David Gunkel

Amazing Grace

Sep 28, 2018
Grace Murray Hopper Collection, 1944-1965, Archives Center, National Museum of American History


STEM Needs Some LEGS

Aug 24, 2018

For well over a decade now, our education systems have been putting increased emphasis on developing the STEM curriculum. And there has been good reasons for this. Many of the celebrated innovations of the last 50 years are a result of work in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — the Apollo moon landing, the personal computer, the Internet, the smartphone.  

There's A Lot To Learn From Old-School AI

Jul 20, 2018

Each day it seems we hear news of some remarkable innovation in artificial intelligence. Whether it be something mundane, like a better recommendation algorithm at Netflix or Amazon, or something dramatic, like Uber and Google’s self-driving vehicles that promise (or threaten) to replace human drivers.

But instead of looking forward and worrying about some science fiction future, we might learn a thing or two by looking backwards to our past. Whether we know it or not, we have been involved with a kind of artificial intelligence for quite some time…for well over 500 years.

Think About What She Can Do

Jun 15, 2018

There is a new robot in town. Her name is Sophia. She was designed and built by Hanson Robotics.

And she is popular. Sophia was featured on the Jimmy Kimmel show, has appeared on the cover of Elle, and was recently granted honorary citizenship by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

But not everyone likes Sophia. There has been considerable resistance from experts in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics. For these critics, Sophia is nothing more than a puppet —more smoke and mirrors and less actual science. And they are not necessarily wrong.

Job Success For The Future

May 4, 2018

Today’s university graduates face increasing competition for employment.

This competition comes not just from other qualified graduates across the globe but from algorithms, artificial intelligence and robots. And, in the face of this machinic incursion, I have just one piece of advice: Give up.

For data-intensive occupations that rely on pattern recognition and repetitive operations, machines are simply better, stronger and faster.

Who's Watching Who These Days?

Mar 30, 2018

The privacy boogie man typically has been big government. Since George Orwell penned 1984, it is the prying eyes of Big Brother that have been seen as the enemy of the people.

But that might be changing. I am less worried about Big Brother and more concerned with all the little brothers to whom we now surrender our private information for supposedly free services. Case in point: Facebook.

It's Time To Change The Discussion

Feb 23, 2018

Tragically our nation, once again, finds itself having to deal with a mass shooting. And, once again, the arguments in favor of doing something to limit access to high-powered weapons is butting heads with the NRA and second amendment purists.

We have heard the arguments before and we will, I fear, hear them again. So let’s change the terms of the conversation.

Do You Know Who's Listening?

Jan 19, 2018

The standout products from the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show were clearly the digital assistants -- specifically Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. And, if what was displayed at this year’s gadget show is any indication, we are on the verge of a voice-activated-device invasion.

Another Effect Of The GOP Tax Plan

Dec 15, 2017

The GOP has passed its tax bill, and the real winners in this major overhaul to our tax system might surprise you. The group that stands to gain the most is not middle-class taxpayers, not the so-called upper 1 percent, and not even the multinational corporations.

The real benefits will go to robots. Let me explain. The Republican tax plan is based on the theory of trickle-down economics — the idea that cutting taxes at the very top spurs investment that eventually trickles down to workers in the form of more jobs, higher wages, and greater opportunities.

It Takes More Than Regulation

Nov 10, 2017

As I watch and listen to tech-sector representatives answer questions from Senators about Russian trolls, Facebook advertising, and fake profiles, I am reminded of something from the early days of the Internet.

In 1993, Peter Steiner published a now-famous cartoon in The New Yorker. You probably have seen it. The cartoon depicts two dogs sitting in front of a computer. One of the dogs turns to his companion and says, rather smugly: “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

Who's Doing The Talking Here?

Oct 6, 2017

No matter where you look, there is heated debate over the First Amendment. We saw it with the protests in Charlottesville. We have heard it in the disputes about free speech on college campuses. And it was most recently on display during the holy of holies, Sunday football.

If you value the First Amendment, you know that its protections of free expression must apply equally to all speech irrespective of what is said.

We Can Learn From European Actions

Sep 1, 2017

Americans like to think of themselves as exceptional. In fact, the concept and phrase “American exceptionalism” is a thing.

But when it comes to dealing with Confederate statues and monuments, we could learn a thing or two from the Europeans -- especially the Central and Eastern Europeans who lived under communism for 40-plus years in the wake of the Second World War.

It's New Territory For Twitter

Jul 28, 2017

I thought I used to understand Twitter. But now, after Donald Trump, everything is in disarray. When Trump tweets, is it policy or just an opinion? No one knows.

On the one hand, the courts appear to be interpreting statements about a “travel ban” as a matter of policy. But does this mean that everything Trump tweets is to be construed as an official proclamation worthy of preservation in the national archives?

And would this apply to everything, including covfefe?

Is This Dr. Baker's Final Lesson?

Jun 23, 2017

The NIU community is still processing and trying to make sense of President Doug Baker’s resignation.

And don’t worry, I am not here to impose my own opinion on you. There are plenty of opinions to go around. What I do want, however, is to do what educators always do—identify and extract the teachable moment.

No matter where you stand with regards to this crisis, one thing is undeniable: President Baker’s final decision as the leader of our university demonstrates and puts into action what we expect from our leaders.

A Beer By Any Other Name ...

May 19, 2017

Last weekend was Dark Lord Day—one of the big craft beer events in the Midwest.

Even if you do not typically enjoy the hopped-up IPAs, the coffee-like Stouts, or the diverse Belgian Sours, you cannot help but be impressed by the growing popularity of craft beer. And that’s the problem.

Don’t get me wrong. Craft beer is, in fact, the best thing that has happened to the carbonated malt beverage in decades. The problem is with the name.

Is The Internet About Things Now?

