Quantum Supremacy:

Quantum Supremacy ( in Computing) 

In 2012, Prof John Preskill, a professor of Theoretical Physics at California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California proposed the term “quantum supremacy” to describe the point where quantum computers can do things that classical computers can’t,  whether or not those tasks are useful.

Quantum mechanics emerged as a branch of physics in the early 1900s to explain nature on the scale of atoms and led to advances such as transistors, lasers, and magnetic resonance imaging. The idea to merge quantum mechanics and information theory arose in the 1970s but garnered little attention until 1982, when physicist Richard Feynman gave a talk in which he reasoned that computing based on classical logic could not tractably process calculations describing quantum phenomena. Computing based on quantum phenomena configured to simulate other quantum phenomena, however, would not be subject to the same bottlenecks. Although this application eventually became the field of quantum simulation, it didn’t spark much research activity at the time.

In 1994, however, interest in quantum computing rose dramatically when mathematician Peter Shor developed a quantum algorithm, which could find the prime factors of large numbers efficiently. Here, “efficiently” means in a time of practical relevance, which is beyond the capability of state-of-the-art classical algorithms. Although this may seem simply like an oddity, it is impossible to overstate the importance of Shor’s insight. The security of nearly every online transaction today relies on an RSA cryptosystem that hinges on the intractability of the factoring problem to classical algorithms.

What is Quantum Computing?

Quantum and classical computers both try to solve problems, but the way they manipulate data to get answers is fundamentally different. What makes quantum computers unique are two principles of quantum mechanics that are crucial for their operation, superposition and entanglement.

Superposition is the ability of a quantum object, like an electron, to simultaneously exist in multiple “states.” With an electron, one of these states may be the lowest energy level in an atom while another may be the first excited level. If an electron is prepared in a superposition of these two states it has some probability of being in the lower state and some probability of being in the upper. A measurement will destroy this superposition, and only then can it be said that it is in the lower or upper state.

Understanding superposition makes it possible to understand the basic component of information in quantum computing, the qubit. In classical computing, bits are transistors that can be off or on, corresponding to the states 0 and 1. In qubits such as electrons, 0 and 1 simply correspond to states like the lower and upper energy levels discussed above. Qubits are distinguished from classical bits, by their ability to be in superpositions with varying probabilities that can be manipulated by quantum operations during computations.

Entanglement is a phenomenon in which quantum entities are created and/or manipulated such that none of them can be described without referencing the others. Individual identities are lost. This concept is exceedingly difficult to conceptualize when one considers how entanglement can persist over long distances. A measurement on one member of an entangled pair will immediately determine measurements on its partner, making it appear as if information can travel faster than the speed of light. This apparent action at a distance was so disturbing that even Einstein dubbed it “spooky action at a distance”.

Building quantum computers is incredibly difficult. Many candidate qubit systems exist on the scale of single atoms, and the physicists, engineers, and materials scientists who are trying to execute quantum operations on these systems constantly deal with two competing requirements. First, qubits need to be protected from the environment because it can destroy the delicate quantum states needed for computation. The longer a qubit survives in its desired state the longer its “coherence time.” From this perspective, isolation is prized. Second, however, for algorithm execution qubits need to be entangled, shuffled around physical architectures, and controllable on demand. The better these operations can be carried out the higher their “fidelity.”

Superconducting systems, trapped atomic ions, and semiconductors are some of the leading platforms for building a quantum computer. Each has advantages and disadvantages related to coherence, fidelity, and ultimate scalability to large systems. It is clear, however, that all of these platforms will need some type of error correction protocols to be robust enough to carry out meaningful calculations, and how to design and implement these protocols is itself a large area of research.

A different  framework being pursued by Microsoft  is topological computation, in which qubits and operations are based on quasiparticles and their braiding operations. While nascent implementations of the components of topological quantum computers have yet to be demonstrated, the approach is attractive because these systems are theoretically protected against noise, which destroys the coherence of other qubits.

Google has officially announced in October 2019 that it has achieved Quantum Supremacy in a new article published in the scientific journal Nature.

Google says that its 54-qubit Sycamore processor was able to perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years. That would mean the calculation, which involved generated random numbers, is essentially impossible on a traditional, non-quantum computer.

With time, the tech will get democratised and trickle down to the consumer. An industry around QC software and algorithms will then have truly arrived.

As the number of qubits in quantum computers increase, we will first start seeing optimisation and data access problems being solved first. For example, with enough qubits, we could use quantum computers to assemble and sort through all possible gene variants parallelly and find all pairs of nucleotides – the building blocks of DNA – and sequence the genome in a very short period of time.

This would revolutionise the health industry as sequencing the DNAs at scale would allow us to understand our genetic makeup at a deeper level. The results of access to that kind of knowledge are unfathomable.

Next, through significant improvements in our quantum capacity, we will be able to use quantum computers for simulating complex systems and behaviours in near real-time and with high fidelity.

Imagine simulating the earth’s winds and waves with such accuracy so as to predict storms days before they come. Imagine simulating how the winds on a particular day would interact with a flight on a particular day and route – it would allow us to measure turbulence, optimise flight paths, and better in advance.

One promising candidate is PsiQuantum whose photon-based model is still years away, but the company’s big claim is that its technology will be able to string together 1 million qubits and distill out 100 to 300 error-corrected or “useful” qubits from that total. has raised $215 million to build a computer with 1 million qubits, or quantum bits, within “a handful of years”. Rudolph, the company’s chief architect, happens to be the grandson of famed quantum theorist and Nobel Prize-winning Erwin Schrödinger.

Regardless of the path it takes, Quantum Computing is here to stay. It’s a key piece in the puzzle that is human growth. 10 years, 100 years, or maybe even a 1,000 years down, we will wonder how we lived without them.

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Quantum Mechanics in everyday life:

Quantum Mechanics in everyday life : 

The mention of the  phrase ‘Quantum Physics’, immediately invokes a response of something quite weird and incomprehensible that happens in very special conditions in nature, and perhaps companies like Google, IBM and Microsoft are competing in a race to develop Quantum Computing, which will also be of use to a few specialist “ Quantum Physicists or Quantum Engineers”. 

If someone were to ask us the daily life or real-life examples of Quantum Physics, most of us would be totally unaware of it. But once you get to know about the real-life applications of Quantum Physics, you might wonder that the examples of the same were right in front of you!

It may surprise you to know that Quantum Mechanics is able to explain our senses of sight, touch and smell. 

A number of such examples are described by Chad Orzel in a book with a catchy title  “ Breakfast with Einstein”. Beginning with describing in the introduction a typical morning routine—waking up, making breakfast, checking his computer—Orzel breaks those actions down in order to “show how an ordinary weekday routine depends on some of the weirdest phenomena ever discovered.” For example, his alarm clock allows him to discuss, cogently, how the “modern accounting of time” that the device embodies is “deeply rooted in the quantum physics of atoms.” Orzel provides similar explanation for such phenomena as the different colors of light emitted by objects heated to different temperatures, using as an entry point the glowing coils of the burner on his stove top.

Here is a list of a number of things which depend upon Quantum Physics for their operation.

1: Toaster:

The bread toast which you enjoy while sipping on your morning tea is able to make its way to your plate only because of Quantum Physics. The heating element of the toaster glows red to toast a slice of bread. Toasters are generally referred to as the reason why Quantum Physics came into existence. The rod in the toaster gets hot, which, in turn, is responsible for toasting the bread.

