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.

Posted by: crudbasher | February 20, 2015

School != Education

I have been following a blog by Issac Moorehouse. He tends to view education in a similar way to me. Now I don’t recommend only listening to people who agree with you but some don’t hurt.

Here’s a recent post I agree with and have written similar things before.

H/T issacmoorhouse

If we mean by education a tamed will and constrained imagination, school does a decent job.  If we mean the temporary memorization of a set of arbitrary facts chosen by arbitrary authority and the permanent crystallization of the life-as-a-conveyor-belt mindset, school does a decent job.  But then it’s more about obedience than education.  Education is about transformation.  It’s a process of transforming the way we see the world and giving us new conceptual tools to put on as lenses and improve our ability to navigate towards our goals.  Kids aren’t given much chance or scope to explore and decide what goals they want to pursue or how they want to do it.  They don’t even get responsibility over their own schedule.

All genuine learning is self-directed.  It happens only when the learner has the desire.  Obedience and hoop jumping can be generated by compulsion and deprivation, but transformative education requires freedom.  If Hector really wanted to be in school he wouldn’t need a nudge.  If he was there of his own volition because he wanted to learn what they were teaching then he might genuinely learn.

Yep. Preach it brother. There are some new types of schools that seem to get this. There is a new public school near San Diego that allows students to work in “pods” of like minded students or individually as required.

H/T Mindshift

“They wanted students to really like and enjoy school,” said Megan Power, one of the five teachers who designed the school. They wanted school to be a place where students could explore their passions and fall in love with learning. Things like specific content areas and test scores rarely came up. “Once we gave parents a voice — the chance to talk about what they wanted out of school — they just took off with it.” Power said. “It really opened up that there were other possibilities.”

The team also asked students what they wanted out of school. “They wanted a lot of projects,” Power said. “They wanted meaningful, purposeful work. They didn’t want to be limited. And if they needed help they didn’t want to feel like they weren’t as good as other children.”

That is very encouraging to me. If you have to have kids in a classroom, if they don’t want to be there all the rest is an expensive waste of time. The real trick here though is going to make sure they can pass the masses of tests they are forced to comply with. If that doesn’t happen I predict this school will be shut down and the kids shipped back to the regular schools.

Posted by: crudbasher | February 19, 2015

Performance Enhancing Drugs… In The Classroom?

I just read a story from The Guardian.

Modafinil: a prescription-only medication for narcolepsy that the NHS’s website describes as “a central nervous system stimulant” that prevents “excessive sleepiness during daytime hours”. Or, used off-label, bought via some off-shore pharmaceutical retailer, it’s what’s known as a “smart drug”. I hadn’t even heard of it a week ago, but it turns out they’re all on it, the students. They’ve all taken it on at least a couple of occasions, all five of the female final-year students who live in this particular flat, and all five of the male final-year students they’ve invited over to dinner.

“It’s not that it makes you more intelligent,” says Phoebe, a history student. “It’s just that it helps you work. You can study for longer. You don’t get distracted. You’re actually happy to go to the library and you don’t even want to stop for lunch. And then it’s like 7pm, and you’re still, ‘Actually, you know what? I could do another hour.’”

So what about this? See, we are entering a time where it will be possible to enhance our brain performance with various therapies and drugs. This medication they are talking about just makes you more alert and able to study more. You could argue caffein does too right? This is just the beginning. You have no idea how far down this rabbit hole goes. Let me explain the problems.

  1. Genetic research is beginning to tell us what genes lead to various characteristics such as intelligence. Soon there will be manipulation of babies to be smarter. It will happen.
  2. I am sure this will only be available to the very rich at first so it will certainly be argued that those children will have an unfair advantage over others. They will certainly have an advantage but will it be unfair?
  3. As this practice becomes more widespread, will companies demand genetic screening for prospective employees? Do they want to screen for illnesses, or intelligence or other factors? In a free society, shouldn’t they be able to?
  4. Our public school system is designed to teach to children of theoretically the same mental capacity. How will you teach these new designer kids? Will there be new private schools setup for them? Is that fair?
  5. Will the masses demand that the government provide these enhancements to everyone? How will that be paid for?
  6. Even without genetic manipulation, new drugs enhancing brain performance will almost certainly be developed. If those are widely used in the workplace, will we ban then from schools? Why would be ban them?
  7. If we don’t ban them, does that mean the teachers will have to be on the drugs too to keep up with the kids?

