This radio interview was broadcast at 6:00 p.m. April 1, 1998 on the
"Blinded by Science" program on WRPI, Troy, N.Y. The interviewer
was Art Fricke, doctoral student in Rensselaer's Department of Science
and Technology Studies.
Art: Good afternoon. This is Art Fricke, your host for WRPI's Blinded By Science. We are privileged to have as our guest this afternoon Mr. L.C.: Winner, chief executive officer of an interesting new high tech business firm that has recently moved to the Capital District. Mr. Winner, welcome to the show.
L.C.: Thanks, Art. I'm delighted to be here today and want to wish you and all your listeners a very happy and prosperous April 1st.
Art: Mr. Winner, we're delighted that a businessman like yourself would make time in your busy schedule to be interviewed on Blinded By Science.
L.C.: Well, Art, as soon as I heard that WRPI had a radio program specifically about science for the vision impaired, I just knew I had to come by and check it out. I'm really looking forward to your questions.
Art.: Let's get started then. Your name, L.C. Winner sounds a lot like that of a teacher here at Rensselaer. Are you any relationship to Professor Langdon Winner?
L.C.: Very perceptive of you, Art. Actually, Langdon Winner is my alter ego.
Art: Your alter ego?
L.C.: Yes, that's right.
Art: Does that mean you are one and the same person?
L.C.: Well, no, I wouldn't go THAT far. Actually, Professor Winner and I are entirely different in a lot of ways. For starters, you see, I tend to believe in all the things he strongly opposes. For example, I'm enthusiastic just about any and all new technologies -- computer networks, fusion power, human cloning, genetic engineering, the Strategic Defense Initiative, space colonies, lean production, corporate reengineering and things of that kind. As you know, Langdon is often highly skeptical of these exciting developments. I'm also a great enthusiast for the rise of today's dynamic, rapidly changing global economy, while Langdon spends a lot of time telling people that economic globalism is a actually menace to humanity of some kind. Can you believe that! Frankly, I'll never understand the guy.
Art: So the two of you really don't agree on much.
L.C.: That's right. About the only thing we agree on is that the Boston Red Sox will never win another World Series. That's perfectly clear to us both.
Art: I see. Well, despite your disagreements, you still LIKE each other, don't you?
L.C.: No, I regret to say we don't. In fact, we really can't stand to be around each other. That explains why we are NEVER seen in a room at the same time.
Art: O.K., I think I get the message. Could you tell us about the initials in your name: L.C.: I think I know what the "L" stands for. But what does the C signify?
L.C.: The "C" stands for "Cyberspace."
L.C.: That's right. L. "Cyberspace" Winner. It used to be something else, but I changed it to let people know how throughly committed I am to the fabulous new world of networked computing.
Art: And I understand that's the exactly field where your new business firm hopes to have a substantial impact. Is that right?
L.C.: Exactly! And I like the way you put it, Art. You see, we're situated right in the very center of Cyberspace, especially that sector having to do with technologies for learning in today's knowledge society.
Art: Could you tell WRPI's listeners a little about your business firm -- its name, how it got started, what it makes, where it's going.
L.C.: Sure, I'd love to. The name of the company is Educational Smart Hardware Alma Mater, Inc. Let me say that again: Educational Smart Hardware Alma Mater, Incorporated. It's a name to watch. Very soon we'll be listed on the NASDAC stock exchange under our initials "EDU-SHAM" which we prefer to pronounce "Edu-Shaum", by the way, not the other way (as some of our detractors insist). Right now we're making a strong move into the whole area of hardware and software for today's rapidly moving field of digital electronic distance education. You know, Art, important financial management corporations like the Montgomery Funds group in San Francisco have targeted educational technology as one of the emerging growth industries of the twenty-first century. If all goes well, EDU- SHAM will play a leading role in this dynamic new field.
Art: But, L.C.:, aren't there already plenty of schools, colleges and universities that offer a perfectly good education? What makes you think that EDU-SHAM...
L.C.: That's pronounced "Shaum," Art.
Art: O.K., Edu-Sham, what make you think EDU-Shaum will be able to make a dent in education when there are already thousands of established institutions at work?
