Thursday, June 29, 2023

Australian Universities in Top Tier for Work in Singapore Excludes Adelaide

The Singapore Ministry of Manpower has included seven of Australia's top universities in their top tier for work passes in the COMPASS Program, due to take effect in September. Graduates of these universities get twice as many points as others, towards a work pass in Singapore.  
  1. Australian National University, 
  2. University of Melbourne Australia, 
  3. University of New South Wales, 
  4. University of Queensland, 
  5. University of Sydney, 
  6. University of Western Australia.
These are seven out of the eight universities in Australia's Group of Eight leading universities. Missing from Singapore's list is the University of Adelaide, which comes lowest of the eight on global rankings. However, it should be noted that the ranking systems tend to be skewed towards research quality, and have little to do with the quality of education provided. Singapore's use of these rankings is questionable, unless the workers are being recruited for research jobs, not business, or industry. 

    Wednesday, June 28, 2023

    Weaponizing ChatGPT

    Professor Sarah Kreps,
    Cornell University
    Since late last year I have been part of presenting, and attended, many seminars on ChatGPT, but this is a first: "Weaponizing ChatGPT?  National Security and the Perils of AI-Generated Texts in Democratic Societies". In this case "weaponising" is not a metaphor, or hyperbole, it really is about using AI to wage war. Greetings from the Australian National University, where a group of defence and AI experts from around the world are meeting, sponsored by the Australian Department of Defence. . This is the sort of seminar where not only have the speakers just published a new books, but so have half the audience. It is a little intimidating.

    Professor Sarah Kreps, Cornell University, explained she was in the US Air Force engineering, working on the predator UAV, and AI was a short step from there. She suggested AI started in the civilian sector, and will then be adopted by the military. I am not so sure that is the case. What became web search engines, came out of research sponsored by US DoD. Some of the AI research is similarly sponsored. 

    From the Professor's description, the US approach seems to be limited to what the threat might be from an adversary's use of AI. What I suggest western military's need to do is consider how they will use AI. As an example, if AI is being used defensively to create plausible fake news to undermine your nation, how can it be use to create instant factual responses, or offensively to create a largely factual narrative to undermine the enemy. 

    Professor Kreps characterized western countries as an open system which could be exploited by misinformation, and AI can be used to enhance this. The result would be customized fake news to appeal to specific groups. 

    It would be interesting to see what the ADF's Information Warfare Division is doing with generative AI. Just as Australia's military cyber-security experts have had an increasing role protecting government and civilian systems, with its name changed from Defence Signals Directorate, to Australian Signals Directorate. Is there a similar role for IWD?

    Professor Kreps suggested the vocabulary used could indicate when generative AI is used. I suggest that can't be relied on. Professional speechwriters know to use the language and cadence of their customers. It will not be difficult for AI to write using the language of a particular individual, or group.

    This would appear to be an area where DARPA, its UK & US equivalents, could provide funding for universities. This could produce free open access tools to counter misinformation.

    Tuesday, June 27, 2023

    Drones, human-machine teaming, strategic influence and mass warfare

    Mick Ryan
    Greetings from the Australian National University, where former Major General Mick Ryan, is speaking on "Thinking About Future War: Drones, Mass, and Other Trends". His first slide had as a backdrop a map showing how to invade Taiwan (from a WWII study), but then went on to talk about Ukraine. This seminar is part of a series associated with research funded by the Australian Department of Defence (the audience has a who's who of modern military thinking, here for discussions). He pointed out the amount of time between being detected and attacked had been reduced to about two minutes, requiring very mobile forces. However, war still doesn't happen quickly. He asserted that no military trains its personnel to "partner" with machines, and that this will become more important, when there are many more autonomous systems than personnel. He also suggested we have not seen the use of drones yet (swarm countermeasures were one topic at the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020 which I helped with).

    Mick went on to talk about integrating political, and military objectives, and operations. He asked for new ideas for Australian defence. He pointed out that some of Russia's new ideas have "not worked out that well". He contrasted this with Chinese new thinking, and suggested Australia needs do this. He suggested organizing the defence force differently, as current battalions are based on old Russian legions. 

    I suggest one thing the Australian military can do is make better use of universities, as industry are. Each semester, ANU has about 200 students working on group computer projects and 50 interns. Some of these people work on defence and security projects, mostly in companies contracted to the Australian Government. Examples are testing new radar for missile defence (an Australian system Ukraine has asked for), and testing cyber security of software for government.  Universities across Australia are working on AI, cyber security, drones, and all that stuff. 

    In answer to a question about the potential for war over Taiwan, Mick Ryan suggested drone submarines would be more useful than nuclear powered ones. Another interesting point was what is the legal liability of civilians who help with defence online. Some seem reasonably clear to me: if you report a military aircraft going over, you have become a target. A great question from a public servant in the audience was what does a mass AI western influence operation look like? The first part of the answer surprised me: NATO (as a political influence organisation). The second part was to teach children that not everything on the Internet is true. 

    Friday, June 23, 2023

    Teaching STEM students the job is not about tech

    Before moving into education I worked at as a civilian computer policy advisor. This was mostly not about technical details, but working out what was needed, & how the relationships between the people in the organisation were stopping this happening. I try to help the interns I am mentoring, who are working in major government agencies & companies, with this. I talked about it yesterday with Patrick O'Shea for a forthcoming podcast in his "The Versatilist" series.

    Thursday, June 22, 2023

    What is One University's Course Equivalent to Another?