I don’t have answers for much of this but these types of questions are going to appear fairly soon (probably in 10 years). There is a massive amount of both good and bad that can come from this but make no mistake this is coming.

Here is a news report about Provigil, which is the same kind of drug just a marketing name.

Here’s a CNN report on the latest genetic testing.

Of course I have to include this scene as well for my geek friends. :)

Posted by: crudbasher | February 18, 2015

Bill Gates Talks About Third World Education

I have listened to what Bill Gates has talked about over the years since he retired from Microsoft. Honestly I don’t agree with much of what he says but since he has billions of dollars, he can affect things even if he’s wrong. He and his foundation has been tackling improving education for a number of years. He tends to look at the factory model of schooling as something that needs improving with technology, not something that needs scrapping like I do. Where I do find him most interesting though is when he talks about the developing world. These are places without an established infrastructure of public schools so it is sort of a blank slate.

So here is what he has said lately. H/T TheVerge

In his foundation’s 2015 annual letter, Bill Gates describes a future in which world-class education is only a few taps away, for anyone in the world. “Before a child even starts primary school, she will be able to use her mom’s smartphone to learn her numbers and letters, giving her a big head start,” he speculates. “Software will be able to see when she’s having trouble with the material and adjust for her pace. She will collaborate with teachers and other students in a much richer way.” Career paths, Gates speculates, will be built into this new education system — students will be able to lift themselves out of poverty by figuring out the requirements for their chosen field and fulfilling them with online classes. And software will connect students to distant teachers and each other.

I agree with what he says here. I was a bit thrown off by his “primary school” comments but I think he is referring to online schools rather than an actual classroom with age grouped classes.

So why won’t this work in the US? We may very well enter a phase where there will be more innovative minds in the “third world” than there are in the first world because their learning will be tailored to making the best of each person. We will see.

Here’s the video that goes along with the article.

Posted by: crudbasher | February 13, 2015

More Progress In VR Exploration

I have previously predicted that we will see new ways to experience sporting events such as telepresence, and remote cameras.

Ahem. :)

H/T Gizmodo

If you’ve plunked down for a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and a Gear VR headset, you’ll be able to watch some rad 360 video from this weekend’s NBA All-Star festivities in New York.

Highlight packages from the Three-Point Contest, Slam-Dunk Contest, and the All-Star Game itself will be available through Samsung’s newly launched Milk VR app that’s exclusive to its devices. The content will be 360-degree video that you can look around as if you were sitting courtside. So it’s not strictly interactive VR or anything. It’s more like really immersive TV.

The article goes on to state that it won’t be live because it takes some time to process the videos together. Well, I am sure there will be a camera rig that can do it live by next year.

In a related story the standards body that makes Displayport just added a spec to handle signals up to 8k in resolution. This is very important because the human eye can see at about 8k. Basically when you view a video in this scale it looks like you are looking out a window. Now to use this for VR would require two 8k streams so we are talking about a huge amount of data. That’s a few years off yet but this is real progress towards totally photorealistic VR.

Posted by: crudbasher | February 11, 2015

Interesting Article About UnSchooling

Wired wrote a nice article about how many people in the tech community are either home schooling or unschooling their kids.