2: Fluorescent light : 

The light which you are getting from the tubes or those curly bulbs is a result of a quantum phenomenon only. In fluorescent lighting, a small amount of mercury vapour is excited into the plasma. Mercury has the ability to emit light in the visible range. So, the next time you switch on the lights of your room at night, make sure you thank Quantum Physics.

3. Computer & Mobile Phone

The whole computer world is based on the principle of Quantum Physics. Quantum Physics talks about the wave nature of electrons, and, so, this forms the basis of the band structure of solid objects on which semiconductor-based electronics are built. Not to forget that we are able to manipulate the electrical properties of silicon only because we can study the wave nature of electrons. Once the band structure is changed, the conductivity alters as well. How can the band structure be changed? Of course, Quantum Physics knows the answer!

4. Biological Compass

If you think that only the humankind has been lucky enough to make use of Quantum Physics, you are totally wrong! According to theories by scientists, birds like European Robin make use of Quantum Physics to migrate. A light-sensitive protein called cryptochrome contains electrons. Photons, after entering the eyes of the bird, hit cryptochrome, and radicals are released. These radicals enable the bird to “see” a magnetic map. Another theory suggests that the beaks of the birds contain magnetic minerals. Crustaceans, lizards, insects, and even some mammals make use of such type of magnetic compass. You might be surprised to know the type of cryptochrome which is used for navigation by flies has also been found in the human eye! However, its use is unclear.

5. Transistor

Transistors have widespread uses and are used to amplify or switch electrical signals and electrical power. Looking closely at the structure of transistors, we would realize that a transistor consists of layers of silicon associated with other elements. Computer chips are made by millions of these, and these computer chips form the powerhouse of all the technological gadgets which have become central to human existence. Had Quantum Physics not come into play, these chips would not have been created and neither would desktops, tablets, laptops, smartphones, and other gadgets have found their way into human life.

6. Laser:

The principle on which laser works is based on Quantum Physics. The working of lasers involves spontaneous emission, thermal emission, and fluorescence. An electron, when excited, will jump to a high-energy level. However, it will not stay in the high-energy level for a long time, and jump back to the lower energy state which is more stable; and, thereby, emit light. The quantum mechanical state of the atom is also affected by external photons which are at a frequency associated with the atomic transition.

7. Microscopy

Electron microscopy has improved with underlying principles of Quantum Physics. Quantum Physics in association and electron microscopy have improved the imaging of biological samples. Moreover, in differential interference contrast microscopy, a pattern of interference is created by the beam of photons, which is then analysed. All-in-one, with Quantum Physics, microscopy has improved to a great extent, and, therefore, a large amount of information from a sample can be obtained.

8. Global Positioning System (GPS)

Navigating to unknown locations has never been easier as it has been with the aid of Quantum Physics. While using a mobile phone for navigation, the GPS receiver in the phone is responsible for picking up the signal from multiple clocks. The distance and time between your current location and the destination are calculated by calculating different arrival times from different satellites. Moreover, even the distance from your current location from each satellite is also calculated. Each satellite is equipped with an atomic clock, which relies on Quantum Physics only.

9. Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, also known as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, involves the reversal of the spins of the electrons in hydrogen nuclei. So, basically, we are talking of shift in energies; which is nothing but one of the applications of Quantum Physics. The study of soft tissues can easily be carried out with the use of MRI. Thanks to Quantum Physics that the diagnosis and treatment of some life-threatening ailments have been possible.

10. Telecommunication

Communication has been made extremely easy because of the important role of Quantum Physics. Fibre optic telecommunication has made possible two-way and quick communication. The fibre optic telecommunication is possible only because of lasers, which are devices of Quantum Physics.

Here are two resources for further exploration of this greatest human endeavour ever: 

A link to an article with 10 examples : https://studiousguy.com/examples-quantum-physics-everyday-life/

Breakfast with Einstein: the exotic Physics of everyday objects  by Chad Orzel

This erudite book will be best read in multiple sittings by curious readers keen on absorbing all the weird science on display all around them. 

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Why learn Quantum Mechanics while at School?

Why learn Quantum Mechanics while at School ? 

Quantum physics is perhaps the greatest intellectual triumph in the history of human civilization, but as the dramatis personae are serious Scientists in pursuit of ‘ smoother pebbles and prettier shells that lie undiscovered in the ocean of truth’, in the spirit of Isaac Newton, the public in general is not aware of it. Like Monsier  Jourdain in Moliere’s play was not aware that he was speaking ‘prose’ all his life, even many professionals who studied  Science at School to become doctors or engineers are not aware that ‘nature’ is at it’s smallest level driven by Quantum Mechanics. 

The universe as we know it runs on quantum rules, and while the classical physics that emerges when you apply quantum physics to enormously huge numbers of particles seems to be the real thing, there are lots of familiar, everyday phenomena that owe their existence to quantum effects. We list some of them here. 

Have you ever wondered how birds instinctively find their way across thousands of miles of open sky during migration? Or pondered on how photosynthesis happens, or how the human sense of smell works?

Despite our best efforts to understand them, natural processes such as these were puzzling. But recently, scientists have been using quantum physics to unravel some of nature’s enduring mysteries.

Another important purpose of introducing quantum phenomena at School itself  is to develop pride in our own Scientists and their fundamental contributions at the Quantum  level which have been unjustly ignored. Raman effect for which Sir CV Raman was conferred the Nobel Prize in 1930 was essentially a ‘Quantum’ effect. Satyendra Bose after whom a class of particles have been named Bosons ( remember Higgs Boson) has also made fundamental contributions. Another great Indian Scientist Jagdish Chandra Bose had demonstrated that plants also conform to the laws of Physics, which we now believe is Quantum Mechanics. 

Giving a huge boost to adoption of emerging quantum technologies, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the present budget proposed to provide an outlay of Rs 8,000 crore for applications of quantum technologies  over the next five years under the ‘National Mission on Quantum Technologies and Applications’.

Quantum computing may possess the power to transform life as we know it. By paving the way for deep learning artificial intelligence (AI) based algorithms, teleportation of information, simulation of nature and new forms of encryption, quantum computing could solve some of society’s most complex challenges and transform major industries, from engineering to healthcare, agriculture, telecommunications and energy.

Haim Israel, Bank of America’s Managing Director of Research, compared the impact of quantum computing in the next ten years to what the smartphone did for the 2010s. The quantum revolution is here but how long it takes to produce results could be a decade or more away. As we look forward to the quantum decade, expect its effects to be dramatic and far-reaching.

Are children learning the skills necessary to be an engineer or startup entrepreneur for tomorrow? Chris Ferrie, Physicist, Mathematician and author

believes that 20 years from now, children will be facing interviews for jobs such as Quantum Communication Analyst or Quantum Software Engineer. So, how long should it be before students learn new topics and before it becomes mainstream in public schools?

Sir John Ziman began the Preface of his well known book “ Principles of the Theory of Solids” (1964 edition),with the following opening lines:

“ The frontiers of knowledge ( to coin a phrase) are always on the move. Today’s discovery will tomorrow be part of the mental furniture of every research worker. By the end of next week it will be in every course of graduate lectures . Within a month there will be a clamour to have it in the undergraduate curriculum. Next year, I do believe, it will seem so commonplace that it may be assumed to be known to every schoolboy.”

Those words are squarely applicable today to the field of Quantum Mechanics,and it is now reasonably clear that our school children must be acquainted with the key concepts and aware of  the key Quantum phenomena  in nature, whether it is classified as Physics, Chemistry or Biology.

