A New Chapter for Autonomous Vehicles

The National Safety Council said that nearly 40,000 people died in 2016 from motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. We all know that driving a car is statistically far more more dangerous than flying in an airplane and more likely than being a victim of a terrorist attack. But for most of us, driving is a necessity.

The promise of a roadway full of smarter-than-humans autonomous vehicles that can react faster and pay closer attention sounds appealing. That story entered a new chapter when on March 18 a self-driving Uber vehicle killed a pedestrian.

The Tempe, Arizona police released dashcam video of the incident which shows the victim suddenly appearing out of the darkness in front of the vehicle. A passenger in the car appears to be otherwise occupied until the accident occurs.

Google, Tesla and other companies including Uber has had autonomous vehicles in test mode for quite some time in select cities across the U.S. These test cars always have a human safety driver behind the wheel to take control of the vehicle in an emergency situation. In this case, he was not paying attention - which is one of the "advantages" to  using a self-driving car - and may not have reacted any faster than the car.

My own car (a Subaru Forester) has some safety features that try to keep me in my lane and can turn the wheel to correct my errors. It generally works well, but I have seen it fooled by snow on the ground or salted white surfaces and faded lane lines. If I fail to signal that I am changing lanes, it will beep or try to pull me back. Recently, while exiting a highway at night that was empty but for my vehicle, I failed to signal that I was exiting and the car jerked me back into the lane. It surprised me enough that I ended up missing the exit. I suppose that is my fault for not signaling,.

many of these vehicles use a form of LiDAR technology (Light Detection and Ranging) to detect other vehicles, road signs, and pedestrians. It has issues when moving from dark to light or light to dark and can be fooled by reflections (even from the dashboard or windshield of your own car).

I have said for awhile now that I will feel safe in an autonomous vehicle when all the cars with me on the road are autonomous vehicles. Add a few humans and anything can happen. I think it is possible that we may transition by using autonomous vehicle dedicated lanes.

Should this accident stop research in this area? No. It was an inevitability and more injuries and deaths will occur. Still, these vehicles have a better overall safety record than the average human driver. But the accident starts a new chapter in this research and I'm sure companies, municipalities and other government agencies will become more careful about what they allow on the roads.

Self-driving cars are always equipped with multiple-view video cameras to record situations. It is a bit sad that dashcams have become more and more popular devices for all cars, not for self-driving purposes but to record an accident, road rage or interactions with the police. It is dangerous on the roads in many ways.


The Tempe Police posted to Twitter about the accident, including the video from the vehicle.

Tempe Police Vehicular Crimes Unit is actively investigating the details of this incident that occurred on March 18th. We will provide updated information regarding the investigation once it is available. pic.twitter.com/2dVP72TziQ   — Tempe Police (@TempePolice) March 21, 2018

Analyzing Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and You

The Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook hit this month because of its involvement in the election of Donald Trump in 2016. The company used an app developed legitimately by a Cambridge University researcher, Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, as a personality survey called "This is Your Digital Life."

I recall learning about that app about 3 years ago in a presentation at an EdTech conference. By using it as a quiz on Facebook, about 270,000 users gave permission (because most people are unaware of the access they allow) to their data which was collected but then used to additionally collect some public data from their friends.

I suspect a majority of social media users are unaware of how their data is used, and what permissions they have granted (perhaps by default in some instances).

Have you ever used your Facebook login as a way to sign in to another website or app? It asks you if you want to login using your Facebook ID and that seems to save a step or two and is great if you forgot your actual login to that other site. 

When those Facebook users took the "This is your digital life" quiz using their Facebook login, they allowed that app's developer to tap into all of the information in their Facebook profile (that includes your name, where you live, email address and friends list).  [Note: Currently, apps are no longer permitted to collect data from your Facebook friends.]

I don't give Dr. Kogan, Cambridge Analytica or Facebook a pass on this activity even if users did opt in. Kogan shared it with Cambridge Analytica which Facebook says that was against its policy. Facebook says it asked Cambridge Analytica to delete all of the data back in 2015. Facebook also claims that it only recently found out that wasn't done.

