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.

Posted by: crudbasher | March 3, 2015

When Learning Is A Rock Concert

Have you ever been to a rock concert? If not, let me help you out. Here is U2 performing “Where The Streets Have No Name”. I’m not a big U2 fan but I like this song. (start at 45 sec)

U2 have been doing concerts for a long time; they know how to do it effectively. What struck me about this video is the crowd. They are wet and probably cold and yet they are 100% in the moment. They are singing, dancing and focused with all of their being on the music and show. There are only a few time in your life when this actually happens. That is why even though we have records, CDs and streaming, concerts are still doing well. There is just something about the whole experience. I bet each of you reading can still remember the best concert you ever saw in person right? I can. The best bands out there can create a show that just blows you away and keeps you enthralled for the whole thing. Another place that teaches and can provoke a emotional response is in some churches.

So how does this relate to learning?

It’s tricky being a teacher. I believe that different parts of the brain are engaged so it’s hard to create the sort of experience you find in a concert. Even so, is it impossible? How close can we get to a learning experience that is enthralling? Well, listening to a lecture in a large lecture hall is probably not going to do it although some lecturers are very good (See: Sir Ken Robinson). Instead we might turn to technology to provide a more immersive experience.

Virtual Reality is on the cusp of being a consumer product finally. There are a lot of companies that have recently announced VR headsets. Time will tell which ones are good of course. Even so, I bet there will be some good ones (watch what Apples does). Virtual Reality has the potential to provide experiential learning in a very immersive way. See, this is what a rock concert does. It’s a very immersive experience because it uses all your senses. For learning to be more than just something you have to do to pass the next test, it has to move more in that direction.

What we want is a learning experience that is very memorable so you can learn what you need to know. One key I believe is choice. Being forced to learn something is like being forced to attend a concert of a band you don’t like. Not going to be fun. :)

Here is a video of a VR horror game. Seems pretty scary and immersive!!


If you have a great concert memory, put it in the comments below!

Posted by: crudbasher | February 26, 2015

Technology As Lego

I used to assemble my own computers when I was in High School. Back then (late 80s) it took a lot of tinkering. For example, when you put in a hard drive, cd drive and floppy drive you had to make sure they didn’t conflict with each other by setting their IRQ address. After a few years of that though a new standard called Plug and Play  was created which allowed the devices to set their own address. Today, making a computer is much easier than it used to be.

In software the trend is the same. Developers are using a technique called Application Programming Interface, software developers can specify ways that other pieces of software can interact and exchange data. You see this all the time on the net when you have the option to login to a site using Facebook or Google logins. This also allows Apps on your smartphone.

A side effect of all these interfaces is a creative person can put them together as modular pieces of a new technological solution. I think of it as building Lego. :) So here are some technological pieces I have read about lately that might be used for learning.

A big push right now in technology is direct human to computer interactions. H/T MSDN Blog

Silicon Valley-based is working to bring a human face to telemedicine. The company’s Kinect-powered “nurse avatar” provides personalized patient monitoring and follow-up care—not to mention a friendly, smiling face that converses with patients in an incredibly lifelike manner. The nurse avatar, affectionately nicknamed Molly, has access to a patient’s records and asks appropriate questions related directly to the patient’s past history or present complaints. She has a pleasant, caring demeanor that puts patients at ease. Interacting with her seems surprisingly natural, which, of course, is the goal.

This takes advantage of two other technologies, computer vision and natural speech recognition. We have seen phone assistants such as Siri but overall they are fairly limited. As I have predicted though they are getting better fast. Meet Viv. H/T Techcrunch

But Siri today is limited. While she’s able to perform simpler tasks, like checking your calendar or interacting with apps like OpenTable, she struggles to piece information together. She can’t answer questions that she hasn’t already been programmed to understand.

Viv is different. It can parse natural language and complex queries, linking different third-party sources of information together in order to answer the query at hand. And it does so quickly, and in a way that will make it an ideal user interface for the coming Internet of Things — that is, the networked, everyday objects that we’ll interact with using voice commands.

Wired article about Viv and its creators described the system as one that will be “taught by the world, know more than it was taught and it will learn something new everyday.”

Most significantly Viv will keep a record of all interactions with each user. So you will be able to ask it questions like “when was the last time I was at this restaurant?” and it will know. This will make these systems much more useful than Siri is now.

So now tie this sort of technology to an adaptive learning system. The system can watch how you learn, what you know and then suggest lessons to fill in caps. H/T Slate

A computer system picked this lesson for this group of students based on a quiz they’d taken a day earlier. Similar targeted lessons were being used by other teachers and students working together, in small groups, in an open classroom the size of a cafeteria. The computer system orchestrates how each math class unfolds every day, not just here, but for about 6,000 students in 15 schools located in four states and the District of Columbia.