Currently, across the globe, there is a severe shortage of quantum engineers. Noted theoretical computer scientist Scott Aaronson said in a blog that young student’s first exposures to science should be “cutting-edge” and not centuries old. The strong modern quantum information theoretic connections between quantum physics, computer science and maths can help all three subjects generate common interest. Hence, it will be easier for students to achieve fluency in the “language of quantum” with early exposure.

However, the big question is what can a high schooler be taught of quantum theory, especially to pre-calculus students. Is it possible to learn quantum mechanics with only elementary maths?

A 2016 conference paper, A Learning Path On Quantum Physics Including Simulations, Low-Cost Experimentations, Online Resources, teaching the fundamentals of quantum physics and quantum theory in school is a notoriously difficult task and students encounter a range of problem with mathematical concepts. Another paper proposes that it is possible to cut down on the technical mathematical skills required for students to learn introductory quantum mechanics by introducing the use of computer software at an early stage.

Many sincere scientists are of the view that School students may be able to learn about quantum mechanics at school, but they won’t be able to learn it until they have mastered the mathematics required. The main tools include: linear algebra: complex numbers, eigenvectors, eigenvalues. functional analysis: Hilbert spaces, linear operators, spectral theory. differential equations: partial differential equations, separation of variables, ordinary differential equations, Sturm–Liouville theory, eigenfunctions. These can be learnt concurrently, and seeing their applications and implications in the Quantum world will enhance the learner’s interest in what are often seen as dry subjects. 

In the book ‘Q is for Quantum’ by Terry Rudolph, the author explores how a student armed with basic mathematics knowledge can effectively grasp fundamental learnings of quantum computing and even understand some Quantum algorithms. Most simple quantum algorithms are just matrix multiplication, hence it is advisable to teach simple Deutsch-Josza and Grover’s algorithm. The book is posited as a good start for quantum Computing. 

Fundamentals of quantum mechanics are being taught in Dutch schools indicate that there is a higher interest about the conceptual aspects than algorithmic aspect. Students were found to ask several questions related to the conceptual aspects. Another finding indicated that the subject is very mathematically challenging and high school students, by and large, lack a grounding in the required mathematics level. Another key insight was that since the focus is on the algorithmic aspects, students often fail to learn what instructors want them to learn. Hence, better student learning outcomes are possible by shifting the focus to conceptual understanding.

In my own journey of learning, I learnt computer programming ( using FORTRAN in 1967) when I started as a Ph.D. scholar in Physics. My introduction to Artificial Intelligence was in a few years of that, when the main approach was that of rule based expert systems. But today both Coding and AI is being taught at School. There is no reason why Quantum Mechanics which I learnt a few years earlier during my M.Sc. should not now be learnt during the last few years at School. 

When I am proposing learning Quantum Mechanics at School, I am referring to the stage of Schooling, but by no means yet another subject being introduced according to the CBSE model. As I have been advocating in many of my posts and presentations, we should leverage AI in empowering the learners to become self-directed autonomous learners. Recall Prof Ziman’s words “ it will seem so commonplace that it may be assumed to be known to every schoolboy”. And every girl at School as well. 

I am sharing a link to a possible path to learn Quantum Mechanics on your own.

How to learn Quantum Mechanics on your own? https://youtu.be/Rs572Cf4zkk

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The high road to future readiness:

The high road to future readiness: 

We are in a world facing a number of challenges cropping up before us with less than adequate response time before the next one crops up. The climate change crisis, the learning crisis and now the coronavirus pandemic. These and other smaller crises may need a new approach towards dealing with them. In an earlier blog, I had drawn attention to dealing with complex problems using first principles. 

We are now seeing symptoms and evidence of the possibility of our expected demographic dividend turning into a demographic nightmare. Apart from its implications for the economic impact at the national level, it will also have a very serious impact on the happiness of the elderly, if they don’t find their children adequately equipped for the future.

I am not dealing with any specific challenge here, but rather a broad approach to learning and education for future readiness. The underlying assumption is that a properly educated person and such communities of well educated people are in a better position to meet the challenges of the unknown than the poorly educated or uneducated ones. And the road to such an education is a tough and challenging road. I use the phrase ‘ the high road’ to describe this.

In the last decades I have often seen the shaming and mocking of high academic learning as of not much practical use ( and in some quarters with suggestions of even closing higher education institutions and sending their members off to villages) followed by a massive cry for employable- skill based education. Please view this 15 minute video video of a few years ago to appreciate the folly of this approach. Humans need not apply : https://youtu.be/7Pq-S557XQU

When you ‘take the high road’ – it means doing the right thing even if its not popular or easy. I am not quite sure what would be the opposite course of action. Perhaps let them have the gutter. In the long run it is better to take  the high road ! I wouldn’t bicker about ditch or gutter as the alternative. 

Taking the high road is often difficult, because so many people in the dumps think that they are right. Imagine a parent of a child at School whom you try to persuade not to go for tuitions, or Byju or Extramarks or worse try to advise against going to School altogether and explore home-schooling. 

Robert Frost extolled the virtues of pursuing ‘ the road not taken’ in a poem more than a hundred years ago. We can guess that he was referring to the high road because it was the one less travelled. One of the advantages of taking the high road is that it is less crowded. The high road need not be completely lonely, as there are others who also like to take it.

I like to refer to the story of the IITs as an example. Engineering education was in place well before the creation of IITs in the 1960s. From the College of Engineering Guindy established in 1794, Thomason College of Engineering that was established in 1847, to JNTU College of Engineering in 1946, there were about  27 engineering colleges even before independence, But IITs transformed engineers who worked with slide rules to those who were problem solvers with cognitive flexibility using computers of the day and today some of them are leaders today in the Silicon Valley of trillion dollar companies. 

I recall in conversations with  my senior faculty colleagues at IIT Kanpur, that it’s founder Prof PK Kelkar was often scoffed and ridiculed by his peers at other engineering Institutions for adopting a different approach to the traditional engineering education. But the IIT Kanpur and other IITs continued with their ‘high road’ and ended up preparing their students for the coming 3rd Industrial Age.

We now have to take the high road for readiness for the 4th Industrial Age. 

To make it easier for some more people to take the first few steps on the  high road to future readiness, I have developed a six month mentoring program for the motivated and determined. 

It consists of 3 stages:

The first stage is of one month (4 weeks)  duration that is the initiation or the on boarding stage. During the first week we deal with anticipating the future, the 2nd week is about life as information processing, the 3rd week is a survey of emerging technologies and the 4th week is about learning. 

The second stage which lasts for the next 3 months (12 weeks) we cover the top 10 skills listed by the World Economic Forum as in demand for 2020 and beyond, as well as Computational Thinking and First Principles. During these 3 months we also offer Graded digital learning :whose goal is to enhance the digital learning attention span from 1 minute to 90 minutes (over a 3 month period). 

The last 2 months are about taking charge and preparing a personal action plan.

Setting out some more details of the 3 different stages: 

Stage 1: Setting the stage: ( one month/4 weeks) 

Week1: Anticipating the future: 

  •  The VUCA ( volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous)  future; Finding your element; Ikigai; The future of work; Mental models

Week 2: Life as information processing 

  • From Knowledge is power to living as information processing ;Diet; Physical Fitness; Financial acumen; Health Literacy

Week 3: About Technologies 

  • MegaTrends in emerging Technologies; Making Sense of Artificial Intelligence ; Blockchain; Internet of Things; Quantum Technologies

Week 4: About Learning

  • Awakening the learner within; What is worth learning?;Mastery Learning;Becoming a self-directed lifelong learner; Intelligence as Developing Foresight

Second Stage : Digging in : Success skills for 2020 and beyond (3 months/12 weeks) 

While pursuing the development of these much needed skills  they will also pursue a program on ‘progressive digital learning’ for 3 months delivered concurrently. 