L.C.: That's an excellent question. To begin, there's a tremendous amount of room in the education business. If you add up all the money spent in this country per year from pre-school to post-doc and on business training and the like, the size of the education biz is perhaps $600 billion. That's a lot of money! And with an industry that large, there's plenty of space for some new players and technological innovation, don't you think?
Beyond that, however, we at EDU-SHAM believe we have a strong competitive advantage over conventional approaches to teaching and learning because we've recognized and are working with the vital forces that are shaping education today.
Art: I think our listeners would like to hear about some of those forces. Could you tell us what they are and how they'll be changing things.
L.W. The first and by far the most important force transforming education today is, of course, Commodification. That means that anything that was not previously a conveniently packaged, marketable product will now have to become one. This includes everything that happens in teaching and learning in the exciting years the lie ahead.
A second dynamic force that is changing everything right now is Globalization. This requires that all products and services must be available at a competitive price everywhere on the planet.
A third force to include on the list is the relentless force of Privatization. All resources held by public institutions must devolve into private hands to become profit centers.
Finally, there is the overpowering force of Digital Transformation. This means that all entities that previously existed in analog format must now be configured in digital format. Of course, if you look around, you see that happening just about everywhere these days.
Art: Very interesting. Mr. Winner, I couldn't help but notice that your description of those "forces" sounds extremely deterministic. Would you describe yourself as a technological determinist?
L.C.: A technological WHAT?
Art: Determinist. Technological determinist.
L.C.: Oh, I see; that must be one of those specialized terms that you academics use to confuse people. Let me just say that we at EDU-SHAM are completely determined to push the horizons of computerized education to the furthest extent possible. That's the determinism we're about.
Art: I think I see what you're driving at. But can we move on to some specifics now? I notice you've brought along one of your company's products to show us. Could you briefly describe for our listeners exactly what we have here.
L.C.: Why yes, Art, I'd be glad too. Step right over here with me. (noise of shuffling about) This is EDU-SHAM's debut product, the Automatic Professor Machine or APM. You notice it looks a lot like the Automatic Teller Machine, the ATM, that people have begun to use during the past fifteen years or so. As you know the Automatic Teller Machine has taken over most of the tasks of everyday banking, enabling banks to close thousands of branch offices and layoff tens of thousands of tellers at an enormous savings to the financial services industry.
We see the possibilities for our Automatic Professor Machine in much the same light. By the end of this year you'll see thousands of these attractive devices in schools, colleges, universities, shopping malls, Jiffy Lubes, and other places where people gather in America and, indeed, all around the world.
Here, take a closer look. You'll see that the Automatic Professor Machine has a screen, keyboard and slots for putting things in and taking things out. What's new here is that the APM is a machine for withdrawals and deposits of knowledge! It's the universal learning appliance of the future, one that will revolutionize the educational services industry.
Art: Amazing. What are some of the specific services the APM offers? Can you take a college course with it, for example?
L.C.: Oh, yes, absolutely. And a whole lot more. We offer literally thousands of college courses on every conceivable topic. We have a full line of syllabi, readings, lectures, discussion sections, quizzes, exams, requests for extensions and incompletes -- in short, all of the items a well educated student could possibly want. Here step up to the machine have a look.
(more shuffling sounds)
Art: It seems fairly familiar. What should I do now?
L.C.: Here. Insert my platinum Edu-Sham Education Treasure Pass Card right there.
(The machine beeps. Voice says "Welcome to the Automatic Professor Machine, your personalized adventure in interactive learning. Please enter your Personal Identification Number now.")
Art: What is my PIN number?
L.C.: Here I'll key it in for you. (Shuffling sound)
Art: (Pause) Oh, here's the first screenful of instructions. Let's see... Number one says: MEANS OF PAYMENT.
L.C.: Just type in "cash".
Art: O.K. (Pause) Now it wants a credit card number.
L.C.: Oh, I see. Since, this is just a demonstration, just push "Enter."
Art: Oh, oh..... now its asking me for my debit card number.
L.C.: It is? Try pressing "Enter" again.
Art: That didn't work.
L.C.: Here, I'll put in my number for you..... There. You're all set.
Art: (Pause) (irritated) Now, it's asking for my Social Security number.
L.C.: Don't you feel comfortable giving that out? There's nothing to worry about. The APM is perfectly secure. Our system is fully encrypted and we only dispense information about our students with their explicit permission and only then to organizations on a clear "need to know basis."
