Press Release 25/11/2001

The Science Behind the Solution.

SINGAPORE 25 November 2001: If world-renowned cognitive psychologist and computer scientist Professor Roger Schank had his way, he'd want a complete revamp of the curricula of universities that produce followers and not thinkers.

Schools, according to Professor Schank, should do away with multiple-choice tests and classroom-based learning, and instead, shift towards on-site, problem-based learning. Professor Schank's theory: learning that is centred around situations, problems, or events is a more effective way of absorbing knowledge.
"Information is surprises. We all expect the world to work out in certain ways, but when it does, we''re bored. What makes something worth knowing is organized around the concept of expectation failure," he says.

This is just one of the most provocative thoughts offered by Professor Schank. He is in Singapore for the launch of the Singapore office of Ulysses Systems, Inc, a software company he has worked closely with, devising software solutions to the Shipping industry.

Professor Schank is undoubtedly one of the world's most renowned experts on Artificial Intelligence (A.I) and multimedia-based interactive learning. As director of the Institute of Learning Sciences (ILS), he is easily recognised as a vocal critic of the education system in the United States.

"In schools today, students are made to read a lot of stuff, and they''re lectured on it. Or maybe they see a movie. Then they do endless problems, then they get a multiple-choice test of a hundred questions. The schools are saying, "Memorise all this. We're going to teach you how to memorize. Practice it, we'll drill you on it, and then we're going to test you" , he says.

"Imagine that this is how I'm going to teach you about food and wine. We''re going to read about food and wine, and then I'll show you films about food and wine, and then I'll let you solve problems about the nature of food and wine, like how to decant a bottle of wine, what the optimal colour is for a Bordeaux, and so forth. And then I'll give you a test.

"Would you learn to appreciate food and wine this way? Would you learn anything about food and wine? The answer is no. Because what you have to do to learn about food and wine is eat and drink. Memorizing all the rules, or discussing the principles of cooking, isn't going to do any good if you don''t eat and drink. In fact, it works the other way around. If you eat and drink a lot, I can get you interested in those subjects. Otherwise I can't," he adds emphatically.

And Profesor Schank indeed practices what he preaches. He works closely with different industries to apply his cognitive theories to the industrial workplace. His studies on how the human mind works while sourcing knowledge have been used to apply to software applications for the shipping industry. For instance, Ulysses Systems' software, Task Assistant a multi-faceted tool to help ship managers and owners handle information was devised with his help.

The shipping industry, spanning thousands of years, has benefited from a large degree of stability and consistency. But this stability and consistency can be a double-edged sword: The marine industry is easily considered one of the most laggard industries in its acceptance of information technology. So in steps Professor Schank with his idea of "scripts".

Those in his field associate him with this concept of "scripts" mental structures that help us to understand a sequence of events and allow us to make inferences from these events. Scripts are interesting not when they work but when they fail.

When safety audits are not consistent, you have to figure out why; when activities on board a ship are bad or extraordinarily good, you want to figure out why. You learn something when things don't turn out the way you expected. All these were applied in the software solution that Ulysses Systems devised with Professor Schank's help.

Far from sitting in his ivory tower of academia, Professor Schank practices what he preaches he's the Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Cognitive Arts, a corporation that develops online learning courses for Ivy League universities such as Columbia and Harvard.

The big trend in education, Professor Schank says, is towards corporate academia.

"In the next few years, I think we''ll see a blurring of the distinction between corporations and universities. Let''s say a big engineering company has a set of things it wants its engineers to know, but the university isn''t interested in teaching those things".

"What if the engineering company builds an engineering course with the university, and hires anyone who does well in that course? You''ve suddenly changed the nature of how the university works. It becomes much more pragmatic, much more oriented towards reality. I think a lot of corporate training is going to disappear and move into the university, as the universities are forced to change", he says.

Another topic close to the heart of Professor Schank is the development of A.I. While he's eager to see the creation of machines that do more than just translate and understand sentences, he realises that it will be a long and hard journey before we get to see a tiny glimpse of intelligent creations as seen in the Hollywood movie "A.I."

"The issue is that machines have to have a tremendous amount of knowledge, a tremendous amount of memory; the software-engineering problems are phenomenal", he says.

Professor Schank says a lot of the world does not understand that there are no shortcuts in this search for A.I.

"I call it the magic-bullet theory: somebody will invent a magic bullet in the garage and put it into a computer, and Presto! the computer''s going to be intelligent. Journalists believe this. There are workers in AI who believe it, too; they''re constantly looking for the magic bullet", he says.

"But we became intelligent entities by painstakingly learning what we know, grinding it out over time".

While Professor Schank is highly regarded among his peers, he has "a very iconoclastic approach" that can turn some people off to his ideas, says Alan Kay, vice-president of research and development at Walt Disney Imagineering and a colleague of Professor Schank's for more than 30 years.

But this is precisely why Professor Schank's views are highly sought-after by both those in the academia as well as in the industry. His reputation rests on the fact that he is not afraid to say what he really thinks and feels, even if it means it places him at odds with other great thinkers of this generation such as Noam Choamsky.

About Professor Roger Schank
Professor Schank is the Chairman and Technology Officer for Cognitive Arts and has been the Director of the Institute for the Learning Sciences since its founding in 1989. He holds three faculty appointments at Northwestern University as John Evans Professor of Computer Science, Education, and Psychology. Previously, he was Professor of computer Science and Psychology at Yale University and Director of the Yale Artificial Intelligence Project.

He was also a visiting professor at the University of Paris VII, a faculty member at Stanford University, and research fellow at the Institute for Semantics and Cognition in Switzerland. In addition, Professor Schank is a fellow of the AAAI, the founder of the Cognitive Science Society, and co-founder of the Journal of Cognitive Science. He holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Texas. One of the world's leading Artificial Intelligence
researchers, Professor Schank is the author of more than 125 articles and publications. His books include: Dynamic Memory: A Theory of Learning in Computers and People, Tell Me a Story: A New Look at Real and Artificial Memory, The Connoisseur's Guide to the Mind, and Engines for Education.

His newest book is Virtual Learning: A Revolutionary Approach to Building a Highly Skilled Workforce.

About Ulysses
With its US headquarters in Livonia, Michigan, Ulysses Systems, Inc. is a leading provider of computer products and services. It offers business intelligence solutions to a variety of industries throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia. With about 100 employees worldwide, the company also maintains a European headquarters in London [Ulysses Systems (UK) Limited] and an office in South America. Ulysses Systems recently announced a strategic alliance with Open Text Corporation to integrate Task Assistant ship management software with Open Text's Livelink web-based collaborative knowledge management system to provide a comprehensive solution for sharing critical shipping information.