edX Sold!

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It seems like it was yesterday (see edX it’s here and now) when a few of us were involved in the creation of edX. The hope, for me and a few others was that edX was going to be transformative, and in some ways it was for Harvard. In the past decade Harvard has made tremendous progress in teaching on-line. Of course, the pandemic accelerated this a bit. But a lot had already been done, and continues to be done.

That said, and consistent with Clay Christensen‘s work, incumbents in the current model are worst-off to re-invent themselves – and Harvard is arguably one of the oldest and most successful incumbent in the current model. So as a result, we seem to have missed or not have enough of the right incentives to truly “turn the model on its head”.

Then again, MIT and Harvard jointly committed $60M to edX at the time of its creation, and are selling it for $800M a mere 9 years after its creation. In case you’re wondering that’s roughly a 33% annual rate of return – not bad, and certainly better than most mutual funds…

Initial run of HKS’ Exec Ed program “Leading in Artificial Intelligence”

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Incredibly excited to be part of the team delivering the inaugural run of this program. This is a sister program to “Cybersecurity: at the intersection of technology and policy”, and has a similar feel to it, but the focus is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and more specifically Algorithms, Data Science, Machine Learning (ML), Deep Learning, etc. As with the Cybersecurity program, it is a great mix of philosophy, tech, law, and science. It is on-purpose light on deep tech and math, because the goal is not to learn the mechanics of these technologies/approaches, and more to focus on how to think about them, understand the pitfalls and challenges that come with developing/using these types of systems – and of course, how to make policy and think about regulations as it relates to these systems.

“Dear/Cher Canadians”, an amazing project to bring people together at a time when we need it the most

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A few months ago, I had the privilege to meet Katherine Lou, one of the amazing student behind the “Dear Harvard” site. Just a few days ago, Katherine reached out to discuss a new project: “Dear/Cher Canadians”. Today, just in time for Canada Day, Katherine and six other Canadian youth launched this new site to celebrate Canada Day, and with TELUS Inc.’s help, raise money in support of COVID-19 relief for vulnerable communities and youth across Canada. These “Dear” sites are such a simple concept, and yet such a powerful idea at a time when we can all benefit from expressing gratitude for what we have, and hope for the future. (see the press release for additional detail)

Cybersecurity is not very important – Andrew Odlyzko

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University of Minnesota professor Andrew Odlyzko just released a new paper titled Cybersecurity is not very important.  I had an opportunity to review an early version of the paper, and I was eager to see it published on the web.  While the title is a bit provocative, Andrew’s paper brings a critically important perspective to the cybersecurity debate which is too often grounded in fear mongering.

In no way is this an argument that digital hygiene and basic security measures are not important.  It is an argument about being honest and realistic about the state of things in the digital space and putting them in perspective.  Scott and I will surely add this to our required reading for our courses, and I would encourage anyone interested in cybersecurity to read it.

Someone needs to step in and fill the void. DuckDuckGo maybe?

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I have had DuckDuckGo (DDG) as my default search engine since probably around 2012. I was curious, and a little nervous at first, but now it seems like it was a good choice.  Now, of course, this is assuming that what goes on behind the curtain at DDG, is entirely consistent with what is being projected to the people who use it.  A search engine that respects/protects your privacy seems too good to be true – yet, DDG seems to have stuck to its original principles.

Teaching on issues relating to privacy, security, and life in the digital space has sensitized me to their critical importance for an increasingly online world, today, and moving forward.  As part of the courses we (Scott and I) teach, we cover news highlights every week, and we have done so for many years. The intersection of technology, security, privacy, social dynamics, etc. is a space we have been watching for a long time. In the past couple of years, it is very clear that slowly but surely, the surveillance marketing economy is being challenged. It is clear that “cool” big techs, doing “great things” for the world are being challenged by the need to prioritize profits based on their current business models over legitimate (or superficial) aspirations to do good for society.

Yet, with all the coverage of bad or questionable behaviors by big platform operators, it seems the general public is still not migrating en masse off of these platforms.  Much of this is possibly because people don’t care about these issues – after all, these issues are more “boiling frog” types of issues (see SocialCooling for a simple introduction to some of these issues, or at least their impact).  But another explanation may be that there doesn’t seem to be a viable alternative in the market.

So it seems as though now would be a good time for someone to step in and create a social network for the rest of us. A social network platform that not only respects people’s privacy, but also one that addresses other major flaws of existing social network platforms. DDG the little search engine that could (actually, not so little anymore…), is one of those companies that seems to have the legitimacy to stand proudly on its early achievements, and do something about this.  If DDG hasn’t explored the idea (and I’d be surprised if they have not), now may be a good time to do so.  And while going from search engine to content platform is a big scary step, I trust the people at DDG would probably do a decent job of it.

Business and government leaders, and the “laws of physics” of technology

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I was incredibly excited, this past April, to play a minor role in getting a small event pulled together to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Larry Lessig’s paper “The laws of cyberspace” (Lessig – 1998). A paper that is just as relevant today as it was twenty years ago.

You can see a re-cap of the event here: Force of Nature – Celebrating 20 years of the laws of cyberspace

Government and business organizations, over the past few decades, have (or are on their way to) become technology organizations – whether they are willing to acknowledge it to themselves, or not. Yet, the technical bits have not been, and are increasingly less, the central part of this transformation. As a result, non-technical business and government leaders need to invest time to understand the “laws of physics” of the digital space (cyberspace). Delegating this responsibility to the “technology” people in the organization (CIO, CTO, CISO, etc.) is no longer sufficient.

As highlighted in Larry’s paper, cyberspace is influenced and regulated by four forces: social norms, markets, laws, and “code”. For individual organizations, these forces affect business strategies, products & services, supply chains, and business operations. One needs only to look at the news every week and the debates over such things as Net Neutrality, Privacy, Cybersecurity, GDPR, SESTA-FOSTA, CDA 230, the Cloud Act, etc. to understand why it is becoming critical for business/government leaders to get up to speed on these issues.

We (Scott and I) assign Larry’s paper as required reading for the first week of the classes we teach. I would recommend it to anyone who is in a business or government leadership positions, and appreciates the centrality of technology to every aspect of what they do as an organization.

2017 HKS Exec Ed program “Cybersecurity: at the intersection of technology and policy”

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Another successful run of the fantastic program.  Great group of attendees as usual, with representation from all corners of the U.S. Federal government, as well as other countries, and some private sector representatives.  Mind-blowing topics and lectures every day.  And of course, the always fun cyberwarfare exercise on Friday.  See here for more information.  And here, here, here, and here for some feedback on the program

 

New semester, and over 200 students!

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Here we go, another semester starts for CSCI e45a, with the “all online” format that we started last year.  Very exciting and a little scary to have 226 students enrolled. I hope this is an indication that the content of the course is becoming more important and relevant to folks out there!