. Woz U is equipped with live instructors and mentors, alongside a high-quality video-based curriculum and career resources.

Education Reprogrammed

The program’s specialty is flexibility; it’s built primarily for men and women currently working full-time, traveling, or—as Wozniak’s website puts it—in simple need of a more adaptive, personalized approach to learning. Currently, the site only offers a single course in software development and a training program in computer support. Wozniak forecasts that the company will make three additional courses available in 2018, exploring topics in data science, mobile applications, and

Currently, the site only offers a single course in software development and a training program in computer support. Wozniak forecasts that the company will make three additional courses available in 2018, exploring topics in data science, mobile applications, and cybersecurity.

Wozniak’s business plan resembles that of Salman Khan’s, whose multimillion-dollar ed-tech company amassed thousands of users and is seen today as a leader in driving heuristic, simplified education. But Woz U’s wide range of educational purposes differentiates its offerings from Khan Academy’s: its focus on recruiting, re-training, and retaining employees is marketed specifically toward improving the quality of human capital. Nonetheless, Woz U sees itself in K-12 STEM education, with the hope of unleashing the full potential of project-based learning in the typical American classroom.

Most interesting is Woz U’s “Accelerator,” an ambiguous, provocative idea that Wozniak—intentionally or accidently—chose not to display on the site’s front page. With a release date of 2019, Accelerator is a program meant to identify and develop the most elite students in Woz U’s online courses. Accelerator then places these students into the world’s fastest-growing technology firms and arguably ensures them lifelong success. Students in this program will take entrepreneur courses and learn how to finance and run their own startup ventures. The aggressive program hopes to last 12-16 months.

Woz U concept art.

Woz U comes equipped with a mobile app aimed to lead students to the best available career path for them. I’m unimpressed by Wozniak’s initial pitch: to me, the app is merely an aptitude test designed to assess a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Current students, however, can access course content through the app. Still, I’d pass on this download if you’re a student unphased by Wozniak’s lofty goals for this premature venture.

The Verdict

Woz U’s core values defy the status quo. I especially like the emphasis he places on “family spirit”: one of his primary objectives for the new startup is to develop teams and provide resources to empower students who otherwise couldn’t afford technology-based classes. Woz U’s mission statement is a bit fluffy—the company hopes to be “open-minded” and “determined”—but I’m interested to see how it translates to educating the less-fortunate. I doubt that low-income students will take advantage of Wozniak’s opaque platform. Wozniak’s online platform has amazing, philanthropic intentions, but it’s far too early to be assessing its long-term feasibility in the already competitive, heavily concentrated ed-tech industry.


Source: Woz U

Amazon’s Purchase of Whole Foods Isn’t What It Seems

“Are you interested in working in a fun, fast-paced atmosphere earning up to $12.25 per hour?” -A 2011 Amazon warehouse ad

In June, Amazon purchased Whole Foods Market, a relatively upscale supermarket chain that offers foods without artificial preservatives, sweeteners, and flavors. At first glance, commentators assumed that Amazon’s multi-billion dollar purchase of Whole Foods was meant to save the grocery chain from declining revenue. John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO, assured that the purchase saved the company, but from its “own reputation.”

Mackey believes that the company’s high-end notoriety is damaging its position in the global marketplace. Executives have aimed to rid the stereotype of Whole Foods being a grocery store for the wealthy, and as a result, Amazon immediately began to lower prices at the grocery chain after the $13.7 billion sale was approved.

A Whole Foods supermarket.

Mackey has expressed his excitement about Amazon’s “cultural fit.” He sees a positive personal relationship with upper-level management and believes that the company will “take Whole Food’s mission […] to new levels.” Reflecting upon the importance of ethics in business, Mackey resented activist investors that continually criticized many of Whole Food’s branding techniques. He feels that these investors have “no agenda other than short-term return,” and in response, Mackey wants to reinforce and promote the idea of investing in order to grow the company’s prosperity.

