Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I just submitted an entry to a contest jointly sponsored by the Technology Credit Union and the Singularity University ( The prize: a full scholarship to participate in one of the Singularity University's programs, something I have coveted ever since the University opened, but couldn't afford. I got interested in the concept of the technological singularity after reading Ray Kurzweil's book "The Singularity is Near."

One of the requirements of the contest was to write an essay of 500 words or less on "how exponential technologies could revamp the U.S. public school system over the next decade, and how these technologies could change the delivery of education worldwide."  It was really difficult to fit such a complex idea into 500 words, but the deadline is very close, so I sent in my essay anyway. Wish me luck!

Here is what I sent:

A technological singularity is the point when technology advances so rapidly that the future after that point becomes qualitatively different and harder to predict. Because of this, the most important goal of education is to develop in the students the ability to adapt to rapid change. This would require equipping students with basic language, mathematics, and science skills; but more than that, it would require developing strong observational and analytical skills.

Constant, life-long learning is no longer optional. This attitude has to be developed early in our youth. As the exponential growth of knowledge means the content of knowledge is not static, children need to learn at an early age how to do research. Most research now cannot be done without collaboration, and children need to be taught early how to collaborate on projects and use the various collaboration tools.

A technological singularity would have disruptive social implications. In some ways, the singularity is here. The accelerated rate of technological change has disrupted job markets, creating tremendous opportunities for a technologically savvy elite but making other skills obsolete. It has made outsourcing of certain jobs inevitable. It has created opportunities for other countries to compete.

The good news is that same accelerated pace of technological change has vastly enlarged the sources of knowledge and allows us call up that vast store of knowledge with the tap of a finger. It has given us the ability to network resources and collaborate to solve the big problems that our society and the world face.

Learning has to be connected to real life situations that the children can relate to and need. Botany, soil chemistry, nutrition, biomimetics, physical activity, etc., can be integrated in a school garden. In teaching computer use, we can touch on encryption, imaging, signal detection. Lessons can grow in complexity as age-appropriate. If it takes a YouTube video to get kids excited about chemistry, encourage it.

Businesses must pair up with schools not only to provide mentors, but to ensure a steady supply of future talent, as well as keep in touch with the needs and to harness the imagination of the next generation. (My son wished for a tapewriter before personal computers were invented; now we have voice-activated computers.)

Online education needs to be encouraged, especially free sites like, Tinkering should be encouraged (see Every school should have a lab, preferably with a 3D printer. The school itself should be a learning tool, with labels and videos everywhere showing how things work, etc.

We also need to find ways to get our youth to learn about the rest of the world because the impact of the singularity is global.  Social networks can be used. With Google Translate, we can now look at Websites written in other languages.

Libraries need to be universally digitized and access expanded. Internet access must be ubiquitous and affordable.  While the internet is not the be-all and end-all, it is as basic an educational need as the three Rs. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Next 100 Years

I promised to tell you more about "The Next 100 Years" by George Friedman, so here it is.

George Friedman is a geopolitical analyst, founder of Stratfor, a private intelligence and forecasting company. In "The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, " he has some interesting predictions on the dust cover of the book :
* In 2020, China fragments
* In 2050, there will be a global war between US, Turkey, Poland, and Japan -- the new great superpowers
* In 2080, space-based energy powers earth
* In 2100, Mexico challenges U.S.

Intriguing, isn't it? I asked an officemate who is from China if the prediction was possible, and the answer was yes, as Chinese history shows.

Friedman's  predictions are based on the premise that in a globally interconnected world, geography plays a very important role in determining political and economic power. In particular, easy access to and control of the seas are very important. Control of space will eventually be important, too, but will not obviate the need for control of the sea for any country that wishes to be in power.

He believes that the 21st century will be the American century, contrary to other people's assertions.

