Wow, what a semester! I don’t even know where to begin. I suppose at the beginning. I would like to take a moment though and discuss how I approached this class. Having had some experience in computing and being fairly computer literate, I expected that we would cover some subject matter that I had at least a low level understanding of. Knowing that in advance, I wanted to approach this class as though I knew nothing about computers to let Dr. Brown walk me through his Intro class his way. For the most part, I believe I was successful in that attempt. We get out of our education what we put into it and if you come to a class with a mindset that you already know everything, chances are good that you won’t get much out of the course. It was the great teacher Socrates who said, “I know that I am ignorant, but knowledge of my ignorance makes me wise.” No matter what we think we know, we can always learn from others. Everyone we meet has something to teach us. Dr. Brown had a great deal to teach us.
The first couple of weeks were the usual, expected background of the subject matter and getting to know each other. Week one was the first week I was introduced to Raymond Kurzweil, who piqued my interest. The whole idea of a technological singularity intrigued me, as did Moore’s law. Dr. Brown has offered to loan me Kurzweil’s book and as soon as I can free up some reading time, I will take him up on his offer. This is one of the subjects we discussed that spurred some of my own “out of the box” thoughts as well. I considered the possibility that if we could be approaching a technological singularity based on the increased production of technological components in smaller and smaller forms, could we not also be approaching a financial singularity as well? Banks and corporations are getting larger every day, buying each other, taking control of more and more markets at exponential rates. Wouldn’t it be logical to assume that if we already have banks and corporations that are considered too big to fail, that at some point, it would be possible that one giant corporation would or at least could control every financial and consumer product? Just a thought that was spurred on by our study of Kurzweil.
Prior to this class, I had had some limited exposure to the binary number system. I knew how to build a computer, learned how to program in Basic years ago, but honestly had no idea exactly how a computer processed information until week 2 and then later on with the assembly language simulator. Learning how to translate binary, hexadecimal, etc. was a necessary building block for understanding the way computers “think.” The Assembly Language Simulator was an invaluable visual tool for learning how computers process the information provided to them in the form of software. With it, I gained a greater understanding of how the cpu and ram functions.
During week 3, I had fun. I have built or helped to build several computers in my life. Completing the project for this week allowed me to do a couple of things. One, I got caught up on the latest and greatest commercially available computer hardware. Two, I have the plans readymade for my new pc that I will build in the fall when funds are available to complete such a project.
Getting the opportunity to look at HTML and SQL, even at a low level, gave me the opportunity to get a better idea of how the web as well as databases works. Though I had previously used the web and databases, I had very little understanding of the programming involved in creating either. Getting the opportunity to create our own webpages from just a short HTML tutorial removed some of the mystery of the web for me. I had created webpages before, but always with a prepackaged editor. I had always considered HTML to be too intricate and complicated to bother with learning. I found that I was wrong, and with just a bit of practice, one can become proficient with HTML fairly easily.
In creating my Scratch project, I was re-introduced to the archetypal operations of computer languages. I had fun creating my animation and enjoyed seeing the smiles of those who watched it. Week 8 generated some interest in programming for me. I hadn’t had any interest in actually programming since I was in perhaps middle school.
Unfortunately, the topics which held the most interest for me were those of the last few weeks of class. These were the topics relating to the future of computing and technology as a whole. This is also when I had to be absent quite a bit from both classes and labs.
In week 9, we discussed computer security. There was a time when I thought that I would pursue a career in network security. At that time, I was looking into a program at Fountainhead Institute of Technology. When I first came to PSCC, I was surprised to find out that this was not a course of study offered by the college. I was surprised primarily because it is a topic that will never go away. There will always be a need for network security and therefore there will always be a need for network security professionals. I don’t quite understand why PSCC would not create a program for that field. During this week we went into some detail on the history of computer security, hacking, and famous (or infamous) hackers. We also discussed the federal government’s response to computer security “crimes.” I notice the hypocrisy in a citizen hacking a network and getting years of prison time, but when the government does the same thing, violating the privacy and trust of its citizens, it is ok in the name of “national security.” I am also left with the impression that any perceived security is a false sense of security and there is no such thing as privacy.
The last few weeks of the semester we looked at the topics of robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and gaming, and the social implications of computing technology. All of these topics are of interest to me. Robotics, at one time, were only seen in science fiction movies, or in my lifetime, on assembly lines. Now, we can build simple robots at home (or in CSIT lab) using children’s toys as building blocks. Robotics is a sign of the future, a future that, in some respects, is already here. I can envision a time when the presence of robots will be the norm rather than the exception. Artificial Intelligence, to me, is a troubling subject regardless of Asimov’s Robot’s Rules of Order. Again, in my opinion, the ability of a computer or robotic system to manipulate language is not necessarily indicative of intelligence. Instead, when an artificial entity recognizes its own existence, and acts to preserve its own survival, that is when I believe artificial intelligence becomes a reality and therefore dangerous. I say that on the premise that computers and machines act on logic. If they were to become concerned with their own survival, the logical thing to do would be to eradicate the human race. We are our own worst enemies, not to mention that of every other form of life on Earth. Again, the logical thing for intelligent machines to do to protect their own survival would be to eradicate us. Virtual Reality and gaming is another piece of science fiction becoming reality. I still can’t wait until the day I can walk into my own holodeck and sail the H.M.S. Bounty across the South Pacific. Of course, I’m not sure how I would feel about being “jacked in” Matrix style in order to learn Kung Fu rather than spending time in a Dojo, either. My father already has several pieces of computerized equipment installed in his body keeping him alive. How many more will be invented? The possibility of nanotechnology being injected into our bodies to repair damaged cells and fight off cancer is both inspiring and a bit frightening. We are seeing the use of robotic exoskeletons now for both military and civilian applications. We are watching the merging of man and machine. Are the science fiction writers really the prophets they are proving to be? What other wonders does the future hold for us? We are proving year by year, that if it can be thought, it can be done. The future is here. Are we ready for it?
I absolutely loved this class. We touched on so many interesting topics and Dr. Brown presented us with access to so many different links and sources of information, there simply wasn’t time to go over it all, speaking from my own experience. I have asked him to make both the text and the links available to us online after our access to the D2L system expires so that we may be able to have access for later, independent study. Again, wow. What a semester. I have tried, in vain, to put all of my thoughts on these subjects into this blog, but honestly, I believe it may take a lifetime to sort them all out. Very rarely does one get an opportunity to take a “life-changing” class, but this one has given me so much material to think about that I won’t leave it behind after taking the final exam. Thank you, Dr. Brown.