Monday, December 11, 2017

Join Genevieve Bell's 3A Institute of AI at ANU to Change the World

The new Autonomy, Agency and Assurance Innovation Institute (3A Institute) at the Australian National University is seeking two Associate Professors and three postdoctoral/research fellows. The new staff will work with Professor Genevieve Bell at the 3A Institute "... to build a new applied science around the management of artificial intelligence, data and technology and of their impact on humanity". It is not every day you are invited to change the world. ;-)

ps: Dr Bell's is down the corridor from mine at the
ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science in Canberra. It will be interesting to see what develops.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Failure of UK Research Open Access Policy

Dr Danny Kingsley, Head of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge University Library has concluded that the UK's policy for free and open access to publicly-funded research has failed: "Manipulation of embargo periods, confusing information, and a graduated charging system for different licenses all work towards ensuring a second income stream. Far from moving to an open access future we seem to be trapped in a worse situation than we started." (Kingsley, 2017).

I was intrigued by Danny's inclusion of "scheduled tweets" to accompany the presentation. 

To answer the question at the end of the presentation "How do we get out of this mess?", I suggest a modestly funded initiative to encourage new Open Access publishers. This could use the start-up infrastructure already established around universities, such as Cambridge

Academic staff and students could be trained and funded to set up new companies to provide OA publishing in competition with existing closed-access ones. These new companies would aim to be profitable, in the long term, while providing publications without a fee to the subscriber. The main question to be answered by any such start-up would not be publishing infrastructure (which there is plenty of free-open-access software for), or revenue streams (which are feasible), but what incentives could be provided to induce academics to choose a new, unproven publisher.


Kingsley, D. (2017). So did it work? Considering the impact of Finch 5 years on [Presentation file].

Sydney Startup Hub: Model for the University of the Future?

On Friday I attended the last Friday Night Pitches at the Fishburners co-working space in Ulitmo in Sydney, before they move to a new location in the Sydney CBD. Fishburners is currently located in an old warehouse with timer beams on the ceiling in the Industrial/New York loft style adopted by start-ups around the world. Fishburners is moving to the NSW Government sponsored "Sydney Startup Hub" along with the Stone & Chalk Fintech Hub and other incubators and accelerators. They are offering free trials and discounts on the new location. It will be interesting to see how the new, more corporate atmosphere effects the start-ups.

The new fit-out is by interior architects TomMarkHenry and from the artist's renderings looks open and comfortable. This is a more modern building, but not new (which is a good thing). It appears to be "Transport House" built in the Art Deco style in the 1930s.The new interior design is by the same architects of the WeWork co-working space at Pyrmont in Sydney. From a brief visit, this I thought was a little cluttered with too much industrial ornamentation, but still usable. It is a shame perhaps, the designers did not go for some 30s details with the Sydney Startup Hub: perhaps a comic book motif?

The design of such start-up hubs is of interest for more than budding entrepreneurs,  as the same design is now being used for universities and businesses. With this approach there are a few dedicated offices and some meeting rooms. Most of the space is given over to open plan shared working areas with offices, with movable furniture and combined recreation presentation rooms with kitchens. Some may lament the loss of individual offices and dedicated presentation rooms, but few would be willing to pay the cost of these, either in terms of dollars per square metre, or loss of flexibility.

from University of Melbourne wrote recently about Australian universities becoming more integrated with the community by locating facilities in the city and providing services on campus for the community. One driver for this Trevena did not mention was review. Start-up co-working spaces charge for desk-space by the day, week, month or year. It will be interesting to see if universities adopt the same approach. Companies are reducing the allocation of permanent offices and desks for staff, preferring staff to be out on site with customers. The same could be applied to students, who should not be sitting around at the university, but out in the community, in the field, or at work, learning. This would be particularly applicable for graduate students, where Australia needs to produce more Masters and Doctoral students with practical professional skills for industry and fewer research academics.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Hidden job market for higher degree graduates in Australia

Mewburn, Suominen and Grant (2017) report on research which used Artificial Intelligence to read job ads and look for those requiring high level research skills. They conclude there is a hidden job market for PhD graduates in Australia. However, the authors' assumption that these skills are indicative of a PhD is flawed. Australia has two forms of Doctoral Degree: Research and Professional. The former is commonly referred to as a PhD, the latter as a "Doctor of discipline". Both forms of doctorate require research skills, but the latter is intended for more practical application outside universities and research organizations. It is likely that almost all the hidden job demand the report found suits professional doctorates, not PhDs. In addition, for most jobs a Masters, not Doctorate, would be sufficient.