Friedman acknowledges that no one can really predict the future with any certainty, but he believes, given the geopolitical, historical analysis he has done, that he has the general trends right. I thought it interesting that, after I read the book (which was published in 2009), Turkey was in the news asserting some leadership in the region. As for space-based energy, try googling it. Here's one result:

 It is certainly worth reading this book to find out more.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Gender Roles

I was listening to a news report on NPR about an incident concerning a female sports reporter in a locker room (see and recalled a guest column I had written for the Manila Chronicle. I'm not telling you when :-)  The column was called Gender and was a forum for different people to post their views.

Here it  is:


My Boys Don't Buy the Margarine Ad

Would anyone believe, when I stride along in a short skirt and high heels with my face made up and my nails painted, that I am a staunch advocate of equal opportunities for women and men?

Would anyone believe that my friend, an activist in the women's movement, would wait up till 2 a.m. to serve her husband a hot meal after he had been out drinking with the boys?

Yet neither my friend nor I am out to deceive anyone. It's just that this whole gender issue is a complex thing that can (and for me, must) be approached at different levels.

Is a certain standard of dress a correlate of sexual equality? Where does one draw the line between acts of subservience and expressions of love?

We are, after all,each in a trap, which is sometimes of our own making.

Over drinks with some friends, talk turned to relationships between men and women. (One (a career woman) started complaining about her husband not doing his share of house work. Trying to defuse what I had sensed could turn into an embarrassing situation (the husband was around), I remarked that before they go into a slanging match, couples who are having conflicts over sex roles should consider that a great part of the conflict cannot be resolved at an interpersonal level.

Who should take care of the children, for example, when both parents have careers? Internal arrangements between husband and wife are only a stopgap measure. A real solution, I argued, would require societal adjustments such as day care centers and job-sharing alternatives.

My friend retorted, "That's easy for you to say, you don't have to live with a man." And that shut me up (I'm divorced) but not for long.

My two children are boys in their teens and one of the things I would dearly like to equip them with is the ability to look at women as persons first and female only second. That task can sometimes be an awesome thing.

Only half-jokingly have I often remarked to my frineds that one of my worst fears is that I would raise a couple of mama's boys or male chauvinists. After all, quite a number of them have agreed with me that there seems to be something in Filipino child-rearing practices that spoils the boys. (And many women complete the process by spoiling their men.)

When a margarine ad claiming that growing children needed the energy the product provided showed a boy in various play situations and a girl doing chores, I wondered if the ad were influencing or merely reflecting social reality.

Knowing how much I was up against, I took my children's sexual education very seriously. One of the things I decided early on was to demystify sex.

As early as three years old (that's when he  got curious) my first-born learned the clinical description of procreation and childbirth together with the purpose of the condom. Where may parents would say "You'll learn that when you're older," I attempted to answer as matter-of-factly as I could. (Sometimes it's hard to keep a straight face, though.)

Part of this campaign was putting them in coeducational schools. The schools helped somehow in that home economics lessons were the same for boys and girls, which was not the case when I was studying.

As they grew older, I would try, without pontificating, to discuss the issue with them. My gripes against the margarine ad was one such occasion.

But to avoid the fate of the emperor who was unmasked by the boy, I had most of all to try to live by what I believed.

While I like cooking and don't hate washing dishes, I see to it that they take a hand in these things too. (It is often easire, believe me, to do te housework yourself than to convince and train boys whose consciousness is being hammered by such things as the margarine ad to do chores.)

The other side of this coin is that I can't afford to be dumb about simple electrical repairs or wait for a man to clean the drainage system.

While it may be too early to tell how they would really turn out, I think my boys got the message that women are not inferior beings to be bullied or patronized.

How can I tell?

Well, one of the women my 17-year-old admires is model Gina Leviste, who, he always points out, is a summa cum laude graduate of economics and is the marketing manager of the firm she models for.

As for my 12-going-on-13-yer-old, just a few weeks ago when we were kidding around and he was taunting me with a twinkle in his eye that men were superior, I asked him, "Now, seriously speaking, son, do you really believe that?"

And he answered, "No, I think they are equal."