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Bethlehem Press: Ross: ‘Data is the raw material’

Tuesday, September 25, 2018 by MICHELLE MEEH Special to the Bethlehem Press in Opinion

Technology policy expert Alec Ross spoke on “Innovation Education and the Industries of the Future” as part of the Cohen Arts & Lecture Series at Moravian College Sept. 12. An expert on innovation, cybersecurity, and internet freedom, he is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “The Industries of the Future.”

Ross is the former Senior Advisor for Innovation for the State Department and was named one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine and Huffington Post’s “10 Game Changers in Politics.”

Moravian College President Bryon Grigsby, while introducing Ross, said college founder Bishop John Amos Comenius “believed educators should embrace technology.” In the 18th century, that meant “books with pictures.” Today, it means each student at Moravian has a Macbook Pro and an iPad. “We’re leveling the playing field,” Grigsby said.

Technology keeps moving industries from the past into the future, Ross said. “The world isn’t just changing. The world has changed.”

He didn’t own a computer in college in 1994, Ross said, and didn’t have a smart phone until age 28. Instead, people wrote letters “ancient” and paid $1 per minute international phone charges.

Why were people willing to go to what today seems extraordinary lengths to keep in touch? “Communication can be bonding somehow,” Ross said.

The internet has transformed industries and businesses since the days when classified ads were used to search for employment.

While technology changes are causing some industries to implode, students seem to have a “natural affinity for technology,” putting them in a unique position to transition into the industries of the future.

“Iron was the raw material of the industrial age. Data is the raw material of the information age,” Ross said. He added that 90 percent of the world’s data was created only in the last two years and the amount of data produced prior to the beginning of 2003 was produced in the last two days.

Some of the industries of the future are based on globalization and a need for communication among multiple languages and cultures in the world. Other industries of the future involve data analytics and machine learning, as well as robotics, Ross said.

He said things that used to be science fiction are becoming real, such as driverless Uber cars. Such new technology can have positive impacts, such as fewer accidents and time savings, but can also have negative impacts, such as putting about 3 million professional car, truck, and bus drivers out of work, Ross said. Part of embracing new technology involves making “human choices to minimize the bad and maximize the good.”

To prepare for the industries of the future, Ross had three pieces of advice for students.

First, embrace interdisciplinary skills. Ross noted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a dual major in computer science and psychology.

Second, embrace globalization. With 196 countries on Earth,” globalization is not going to slow down,” Ross said. “Developing markets become developed markets.”

Third, embrace lifelong learning. College, he said, is the beginning of secondary education, not the end.

Ross advised educators to teach skills rather than memorization. For example, he said, learning how computer languages work is more important than learning a new computer language.

Most important, he said, is “Teaching humanity-the emotional development that which makes us most human.” Ross said the “social contract” or rights and responsibilities each industry and worker have, has not been updated.

Ross said being adaptive is also necessary to working in the industries of the future. A West Virginia native, he said that region “never evolved past coal. It failed to adapt,” whereas the Lehigh Valley, while proud of its history, has moved past the days of steel production. This region has “a cultural willingness to change,” he said.

To read this article on the Bethlehem Press website, please visit Ross: ‘Data is the raw material’