Doing large amounts of extensive reading at suitable levels of understanding is a productive tool to increase reading rate, vocabulary, motivation, attitude and general language proficiency. The amount of vocabulary and grammar learners has determines their language proficiency. Extensive reading enables learners to attain competencies in language skills. Graded readers are essential materials for doing extensive reading. They are particularly designed to enable learners practice reading skills and provide an opportunity to reinforce known vocabulary. Through multiple exposures learners become familiar with grammatical structures and vocabulary. Moreover, learners experience how they function in texts and they are motivated to use the vocabulary and structures they have learnt in their communication. Graded readers motivate learners, help them gain reading fluency, enhance their vocabulary and grammar knowledge development.

The broad schematics is as follows: 

First month: from one minute to 5 minutes

Second month: from 5 minutes to 10 minutes

Third month: from 10 to 20 minutes, onwards to a 90 minute WhatsApp course

During this 3 months duration, learners will engage with different media types ranging from text, images, audio and videos. For those who like to estimate the total time taken in this learning journey, it would be between 25 to 30 hours, depending upon the pace of the learner. The rate of learning will be slow at first, and then increase. 

The text will cover a variety of forms, as follows : Essays, Poems, Stories, Excerpts from literature, biographies and autobiographies , thoughts on current matters and overall language improvement. For short content, there will be much use of “ mnemonics” that are useful learning devices, proverbs, parables and inspirational quotes. Throughout the journey, there will be information about and links to further interesting knowledge nuggets. 

During this graded learning journey, the learners also will view the following five TED/ TEDx talks in the11th week: 

Bill Gates: Mosquitos, malaria and education

Steve Jobs: How to live before you die

Ken Robinson : Bring on the learning revolution :https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_learning_revolution?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

Guy Claxton: Building Learning Power : https://youtu.be/JxWybvns1jg

MM Pant: Education for the 4th Industrial Age : https://youtu.be/Ve0roK3wVgI

This journey of graded digital learning begins with a few 1 minute learning nuggets, and in a period of about 3 months, it culminates with 5 WhatsApp talks in the following topics during the 12th week.

WhaT01: Learning first, AI and Quantum next

WhaT02: Why learn Quantum Mechanics at School?

WhaT03: Avoiding Natural Stupidity 

WhaT04: Ideas- their creation and spread

WhaT05: Inspiring humans

An incidental purpose of this learning experience is to inform learners of the wide canvas of human knowledge, that is often ignored in the focus on prescribed text-books and the exams that follow. 

The full details of the graded digital learning program is available at : Link to this post :https://mmpant.com/2020/02/21/progressive-digital-learning/

The 12 skills listed below include the top 10 skills listed by the World Economic Forum as important for the year 2020 and beyond, but we have added two more important general skills of Computational Thinking and Thinking from first principles. These collectively will develop the skill of thinking clearly, and enhance situational awareness. 

  • Complex Problem Solving
  • Critical Thunking 
  • Creative Thinking
  • People Management
  • Co-ordinating with others
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Judgement and Decision making
  • Negotiation
  • Service Orientation
  • Cognitive Flexibility
  • Computational Thinking
  • First Principles

Third stage : 2 months ( 8 weeks) 

Taking charge : 

  • Awaken the entrepreneur within ; Preparing for a 100 year life;Significance of ethics;Evolution and extinctions

Moving on:

  • Finding meaning making sense; Understanding the Quantum world;Developing Mathematical mindsets ;Your personal action plan

This program will be offered for the first time from Monday 4th May 2020, and will then onwards begin on the first Monday of every month. Each learner will pursue his or her own trajectory…..

To know more about this program and to register for it please send a WhatsApp message to Prof MM Pant at +919810073724

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Greetings for Navaratri and the Hindu New Year!

Wishing you all an auspicious start to a lifelong learning journey: 

We begin the Hindu New Year and the Chaitra navraatri today, and my suggestion to all is to make a resolution, not only for this New Year but for the rest of your life, and that resolution is to become a lifelong learner. Now that in the aftermath of the Coronavirus, the world is acknowledging the value of Namaste, our traditional Greetings, it is a good time to draw attention to the importance and  value of learning in our tradition. There are numerous exhortations on learning and knowledge, and here are a select few. 

  • Let noble thoughts come to us from all directions: आ नो भद्रा: क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वत: 
  • A learned person and a King can never be compared, A king is respected in his own land whereas a wise man is respected everywhere:  विद्वत्वं  नृपत्वं   एव तुल्ये कदाचन्।स्वदेशे पूज्यते राजा विद्वान् सर्वत्र पूज्यते॥
  • Education is a liberating force :  सा विद्या या विमुक्तये
  • How do we learn? One part from the teacher, one part from self-learning, one part from the peer group and one part over time. They may not be equal parts, but in different proportions : आचार्यात् पादमादत्ते पादं शिष्यः स्वमेधया सब्रह्मचारिभ्यः पादं पादं कालक्रमेण च ॥
  • Who is happy? One who is at his own home, and without debt: को मोदते …. अऋणी चाप्रवासी

It is in direct response to this advice in the YakshaPrasna in the Aranya-parva of the Mahabharata, that I created the course TALL04: Getting a world class education is now in your hands. A good number of Indian students find themselves in debt after having gone abroad or even another large city far away from their homes. This course provides information on becoming well educated with little more than a determination and pursuing a good strategy. It is listed at the end of the 42 course pool. 

When we reflect upon lifelong learning in modern times, the most inspiring story is that of Socrates. While they were preparing the hemlock, Socrates was to learning how to play a new tune on the flute. “What will be the use of that?” he was asked. “To know this tune before dying.” If I dare repeat this reply long since trivialized by the handbooks, it is because it seems to me the sole serious justification of any desire to know, whether exercised on the brink of death or at any other moment of existence. A janata curfew in response to the coronavirus, and this 3 week lockdown is also a good occasion to start the journey of lifelong learning.

I recently saw a TV program about Subhash Ghai, the well known filmmaker, in which there were excerpts of his thoughts…. and he too emphasised being a lifelong learner, and actively seeking feedback. He said that when his film would be released, he would be present somewhere in the theatre to observe the reaction of the audience on every scene or dialogue. Now we have software which does that using facial recognition. 

But being a lifelong learner and actively seeking feedback seem to be the two principles of learning beyond schools, colleges and universities.

Elon Musk actually seeks negative feedback to improve his ideas, while most in places of authority decry, ridicule or even penalise such inputs .

The following couplet from Kabir also makes this point : ‘Keep your critics close to you, let their hut be in your courtyard, that way you don’t need soap and water to cleanse your nature’

निंदक नियरे राखिए ऑंगन कुटी छवाय,  बिन पानी, साबुन बिना, निर्मल करे सुभाय।

And here is support for lifelong learning from a most unexpected person, Bill Clinton : https://youtu.be/L_nUOfaWEC4

Do watch the video and admire his desire to learn particle physics before he dies…. similar to Socrates….get inspired to learn a few things before you die….. of Coronavirus or something else.

As we enter the 2nd quarter of 2020, it is almost axiomatic that the mobile is the preferred device to access learning, at one’s chosen location and preferred time. On the basis of our accumulated experience over the last few years and in anticipation of the learning needs for future readiness over the next few years, I am offering learning opportunities in two formats. The first is a pool of 42 short courses of varying durations, delivered through the popular messaging platform WhatsApp, which learners can choose in a la carte mode. The other is a set of personal mentoring programs ranging in duration from 3 months to 5 years with one of 6 months and another of 1 years duration. These are for learners who are happy to and prefer making a longer term commitment. 