A lot of people seem to have given up on privacy, accepting it as something we just can't control any more. But there is a lot you can and should do.

settings

For example, a very simple change to make in your Facebook privacy settings is to "Limit The Audience for Old Posts on Your Timeline." That means that posts on your timeline that you've shared with Friends of friends, and Public posts, will now be shared only with Friends. Anyone tagged in these posts, and their friends, may also still see these posts, but the public (which includes apps) will not be able to access them legitimately.

Facebook's API, called Platform, allows third-party apps and websites to integrate with your Facebook account and exchange data with them via developer tools. It can be convenient for users, such as decreasing the number of login/password combinations you need to remember, but it has potential for abuse.

When you use the "Log in With Facebook" feature on a site, you grant a third-party app or service access to your Facebook account. It will ask for permission to receive specific Facebook data from you - email address, birthdate, gender, public posts, likes and also things beyond your basic profile info. I have seen cases where when I deny access to some information, it tells me the app can't be loaded. That is a warning. But some legitimate apps, like the scheduling apps Hootsuite and Buffer, do need a lot of permissions in order to allow them to post as you on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. In these cases, by using the app I need to trust that developer and the service it is connecting to via an API.

Being educated about how technology works and knowing how you can protect your own data and privacy is more important than ever. And, of course, you can always not use a service that doesn't seem to help you do that.

Are All Schools Prep Schools?

What do you think of when you hear the term "prep school?" Do you think of elite, private schools that look and act like little Ivy League colleges?

A university-preparatory school or college-preparatory school (shortened to preparatory school, prep school, or college prep) is a type of secondary school, but the term can refer to public, private independent or parochial schools primarily designed to prepare students for higher education.

But aren't all high schools preparation for college? That answer has varied over the centuries. While secondary schools were once only for middle and upper class kids who might go on to higher education, schools also went through a period of being "comprehensive" and trying to provide preparation for those going on to college, and for for those going on to a job. 

In the early 20th century, there were efforts to imitate German-style industrial education in the United States. Employers wanted wokers who were "trained" more than "educated." Teachers of high school academic subjects and some colleges thought the preparation for college was being watered down. So, vocational education emerged as a way to prepare people not planning on college to work in various jobs, such as a trade, a craft, or as a technician.

Historically, the German Gymnasium also included in its overall accelerated curriculum post secondary education at college level and the degree awarded substituted for the bachelor's degree (Baccalaureat)[1] previously awarded by a college or university so that universities in Germany became exclusively graduate schools.

Préparatoires aux grandes écoles (Higher School Preparatory Classes), commonly called classes prépas or prépas, are part of the French post-secondary education system. These two very intensive years (extendable to three or four years) act as a preparatory course with the main goal of training undergraduate students for enrollment in one of the grandes écoles. The workload is very demanding - between 35 and 45 contact hours a week, plus usually between 4 and 6 hours of written exams, plus between 2 and 4 hours of oral exams a week and homework filling all the remaining free time.

 

Making University Websites Global-Ready

globalIn one survey, 94 percent of students Yes to the statement: Prior to considering a school, I examine its website. That is not surprising and we know that an attractive, clear website does a lot to sell the school and promote its brand.

Mix that into globalization and internationalization and you have to consider where your website stands with an international audience.

The emergence of the "knowledge society," online programs and the use of English as the lingua franca for scientific communication are all connected to globalization. Universities often have international interests. Those include everything from study abroad for its American students, international student recruitment and enrollment, research and scholarly collaboration, and programs that have international and intercultural dimension.

Clearly, there is more here than just the look of a website because with an international interest you need to provide and attract prospective and current students, prospective and current faculty, researchers, parents, alumni, and employers while accurately reflecting the institution's style, activities, and reputation.

Much more on this, along with "Best Practices in Institutional Websites for International Visibility" by Dr. Gabriela Geron, EDUCAUSE