As more schools adopt blended learning—methods that combine classroom teachers and computer-assisted lessons—some are taking the idea a step further and creating personalized programs of instruction. Technology can help teachers design a custom lesson plan for each student, supporters say, ensuring children aren’t bored or confused by materials that aren’t a good fit for their skill level or learning style.

Teachers are still present but only to help students individually. I don’t see why this can’t be done remotely though via telepresence. So how will these lessons be determined? Well, there will be a vast number of career paths that professionals will signal to the workforce. H/T Chronicle of HE

On Wednesday, Coursera, one of the largest MOOC platforms, announced that it had teamed up with more than half a dozen companies that will help create capstone projects for its course series. The companies include the tech giant Google as well as Instagram and Shazam—all names likely to entice students looking to get a start in Silicon Valley.

Nineteen colleges now work with Coursera to offer what amount to microdegrees—it calls them Course Specializations—that require students to take a series of short MOOCs and then finish a hands-on capstone project. The serialization approach has proved an effective way to bring in revenue to support the free courses—to get a certificate proving they passed the courses, students each end up paying around $500 in fees.

Learning will be lifelong, and user directed into areas where the student has aptitude and interest. Note though that lifelong learning means starting at a very early age. So how do you get this sort of technology into the playroom with toddlers? I have been prediction smart toys for a while now and they are getting closer. H/T Gizmodo

Using just their imaginations kids have been having conversations with their toys for years, but an upcoming version of Barbie will finally talk back to them. And we’re not just talking a handful of catch phrases spewed forth after a string is pulled, but a legitimate back and forth conversation powered by advanced voice recognition, and a wireless connection to the internet.

Hello Barbie will be available later this year, and will certainly be one of the most sought after toys this holiday season. Using speech recognition and conversational intelligence technology developed by San Francisco’s ToyTalk, Barbie will finally actually listen to what kids are saying to her, and respond with appropriate answers or questions of her own.

So tie this all together in the future and you get a toy that can talk to you, remember what you say, and can suggest lessons with an eye towards a future career. Oh, and also throw in some computer vision technology. H/T gigaom

Microsoft researchers claim in a recently published paper that they have developed the first computer system capable of outperforming humans on a popular benchmark. While it’s estimated that humans can classify images in the ImageNet dataset with an error rate of 5.1 percent, Microsoft’s team said its deep-learning-based system achieved an error rate of only 4.94 percent.

Now this is only in a restricted test but it’s only a matter of time because computers can see as well as humans in most cases. Then they will become more aware of the world around them.

Phew. Now these article are all within the last month. This sort of thing is happening all the time. It is unrealistic to expect that this creative explosion will have no effect on the classroom.


Posted by: crudbasher | February 24, 2015

Education Prognostications

When I was a kid, I built Lego quite a bit. As I recall, I stopped when I was about 15. Over the years growing up I think I built about everything you could think of. Lego is really useful to child development because it requires problem solving, resource management, visualization, structural analysis, and spacial measurements to name a few skills. I am firmly convinced that my abilities in writing software were developed first with building Lego.

These skills also help when analyzing new technologies. This, by the way is really hard to do. For example, here is an article in the New York Times from 30 years ago.

For the most part, the portable computer is a dream machine for the few.

The limitations come from what people actually do with computers, as opposed to what the marketers expect them to do. On the whole, people don’t want to lug a computer with them to the beach or on a train to while away hours they would rather spend reading the sports or business section of the newspaper. Somehow, the microcomputer industry has assumed that everyone would love to have a keyboard grafted on as an extension of their fingers. It just is not so.

There are two major reasons people get predictions like this wrong. First, we are linear thinkers in an exponentially changing world. This means we take what we see around us and then just think about future versions. Consider Star Trek in the late 1960s. They had starships, transporters and aliens and yet they had very little in the way of computers. Today, we all walk around with computers with access to vast amounts of information.

The second reason future predictions are wrong is the predictor has a built in bias towards a certain vision of the future. Note in the excerpt above the line “they would rather spend reading the sports or business section of the newspaper”. This is coming from a newspaper writer. This person has a blind spot because they can’t imagine a future where they aren’t a part of it. Nobody wants to imagine becoming obsolete or being replaced so we bend the future to fit around ourselves.

When I read predictions about the future of education, I see the vast majority of them still have kids in classrooms, grouped by age, being lead by a teacher. I believe in order to accurately predict the future in any endeavor, you have to discard all preconceptions and faithfully extrapolate current trends, no matter where they lead. This is what I try to do.

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