Why 42? 

It all started with Douglas Adams’ cult radio show turned novel turned movie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If you’re not familiar, the fictional series proclaims that 42 is ” the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything” 

This answer was determined by the supercomputer Deep Thought after a lazy 7.5 million years of calculations. The question, however, was forgotten by then. 

Ecole 42 began as a teacher-less coding school in Paris, and now has a presence in the Silicon Valley as well. 

The course pool of 42 short courses: 

List of WhatsApp live talks: (90 minutes duration) 

1: WhaT01: Learning First, AI next !

2: WhaT02:Learning Quantum Mechanics at School

3: WhaT03:Avoiding Natural Stupidity

4: WhaT04: Ideas: their creation and spread

5: WhaT05: Inspiring humans 

List of weekend courses:

1: WEL01: Complex Problem Solving

2: WEL02: Critical Thinking

3: WEL03: Creative Thinking

4: WEL04: People Management

5: WEL05: Co-ordinating with others

6: WEL06: Emotional Intelligence

7: WEL07: Effective Decision making

8: WEL08: Service Orientation

9: WEL09: Negotiation

10: WEL10: Cognitive Flexibility

11: WEL11: Didn’t  get into IIT? Rejoice!!!

12: WEL12: Questioneering

13: WEL13: Grit: Passion with Perseverance

14: WEL14: Design Thinking

15: WEL15: Building Learning Power

List of weeklong courses: 

1: WLL01:Learning with WhatsApp, other mobile Apps and MOOCs

2: WLL02:Financial Acumen

3: WLL03:Health Literacy

4: WLL04:Computational Thinking

5: WLL05:Evolution and Extinctions

6: WLL06:Developing Foresight

7: WLL07:Preparing for a 100 year life

8: WLL08:Humour: a must have skill

9: WLL09:The pursuit of Happiness

10: WLL10:WhatsApp for educators

11: WLL11: First Principles

12: WLL12: Mental Models

13: WLL13: Finding your element

14: WLL14: Finding Meaning Making Sense

15: WLL15: Death? Understanding it is critical to living well

The Quantum Track : one month long courses

QT01: Understanding the Quantum World

QT02: Quantum Biology

QT03: Quantum Computing

The Autonomous Lifelong Learner Track: one month long courses

TALL01: Parental guidance for pre-school learning

TALL02: LHTL for Screenagers

TALL03: LHTL for lifelong learners

TALL04: Getting a world class education is now in your hands

The longer duration personal mentoring programs are the following: 

  • Progressive Digital learning ( 3 months) 
  • The high road to future readiness /20 weeklong  courses ( 6 months) 
  • The AI-fluent SmartEducator : code AIFSE/ 12 one month long courses ( 1 year) 
  • Coming of age in the age of AI: code CoAiaAI / 52 one month long courses ( 5 years)

Further information about all these programs is given on other pages with appropriate headings of this site. To know more about any of these programs and the procedure for enrolment to any of the above programs you may contact Prof MM Pant through WhatsApp at +919810073724 or my sending an e-mail to mmpant@gmail.com

You will find a lot of useful educational information  at Twitter.com/MMPant 

You could start following him on Twitter to be regularly updated with his tweets. 

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First Principles: A framework for complex problems:


First Principles:
 A framework for deconstructing complex problems

As we prepare our youth and ourselves for the coming decade, the World Economic Forum and several other think tanks and thought leaders suggest that problem solving skills, especially that of complex problem solving, will be most critical. I often meet people ( especially parents of young children ) who want to know how and where to learn such skills. 

Although there is a well known Institute of Complexity at Santa Fe, New Mexico (https://www.santafe.edu) founded in 1984 that explores  ‘ Science for a Complex world’ and is leading the world in complexity science, with a mixed group of physicists, biologists, economists, political scientists, computer experts, and mathematicians working together, ordinary folk also have to deal with complex problems on an everyday basis. All innovation whether incremental ( Kaizen), disruptive ( Clayton Christensen) or Blue Ocean ( W Chan Kim and Renee Maubourgne) requires solutions to challenging problems with a fresh perspective. 

One of the challenges of really complex problems is that unlike many difficult problems that we routinely solve these days, there is no ‘algorithm’ to solve a complex problems. Even the recent powerful computing methods like machine learning or quantum computing, suffer from the defect of ‘non-explainability’. We have to look for other methods. 

One such method is the use of  ‘first Principles’, a phrase that was used more than 2000 years ago by the Greek Philosopher Aristotle, who believed that the best way to understand a subject is to break it down to its most fundamental principles, and made popular in recent times by the immensely successful innovator and entrepreneur Elon Musk. Elon Musk simplifies this to two main steps of which the first is to identify the problem and its common assumptions. The second more difficult is to break the problem down to its fundamental truths. Keep digging deeper and deeper until you are left with only the fundamental truths.

My own initiation to the importance of ‘first principles’ happened in the year 1967 when as a Ph.D. student in Solid State Physics, I read Sir John Ziman’s      “ Principles of the theory of Solids”. Books on Solid State Physics at that time usually had titles with adjectives such as Introduction, Advanced…but Prof Ziman’s  book had “ Principles” as part of its title. In the preface to the book, he says “ It has never been supposed that a student could get into his head, the whole of Physics, nor even the whole of any branch of Physics. A few sentences later he writes “ It is a book about ideas, not facts. It is an exposition of the principles, not a description of the phenomena.”

When we use First Principles thinking,we are able to discover unconventional insights based on fundamental truths. This in turn can lead to game-changing innovation — the kind of “10x thinking” that creates breakthrough product ideas. Four very different types of thought leaders  Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla and SpaceX), Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon), Peter Thiel (ex-CEO of PayPal), and Richard Feynman (Nobel Prize winning physicist) have all supported this approach, although they may not all have used exactly the same phrase, but that is what it is in essence. 

The exceptional person that he was, Feynman relished solving problems entirely on his own, from scratch — not relying on previous work from so-called experts. Feynman was intensely curious and wanted to truly understand problems before attempting to solve them. This means that he would often break a problem down to fundamental truths that he could prove, and then build up theories and solutions from there. He would also question assumptions and data. Feynman was at a conference in Rochester, NY, where he heard a talk by some researchers about beta decay, and largely believed their findings. A few years later, Feynman was reviewing the same problem and realized that they had made a mistake. Feynman realized afterwards that he relied too much on the reasoning of others (“reasoning by analogy”). From that point on, he never relied on the reasoning of experts. He approached problems from a First Principles standpoint — what do you know to be fundamentally true, and then reason up from there. 

My encounter with first principles again happened in the unexpected area of law, during my years of practice as a lawyer. In fact I even wrote an article in a legal journal on the principles used to classify goods in the context of sales tax levied on them. Two principles of natural justice are often considered the basis of much of modern first principles of justice. The first is “ Audi alteram partem” which is a right to fair hearing of the other party. The other is of no bias, often invoked as the Latin maxim “ nemo judex in causa sua”. Reasoned decision is almost a first principle of justice. 

Another interesting example of use of first principles is the Drake equation. In 1961, scientist Frank Drake ( https://www.space.com/25219-drake-equation.html )  wrote down a simple-looking equation for estimating the number of active, technologically-advanced, communicating civilizations in the Milky Way. From first principles, as there was no good way to simply estimate a number, but Drake had the brilliant idea of writing down a large number of parameters that could be estimated, which you would then multiply together. 