Art: That's reassuring [another beep from APM] ... This screen seems to be giving me a release form of some kind. There's lots of fine print. Let's see here: "I agree to allow EDU-Sham to sell all information about my academic performance and other personal data..." What should I do now?
L.C.: Just press the "Yes" button so we can move right along.
Art: The next screen asks for credit references. Should I give it that too?
L.C.: Well, how good IS your credit history? Have you been paying your bills lately?
Art: It's just fine, but I don't quite see why any of this is necessary.
L.C.: OK, just move on to the next screen. We're getting very close to the Education Zone, as we like to call it.
Art: This screen says: "Mother's maiden name please." Do I have to give it that?
L.C.: Why, certainly. After all, the APM has to be able to verify that you are the real Art Fricke and not some phony in North Dakota who wants to steal your college records. Don't you think that's a good idea?
Art: Well, I guess so. Do we EVER get to the courses and learning materials?
L.C.: Yes, most certainly. In fact, it should be the very next window. Do you see it there?
Art: Why, yes, I do. Hey look at that! It's a picture of a charming old, Ivy covered brick building with attractive young men and women out front.
L.C.: Yes, isn't it beautful. That's the official digital logo for the EDU-SHAM Automatic Professor Machine's virtual campus.
Art: Yes, its very appealing. So you really DO have a campus after all? You know, a place with real building and students?
L.C.: Don't be silly Art: Our college is composed entirely of software, digital bits, and communications links. We've done away with all the costly, material and institutional ballast of traditional colleges. That's what enables EDU-SHAM to offer our individualized knowledge products to the consumer at a rock bottom prices.
Art: Oh, I see, now the APM is spelling out the name of the school I'll be attending. "The Global University". Hey, now that IS impressive!
L.C.: I knew you'd like it.
Art: But the spelling of the name is a little funny: [Spells out each letter] "G-l-o-w B-a-l-l" University. Why the unusual spelling?
L.C.: We'll, you see, other colleges, including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (of all places) have started using the name "The Global University". So to avoid trade mark infringement and other legal hassles, we at EDU-SHAM have called our campus the GlowBall University (TM). We like it because it combines the sense of truly worldwide education with the luminescence of an newly enlightened globe. Isn't that catchy? Our marketing people assure me that the name and logo will help give EDU-SHAM a strong competitive edge for years to come. And in today's dog-eat-dog, rough and tumble educational marketplace, we're going got need a powerful edge.
Art: I see.... But when DO we get to the educational part of the program?
L.C.: Ah, yes, the Education Zone. Here, push the "forward" arrow a couple of times. Do you see the list of courses and majors there?
Art: Hey, look at that. There's a catalog with every conceivable topic. Business, management, accounting, computer science, electrical engineering, chemistry, ....
L.C.: Just pick a topic and the APM will show you what it has to offer.
Art: Here's an interesting category: "The New Liberal Arts".
L.C.: Oh, yes. We are very proud of that one. In fact, I worked on it myself. The classes here contain all the wisdom of the traditional humanities nicely repackaged for the busy lives of today's young, upwardly mobile, digital, global professionals. Go to the next screen and you'll see a list of courses.
Art: Here they are. Let's see:
"Resume Writing for the Web"
"Reengineering for Visionaries"
"Postmodernism as a Second Language"
"I Can't Believe It's Not Physics!"
Boy, they sure sound like interesting courses.
L.C.: Interesting isn't the half of it, Art: Let me give you the big picture. At EDU-SHAM we will offer thousands of downloadable, just-in-time courses that a student can complete in anything from a few weeks to a few hours. Upon successful completion of the course, the APM would issue a digitized certificate, a mini-diploma, certifying that the student had passed.
We call it a Partner's Degree Quickly, or PDQ. A person with a full time job, but with access to an Automatic Professor Machine, could take a course in, say, Microsoft Excel. At the conclusion of the course, that particular student would receive a PDQ degree in Excel.
After issuing 32 PDQ's of that kind, the APM would automatically issue the student a bachelor's degree. No waiting. No paperwork. No robes. No corny commencement ceremonies.
Of coure, the life of scholarly inquiry wouldn't end there. Not at all. A student could continue collecting Partner's Degrees indefinitely and eventually earn a Master's or PhD or several of them.
