Posted by: crudbasher | August 21, 2014

Smartphone Prices On Their Way To Zero

Technological progress keeps rolling on. A Smartphone that cost $600 2 years ago now costs half that today. In 2 more years it will be almost worthless. At the same time, the processing power required to run today’s apps is not increasing at the same rate. Thus price to performance ratio keeps dropping.

H/T Gizmodo

That’s why many companies don’t obsess over specs anymore, and instead explore frontiers like waterproofing, “premium materials,” optical heart rate sensors, and even iris scanners. These peripheral features help Samsung and Apple justify top-tier prices. Meanwhile the cost to make smartphones do what we use them for 99 percent of the time, like navigating without stutter, playing games and movies, taking some decent pictures, and overall just looking great, keeps getting cheaper and cheaper.

It will keep dropping until it reaches zero (with contract of course). I have been predicting this for a few years now (thanks Ray Kurzweil) so in about 5 years time every single student in school will have a smartphone. Teachers need to get ready and come up with innovative teaching methods. Oh wait, Common Core ties their hands.

You really can’t make this stuff up.

Posted by: crudbasher | August 19, 2014

Taking a Break

Hey folks,

I’ve been fairly burned out the last few months with blogging so I’m going to take a break for a few weeks I think. I need to figure out a new direction and goal. :)

See you in a little while.

Crudbasher

Posted by: crudbasher | August 14, 2014

Telepresence In A Museum

I’ve only been writing this blog for about 4 years now but it’s still enough time for some of my predictions to come true.

One of the big technologies I think will change world is telepresence. Using cheap robots controlled remotely, students will be able to explore the world from home (or the classroom). Well, that is now happening.

H/T Gizmodo

Remember way back in February when we reported that this summer you’d be able to remotely control robots to explore the Tate Britain After Dark Well—it’s (finally) this summer, and now’s your chance! Starting this very minute, you can check out the live footage of four bots gone wild—and sign up to make them move from the comfort of your laptop.

Here’s the video

Very very cool stuff! I think this sort of thing will spread as the technology gets cheaper. I think I need to add a tag and category for this.

Posted by: crudbasher | August 12, 2014

How Computer Teachers Will Be Created

I am a big believer in individually driven, adaptive learning. This means, not everyone in a big room all learning the same thing in the same way. No factory models. I think to have a personalized teacher means you have to use automation. A smart teacher can be active 24/7 and will always be with a child. So how do you actually do it?

Well after some thought I know how it won’t happen. You won’t see a company develop a “computer teacher” device. No, it will actually be a side effect of other products.

Here are two examples of what I mean.

There is a new (potential) product called Navdy. It looks like a heads up display for your car but it has a computer in there too based on a smartphone.

Notice in the video you can talk to it and it also recognizes gestures? You can get data very seamlessly while you are driving. More on that in a bit.

The second example comes from Wired magazine.

Now a small team of engineers at a stealth startup called Viv Labs claims to be on the verge of realizing an advanced form of AI that removes those limitations. Whereas Siri can only perform tasks that Apple engineers explicitly implement, this new program, they say, will be able to teach itself, giving it almost limitless capabilities. In time, they assert, their creation will be able to use your personal preferences and a near-infinite web of connections to answer almost any query and perform almost any function.

[...]

But Kittlaus points out that all of these services are strictly limited. Cheyer elaborates: “Google Now has a huge knowledge graph—you can ask questions like ‘Where was Abraham Lincoln born?’ And it can name the city. You can also say, ‘What is the population?’ of a city and it’ll bring up a chart and answer. But you cannot say, ‘What is the population of the city where Abraham Lincoln was born?’” The system may have the data for both these components, but it has no ability to put them together, either to answer a query or to make a smart suggestion. Like Siri, it can’t do anything that coders haven’t explicitly programmed it to do.

Viv breaks through those constraints by generating its own code on the fly, no programmers required. Take a complicated command like “Give me a flight to Dallas with a seat that Shaq could fit in.” Viv will parse the sentence and then it will perform its best trick: automatically generating a quick, efficient program to link third-party sources of information together—say, Kayak, SeatGuru, and the NBA media guide—so it can identify available flights with lots of legroom. And it can do all of this in a fraction of a second.