A more refined version of the AI might be able to distinguish between real PhD jobs in university and research organizations, those in industry requiring Professional Doctoral level skills and those where a Masters would be sufficient, but this would be difficult.
"There is a large ‘hidden job market’ for PhD graduates in the Australian workforce. Only 20.7 per cent of non-academic job ads (2,770 of 13,379 unique job titles) in our dataset asked for a PhD qualification, yet as many as 43 per cent (210 of 483) of the unique job ads that were analysed 3 required a high level of research skills and capabilities, indicative of a PhD. ...

The Machine revealed some interesting
patterns regarding demand for research skills, particularly in industries traditionally assumed to have low demand for PhD graduates, such as manufacturing, transport, logistics, marketing and communication. In addition, other industry sectors were shown as potentially ready to embrace more graduates with research skills, echoing the thinking of the innovation agenda."

From Mewburn, Suominen and Grant, p2, 2017


Mewburn, I., Suominen, H. & Grant, W. (2017, August). Tracking Trends in Industry Demand for Australia's Advanced Research Workforce, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS), ANU. URL

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Reframing Teaching to Use Flexible Classrooms

Last Monday I attended "Work Integrated Learning - a disciplined approach" at University of Canberra. This was based on a recent paper by Ruge and McCormack (2017) on constructive alignment of the assessment for a course at University of Canberra. Two recent case studies in EduCause point to the need for new classroom designs, plus course design and the training of staff in how to do this (Morrone, Flaming,  Birdwell, Russell, Roman & Jesse, 2017).
ANU Union Court Redevelopment
New ANU Buildings
(artists' impression).

Universities are building new flexible learning classrooms (such as in the new teaching building at ANU). These typically have a flat floor, and tables for small student groups, with display screens on all walls. However, to effectively use these spaces course redesign and teaching staff training is required. There is no point in moving out of lecture theaters if the "lecturer" gives hour long non-interactive monologues in the new "flexible" room. There is no point in putting the students in groups and link them with tech, if the primary assessment is an end of semester individual paper based examination.

The "lecturer" needs to be trained how to teach without lecturing and the assessment redesigned to use group and project based work. New classrooms can then be used effectively and the learning aligned to vocational requirements beyond the classroom.


Morrone, A., Flaming, A., Birdwell, T., Russell, J., Roman, T., & Jesse, M. (2017, December 4) Creating Active Learning Classrooms Is Not Enough: Lessons from Two Case Studies, EduCause. URL

Ruge, G., & McCormack, C. (2017). Building and construction students’ skills development for employability–reframing assessment for learning in discipline-specific contexts. Architectural Engineering and Design Management, 1-19.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Cyber Information Warfare in Canberra

Dr Herb Lin, Senior Research Scholar, Stanford University, is speaking on "Cyber-enabled information warfare and the end of the Enlightenment" at the Australian National University in Canberra. He argues that Information Warfare and Influence Operations (IWIO) is a hostile act, but not "warfare" under the UN Charter and laws of war. I agree that using the Internet to influence an enemy is just an extension of previous analog information techniques, but I am not sure those being targeted would not see it as warfare.
Dr Lin's characterizes IWIO operations as being effective, with the use of violence. However, the doctrine of the USA (and Australia) is to respond to cyber attacks based on the effect the attack has, not the nature of the weapons used:
"When warranted, the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would to any other threat to our country. ... We reserve the right to use all necessary means—diplomatic, informational, military, and economic—as appropriate and consistent with applicable international law, in order to defend our Nation, our allies, our partners, and our interests.”

From: International Strategy for Cyberspace, The Whitehouse, May 2011
I suggest that if IWIO has a damaging effect on a nation, that nation will respond accordingly. If the attacked nation has a IWIO capability, then they may use that to respond, but reciprocity doesn't require that. 

Conventional military forces could be used to respond to IWIO, despite the problem that this may play into the information agenda of the attacker. For this reason a nation may use a covert kinetic military response to IWIO.