Art: You said that EDU-SHAM ...
Art: EDU-Shaum .... would have a substantial cost advantage over conventional educational insitutions. How much will your courses cost?
L.C.: The average cost per course we estimate to be about $500. So the equivalent of a college education delivered through the APM would be a mere $16,000, less than 1/5 of what most students spend on a bachelor's degree these days. It's "Gemeinschaft Education at Gesellschaft Prices!"
Of course, our competitive advantage here will have will have tremendous implications for conventional, physically encumbered schools, colleges and universities. In fact, we think that most of them will go the way of the branch banks of yesteryear. In the future most education will be handled through devices like the Automatic Professor Machine and the even more exciting technologies our research staff are developing right now.
Art: I think our listeners would like to hear about some of those later generation technologies. But first I'd like to ask, where did the idea for the APM and EDU- SHAM come from? How did you decided to take education in this unusual direction?
L.C.: What a wonderful question Art: You would have made a great professor. You see, I'd been toiling in the parched vineyards of education myself for many years; "teaching" we used to call it. Then one day I was out hiking in the Berkshires. I reached the top of a mountain peak and looked out over truly inspiring vista. It was there that a vision came to me, a vision of education transformed!
For years I'd been asking myself the question: What is the essence of education? Is it the classrooms? No. Is it the books? No. Is it the teachers? No. Is it the campus? No. Is it the students? No. What is education. And on that mountaintop in the Berkshires it suddenly came to me.
L.C.: INFORMATION! The essence of education is information! The courses are information. The knowledge is information. The term papers are information. The exams are information. The transcripts are information. The diplomas are information. It's ALL information! Art, do you realized what a wonderfully liberating insight that was for me?
Art: I don't know; it seems fairly obvious to me. What's so liberating about it?
L.C.: Art, my friend, don't you see? This one insight unifies all of human understanding in a single stroke. The barriers that used to separate the specialized disciplines evaporate forever. Possibilities for generating fruitful combinations of previously distinct areas of human learning are greatly enhanced! Once you realize that IT'S ALL INFORMATION, the possibilities are simply limitless!
And, of course, as a strictly business proposition, once you've crossed that boundary, then the specific medium for conveying the information doesn't matter any more. In today's rapidly advancing age of microprocessors, high speed communication and the like, we are now able to transmit information with greater speed, efficiency and impact than ever before! That's why what we call the Information Model of Education (TM) is bound to be so profitable for everyone involved!
Art: (Pause) Mr. Winner, I've got to hand it to you. The EDU-SHAM vision is truly a fascinating one. And it looks as though people who are doing education in the old-fashioned way are going to have their work cut out for them if they hope to survive in the brave new world ahead.
L.C.: That's right, Art: And you know, I don't think most educators are up to the challenge.
Art: But, Mr. Winner, what about the personal side of education? Aren't students going to miss going to classes, hanging out in the student union, getting to know there professors...that sort of thing?
L.C. Art, you're missing the point. First of all, the software for the Automation Professor Machine is fully personalized and interactive. As soon as you type in your PIN number, the computer will remember who you are, what you are interested in, which classes you have taken before, what term papers you've written in the past, your yearly income, musical tastes, marital status -- in short, it will know you and speak to you on a friendly First Name Basis (TM). This is personalized learning at its best.
Art: Well, I'm still wondering about the impersonality of getting an education from a machine. I get the image of thousands of people logging in an going through the same routines over and over. Where's the close contact with a teacher that a good education is supposed to have?
L.C. Again, Art, once again you're missing the point. It's long been known that perhaps the most personal education comes in a one-on-one dialogue between student and teacher. At the great Williams College just over the hill, they say "Education is a log with Mark Hopkins on one end and a student on the other." Mark Hopkins was, of course, the great nineteent century American educator who taught at Williams. At EDU-SHAM that's how we see the role of computers in learning today. Only in this case it's a fiber optic cable with the Automatic Professor Machine on one end and the student on the other. The faculty/student ratio meets the classsical ideal to perfection: it's always One-on-One (TM).
Art: Our time is running short, but before you have to go, I'd like to ask you about the future technologies you mentioned, the ones that lie on the farther horizons of education. What are some of the exciting innovations in store for us?