Ok so what does all this mean for education? Very large companies are devoting vast resources to software that allows you to ask questions. This new product Viv should allow it to piece together different queries and devise an answer. This is part of what a teacher does every day. If you combine this with smartphone, heads up displays like Navdy and things like Google Glass, you will always be surrounded by a computing environment in which you can ask questions. The next step then would be able to be say “teach me about that”. The system would eventually be smart enough to be able to piece together a lesson personalized to the person asking because it will know everything about the student. It can create an analogy based on pop music figures based on the music on their playlist perhaps. It can suggest books to read based on the reading level of the student. It can suggest other people asking similar questions. Maybe it can setup a teleconference with someone else in the world on the fly. Maybe it can connect you with a subject matter expert whom you can ask a quick question (for a small fee). Imagine a doctor driving in his car. He has made himself available to answer questions in his speciality. His car pops up a question from a young student and he can record a quick answer and send it back. All of this happens seamlessly.

This is the next step in computing; the seamless accessing of information. The virtual teacher will happen simply as an extension of what is being built today. Nobody will set out to design it but somebody at Google or Apple or Microsoft or Amazon or at thousands of startup companies will say, “you know if we just add this little feature, we can have this thing teach too.”

Computer teachers won’t be directly created. Instead they will be a cool add on feature of a much larger system.

Posted by: crudbasher | August 11, 2014

Realtime Facial Capture Technology

If you want a realistic multiplayer virtual world, body language and facial expressions are two things that help make it happen. So far this has been very limited but there is now some technology that may help.

Here’s a company called Mixamo

If you spend a lot of time on a computer, game console or smartphone, chance are you have a camera watching you. The XBox systems have Kinect camera. I wonder if this Face Plus technology can be used to make your character talk and emote? Of course it won’t make much difference in games like racing or first person shooters. Let’s face it, when somebody is shooting you with a rocket launcher, you won’t be paying attention to their facial expressions! This could however be really cool in things like Second Life.

This sort of technology can also be used in online learning so the teacher can see avatars of their students with facial expressions.

Awesome!

Posted by: crudbasher | August 8, 2014

New Video Of The Latest Oculus Rift Dev Kit

The newest version of the Oculus Rift VR helmet has the ability to track when you lean left and right. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s a huge improvement to the feeling of immersion.

Here is a video where some guys try it out. (start at 29:34)

The technology is advancing quickly. What is becoming apparent though is existing games will be difficult to port to a VR system. The designers have said that the Rift is supposed to be used sitting down. I imagine that vehicle based games will be a lot of fun. First person shooters though might have to be rethought.

Exploring historical worlds I think is where this technology will be used for first in Education.

Posted by: crudbasher | August 6, 2014

AI Coming To Google Search

A common problem with looking for things on the Internet is the vast amount of material out there. A student in school has to develop techniques to wade through this mass of information and yet they still miss lots of useful data. Google has been working for years now on how to improve their search technology. They hired Ray Kurzweil, a noted inventor and futurist to help their search engine understand regular speech. The idea is to get it so you can just ask questions like a child would and the search would understand what you are asking about.

Apparently they are making progress on this.

H/T Technologyreview.com

Kurzweil joined the company 18 months ago to lead a project aimed at creating software capable of understanding text as well as humans can. Yesterday, he told the audience that progress on this effort was good, and that it would result in an entirely new way to search the Web and manage information.

“You would interact with it like you would a human assistant,” said Kurzweil. It will be possible to ask a question of the software just as you would if talking to another person, he said; and you could trust that it would return a fully reasoned answer, not just a list of links as Google’s search engine does today. Such a virtual assistant might also take the initiative, Kurzweil said, coming forward when new information had appeared that was related to an earlier query or conversation.

This will have a profound impact on learning if it actually happens. I have speculated for a few years now that the best learning device will always be with you and can answer questions asked in a normal fashion. I believe you can build something like this into a smart toy, so small children can have their questions answered anytime they ask. This sort of technology could enable smart toys to be created.

This will also finally end the role of the teacher as the person with all the answers. Less sage on stage, and more guide on side.

I expect to see this within 5 years.