As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.

 ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essayist and Poet

The above quote from Emerson becomes very important in this age of information overload and an exponential growth of information. There is often a clamour to add more and more subjects to the curriculum at all levels. Adding subjects like AI at School level is an example of this. A few decades ago the 2 year undergraduate course was padded up to become a 3 year program and more recently some Universities even explored a 4 year undergraduate degree. 

In this era of availability of large number of digital learning resources, it is even more important to become aware of the importance of thinking from first principles and training the youth in it.

In my pursuit of programs for future readiness, I have designed a weeklong course on First Principles. The structure of the course is as follows:

Day 1: The concept of first principles 

1.1: Philosophical Origins

1.2: The building blocks of true knowledge 

1.3: Axioms

1.4: Occam’s Razor

1.5: First principles in law

Day 2: Elon Musk’s use of first principles 

2.1: Elon Musk on the importance of first principles 

2.2: Batteries

2.3: The Tesla Car

2.4: Space X

2.5: Solar City

Day 3: Learning and practicing first principles 

3.1: Barriers to First principles thinking

3.2: Elon Musk’s 3 step approach

3.3: The 7 step approach to first principles thinking 

3.4: The Fermi method

3.5: Mind maps

Day 4: What is not a first principle?

4.1: Widely held beliefs 

4.2: Analogies (comparison thinking) 

4.3: Algorithms 

4.4: Rules

4.5: Theories 

Day 5: Applications of first principles thinking

5.1: First principles in design

5.2: First principles in Psychology

5.3: First principles in Programming 

5.4: First principles in societal problem solving 

5.5: First principles in marketing strategy 

This is an initial draft of the topics. They may be tweaked continually and in respond to feedback and ideas received from the course participants. 

To know more about this program and register for it, please send a WhatsApp message to Prof MM Pant at +919810073724 or an e-mail to mmpant@gmail.com

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Wearables in education:

Wearables in education : 

Although mobiles today are ubiquitous and omni-present, our formal education system prohibits their presence ( and possible use) in the classrooms of schools, colleges and universities. 

This is so inspite of UNESCO actively promoting the use of mobile phones in education for almost a decade with an annual mobile learning week in Paris around February-March. This year’s event had to be re-scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the possibilities of wearables in education are expanding rapidly and they can help enormously.

My own personal experience of wearables in education significantly predates my exposure to computers, by almost a decade.

Around the Yesr 1955, I started wearing spectacles and it opened a whole new world for me. I could read clearly what was written on the blackboard and several errors in identifying letters of the alphabet got resolved because the astigmatism of my natural eyes was corrected by wearing prescription cylindrical lenses. Had this device been banned in the classrooms in which I attended the lectures, my life’s trajectory would have been considerably different. 

The present generation of mobile technology can help both learners and educators with their daily classroom activities. It is time to move 

away from the view that wearables can distract the attention of the learners, these gadgets have steadily become modern powerful learning instruments.

This is a news item about Google glasses that can help the blind see : https://www.tweaktown.com/news/71117/googles-new-ai-powered-glasses-will-help-blind-people-see-once-again/index.html

The link has a 2.3 minutes video on the usage: https://shrts.in/ygzn

MIT Technology review has in its latest issue identified top 10 breakthrough technologies of 2020 and beyond that will make a real difference in solving important problems: https://www.morningbrew.com/emerging-tech/stories/2020/03/02/mit-tech-review-releases-top-10-technologies-2020

The major themes are the following:

  • Quantum: Unhackable internet, i.e. quantum secure networking. And “quantum supremacy,” a feat Google reached in October 2019.
  • Healthcare: Hyper-personalized medicine, AI-discovered molecules, and anti-aging drugs.
  • Space: Satellite mega-constellations. 
  • Finance: Digital money like Facebook’s Libra.
  • Environment: Climate change attribution, using supercomputers and satellite data to track extreme weather events
  • Consumer: “Tiny AI” algorithms that run on mobile devices. And differential privacy, an AI technique to keep data anonymized. 

This list focuses on applications of emerging technologies in business and society, rather than the tech itself. 

In order to learn about these developments, exploring them using Augmented and Virtual Reality experiences would be really helpful. 

  • The Hands-Free Convenience

Wearables in education are star attractions on the strength of being hands-free. When you wear a gadget, you are freeing both your hands. A pair of free hands can help you better interact with the real world, alongside permitting you to enjoy a convenient access to other devices that are in your vicinity.

This is comparable to the degrees of freedom we added when we progressed from being quadrupeds to adopting a biped posture. 

  • A Coordination Between Teachers and Students

For a classroom to become a haven for learning and knowledge, it is important that the teachers and students work in unison  with each other. There has to be a high level of coordination between both the parties so as to develop strong scholastic relationships.

With wearables in place, teachers can conduct real-time classes without assembling all the students under one roof. An on-the-go learning session is a matter of convenience that is bestowed by these wearables. Wearables which come in different forms stay with you for the entire working day, imparting knowledge about any topic that interests you.

  • Communication Made Easy

With the beginning of every new academic year, students and teachers are introduced to newer versions of wearables. Updated wearables promise enhanced functionalities like messaging features, GPS and chat options are available on a Smart Watch. These wearables simplify the communication between teachers and learners alongside helping the wearer to perform calculations through its touch-screen mechanism.

You can send any sort of a query to your teacher via the smart watch, which can be answered by your faculty even remotely. Reminders that can be fed into these wearables will thus make the lives of students simple and enjoyable at the same time.

You can engage in smart communication with your peers in addition to enjoying a better access to study material that you are looking for. You can effortlessly take notes of all the important topics and collate them into ready-reference study material.

  • Video Recorders Are Modern Learning Tools

The markets are abuzz with compact video recorders fitted with sophisticated cameras. GoPro is one such option that can be employed by teachers to record class lectures.

These recorded lectures which brim with in-class experiences of different students will come handy to students who have either missed a class or were absent for an entire day owing to ill-health or any personal engagement. It is through this Virtual Reality (VR) enabled GoPro wearable video recorder that you can master subjects like mass communication, journalism and classes aimed at television production.

  • Learn History and Languages the Smart Way

Now is the era of Virtual Reality that has attracted the attention of both learners and tutors. A host of Virtual Reality headsets such as the Oculus have already penetrated into the educational sphere permitting students specializing in languages, civics and history.

Through VR headsets, you will be transported into another territory that is linked to your subject of interest. You begin to enjoy the feel of former empires coupled with loads of information concerning foreign locales and their cultures. You can go to these places without having to step out of your classroom and experience the lifelike learnings that cannot be assimilated through useless images, pictures, slideshows or static posters.

These real-time field trips are the best ways to learning since they bring in an element of realism to what all the students wish to learn. It is through such enlivening experiences that you as a student can unleash a new world of learning.

  • Muse – A Futuristic Wearable That Will Take Education To the Next Level

The future of wearable technology is Muse, a brain-sensing headband that can track signals that are given out by out brain. With a similar mechanism that makes a heart monitor function, a Muse helps teachers to assimilate pertinent information about how well the students are concentrating in the class. This wearable will pick up useful data points and present the reactions of students to a particular lecture.

Highlighting the instances when you as a student were deeply engrossed in the class alongside the times when you were utterly distracted, the Muse can become a learner-centric brain tracker. Modern teachers can bank upon this wearable to improve student engagement, in addition to helping them assess their brain patterns concerning different learning activities.