    There is some comfort in being an "honorary" lecturer at a university. As you are not getting paid a salary, you feel no obligation to go to administrative meetings. You just take on the teaching, or research, you want to do. Some prefer to avoid the stress of grading student work, and just do some mentoring. I have been formally trained in how to mark students so don't find it too stressful. One thing I have avoided, for decades, is an administrative role at a university. But recently I was asked to help process applicants for credit from studnts for study done elsewhere. In a way this is an extension of assessment. But in another way it is a very tedious administrative process, involving many rules, and use of precedents. As a former bureaucrat, I can cope with rules, but even so it is a tedious process. 

    Processing applications for credit for Australia courses is not so hard. First of all all Australian universities are real universities, federally accredited. In some countries anyone can call something a university, but in Australia that is illegal. 

    Next of all Australian universities professors borrow heavily from each other. Often courses at different institutions have the same titles, descriptions, learning objectives and assessment. Also degrees are accredited by the Australian Computer Society and Engineers Australia, and have much the same content. 

    Checking out an institution in another country is a little more difficult. First of all is it real? Australian universities employ staff to carry out forensic analysis of documents presented by students. Then there is the problem of the quantity of learning in courses, and the form of assessment. This becomes a particular issue for practically orientated skills: can a student learn to program in a few weeks, and be assessed with multiple choice questions on their coding ability? Can a student learn project management, without actually being a member of a project team? How much does workplace experience count, be it as part of a formal internship program, or concurrently with study, count? Ultimately these things come down to judgement.

    Friday, June 16, 2023

    Projects & internships for student employability

    I will be speaking on "Projects & internships for student employability" at 9:40am 25 August 2023 of EduTECH, in Melbourne. In this I will highlight my experience teaching in the Australian National University's Techlauncher program of student projects for real clients, and mentoring ANU interns at major companies, and government agencies. Comments and suggestions would be welcome. Also I am happy to give a preview webinar to practice, if someone has a venue.

    "Universities are under pressure to turn out job ready graduates. But there is only one way to ensure a student is really ready for a job: put them in a real workplace. In this presentation hear how Australia's leading university runs group projects, and internships for computer students with major companies, government agencies. Tom will share insights from 20 years designing and delivering work integrated learning.
    To will help you:
    1. Understand where to start with projects and internships 
    2. Understand how to effectively support work integrated learning 
    3. Critically review whether WIL is for your institution"

    What to do and not do with Augmented Reality for Education

    Greetings from the ASCILITE Mobile Learning Special Interest Group (MLSig) meeting with Dr. Patrick O'Shea, at  Appalachian State University. His most recent paper is "Educational Practices and Strategies with Immersive Learning Environments: Mapping of Reviews for using the Metaverse". He characterized Apple's new headset as "Mixed Reality" (MR), combining features of AR & VR. He has been thinking about the implications of such tools broadly for education, but is frustrated by the lack of research into long term use. His podcast is "The Versatilist".

    Tuesday, June 6, 2023

    Should I go to a F2F meeting with a head cold?

    Woke up feeling a little unwell. My intimidate thought was COVID-19, but test results were negative. So I probably have a cold. I have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and flu, so I should be okay, but what about those around me? 

    Employers are now encouraging their staff to return to work, unless they have a medical certificate. Organizers of seminars, and conferences, are discontinuing the online/hybrid option. Is this a signal to that society is willing to accept the level of disease, and death, which will result?

    I suggest organisations continue to offer an online option for staff, and clients, where possible. This will have minimal expense (perhaps save money). As well as allowing those mildly ill to still participate, it will also provide for people with a disability, or with  family, cultural and community obligations.

    Saturday, June 3, 2023

    Hackerthons for Training New Federal Government Consultants?

    GovHack AGM Online
    Could GovHack style hackerthons be used to quickly get the new federal government internal consultants up to speed?

    Greetings from the office of AWS Australia in Canberra, where I am attending the GovHack Annual General Meeting. GovHack is a non-profit organization which organizes an annual hackerthon using government data sources. This happens at sites around Australia (and last year NZ as well). Teams build applications using the data, and the best win prizes.

    The meeting is around an impressive boardroom style table, with a large wall-screen showing Zoom participants. A slightly quirk touch is that the room's impressive video conferecne system is not being used. Instead a smartphone is propped up in a takeout coffee cardboard tray. This is in the makedo-do spirit of Govhack. 

    Many school, and university students take part, as do new staff at government agencies and corporations. In the past I have helped with university and defence department hackerthons. These are useful for people to learn to work rapidly on a project, and to work with people with diverse skills. 

    I was asked about participation by the Australian Computer Society (ACS). I suggested GovHack would appeal to the smaller chapters and branches, for participation in grass roots activites (I am a member of the ACS Professional Standards Board).

    The hackerthon format I believe has considerable potential as part of formal assessed school and university courses, as well as professional development, and workplace learning. The hackerthon is similar to the group projects which students in some disciplines, such as computing, undertake over six months to a year, but compressed to three days. This may be of use for training the new federal government internal consultants. 

    Event canvas from NWIW 2020
    by Paul Telling

    The Australian Government has decided to reduce reliance on external consultants, and make more use of public servants, including an internal consulting team. This will require new skills, both for those transitioning from the private sector, and those used to working in one agency. The hackerthon provides a way to learn to work in a diverse team rapidly. Normally hackerthons are though of as open events. However, it is possible to run an internal event with cleared staff, working on sensitive matters. Over the last few years I have assisted with three defence related hackerthons (Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020Secure Supply Chains ADF/NZDF 2020). 

    ps: You will notice that I appear on the Zoom twice: once in the room in Canberra, and secondly as an individual Zoom participant. Someone around the table asked about this, getting confused seeing two of me. In the past I found it much easier to treat a hybrid meeting as online, plus a room, than the other way around. This works fine provided I don;t have audio on (which causes feedback problems). One advnatge is to be able to post into, and easily read, the chat.