Posted by: crudbasher | March 30, 2015

Huggables: Another Step Towards Smart Toys

As a Father of a 2 year old boy I have been watching with great interest how he learns. While my wife and I have been trying to teach him as much as we can, I realize that most of what he learns he picks up himself. He has so much to learn so how could it be any other way? He really enjoys using smart phones and playing games. We limit that to just 20 min a day but I can see how much he likes doing it and he has taken to it very quickly.

Projecting into the future, I can see how this sort of technology will make its way into toys. We already have learning toys such as Leap Frog type toys but they are very single function devices. A smart phone is a multi purpose device which is getting more useful each year. If you couple smart phone technology with robotics you can come up with a smart toy which can always be with a child as a companion. This toy can also teach the child new things in an adaptable fashion.

Recently I wrote about a prototype smart toy on Kickstarter. I mentioned that I was expecting them to also be robotic. Well, that is becoming more realistic too.

Here’s a new prototype of a robotic bear for use in children’s hospitals. H/T Wired

Under a pilot study, happening at Boston Children’s Hospital, sick tykes interact with Huggable in their rooms. They shake his paw, tell him jokes (he claims to not know any), and play I Spy with him. Watching this video, you marvel not so much at the little guy’s movements, though they’re adorable, but at his smarts. He refers to others in the room by name, and makes clever guesses when Aurora, the patient, tells him she spies something blue (hint, it’s not him). Turns out, his behaviors and conversation are controlled by a so-called Wizard-of-Oz operator on a nearby laptop. You can read more about the study design here.

Now that is very cool. Notice though that it isn’t fully autonomous; it is still controlled by an operator. Now if we can just combine the Kickstarter smart toy with the Huggable body. :)

Here’s a video of it in action.

One of the arguments I always hear about when I speculate how teachers will be replaced by computers is that computers aren’t empathetic. That might be true but can it fake being empathetic? Maybe children won’t know the difference. We will see but I think this technology will be in homes within the next few years.

Posted by: crudbasher | March 25, 2015

A Higher Ed Look At Futurist Predictions

I am probably a sort of futurist in that I like to predict the future. Actually, most people are futurists. The difference is I tend to go a lot farther than most people in forecasting disruptive change. There are a lot of stories published every day so it can be hard to determine what to believe. I mean, if they are all true we should have teleporters and robots by now right? :)

So here is how to look at these stories.

Some stories are about some researchers looking for funding. They take a technology with potential and spin it into a story that will change the world. However, these sorts of things can take quite a while to be productive if the technology is even practical. They just want funding for their next round of research.

Next, you have new tech companies making new products. These have a more likely near term impact but I have noticed that it’s the companies you don’t hear about that change the world. For example, Twitter. Nobody expected Twitter to change the way we communicate like it has.

When you read a story, you have to look at it in a certain way. Here’s an example. H/T

Robots and computer programs could almost wipeout human workers in jobs from cooks to truck drivers, a visiting researcher has warned.

Driverless cars and even burger-flipping robots are among the technological advancements gunning for low-skilled jobs across dozens of industries.

University of Oxford Associate Professor in machine learning Michael Osborne has examined the characteristics of 702 occupations in the US, predicting 47 per cent will be overtaken by computers in the next decade or two.

I am very suspicious of studies. I think they can be manipulated to produce any sort of result the sponsor wants. Even so, let’s consider the idea being presented. Can robots replace humans in jobs? Well, automation and machines have done that for hundreds of years so yes it can happen. Why is this news? Well, the time frame and the scale of the change is what is new. Like so many technological advances, they are happening very quickly. In this case, the number of people displaced would be very significant and would happen faster than any time in history.

So there are 3 possibilities in any story like this.

1. It’s completely not going to happen. In this case that means that the progress of history will completely stop at this point of rapid technological evolution. That seems unlikely.

2. It will partially happen. Perhaps the change will be more gradual than we think and not as complete as the article suggests? Certainly governments will try to pass laws outlawing these technologies if it starts to hurt their voters right?

3. It will happen completely. Massive disruptive change just throws everything we know out the window. Millions of people will lose their jobs in a short period of time.

Finally then let’s look at how this will affect education. Case 1 won’t change anything. Life goes on as normal and people keep their jobs. Case 2 means a lot of people out of work in need of retraining. It is possible that will create a surge of people into the university system, which is not really capable of rapidly scaling up (buildings take time to build). This means that many of them will go online to get whatever kind of training they can get. This means many more online education players, which will drive the cost down.