The possibilities of using wearables in education are growing by leaps and bounds. A plethora of technologically-driven gadgets have already made waves in the sphere of education, revolutionizing the academic industry so that students can reach the ‘sweet spot’ of their learning curve; effortlessly and quickly.

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Learning 321: Real Learning, Relevant Education:

Learning 321: Real Learning, Relevant Education :

Learning 321 is the term  that I use to describe education in the 3rd decade of the 21st century,  driven by Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and other current transformational technologies such as the Internet of Things, 5G, 3D printing, Blockchain and AR/VR.

I have been an academic for more than 50 years having seen the education systems and processes transform through several stages of ‘ chalk and talk’ to the use of OHP with acetate sheets, followed by PowerPoint to use of SmartBoards, and online education with LMS such as webCT, Blackboard, Wiziq and others. Then satellite based education facilitated in India by EDUSAT, and then Internet based conferencing with Skype, Google Hangouts, WebEx and Zoom. With my long innings in EdTech enabled education, I am fortunate in having directly first hand experienced the power and limitations of these. So far, all technologies in education have facilitated the broadcast model with recent successful MOOCs including SWAYAM having touched millions of students.

In the year 2008, my elder son Gaurav introduced me to a book by Clayton Christensen with the title “ Disrupting Class” which drew my attention to the fact that the desirable disruptive manifestation of technology in education is the personalisation of learning. This was also the optimistic expectation of Benjamin Bloom, which he articulated as ‘the 2 σ’ problem. Ten years later we have been able to move towards greater personal choice in the landscape of learning, and can have reasonable expectation that the new learning driven by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will lead to greater personalisation of learning.

In January 2016, Klaus Schwab drew attention to the arrival of the 4th Industrial Age, and during the last 2 years we have been studying its implications for the future of education. In 2017, the MIT Press published a book with title “ Robot-Proof: Higher education in the age of Artificial Intelligence”. In the same year in July 2017 my younger son Herschel wrote and directed a play “ Beyond Singularity” which in a humorous and light hearted way, drew attention to situations when humanoids could have emotions.

My mission for Learning 321 is “ to unite the art of teaching with the Science of learning to offer personalised learner centred technology solutions”. What is missing is the Science of learning? About a hundred years ago from the 1920s when he watched his father, a general practitioner who made housecalls and wrote his prescriptions in Latin, to his days in medical school and beyond, Lewis Thomas saw medicine evolve from an art into a sophisticated science. And he gave the title “ the youngest science: notes of a medicine watcher” to his book.

I have put together some thoughts that could help build a framework for the science of learning, which may develop over the coming decade. This is still work in progress. And I am sharing a set of thoughts that can help in building a proper framework for learning. Link to this post: https://mmpant.com/2020/03/05/a-framework-for-the-science-of-learning/

To me it seems that “ the science of learning, science of the brain, or cognitive science “ by whatever label it is called in the future, is the youngest science evolving before our eyes building on the foundations of wearable devices, learning analytics, big data and Machine learning. And the approach might well be that instead of ‘ a priori’ theories applied quantitatively, we might begin with huge amount of data that we have, and apply the maxim of Robert Croase that “ If you torture data enough it will confess”. 

Here is the link to an earlier blog posted on November 22nd 2019 on the same theme :https://mmpant.com/2019/11/22/learning-321-real-learning-relevant-education-for-the-3rd-decade-of-the-21st-century/

By 2030 India will remain one of the youngest nations on the planet and will be home to more than one billion internet users. And most Indians will access Internet through mobile phones. I have therefore chosen to deliver a suite of 101 courses, 

I have on offer a suite of 101 WhatsApp delivered courses ranging from 90 minutes talks, weekend learning, weeklong learning courses and monthlong courses. 

  • WhatsApp live talks (10) 
  • Weekend Learning (10)
  • Weeklong Learning (10)
  • AI-fluent SmartEducator (12)
  • Coming of age in the age of AI, the 4th Industrial Age:(52)
  • The autonomous lifelong learning ( TALL) Track : (4)
  • The Quantum Track (QT): (3)

There is a separate page on this website (mmpant.com) devoted to each of these tracks.

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A framework for the Science of Learning:

A framework for the Science of Learning: 

Please watch this video from Jeff Hawkins on how brain Science will change Computing : Jeff Hawkins: How brain science will change computing

In this brilliant talk Jeff Hawkins points out that instead of a Scientific approach, too often we allow intuitively strongly held beliefs and factually incorrect assumptions to become a barrier to real progress, where even though the correct answer is in sight , we allow the cloud of intuitive and obvious beliefs to overwhelm us. 

He draws upon the instances of Nicolaus Copernicus ( around 1543) and the Helio-centric solar system, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution (1859) by natural selection and the relatively recent theory of plate techtonics. first proposed by scientist Alfred Wegener in 1912. 

In the context of understanding the brain, he laments the lack of a framework of ideas. 

 Basic research about the brain mechanisms underlying learning in humans and other species has traditionally taken place in the fields of Neuroscience and Biology; research about how the human mind “computes,” developing and using knowledge, has taken place in Cognitive Science and Psychology; research about how machines learn has taken place in Computer Science and other areas of Engineering; and research about how learning occurs in the classroom has taken place in Education.  The Science of Learning is an approach that recognizes the value and importance of cross-fertilization across traditional fields of study, drawing on many different methods and techniques to understand   how learning occurs— with the ultimate goal of optimizing learning for all.

I have put together some thoughts that could help build a framework for the science of learning, which may develop over the coming decade. This is still work in progress. And I am sharing a set of thoughts that can help in building a proper framework for learning. 

Manifestations of an educational system, not based on supporting evidence:

  • Yearly progression through stages of learning, based on age of learner
  • Arbitrary restriction on Combination of subjects ( which are rigid silos) at various stages: science with medical and non-medical, commerce, humanities, vocational…..
  • Teaching load : papers……credits definition of Carnegie credits
  • Outcome based learning……overfitting in case of Machine learning
  • From courses to learning objects : structures of learning objects: 

The idea of learning objects is to create media content that is:

  • interoperable – can “plug-and-play” with any system or delivery tool
  • reusable – can be used or adapted for use in multiple learning events
  • accessible – can be stored a way that allows for easy searchability
  • manageable – can be tracked and updated over time
  • Learning journeys or pathways can be created by connecting ‘intelligent learning objects’. While linking learning objects, another interesting concept, the ‘ valence of a learning object’ becomes important. In this world of hyperlinked content, this is very important. Like the rich variety of objects and materials that Chemistry, Materials Science and Biotechnology can create, a huge amount of learning pathways fulfilling the lifelong needs of the entire world’s population.
  • Braided learning: a new metaphor for education in the age of Artificial Intelligence: The mismatch between the outcomes of traditional education and the needs of the future is growing rapidly, and many acknowledge that new perspectives are needed. I propose here a new metaphor for learning that is suitable for the future, driven by Artificial Intelligence and similar disruptive technologies. It is now broadly agreed that narrow specialists of the past ( who knew more and more about less and less) must give way to broad knowledge of a polymath. Instead of condemning the “ Jack of all trades but master of none” we are now seeking “ Jill’s of all trades and masters of some”. 
  • An acronym that all computer professionals appreciate is the API ( application programming interface). In the pharmaceutical industry, API stands for active pharmaceutical ingredient whereas, excipients are pharmacologically inactive substances that are generally used as a carrier of the API in the drug. In the context of education, we could use the acronym API for  Active pedagogical ingredient ( pedagogy, androgogy or heutagogy). 
  • Microsoft researchers began exploring machine teaching principles nearly a decade ago, and those concepts are now working their way into products that help companies build everything from intelligent customer service bots to autonomous systems.

