Student Papers Pointing Towards Technology Exuberance?

May is always an intense month for me. It usually begins with a thick stack of student papers that I have to read and grade in a two week window. And while I start off the month intimidated by the sheer volume of reading I have ahead of me, I always end the month having learned a great deal from my students’ papers. This year was no exception.

Because I taught two courses this year, one at Yale on financial bubbles and another at Harvard on systems thinking, I sat down in early May with around 500 pages of students papers to read, all of which had to be graded by the middle of the month. And unlike some of my colleagues in education, I insist on reading each and every paper myself.

While there are obviously exceptions, the papers were fascinating and covered a broad range of topics. And because I don’t assign specific topics, the topics students choose to address reveal the interests and curiosities of some bright young minds.

While I don’t have room to tell you about each paper, I found it interesting that 30% of the papers in my financial bubbles class were about internet and technology bubbles. (Yes, the class was small…but I still find this noteworthy!).  Given one of the papers even suggested “it’s different this time,” perhaps it’s time to be more wary of the technology sector? I suspect that student didn’t read my piece on Naked Unicorns in Subprime Valley… but have no fear, he did well in the class.

Given the course I taught at Harvard was a bit broader, it’s unsurprising that students in that class wrote about a wider array of subjects, ranging from educational inequity to migration pressures and food systems. But here again, one topic attracted more attention. Almost 25% of the students touched on the ethics of algorithms and artificial intelligence. Another indicator of popular sentiment overly-focused on one domain, namely technology? Might it be that technology is actually different this time?  Even if the sheer scale of technology’s impact is in fact greater than in the past, does that justify irrational exuberance?

Relatedly, if you haven’t been paying attention to what’s happening with crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, you should. The digital currency has more than doubled in the last three months and has a market capitalization approaching $40 billion. But there’s also been lots of exuberance for other digital currencies. In fact, at the time of this writing, there are seven crypto-currencies with a market cap greater than $1 billion, 31 with market caps larger than $100 million,  and more than 90 with more than $10 million of value. If you haven’t read my article titled Bitcoin: Boom or Bust?, I’d encourage you to do so.