L.C.: Well, Art, I give a wonderful lecture, a kind of infomerical about these possibilities. In fact, I hope to do a video version of that lecture soon. It's too bad we don't have another hour or two to cover it all. For example, our scientists at EDU-SHAM are looking closely at new developments in microminaturization that will soon make possible things like the wearable computer. We expect that within a decade or so the now separate worlds of electronics, fashion and education will merge within competing lines of designer apparel. Today students are often seen wearing the emblem of their alma mater on T-shirts and sweatshirts. In the educational world of tomorrow, your T-shirt will simply BE your Alma Mater (TM)!
Art: Imagine that. But, you know, WRPI has a highly literate audience when it comes to breakthroughs in science and technology. Can you talk about some of the even more exotic possibilities for blending of technological innovation and education in years to come.
L.C.: Art, you have a keen inquiring mind. I appreciate that. But you have to realize that many of the things we are working on are top secret and highly proprietary, as befits a company in the rapidly developing Info-Ed business. Intellectual property is the name of the game these days; you can bank on that. But there is one blue sky prospect we are moving forward with at present that my lawyers tell me I am allowed to discuss. We've already got the patents sewed up and our intellectual property claims are secure. Your audience might find this one interesting.
Art: Sure. Go ahead. What is the development your scientists, engineers and lawyers are working on?
L.C.: Art, as you know, the real promise of information technology does not lie in things like silicon or other inorganic materials. The real promise lies in the field of new biochemical hybrids. In that light, the research labs at EDU-SHAM are busy developing a product able to supply the depth and richness of the world's science and scholarly learning in a single pharmaceutical dose. Right now, in fact, we have ready for testing a single tablet that contains all the knowledge encoded in 200 of the world's great books.
Art: Wow, that IS remarkable. How does it work?
L.C.: You see, right after dinner, you ingest the tablet in suppository form. Within an hour, all the knowledge of Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Newton, Einstein, Gates, and others is fully inscribed in your nervous system.
Art: A suppository you say? With all the world's great books?
L.C.: That's right. I know it sound implausible, but our labs are very close to perfecting it.
Art: But I'm skeptical about one thing. We in science and technology studies know that it's often a long way from laboratory success and real applications for everyday use. Many good ideas never see the light of day. Can you comment on any barriers along the path of innovation.
L.C.: Oh, yes. You're perfectly right. We see that as a tremendous challenge for marketing. That's why we recently hired some of the most clever pros from the soft drink industry to help us push this thing.
Art: So.....do you have any buyers for your new product? I can't imagine where you'd be able to sell a knowledge tablet like that.
L.C.: Actually, Art, we at EDU-SHAM are working with the Board of Regents in the great state of Texas on a deal that would supply this new pharmaceutical application to all college and university students enrolled there. The contracts are just about ready for signature.
Art: So it's that close to becoming a reality.... Does this tablet have a name yet, something we should watch for in the newspapers?
L.C.: Yes, by all means. In recognition of the bold step our sponsors are taking down there, we've decided to call it -- The Texas Book Suppository (TM).
Art: (in awe) Texas Book Suppository.... That certainly has an memorable ring to it.
L.C.: Absolutely! And it makes a powerful statement, don't you think, about the kinds of developments that are forging new links between technological innovation and the educational services industry in our time. That's why we at EDU-SHAM like to say: "Education for the Future: we're the light at the end of your tunnel!"
Art: Fascinating... Well, Mr. L.C.: Winner, that's all we have time for today. I want to thank you for coming on the show and sharing your distinctive and challenging views.
L.C.: Thank you, Art: I've enjoyed every minute of it. Oh, by the way, what were you thinking of doing when you finish your studies here at Rensselaer?
Art: I was thinking of going into college teaching, as a matter of fact.
L.C.: Gee, that's too bad. It's a dead end field, you know. Well if you ever need a job in the rapidly expanding educational services industry, here's my card. You seem like just the kind of guy we could use in our ethics and policy software division.
Art: Thanks, L.C.: I'll keep it in mind. Well, folks, that's all for Blinded By Science for this week. Tune in again next Wednesday when our topic will be...
[Music fades in: Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1"]
L.C.: (sound fading out) Would you like one of our tablets?
Art: Not today, thanks.
COPYRIGHT Langdon Winner 1998