Dr Lin discussed ways to disarm a information warfare attack, by carefully identifying the attacker and their motives, as well as debunking false claims made. However, this task may be made more difficult, I suggest, by the nation's own politicians and organizations using the same IW techniques for political campaigning and marketing.

Dr Lin asserted cyber warfare is not a threat to civilization. I don't agree. Conventional and nuclear weapons can only kill people, but cyber war can kill an idea.

Dr Lin used the example of the Russian Government allegedly funding both "black lives matter" and "while lives matter" campaigns in social media in the USA, to spread discontent. These he characterized as chaos-producing operations. While such attacks existed before the Internet, they can now be carried out much easier on-line.

As an example, the technique of fuzzing with AI (Rajpal, Blum & Singh, 2017) might be applied to IW. With fuzzing is used to test the security of computer systems by generating a large number of sets of test data. AI can be used to see which sets are most effective for breaking into a system. The same could be (and may already be) applied to IW: the attacker would generate a large number of variations on a message, such as "black lives matter" and AI would be used to refine the versions of the message which are most effective at creating discontent. On-line marketers already use similar techniques to measure the effectiveness of advertising, by sending slightly different advertisements to individual consumers. However the use of AI could speed up the process. It may that social media is itself is a form of inadvertent IW attack, with a reports linking social media use and depression in teenagers.

One one the more amusing parts of Dr Lin's entertaining presentation was a clip from Star Trek Deep Space Nine:
"The truth is usually just an excuse for lack of imagination ...".

From "The Wire", script by
Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Episode 2x22, Production number: 40512-442, First aired: 8 May 1994).
Start Trek presented an idealized image of a united world where a western (mostly US) world view had prevailed. This form of soft-power perhaps should not be underestimated.

Dr Lin's "On Cyber-Enabled Information/Influence Warfare and Manipulation" with Jackie Kerr is to be published in the Oxford Handbook of Cybersecurity (2018).
"The West has no peer competitors in conventional military power. But its adversaries are increasingly turning to asymmetric methods for engaging in conflict. In this public seminar, Dr Herb Lin will address cyber-enabled information warfare (CEIW) as a form of conflict or confrontation to which the Western democracies are particularly vulnerable. 
CEIW applies the features of modern information and communications technology to age-old techniques of propaganda, deception, and chaos production to confuse, mislead, and perhaps to influence the choices and decisions that the adversary makes. A recent example of CEIW can be seen in the Russian hacks on the US presidential election in 2016. CEIW is a hostile activity, or at least an activity that is conducted between two parties whose interests are not well-aligned, but it does not constitute warfare in the sense that international law or domestic institutions construe it. Some approaches to counter CEIW show some promise of having some modest but valuable defensive effect. If better solutions for countering CEIW waged against free and democratic societies are not forthcoming, societal discourse will no longer be grounded in reason and objective reality – an outcome that can fairly be called the end of the Enlightenment."


Rajpal, M., Blum, W., & Singh, R. (2017). Not all bytes are equal: Neural byte sieve for fuzzing. arXiv preprint arXiv:1711.04596. URL

Friday, December 1, 2017

Catholic Schools Action Research Showcase

Greetings from the National Convention Center in Canberra, where the Catholic Schools are holding an Action Research Showcase. The keynote speaker is Jane Hunter from UTS, with some "provocations". Her first provocation was to describe how she was taken to hospital in an ambulance and how her recovery depended on highly trained medical personnel. Jane explained we have a shortage of students studying STEM in schools, resulting in a shortage of medical and other professionals.

The audience at the conference is predominately from primary schools. You might ask what a university lecturer is doing at a schools event, but one conclusion from looking at education is that the same general principles apply at all levels.

Jane cautioned about the Global Education 'Reform' Movement (GERM), pushing for reforms to Australian education based on countries very different to Australia.

Dr Hunter then went on to talk about research on "High Possibility Classrooms" (HPC) and pointed to resources for it. This is a form of student centered learning, with projects and experiments. This would fit well with a change university teaching, where students are encouraged to do things, rather than listen to lectures.

Dr. Hunter pointed out that many schools are not equipped for this approach, with small classrooms and old equipment. This is also an issue for universities. Old cramped lecture theaters with fixed furniture are not suitable for students working in groups.

Dr. Hunter proposed getting rid of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) and the NSW Higher School Certificate (HSC). She urged teachers to engage with AI to support teaching, or teaching will be dominated by the FANG companies (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google).