Posted by: crudbasher | August 5, 2014

Spray On Solar Cells

There has been a lot of interest in renewable energy the last decade or so. Of all the various ones we have such as wind and water and such I think solar is the best one. There is more solar energy hitting the Earth at any moment than we can use. The trick is to get solar cells to be high enough efficiency to power things and cheap enough so we can put them everywhere. I want solar panels on the roof of my house that powers it during the day. Living in Florida my AC bill tends to get kind of silly this time of year.

The place in the world where solar will make the biggest impact though is in the developing world, in places where they don’t have electricity now. Solar is attractive to me because it is a disaggregated model, which is in keeping with my theory of how society is reorganizing.

These solar cells aren’t efficient yet but they are certainly cheap. You just spray them on.

H/T Gizmodo

The concept of spray-on solar panels has existed for some time, but it’s been hard to make them efficient. Now, a team of scientists from Sheffield University is using a new material to create a solar paint that could change that.

[...]

The results are fairly impressive, too. The best perovskite cells can achieve an efficiency as high as 19 percent; cells currently created used the new spaying method achieve 11 percent. So, while there’s some way to go, these cells far out perform spray-coated solar technology from the past, which achieved efficiencies in the single digits.

The education implications are thus: as the developing world gets electrified, they can get online and join the online learning community. This is a very large group of people all looking for cheap education. Who will provide it?

Posted by: crudbasher | July 30, 2014

How Not To Do One Laptop Per Child

On Monday I talked about how difficult it was to give each child a laptop and make the system work. Here’s a story that perfectly illustrates that.

H/T Arstechica

One school district in Hoboken, New Jersey has decided to abandon its one-to-one laptop program for 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. Ultimately, the Hoboken School District decided the scheme was more trouble than it was worth—even when supported by federal grants.

[...]

Jerry Crocamo, a district network engineer, told The Hechinger Report that despite his colleagues’ best efforts to keep the laptops in perfect working order, there was an average of six new repair cases every day. The issues varied: cracked screens, dead batteries, malware infections, and more.

Also in the article was the revelation that there was only one user name and password to access the school network. This meant anyone nearby who had it could access the network.

Ok I have said this many times but let me spell this out.

Here is what you have to do to implement laptop in schools (in order of difficulty)

  1. Secure funding for laptops.
  2. Distribute the laptops.
  3. Create a robust and secure network infrastructure. (large corporations do this all the time)
  4. Create sufficient resources to maintain the devices and loan replacements.
  5. Create lessons based on apps and programs every student will have access to.
  6. Modify the way classes work from lecture based to a more flipped learning model where laptops in class are relevant.
  7. Teach something the students actually want to learn so they would rather use their laptops for the lesson rather than messing around in class.

Those are what you need to do. Notice though that once the first step (the easiest step) is done the politicians can pat themselves on the back and say they support education.

It’s nearly an impossible task. My hat is off to any district that is making this work.

Posted by: crudbasher | July 28, 2014

Chasing The Wave : The Ed Tech Problem

The rapid advance of technology creates some problems with adopting new tech for schools. Consider the humble cassette recorder.

cassette recorder

One of these was my first musical device back in the early 1980s. Mine had two players so you could play on one and record on the other. It made mix tapes practical. Most of this would consider this old technology and yet music companies still produce cassette tapes and even players. My point is though, a cassette tape purchased today can be played on a player purchased 30 years ago. When schools bought this technology it was a one time purchase. There was no real upgrade cycle. Oh sure you had to replace them periodically for attrition reasons but the basic technology didn’t change.

So take today’s technology. Do you think that an iPad purchased for school today will be able to do anything in 30 years? How about 20? No, the fact of the matter is these devices become obsolete very rapidly. My original iPad is only 4 years old but is pretty much useless for anything modern.

One reason is because the real innovation is happening in the software space. The hardware just evolves to keep up with that. Another reason is the acceleration of innovation. Things are being developed much faster. Now that these design tools are in the hands of individuals (and financed via Kickstarter and such) innovation is coming from everyone. This drives the wave of change faster and faster.

Schools who try to keep up find themselves spending a vast amount of money and seeing the technology becoming obsolete before they even get a chance to figure out how to use it. Meanwhile the students are leaps and bounds beyond the tech level of their schools and are riding that wave of change.

This isn’t likely to change any time soon. This is one of the reasons I believe the bring your own device movement is the best way for technology to be implemented in schools. Spend the school resources on network infrastructure and teacher training, and let the students figure out the devices.

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