Sunday, February 18, 2018

Robot-Proof

 Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
by Joseph Aoun

I had a recent recommendation from a colleague to read Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Joseph Aoun.  Dr. Aoun serves as the President of Northeastern University, an institution that has experienced a significant increase in applications and ratings within the US World and News report over the past decade.  Northeastern is one of the few “co-op” universities in the US which have the advantage of “affordability” and employability after receiving your bachelor’s degree.  Aoun argues that we should not be afraid of the future with technology advances. Instead, those looking to get the edge in the future will simply need constant re-education.  Aoun begins the book with a brief overview of the history of American higher education and how it modeled itself after the German model, using research as the foundation for our colleges/universities.  He then discusses the growth of higher education after WWII and the GI bill as well as where we are today in terms of professions available in our society. This leads into his argument about how we need to think differently for the future.   He then shares data/statistics on the changing workforce based on the automation of jobs (I personally appreciate his perspectives on “imagining” and how curiosity is a key quality for those who will be most successful in the workforce, something we need to focus on teaching the youth of our country).  Aoun has worked with the companies that provide the co-op experience for the students at Northeastern and asked the employers: what qualities are you looking for in your employees?  What traits are most desirable?  Their response? Leadership, followed by working on a team.  Are we teaching these skills in colleges and universities?  (This may be where student affairs can fit in!) He also notes that technical skills ranked in the middle of the pack of desired skills – I guess most employers think they can teach them or that any candidates they hire will have them.  Additionally, companies like Google tend to hire “generalists” and people who have ‘deep listening skills,’ those who are interdisciplinary AND can take direction.  Aoun then presents a learning model (which he call ‘humanics’) for moving forward to assist the employee of the future. Of course, he draws upon the Northeastern model of co-ops! Nothing like using your institution’s mission and practice to sell itself. Well done – brilliant in fact!  The final chapters focus on discussing how experiential learning is superior to all other models of learning, using data to reinforce his points.  He also focuses on the distributed model of institutions bringing their education around the world, even noting NYU in the book.  Overall, this is an important read for student affairs professionals who have a place in this discussion on how we look at the experiences we provide for student leaders (OAs, RAs, student government leaders, etc.) to intentionally capture the learning they receive in our world.  I highly recommend this book as means to review our work and discover how we can improve.  Well done, Dr. Aoun.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

RA Book Club Fall 2017: You Are the Universe

 You Are the Universe
by Deepak Chopra & Menas Kafatos

Christine's review:
When I approached the novel that brought together a medical doctor and a physicist, I felt that this would be a colloquially-written and interesting novel, helping me "find myself" in a way. While I will admit that the language was written in a way to try and reach out to the mass including those unfamiliar with the theories and concepts of physics, I found myself very much overwhelmed by all of the science language. It was informative but difficult to follow especially because I spent a majority of time trying to understand the connection to how these abstract concepts and theories could be tied back into reality. There were moments that seemed it could be applied to the life of humans in that the novel seemed to keep pushing the idea that we are all interconnected in one way or another. On that note, it is a good reminder on how we do depend on each other to function individually and collaboratively. We must always understand how our actions not only impact our life, but also others' lives surrounding us. 

Roza's review:
Okay, so it definitely wasn't the transformative self-help book I thought it would be. And it certainly wasn't a light read. This is the type of book that will deceive you with its relatively large font size and make you think you can breeze through a chapter, when, in reality, you can't, at least not if you want to really grasp and digest what you're reading. As somebody who almost exclusively reads fiction and doesn't quite have a mind for the intricacies of science, this book was a challenge for me. I had to read and re-read to understand a scientific concept being laid out. And you can't just gloss over certain sections because each idea introduced builds upon other ideas to create one big argument that you are, in fact, the universe. I will say that, though I certainly did not fully grasp everything that I read, I came away from this book thinking about science in a slightly different way. I was quite taken by the notion that we live in a participatory universe, as Chopra and Kafatos argue. I like the idea that different types of science do not exist in completely different worlds; rather, they exist within one big universe. While I'm happy to have read this book and to have had the chance to discuss it in an academic setting, I'm not so sure I'd recommend this to anybody else. 

Sam's review:
You Are the Universe puts forth an interesting take on what it means for us to exist, depicting the universe as a conscious, living thing, and posits that our thoughts influence the cosmos. Chopra and Kafatos break the book down into key scientific questions and through examples and analogies are able to clearly explain complex scientific theories in layman's terms.  Some may hesitant to read You Are the Universe, expecting religious dogma; however, the book manages to strike a balance between spirituality and science without endorsing any particular established religion. All in all, it was a refreshing piece that often leads readers to consider the role they play in a participatory universe.