Case 3 is the most scary. You have enormous swaths of the economy just blown away. Whole occupations just disappear. Governments can’t keep up with the changes happening. Some people will benefit tremendously but most won’t. The people out of work might just stay that way. After the crash of 2008, we have seen a decline of the labor force participation rate. This might continue. What you will have then is a need to retraining more people at once than at any time in history. Universities are not setup to do this so this would transform the system. As I have said many times, the school system we have is a reflection of the society it serves. At least it is a reflection of society in the early to mid 20th century. A massive disruption like we are speculating about will force it to adapt to the 21st century (or be replaced).

I go down this train of thought for every story I see. Not all of them are forecasting such radical changes of course, but some are. So here’s the punch line.

It is certain that not all these stories are true. But is it likely that none of them are? Therefore what percentage of this has to happen to transform society, and thus higher education?

This is the nature of the Stormfront of change that is coming.

Sleep well tonight. :)

I came of age when cable TV became big. Futurist 15 years ago predicted that cable TV would continue to add channels and they were right. What they didn’t predict was this:

H/T Washington Post

Traditional television watching is declining faster than ever as streaming services become a mainstream feature in American homes, according to new research by Nielsen.


The trends have rattled the entertainment industry, with broadcast and cable networks scrambling to take on new competitors on the Web. Cable networks have seen steep ratings declines, which got much worse in the last six months of 2014. Cable ratings among adults fell 9 percent in 2014, three times the rate of decline over 2013, according to Michael Nathanson, an analyst at Moffett Nathanson research.

“It’s hard to ignore our belief that technology is disrupting viewer consumption of linear network programming,” Nathanson wrote in a recent research note.

Traditional network television creates content, then packages it in a particular order. You have to watch their channel, when they want you to in order to access the content. They make their money on selling commercials, not on the content itself.

So let’s compare this to education.

Colleges provide content (courses) and package it in a particular order (a degree). Colleges make their money on certifying that people completed the content, not on the content itself.

The traditional model of television is crumbling at an increasing rate. This would have been unthinkable 15 years ago and yet it’s happening. Could the university model also crumble? People still like to watch TV shows, just not on TV and not with commercials and only when we want. Universities could go the same way. Students will still want the courses but maybe the degrees won’t be as valuable? Maybe students will get smaller certifications for their actual skills, and maybe they will mix and match their courses online from a variety of schools and providers? Time will tell.

Posted by: crudbasher | March 17, 2015

A Computer That Teaches You How To Draw

Computers won’t replace teachers all at once. It’s hard to describe, but it will happen slowly in a thousand little ways. Here’s an example of one of them.

H/T Venturebeat

With Osmo Masterpiece, the child can snap a picture of anything or anyone. Then you attach Osmo’s reflective mirror to the iPad and activate an app that taps into Osmo’s artificial intelligence technology. The app uses computer vision to analyze the scene and produce a rough sketch of the object you have photographed. It lays out the important lines that you could use to create a drawing of that image.

Then the kid can set a piece of paper in front of the iPad and trace the lines that Osmo suggests on the image on the iPad screen. The mirror enables the iPad’s camera to capture the movement of the child’s writing instrument and translate it into the image so you can see lines being drawn on the screen. Those lines are guided by the child’s own hand movements. It’s a lot like line-by-line tracing, but instead of tracing something underneath a sheet of paper, the child writes on the paper and looks at the lines on the iPad screen.

Notice what is happening here. These folks did not create a machine that can teach someone to draw. Instead they used an existing platform (a tablet) with some clever software to make it happen. This is why things are changing so fast, the innovation is in the software, not hardware. Obviously this doesn’t teach you how to draw completely, but it does provide feedback and helps improve skills. That’s a great learning tool.

Here’s a video showing how it works.

Very very cool!

Posted by: crudbasher | March 13, 2015

Video Of The First Smart Toy

I have been predicting for several years a fantastic learning device that would be connect to the net, and would teach a child. I called it a Smart Toy. Well, I was right. :)

From a post in 2011:

It won’t be too long before we have power sources of much longer life and capacity. These will be able to power a toy which can have a smart computer core, voice interaction and an Internet connection. Children love to learn and we see how children bond with toys. Imagine if the toy actually interacted with them? Imagine if the child could ask questions at any time and the toy would help teach the answers. Robotics, power supplies, and computation ability are all enabling technologies for smart toys and I think it’s almost possible to do this today. Certainly it will be possible in the next 5 years. A smart toy will be a key tool in enabling learning anywhere, anytime and for as long as necessary.

Here’s the first smart toy exactly as I imagined it, with the exception that I predict they will be mobile and robotic. That will come too.

Imagine where this will be in 5 years. 10 years. Here we go!


Posted by: crudbasher | March 13, 2015

A Reply For Megan Grummitt

I was interested to see that a Megan Grummitt, who is going to be a school teacher in Queensland Australia wrote a blog post about my post Computers Will Replace Teachers, and Here’s How. She brings up some good points so I wanted to reply in detail.

