Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I applaud Glastonbury for providing incoming freshmen with iPads

I applaud Glastonbury for providing incoming freshmen with iPads (although Chromebooks would have been a better choice) and especially the State of Maine for having the foresight to provide laptops in 2002 to middle school students. {Marteka, Peter (Sept. 26, 2012) Teaching Tools. Hartford Courant.)}These technologies do not guarantee that students will improve their achievement scores. What will be realized is a tool that has the potential to make instruction and learning more efficient at a lowered cost.

Student research can be accomplished at one’s desk at school or elsewhere with the press of a key when a computer (tablets, laptops or desktops) has access to the internet. There will be no need to run to the library.

Word processing simplifies the editing of compositions making writing more productive and enjoyable.

Instruction can be performed via a computer making delivery or review of lessons readily available at school and at home or wherever the student happens to be located.

Students will have access to multiple sources of computer delivered instruction beyond what may be provided by the school district. Many of these sources will be free (e.g. Khan Learning Academy, Word Dynamo, etc.).

Textbooks can be delivered, stored and read on computers. Students will no longer have to lug heavy books in backpacks.

The cost of textbooks will be reduced.

Building space will become more available when physical books are no longer needed. Libraries will be reduced in size as books become stored and delivered electronically.

The cost of technology will trend downward, especially when school districts use the bidding process when making large hardware purchases. To encourage competition, districts should avoid the temptation to limit purchases to one manufacturer.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Some Predictions on the Impact of Technology on Society

Ray Kurzweil maintains that progress in genetics, nanotechnology (research at the molecular level) and robotic technology is accelerating at an exponential rate. One result of this is a declining need for human effort at the manual and mental levels. This movement started years ago with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Its hallmark is increased efficiency in the production of goods and services. Often, this means the reduction or replacement of human workers. Theoretically, any mental or physical activity done by a human can be duplicated more efficiently by a robot or computer program.

Business and industry have always been motivated to make production more efficient and less costly. Robots can work tirelessly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They do not receive wages or benefits. They make far fewer errors than humans when programmed correctly. Obviously, any firm that wants to remain competitive will have a strong motivation to robotize its production.

Robotic and computer technology (including 3D printing fabrication) has the potential to replace business, industrial, service, and professional workers. Teachers, health providers, lawyers, accountants, and others can all be affected. Inevitably, the workforce will decline in these areas. This trend will have a major impact on all levels of our society. A reduction in manual labor was the first to get underway. The increasing robotization of the automobile industry is an example. Soon, robots will be capable of producing electronic devices, including cell phones and computers. Finally, many professions will face reductions as software programs duplicate many of their duties.

Some technically oriented pursuits, like computers and robotics, development of esoteric materials, product design, medical research, and prosthetics will continue to expand, but these will pale to the jobs that are lost. The entertainment industry will thrive as the quest for leisure activities grows. Certain service providers will remain as a portion of our population will prefer interaction with humans.

An idle workforce may lead to increased governmental intervention in our economy. Taxation of industries and services will be in proportion to their degree of automated production. Most of these taxes will be used to provide “pensions” to the population who will in turn purchase goods and services. Prices will drop as robots increase work efficiency and reduce the cost of production.

A critical problem is what to do with an idle population. Federal and state governments, recognizing the inherent dangers of an idle, leisure society, will embark on a massive program to provide activities to the populace. These will include many varieties of competitive sports programs starting at the local level and progressing to the state and national levels. Those unable to participate in sports will have the opportunity to compete in more mental competitions, like chess and card games. The pursuit of hobbies will be encouraged also. The government will provide a monetary and status incentive based on a team’s or an individual’s accomplishment. Another possible endeavor will be the employment of a workforce for the creation and maintenance of parks throughout the country.

Changes in the Workforce

Technology has already affected many areas of business, industry, and the professions. Below are a brief review and projection of this trend.

Trades. Many trades will be replaced by robots. Trades that involve repetitive movements will continue their decline. This includes many industrial products such as autos and electronics assembly. Some trades like large building construction will be less affected, but still, undergo technical modification aimed at improved efficiency. New trades will emerge: The need to service robots will mean the development of a new workforce that is highly skilled in programming, mechanical and electrical maintenance.