Apr 12, 2017

The internet used to be about us. It connected people so that we could communicate, share ideas, and exchange data. But all of that is over.

Enter the Internet of Things (IoT). The Internet of Things employs the same basic hardware and protocols that you and I have been using since the mid-1990s. But instead of connecting people, it is a network of interconnected smart devices — everything from your mobile phone and home thermostat to your refrigerator and automobile.

What WikiLeaks Is Telling Us

Mar 15, 2017

It has now been one week since WikiLeaks unloaded thousands of secret CIA documents on the Internet. These documents, which appear to be authentic, explain in excruciating detail the techniques and technologies that the agency has at its disposal for opening up and looking inside virtually any digital device.

So what can we learn from this data-dump? What are its teachable moments? I see at least three things:

Illinois Sets An Example In Ethics

Jan 18, 2017

Every year employees of the State of Illinois are required to complete Ethics training. Everyone has to do it, and everyone despises it.

But I now have a new appreciation for the exercise. Because of this training, I know what a conflict of interest is. I know what it looks like; I know when I might have one; and, most importantly, I know what to do about it.

The Next Target Of Job-Loss Rage

Dec 21, 2016

You have to admire Donald Trump. Even before taking the oath of office, the president-elect was already hard at work restoring American manufacturing to greatness by keeping Carrier in nearby Indiana.

In fact, Trump’s economic strategy is pure genius. During the campaign, he not only faulted international trade agreements and U.S. corporations for outsourcing American jobs to Mexico and China but also demonized and threatened to deport those pesky job-stealing immigrants.

Is The Fault With Social Media?

Nov 23, 2016

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, there has been a lot of finger pointing. One of the targets, for both the left and the right, has been the media, specifically social media.

A recent Pew study reports that over 62% of Americans now receive their news not from legacy journalism sources -- like local papers, national magazines, and broadcast news -- but from Facebook and Twitter.

A Curious Model For Online Sites

Oct 26, 2016

I have been involved in Academia.edu since the beginning.

For those of you who do not know it, Academia.edu is a social network for scientists, researchers, and university teachers. Think of it as a Facebook or LinkedIn for geeks, doctoral students, and other brainiacs.

Are Our Days Really Numbered?

Sep 28, 2016

If you are beginning to feel paranoid, that might be a good thing, for there are invisible forces pulling the strings and making decisions that affect every aspect of our lives.

This is not some grand conspiracy or obscure magic. It is math.

Algorithms now recommend the movies we watch, decide what news headlines we see, influence our choice of romantic partner, and even determine employment opportunity. Yes, whether you get the job or not is now in the hands -- or the calculations -- of an algorithm.

Robots Are Part Of Our Present

Sep 7, 2016

Those of us currently suffering through the end of HBO's The Night Of need not despair, for the next big thing is already cued up and ready to go: Westworld, a remake of the 1973 film about robots run amok.

In fact, if you look at contemporary popular entertainment, robots seem to be all over the place—the Synths of the AMC series Humans, the affable droids of Star Wars, and the clever next-gen Siri of the film Her.

Get Ready To Be Augmented

Aug 17, 2016

Everyone, it seems, is playing Pokemon Go. But even if you are not playing it, the game shows us that our future will be augmented.

At one time, we could be pretty sure about where "real reality" ended and "virtual reality" began. It was clearly indicated by the edge of the monitor frame. With Pokemon Go, however, the line dividing the virtual world from the real world is becoming increasingly indistinguishable. These augmented reality applications allow us to modify our experience of the real world by projecting digital data into it.

Student Innovation Needs Support

Jul 6, 2016

Institutions of higher education often talk about being “student-centered” but, sometimes, policies meant to support this objective actually get in the way.

College Value Needs Re-evaluation

May 25, 2016

It's graduation time, and job growth is still soft. If this is the “new normal,” we may need to rethink the narrative that has come to shape the way we think about education.

The Digital Aspects Of Dying

May 4, 2016

My family and I are currently dealing with the decline and impending death of an elderly parent. And, as we begin to get things organized, I have been thinking about things.

Each of us, across the span of our limited lives, accumulates stuff. All kinds of things -- t-shirts, TVs, ping pong tables, coffee makers … you name it. And when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, as the bard has Hamlet say, we leave it all behind.

Who's To Blame For Errant Algorithm?

Apr 13, 2016

Several weeks ago, Microsoft Research introduced the world to Tay, a machine learning algorithm that started tweeting bigoted, neo-Nazi hate speech after just eight hours of interaction with human users.

Usually when things like this happen, we hold the programmer or designer responsible. This is because we typically consider technology to be nothing more than a tool or instrument of human action. But the engineers at Microsoft obviously did not design Tay to be a racist. So who is to blame for the racist Tweets?

Start Thinking About AI Now

Mar 23, 2016

Given all the press surrounding the U.S. presidential campaign, you may have missed something truly remarkable.

AlphaGo, an artificial intelligence developed by Google’s DeepMind, won four out of five games of Go against one of the best players on the planet — Lee Se-dol, from South Korea.

Decades ago, computers mastered checkers. In 1997, Deep Blue defeated Gary Kasperov in chess. And in 2011 Watson conquered Jeopardy. But Go — a notoriously difficult game from ancient China — was considered our last line of defense.

Implications Of The Apple Case

Mar 2, 2016

Apple and the FBI appear to be headed to court. And why? That’s a good question.

Last week, a federal judge in California ordered Apple to help the FBI crack an iPhone that had been used by one of the suspects involved in the San Bernardino shootings. This would involve Apple creating a special version of its operating system in order to disable the automatic password lock-out.

Once installed on the phone, this “crippled version” of the iOS would allow the FBI to use brute-force password cracking techniques to break into the phone and access the data stored on it.