Hi Megan,

I am honored you mentioned my blog post on your blog! I see you disagree with me, which is certainly ok with me. Since it seems you are involved with becoming a teacher down there in Australia, perhaps I can invite you to look deeper at this topic?

I noticed that in every single one of your blog posts so far you mention looking up information online, ie: “google it”. It appears that you learned quite a bit doing that. Was a teacher involved? If no teacher was involved, who facilitated your learning?

You can achieve this learning by means of your own personal ICT right? Yet, you state “What I do understand however, is that ICTs definitely belong in the classroom, purposely used by the teacher to help facilitate the learning of the students.” You use personal ICTs in the rest of your life and yet in the classroom are you claiming you only want the teacher to have them? I am unclear. These technologies are integrated into student’s lives now, do you favor banning them in the classroom for students?

I love the way you put this next sentence together. “Rather then children being passive recipients of information given to them by the teacher, teachers facilitate student learning through a student centred learning environment that can encompasses many different pedagogies based on the needs of the students within the class.” So many questions. :) Who determines what the students will learn in a particular day? If it is the teacher, then it is not student centered. Does each student get a choice of various learning methods for each topic? Can they choose to watch a YouTube video or read a book about it? What if they want to use a robot? Is there more variety of learning material in the classroom, or at home when they are using their own devices?

You also quoted another teacher who states that computers can’t replace teachers because of the Human Factor. This teacher states “good teachers inspire our young people to be lifelong learners, creating a culture of independent enquiry with their enthusiasm and passion.” I agree completely that there are some fantastic teachers out there who can change the course of a child’s life (google Rafe Esquith). However, what percentage of teachers are at that level? What happens to all the other students who have only average, or below average teachers? There are teachers who actually create a bad relationship with students and put them off school completely. It happens a lot. Just remember, unless you are talking about private schools, a student is in a classroom with a particular teacher, not because they would be a good match, but because they live nearby and got randomly assigned. There is no pedagogy involved at all, it’s just chance.

Let me finish by saying I have great admiration for anyone who wants to become a teacher. It’s a very hard, often times thankless job, where you have the opportunity to shape the life of a child. I was a teacher for 11 years at university but even then, I saw things were changing. I encourage you to keep an open mind because what is hard to imagine today will be commonplace tomorrow. To quote Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast”. :)

Good luck with your studies!

Posted by: crudbasher | March 12, 2015

Video Of The Latest Game Engine Technology

There has been a lot of buzz in the tech community lately about Virtual Reality. Since the technology uses much of the same parts as smartphones, it seem VR will progress rapidly now. Even if the tech becomes cheap and high quality though you still have to generate a virtual world for people to experience. To do this requires the same technology used in video games, and that technology is also improving very quickly.

Here is a video that shows off the latest from the Unreal Engine. What is important to understand here is what you are seeing is running in real time. This means you could make an interactive experience that looks exactly the same. It’s not a movie that will look the same every time, you can change it. This is what you need for VR. (it’s best to watch this video full screen)


Imagine a student exploring a world that looks like this via a VR headset. Now you have their full attention. So what do you want to teach them?

Posted by: crudbasher | March 11, 2015

Kids Teaching Robots

I love this story. H/T KurzweilAI

When children experience difficulties in writing, they can easily lose confidence, begin to shut down, or even gradually lose interest in the learning process. Eventually, their entire education can be affected. When students put themselves in the place of a teacher and pass on what they know to their peers, they can regain their self-esteem and motivation.

The researchers’ idea was to make a robot play the role of the peer who needs to be taught. “Essentially, the goal is to provide a tool for teachers — a student who knows even less than the slowest student in the class,” explains Séverin Lemaignan, one of the authors of an open-access paper in Proceedings of the Tenth Annual ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction.

The robots can play the role of a naive learner, which neither adults nor peers (because of the social effects it would induce) can convincingly play, the authors note.

The way to demonstrate mastery on a subject is to teach it to someone else. I can just see a little kid watching their robot friend having trouble writing and stepping in to help out. This is another example of Smart Toys.

Posted by: crudbasher | March 9, 2015

A Skeptic’s Guide To The Internet

I don’t believe that man is causing global warming, at least not to the extent that it is being pushed. Many shrill people on the Internet would call me a denier. I prefer the term skeptic. I do actually have an open mind about things like this, it’s just that I don’t think the case has been proven. Many of my friends do believe in it in a religious way. I don’t try to argue with them as they are entitled to their beliefs just as I am.

So what does any of this have to do with technology and education? I think this speaks to how people don’t critically think anymore. I have a specific example.


The devastating effects of rising sea levels are well-documented in Florida, but officials in the state’s Department of Environmental Protection are ordered against using the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” or “sustainability” in any official communications or documents.