Jaylan's review:
You Are the Universe is an intellectually stimulating and philosophically imaginative read that merges quantum physics with thoughts of consciousness, to construct the human universe. Deepak Chopra and Menas Kafatos question the limits of the understanding of the universe provided by quantum physics and explore the mysteries of these limits through a philosophical lens. The authors' ability to explain complex theories like cosmic inflation and dark matter in layman's terms offers the reader the ability to understand knowledge that is often out of reach for most people. Chopra and Kafatos mark these mysteries and limits as more than just coincidence. The central idea of You Are the Universe, the human universe, is the belief that the universe and human consciousness are intrinsically linked; and at the center of this connection is You, who has the ability to shape and transform yourself, and by virtue, the universe. This idea is expected to transform the human experience by putting the consciousness, not to be confused with the mind, at the center of existence. This newfound idea of person hood - or should i say universe hood - is somewhat liberating, allowing the reader to feel empowered and in control of their own existence. It adds a new meaning to "putting it out in the universe". However, this idea of universe hood is limited to the individual -given the existing systems of thought and structures of power. The idea that you are the center of the universe can be stifled by social inequalities imposed by classicism, racism, sexism, ableism, etc. which is fairly present in the lives of millions of people globally. This reality leads me to believe that the human universe is more idealistic than practical. However, reality isn't set in stone and reception can change for Chopra.

Tanya's review:
Learning more about quantum mechanics was my favorite surprise while reading this book.  As someone not in the sciences, I commend the authors for using remarkably understandable metaphors to explain difficult concepts in physics.  That said, I was not convinced by the book's contention that we live in a "human universe."  Nevertheless, I appreciated the idea that each of us contributes to creating reality.  By setting up such large stakes--that is, that each of us can participate in the tangible creation of the universe--the book asks its readers to reflect on their actions and to feel agency and responsibility.  I wondered, however, if this idea is more psychological than physical.  I would have liked to hear how the mental "paradigm shift" that the authors encourage for each of the readers has impacted the authors' own experiences of daily life. 

Jocelyn's review:
You Are the Universe explores a scientifically philosophical approach to human existence, consciousness, and reality, both in the way we physically exist, but also in the way our minds construct the reality that surrounds us. Chopra and Kafatos reflect on how perspectives and understandings -- our worldview or paradigm -- is constantly changing, and we must recognize this to better understand our own realities. Through combining science, philosophy, and human existence, the complexities of perspective and reality, aligned with other concepts, begin to shape the image of a new paradigm. The authors guide the reader towards a greater understanding of the existence of reality within our own perspectives, creating power to reframe those perspectives and our own lives. In acknowledging that our own experience in the universe is completely constructed by ourselves, we can begin to realize that the world operates in the way we choose to participate.

Joshua's review:
You Are the Universe gives readers an alternative way of looking at the world. By emphasizing the importance and centrality of the individual in an attempt to understand life, the meaning of it, or at least our place in the universe, the book observes both cosmological and intrapersonal methods of reckoning with being. For me, the book approaches humanity and humanhood from an altogether simultaneously too individualistic and universal perspective. While it does provide good sorts of spiritual and ontological methodologies for navigating humanhood, it does not provide the type of anthropological and ethnographic perspective from which I was hoping it would approach questions of identity--and the lack of address of difference. I would have preferred a text that incorporates social, economic, and political histories in understanding the politics of difference and identification as they relate to navigating through larger systems of government and being. That being said, for what it is--essentially a self-help book for those who want to think about themselves in cosmological terms--it does an adequate job. Dr. Chopra is eloquent in writing and does provoke the reader to think, but I believe the book could have addressed some more pressing issues.

Sunny's review:
What stuck with me the most after reading You Are the Universe is the idea of a universal consciousness that serves to connect the consciousness of all people. I think that it's something to think about if you are a spiritual person, especially if you deeply believe that "fate" exists. The book can be a little less captivating in the beginning because it dives into areas of physics to introduce the idea of this consciousness, but in many ways such approach is able to convey the claims the authors make in a convincing way by tying it with theoretical approaches that created a paradigm shift in our scientific history. Overall, I enjoyed the book, and the discussion with book club gave me perspectives I haven't considered before and it would be a different read if I were to read it again some time.

Adrienne's review:
We Are The Universe was an interesting read in ways I did not expect. It was a lot more scientific than I had anticipated. Still, it was filled with insight on a world that is not as stagnant as it is sometimes viewed. Instead, it poses the idea of the changing humans who make up the universe being a reflection of the universe. The depth that can be found in such a conviction is immense. We are powerful enough to change our own lives, and thus the universe, because "we are the universe," a construct of our own mind, along with time and other facets explored in the book. Realizing just how much agency we have as individuals in this vast "universe" is the essence of this book to me.