Here is a link to the Science of Learning page from John Hopkins Science of Learning Institute  : http://scienceoflearning.jhu.edu/science-to-practice/resources/what-is-the-science-of-learning/

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Building Learning Power:

Building Learning Power: 

It is becoming increasingly clearer that now and in the foreseeable future, being able to learn by oneself will become the evolutionary trait that will differentiate those who succeed, flourish and thrive from those who are left behind and perish. With new knowledge being added at an exponential pace, more and more people would have to be able to learn more on their own, learn to connect the dots and make the best use of the increasingly scarce resource called the teacher. 

There are several analogies that can help us better appreciate this model of an autonomous self-directed learner. 

The first is the comparison with physical fitness and building your ‘learning muscles’ and keep using them in the maxim that “ use it or lose it”.

Another is that of cooking with a microwave oven. Unlike traditional cooking, where an external source of heat is the cause of cooking, in the microwave oven it is the natural frequency of vibration of the water molecules that is used to heat the food and the microwave frequency resonates and stimulates this.

A good teacher awakens the desire of learning within the learner. The famous poet and Professor, Robert Frost said “ I am not a teacher. I am an awakened”.

The third analogy is to boot a computer. The process of transforming an inert piece of electronics to one ready to execute a piece of software program is booting. And this is the role of a good teacher. 

Finally machine learning is about ‘ algorithms that learn’, and the role of the teacher is to facilitate their students to be able  to learn. In fact, a few years ago Microsoft has created a special group on machine teaching, and machine teaching is said to be the sexiest job of the near future.

But one of the best ways to appreciate the significance and importance of ‘ learning power’ is to view the following video carefully : https://youtu.be/JxWybvns1jg.

Especially note the person who gets into the wheelchair at will. Guy Claxton coins the name ‘taughtitis’ for the learning disability of not being able to learn on one’s own. 

He emphasises “ building learning power” in analogy to building physical or muscular power. 

See this link to a Wikipedia article on the subject : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_power

I have below some extracts from the article for immediate reference:

Learning power refers to the collection of psychological traits and skills that enable a person to engage effectively with a variety of learning challenges. The concept emerged during the 1980s and 90s, for example in the writings of the cognitive scientist Guy Claxton, as a way of describing the form of intelligence possessed by someone who, to quote Jean Piaget’s phrase, “…knows what to do when they don’t know what to do.” The forms of learning envisaged are typically broader than those encountered in formal educational settings, for example those that are of most use in learning sports or musical instruments, or in mastering complex social situations.

The Elements of Learning Power:

Though Learning Power is conceived as a form of intelligence, it differs from some more familiar notions of intelligence in a number of important ways.

* First, it is seen as eminently practical, and not revealed particularly through solving abstract problems against the clock.

* Second, it is not primarily intellectual, but involves characteristics more usually associated with personality, such as emotional resilience in the face of difficulty or frustration.

* Third, Learning Power is conceived of as a composite of interwoven capacities, rather than as a distinct ‘monolithic’ mental entity.

* Fourth, the elements of Learning power are usually described as dispositions (David Perkins), Habits of mind (Art Costa) or ‘capacities’ (Guy Claxton) rather than skills. 

* Skills are abilities that may need prompting – they do not necessarily come to mind when they are needed – whereas Learning power refers to a persistent orientation towards learning. Those with high levels of Learning Power can be said to be generally open to learning opportunities, and typically find engaging with challenges where they are uncertain of success pleasurable rather than aversive.

* Finally, all the elements of learning power are seen as capable of development. Whereas conventional measures of IQ are taken to reflect intellectual endowments that are relatively constant over time and context, Learning Power emphasises the role of experience in expanding, or sometimes contracting, the dispositions towards learning. This emphasis reflects the concern of those who use the concept with education: specifically with education seen as a preparation for lifelong learning. 

The task of measuring learning power is still work in progress. The importance of the concept has been established and several dimensions have been identified. 

By its nature it will be a multi-dimensional measure, and it may not be easy to reduce it to a scalar. 

In future it may emerge as a key parameter for all learning systems including Machine learning models. It could also be an important parameter to distinguish human and Machine learning. 

In the year  2000 a team of UK researchers at the University of Bristol, identified a set of learning dispositions or dimensions of learning power—which emerged through successive empirical studies. The task was first to identify those personal qualities that enable someone to learn more effectively, then find a means of measuring and assessing them so that the assessment data could be owned and used by the individual to convert diagnoses into strategies for change. The term Learning Power was used to describe these personal qualities—which embody values, attitudes, and dispositions—since this was the first time a research team had developed a data-driven measurement model for the concept of Learning Power.  

Over 150,000 data points later, these dimensions of learning power have been demonstrated to be valid and reliable and, at the same time, extremely useful in practice as a vehicle for different conversations about learning that matter—a means of progressively handing over responsibility for learning to learners themselves. 

This research programme identified 8 inter-related personal qualities that are necessary for people to engage effectively with “risk, uncertainty, challenge, and the unknown”—in other words with new learning opportunities. 

These eight personal qualities are sometimes referred to as ‘learning dispositions’ and they involve feelings, cognition, behavior, and desire—they are holistic, integrative, and part of the way in which we create narrative coherence and make sense of the world and of our own minds. 

The 8 Dimensions of Learning Power 

1: Mindful Agency : Mindful Agency is taking responsibility for your own learning. It’s about how you manage your feelings, your time, your energy, your actions, and the things you need to achieve your goals. It’s knowing your purpose — then knowing how to go about achieving it; stepping out on the path towards your goals.

2: Hope and Optimism: Hope and Optimism is being confident that you can change and learn and get better over time. It is helped by having a positive learning story to reflect upon, that gives you a feeling of having “come a long way” and of being able to “go places” with your learning.

3: Sense Making: Sense making is making connections between ideas, memories, facts—everything you know—linking them and seeing patterns and meaning. It’s about how learning matters to you, connecting with your own story and things that really matter.

4: Creativity: Creativity is using your imagination and intuition, being playful and “dreaming” new ideas, having hunches, letting answers come to you, rather than just “racking your brains” or looking things up. It’s about going “off the beaten track” and exploring ideas.

5: Curiosity: Curiosity is your desire to get beneath the surface, find things out and ask questions, especially “Why?” If you are a curious learner, you won’t simply accept what you are told without wanting to know for yourself whether and why it’s true.

6: Collaboration: Collaboration is how you learn through your relationships with others. It is about knowing who to turn to for advice and how to offer it, too. It’s about solving problems by talking them through, generating new ideas through listening carefully, making suggestions and responding positively to feedback.

7: Belonging: Belonging reflects how much you feel you belong as part of a “learning community”—at work or at home, or in your wider social network. It’s about the confidence you gain from knowing there are people you learn well together with and to whom you can turn when you need guidance, support and encouragement.

8: Openness to Learning: Openness to learning is being open to new ideas and to challenge and having the “inner strength” to move towards learning and change, rather than either giving up and withdrawing or “toughing it out” and getting mad with the world. Becoming more open to learning is like a pathway to all the other dimensions of learning power, just as the other dimensions also help you become more open to learning.

The key message in this piece is that rather than focusing on exams and marks in exams and taking coaching or using Byju or Extramarks, which create a temporary illusion of knowledge, it is better to build learning power, so that in an unknown and uncertain world, one is ready and capable of learning whatever is contextually important. And this is not a onetime activity, but perhaps an activity that is a regular and persistent pattern like taking the morning walk or going regularly to the gym. 

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