Whole Foods’ comments emphasize a larger issue surrounding Twenty-First Century corporations: how big business today is often perceived as “greedy, selfish, exploitative, and uncaring.” In the environment, the role of massive corporations like Amazon is especially significant in that companies often exploit natural resources at unsustainable rates. In Mackey’s situation, he places higher value on his credibility—his company’s ethos—than finding quick ways to make money. In fact, friends of Mackey report that he “wasn’t going to sell [Whole Foods] to the highest bidder” if it would leave thousands of workers unemployed and ultimately dismantle the company’s ethical mission.

A Bad Report Card with Working Conditions

But Amazon’s track record doesn’t exactly align with Whole Foods’ demand for a “trusting, authentic” buyer. What’s odd is that Amazon is notorious for squeezing its suppliers and pushing workers to extremes—so much so, that in 2011, Amazon warehouse workers suffered heat exhaustion and needed medical attention. Amazon has a history of bringing in employees as “temporary staff,” giving workers little reason to complain: in the warehouse incident, employees began to neglect their work environment and more than a dozen collapse when the warehouse reached a staggering 102 degrees.

On top of poor working conditions, Amazon’s slow, steady integration into our lives as consumers and our domestic supply chains is frightening. Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods potentially means that it can now eliminate local and regional competitors with ease. Whole Foods generally receives its supply for local farms as part of its mission to give back to nearby communities, but these farms are now going to have to deal with a massive, multinational corporation that hopes to implement itself into a wide range of industries.

Automation is Amazon’s Rise to Global Power

The merger has less to do with increasing the quality of Whole Foods’ products and services and more to do with the further implementation of Amazon automation techniques. Amidst the announcement of Amazon drones, the company’s growth strategy is to remove as many humans as possible in its supply chain. As a result, Amazon can really hurt the country’s nearly 16 million retail and services workers.

Amazon now has a branded air cargo plane.

The company recently announced “Amazon Go,” a grocery store prototype that replaces cashiers with technology. Amazon’s long-term goals for Whole Foods contradict its plans to reinvent the supermarket; if it plans to rid the human element from the food services industry, it must say so clearly and strongly.


Sources: CNN, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Quartz

Sorry, Android Fans: The iPhone X is Worth the $1,000 Price Tag

…and we’re back.

It’s another September, and that means another iPhone—but at a $999 starting price, the iPhone X is the most expensive Apple smartphone ever sold. The X is more expensive than the cheapest Mac notebook, yet, despite its hefty price tag, it’s entirely worth the upgrade.

The Future of Smartphone Design

The iPhone X—pronounced “Ten”—is fully coated with glass on its front and back sides. Still, Apple continues to emphasize that it’s the “most durable” hardware ever used in a smartphone, even if the entire front display is screen. The only exception to this design is a small sliver at the top of the camera, and as a result, the X lacks the familiar Apple home button.

The X boasts a new feature called “Animoji,” which uses facial recognition to create short clips of your emotions and then sends them off as customized emojis. Apple’s facial recognition allows you to create more personalized emojis that reflect the exact expressions you’re making.

Gimmicky, but really cool.

One of the more impressive features of the X is wireless charging. Apple names this technology “Qi,” but aside from its attractiveness in this week’s press reports, wireless charging is substantially slower than standard wires. The X also has two more hours of battery life compared to the iPhone 7.

Nonetheless, the most riveting news about the X is its unprecedented speed. The rate of its single-core processor is more than double than that of the Samsung Galaxy S8—a Geekbench score of 4,100 vs. 2,000—and the iPhone X’s multi-core processor triumphs over Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro. The iPhone X runs at computer-fast speeds, so much so that TechCrunch has called its processor “overkill.” The numbers don’t lie.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will be in stores by the end of this month, but the X won’t be available for pre-order until October 7, with a shipping release date of November 3.

A Familiar Battle

What’s important to note is that the iPhone X will hit the market at the same time as other high-end smartphones. The upcoming Galaxy Note 8, for instance, is programmed with the consistently reliable Android processing system and is actually quite larger than the X.

As for biometrics, the Note 8 has everything: a fingerprint reader, an iris scanner, and face detection capabilities to unlock the device. Critics argue, however, that the face detection feature can be bypassed by holding up a photo to the camera. The X, on the other hand, is built with a 3-D face scanner called Face ID. Touch ID—the now obsolete iOS fingerprint reader—has been gutted out of the system, and buyers will find that there’s no iris scanner in the X.