Engineering. Engineering will expand greatly with a heavy emphasis on designing, developing and programming robots. Robotic applications include mining, construction, assembly of electronics and appliances, and heavy equipment manufacturing, including robots assembling robots. Innovation, especially in energy efficiency and material science will be facilitated by computers. The technologically skilled will be in high demand and be the most compensated.

Medicine. Minute chemical sensors will monitor our health continuously and provide diagnostic and treatment information when something goes wrong or when one’s lifestyle is creating pathology. Medical lab work will decline as people are fitted with these miniature sensors. Many surgical procedures will be done using robots – a process already underway. Each individual's medical history will be stored in a central database that is updated continuously. Progress in genetics has the potential to extend our life span. This will result in an increase in population, especially at the senior level.

Service Industry. The use of robotics in service jobs is already underway. Robotic carts are being used to move materials to specific locations. Automating the moving of luggage and food in hotels is being contemplated. We are already experiencing automated calling services. Video stores are in rapid decline as we are able to order movies over the internet or pick up DVDs from an unattended kiosk. Farming is becoming more mechanized reducing the need for workers.

Education. Much instruction will be done on computers that deliver well developed educational programs. Our best teachers will play a role in the development of this software. Homeschooling will increase at the K-12 level. Many K-12 and college courses will be provided on computers via the internet. About 250,000 high school students have attended on-line schools in 2010-2011. Computer instruction via the internet is readily available today with some courses offered by private entities and others provided by colleges. Kahn Academy offers many online courses free of charge

The government will offer free education and training to those who demonstrate an aptitude for technology. There will always be a need for personnel charged with the responsibility to develop and maintain robots.

Libraries will transition into databases that loan literature or provide information over the internet. E-books, such as Kindle and Nook will become the primary delivery of the printed word. Town libraries loaning books via the internet will become the standard. Their buildings will serve more like community centers where people gather to hear lectures, participate in clubs, be entertained, and learn new skills. Similarly, colleges will sell or loan textbooks via the internet. All books will be stored and read on e-readers. Newspapers and magazines will increasingly be delivered electronically. The decline of the paper industry will accelerate with subsequent loss of jobs. Printing and bookbinding will be dying trades. Access to information of any kind will be almost instantaneous as just about anyone with internet access will be able to retrieve data stored in the “cloud” (remote databases.)

Business. Marketing, sales, accounting, and finance will be facilitated by the use of computers and the internet. The selling of goods over the internet will increase. Stores will decline due to their more expensive operation and upkeep. Many will be replaced by automated warehouses that ship goods to consumers. Package delivery services will thrive as internet sales increase. Most of our postal service will be reduced to package delivery as letters and ads continue to decline. Advertising over the internet will largely replace ads appearing in newspapers and flyers. Many ads appearing online will be tailored to your known tastes. Computerized accounting will reduce the number of professionals in this field. The use of computers in the buying and selling of stocks will accelerate. Computers will play a major role in the making of financial decisions.

Armed Service. The use of surveillance technology, combat robots, and drones could theoretically reduce the number of men and women needed in our armed services.


Many of my predictions are already underway. I expect that the next 20 years will witness rapid changes in the way we live and work. Some changes will be sudden like the rapid decline of video stores replaced by kiosks and online delivery of entertainment. Similarly, I would expect the publication of physical books to fall in a sharp decline in about five years. (Note: Read an excellent on-line article, "America's 10 Disappearing Jobs-24/7 Wall St." at

Saturday, May 5, 2012

My Transition into Technology

I always had a fascination with technology. I can recall attempting to learn COBOL, a programing language, from a textbook – a daunting task without access to a computer. In the early 1960s I was selected to work with a group of educators to explore possible uses of computers in public school education. This was a federally funded program aimed at developing applications on a regional basis. Eventually, the study led to the use of a mini computer to assist districts with such chores as scheduling, record keeping and some computer assisted instruction (CAI).