This impressively detailed report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting cites records as well as past DEP employees, consultants, and volunteers.

They then go on to bash the Florida Republican governor, (disclosure: I voted for him) because the government has issued guidance to avoid terms like climate change and other terms in official correspondence. The article then ends with the comments section, which at this reading has over 200 comments, most of which are things like “idiots” and a lot of profanity. These people are clearly worked up and at the same time exhibit a smugness of the righteous.

I want to focus on that first line. “The devastating effects of rising sea levels are well-documented in Florida”. This is a statement that asserts that 1. the sea levels are rising, 2. they are having devastating effects and 3. there is a link that documents this assertion very well. So I followed the link. This leads to a Washington Post story entitled: Florida politicians battle rhetoric as rising seas drive worries over climate change. My jaw dropped when I read the start of the piece.

At least twice in a normal year, the Biscayne Bay rises to swamp the streets of this fashionable resort town in an event known as the “king tide.” Water spills over seawalls and gurgles up through storm drains in what scientists say is a preview of life in Florida in a warming climate.

But this is an election year, when even nature becomes a foil for competing political narratives. When a highly anticipated king tide hit the Florida coast last week, state and local officials surged into action to ensure that any flooding was kept out of sight.

So… what they are saying is a “king tide” was going to happen, and the government didn’t let the streets flood. Instead they deployed pumps and mitigated the effects. And this is strange… how? Isn’t that what we want to have happen? They go on to claim that because there was a debate with the governor that night, preventing flooding was somehow underhanded. This just doesn’t make any sense. A king tide is a normal event where the sun and the moon line up periodically to create higher tides. It’s been happening for billions of years on Earth. We know it’s going to happen and they were ready for it as a working government should. As for the rest of the title of the WP article, they say it drives climate change worries. That is bull too. Polls show people are caring less about it. Besides, how can something that didn’t happen drive worry?

The rest of the Washington Post story just goes on and on about Koch brothers and all sorts of things to try to say that preventing the flooding was some scheme. It sounds horribly paranoid and just doesn’t make any sense.

Ok back to Their first sentence says that the devastating effects are well documented yet the article they linked to is all about complaining that the devastation didn’t happen!!  So are the sea levels rising? According to the US government, sea levels are supposed to rise by 2 feet by 2060. That is almost 50 years from now (and there is a huge amount of disagreement on how much it could rise). Even if this is happening, it has not happened enough to cause “devastating effects” now. I know this because I live here. Periodically we have flooding. We always have and we deal with it.

So why would the government want to avoid talking about flooding and “devastation”? Hmm… maybe because Florida’s main industry is tourism? That is what reason dictates.

See, this is the problem with being bombarded with the information. I bet nobody who read that article bothered to verify the contents. Unfortunately, the Internet is filled with this sort of bad information. They write it because they want people to click on it and get worked up. I guess it worked but at the expense of the truth and common sense.

The best part about this is if you try to point this out people start screaming at you and try to destroy you. Well, I am a free thinker and am not jumping on the band wagon just to be liked.

Be sure to think.

Posted by: crudbasher | March 4, 2015

Here Comes The Rest Of The World

There is a very strong push right now by tech companies to bring the developing world onto the Internet. This is driven by two factors. 1. In the developed world, growth of Internet users is slowing. Therefore companies are looking to get new customers. 2. The technology to bring remote areas online is getting cheaper and easier to do.

With this in mind here are two related stories.

H/T Mashable

Facebook told a few members of the press this week that its initiative, which aims get more of the world’s population online, is on track for an aggressive expansion.

Chris Daniels, VP of at Facebook, said the company plans to expand into 100 countries by the end of the year. The program is currently set up in six countries — Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Colombia and India — and has helped more than 7 million people access health, employment and local information services without data charges.

Facebook is having trouble spending it’s money fast enough so this makes sense for them. The more people online, the more valuable their data set is.

Google is doing something very radical but with a similar goal as Facebook. They have a project called Loon, which uses stratospheric balloons to create Internet connection nodes. They aren’t thinking small either.

H/T theverge

As Cassidy speaks, his voice rises with excitement, and you can recognize the former startup savant coming to the fore. “Think about it — with 4.5 billion people without internet access, take 5 percent; you’re talking 250 million people,” he says. If those people pay just a small portion of their monthly income, say $5 a piece, “you’re going to be in a billion dollars a month in revenue, tens of billions a year in revenue. So it’s good business, too.”

I suggest reading that whole article, it’s very interesting.

So wow. Think about that. 250 million people dumped onto the net. How many of those people will be looking to get an education online? Somebody is going to serve that market and whoever solves that problem with change the face of education.

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