Both phones are water-resistant, but the X still doesn’t offer a headphone jack. This once-essential feature has been removed since the launch of the iPhone 7, though the Note 8 flaunts one.

The Note can make purchases just about anywhere since Samsung recently acquired LoopPay. Users will be glad to see that they can pay at almost any credit card reader with a couple taps, and although Apple Pay is gaining popularity, it’ll take a while until it becomes as accepted as Samsung Pay.

The Verdict

I believe that the X isn’t another rushed iPhone iteration to make “old” iOS devices obsolete. As a consumer, it’s essential to look past gimmicky features like Animoji, but the bandwidth numbers are staggering: the X is faster and stronger than any smartphone past or present.

The iPhone X is what Apple fans want; it’ll signal the transition into smartphones that expand the possibilities of augmented reality. The future of smartphones is here, and the iPhone X is certainly at the front of it.


Sources: CNBC, TechCrunchThe Verge

Yes, AI is Real; No, You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of It

artificial intelligence (n): the ability of a digital computer to perform human tasks

The star of this fragrance commercial isn’t a celebrity. In fact, he’s not even a model. Stanford grad student Alexandre Robicquet is an AI researcher who works with Google X founder Sebastian Thrun.

There are many reasons as to why Robicquet was picked for the commercial, but his role as an AI scientist points to a significant cultural and technological change in the contemporary world. Mainstream media has made artificial intelligence look sexy, and the possibilities of robotic automation are limitless.

But AI isn’t breaking news. In fact, its earliest developments date to 1956, when Dartmouth professor John McCarthy proposed a summer research project to investigate the ways that machines could simulate learning. Soon after, AI labs sprung up at MIT and Stanford, where experiments involving chess, robotics, and communication were conducted.

More recently, AI hardware has become exponentially more powerful. Google and its parent company Alphabet have reportedly spent over $500 million in AI purchases, while Amazon continues to drive its inventory of AI technology to recommend products to customers and relocate items around around its fulfillment centers. Apple hopes to use AI to recognize handwriting, extend its products’ battery life, and recognize text embedded in PDF files.

No, Google isn’t the Terminator.

Amazing Potential

A study released by Conversica, an AI software platform, reports that only 1 in 5 people believe that AI can ruin their careers. A future with AI, unfortunately, comes at the expense of millions of domestic workers in the manufacturing, banking, and transportation industries.

For one, machine translation systems make human translators obsolete. Under automated financial services, banks would no longer need to hire tellers if ATMs could create new accounts and issue loans. As AI becomes acceptable for everyday travel, drivers at electronic taxi companies like Uber and Lyft may soon find themselves out of work.

These shortcomings, however, mean little when compared to the long-term practicality of AI in the world economy. The financial applications of AI are simply astounding: Algorithmic trading can seamlessly use complex AI systems to make trading decisions at lightning-fast speeds. Although these systems are generally used by large institutional investors, the millions of trades made daily by AI machines triumph over manual trading by human investors.

Automated traders hard at work.

At home, several financial products and software can use AI to aid people in monitoring their spending habits. AI apps analyze monthly income and current balances and can then make their own decisions to transfer money to saving accounts. So-called “robo-advisors” provide financial advice and portfolio management to humans while adjusting to real-time changes in the financial market.

Most importantly, AI has amazing potential in the hospital. Tasks that can very soon be performed by artificial intelligence include heart sound analysis, treatment plan design, drug creation, and robot assistance for the elderly. In the midst of more affordable health care and more experienced medical professionals, artificial intelligence can use virtual avatars in place of patients for hands-on clinical training.

Why Stop Progress?

Last Friday, Russian president Vladimir Putin released a disconcerting statement on the power of AI, arguing that whoever becomes the leader in artificial intelligence will be crowned the “ruler of the free world”. Opponents to AI must consider that artificial intelligence is still in the incubation phase, yet its potential for technological and cultural growth is astronomical.

AI researchers suggest that it’ll take more than a hundred years for AI to significantly impact our day-to-day lives. As we intricately emerge into a computer-programmed world, we must think optimistically on the sustainable, lasting effects of automation and rely less on the surreal, dramatized depictions of artificial intelligence in world media.

Sources: ForbesFuturismThe Verge