My first physical contact with a computer occurred in 1981 when the PTA donated an Apple II to Mill Hill, an elementary school in Fairfield, CT. I was a school psychologist at the time. No one on the staff took an interest in this machine, so I ask the principal for permission to explore its capabilities. My first encounter with the Apple II was to remove its cover and examine its interior. I was surprised to see so much empty space, probably to promote cooling of the mother board. I immediately thought that miniaturization of micro-computers was on the horizon.

I was so fascinated with the Apple II that I would remain after school well after everyone departed. Eventually, my very sympathetic principal told me to work on it at home. My only obligation was to teach computer basics to the gifted class; a challenge I readily accepted. At the time there was a scarcity of software available for the Apple II. The PTA provided me with Milliken Math Sequences, a program designed to teach basic math. I quickly learned to use this software and taught it to my gifted students. Later I would teach them BASIC programming.

Running existing software soon became boring, so I decided to learn the BASIC programming language which was native to the Apple II. I took some introductory courses delivered lecture style, but soon realized that learning a programming language requires a computer. After many late nights of endeavor, I finally mastered BASIC. Soon I was developing my own software. The special education department headed by Dr. Guth funded my efforts. I developed programs that would assist special needs children learn their address and phone number. Another program (The Gas Pump) taught them how to make change when making purchases. The Spelling Speaker was probably my greatest achievement. It utilized a speech synthesizer which would speak a word, use it in a sentence, and say the word again. The student would continue to type the word until it was correct before moving on to the next word. The program would record results that were observable by the teacher. The program would print a certificate of achievement when a student was able to spell all the words in the list without error. The Spelling Speaker also assisted in developing a student’s sight vocabulary (word recognition).

In order to better communicate with all the special education staff, I wrote a monthly newsletter Microcomputer Update for Special Education (MUSE). Content included reporting on how various teachers were using their classroom computers, software reviews, and trends in technology. Eventually I become the district-wide Computer Coordinator and MUSE was distributed to all staff and members of the Board of Education. I ceased to work as school psychologist. As Computer Coordinator, I was responsible for staff training which was offered during after school hours. I trained the secretarial staff in word processing. Faculty training consisted of introduction to computers, word processing, programming, and desktop publishing. Faculty participation was voluntary. I also offered spreadsheets, but always had zero enrollments. I was surprised that math and business teachers never took advantage of this opportunity.

I lost my position of Computer Coordinator when Fairfield eliminated all coordinator positions as an economy move. I was returned to Mill Hill School which was scheduled to become the first elementary school to have a local area network (LAN) and computer laboratory. The entire school was networked, including offices and classrooms. I was placed in charge of managing the network, running the lab, and training the students and staff. In addition, I served as half-time school psychologist. I was surprised how readily the third through sixth graders mastered computer skills that included keyboarding

At the age of 62, I decided to retire from public school education and pursue other technology endeavors. I will always remember the retirement party at a local restaurant given to me by the Mill Hill staff. The teachers presented me with a Raleigh bicycle. One teacher wrote a poem about me that still hangs on my bulletin board:

Wrapping things up with Ron

"When there’s a problem at Mill Hill
We always feel a little thrill,
Cause problems all necessitate,
A service call from Ron Abate!

He'll test your students for I.Q.
He’ll P.P.T. along with you.
The findings always demonstrate,
How we depend on Ron Abate!

While as our school psychologist,
His duties took a whole new twist,
In addition to psychology,
He’s our guru of technology.

When cursors freeze or printers stick
When E-mail’s slow and tempers quick,
We just put in an S.O.S
And Ron will solve the whole darn mess!

So, whether it’s psychology,
Or cutting edge technology,
We’d never, ever hesitate
To call our savior, Ron Abate!"

During my years as Computer Coordinator I had developed a sideline business, Galaxy Computer Services. I sold and installed Windows based computers during and after my work in Fairfield Schools. I stopped selling computers when the business became unprofitable. I concentrated on training and worked for various businesses and schools including Crazy Eddy (discount house), Morse School of Business, and Branford Hall. Finally, I worked full-time as an adjunct professor at Briarwood College until I fully retired at the age of 72. The head of the technology department wanted me to continue teaching part-time, but my decision was final. I was told that I would always be welcome if I ever changed my mind. What a gratifying way to end a long career!