H/T Wired

The Cook family are not just homeschoolers but unschoolers. They don’t prefer homeschooling simply because they find most schools too test-obsessed or underfunded or otherwise ineffective. They believe that the very philosophical underpinnings of modern education are flawed. Unschoolers believe that children are natural learners; with a little support, they will explore and experiment and learn about the world in a way that is appropriate to their abilities and interests. Problems arise, the thinking goes, when kids are pushed into an educational model that treats everyone the same—gives them the same lessons and homework, sets the same expectations, and covers the same subjects. The solution, then, is to come up with exercises and activities that will help each kid flesh out the themes and subjects to which they are naturally drawn.

I completely agree. My son just turned 2 and he is an amazing learner. I can see his brain just feasts on what he is exposed to. He does things all the time that I have no idea where he learned it. You can show him something once and he will apply it days later. It’s truly remarkable.

And yet, I used to teach university classes with students who often times viewed learning as a chore or an obstacle that had to be overcome. There were things I could have done to help alleviate this and yet most of the damage had already been done from 10 years of public schooling.

Is this for everyone? I think that depends on the parents. Certainly some people thrive in public schools but do they actually learn anything? Colleges are having to deal with high school graduates who can barely read and yet they were given a diploma.

I think the homeschooling trend will continue to grow at a rapid rate.

Posted by: crudbasher | February 9, 2015

Now Banning: Smartwatches

Another new technology, another ban from universities, another way to turn off students.

The Internet started for most of us in the mid 1990s when the web became popular. That was about 20 years ago so we are now seeing students in universities who have always had Internet access. In another 5 years we will be able to say that about all of them. There have been many studies about how the brain is restructured by our modern technology. This seems reasonable because the brain is a neural network which constantly rewires itself to adapt to stimulus. I look at a college student with a smart phone the same way as a senior citizen with a hearing aid. Both can do without the devices but they have adapted to function most effectively with them.

Our methods of learning are designed to work with devices that have all the answers. For years now some universities have banned laptops in classes. This then has moved on to smartphones and now it looks like it is moving on to wearables like smartwatches.

H/T Buzzfeed

Apple’s smartwatch innovation has had an unexpected side-effect. BuzzFeed News has learned that universities have starting issuing blanket bans on all students wearing watches in exam halls – because invigilators can’t tell whether students actually have a mini-computer strapped to their wrist.

With the popularity of smartwatches set to rocket when the Apple Watch is released in April, multiple universities having begun taking precautions to stop students cheating by using the devices during this summer’s exams. Such devices could allow students to look at notes or subtly receive messages during exams.

In my opinion, students should have access to all resources they would use in the workforce. We live in a world of instant information, except in some schools apparently. If accessing information via portable device is cheating, then the test needs to be changed. Test instead on construction of knowledge and manipulation of information to solve larger problems. Let students collaborate as long as they can demonstrate individual mastery of what you need them to know. Give them project based assessments so they can take their time rather than a high stakes, high pressure testing session in school. We have known for a while that Internet addicted people suffer withdrawl symptoms, so is that a good time to test them?

Most significantly, if students actually wanted to know the information, they wouldn’t cheat. What does this tell us about forcing them to take classes they don’t want?

Students are changing. Why won’t some universities change with them?

Posted by: crudbasher | February 5, 2015

Future Myopia

I have said many times that we are linear beings living in exponential times. This means that we have a hard time predicting the future. (see The Stormfront)

For example, here is a link to a gallery of fascinating predictions from the 1950s. Things like jetpack wearing mailmen and radiation enhanced crops are predicted. Even so, they got somethings right. For example they predicted wearable electronics and teleconferencing. A lot of what they got wrong though is they take something they know and just enhance it with technology. For example, a jetpack wearing mailman was an extension of the new jet engine technology. This was the start of the atomic age so why not enhance plants with radiation?

The point here is many people look at education reform as taking the current model and bolting on whatever the latest technology is. Often though reformers can’t see that these technologies are going to change the whole design pattern of the way we learn.  I think I’ll start calling this Future Myopia.

Another recent article talks about a vision of the workplace in 2040.


MYOB has released its ‘Future of Business: Australia 2040’ report, which examines the possible impact of emerging technologies on business and work over the next 25 years.


Forget the traditional office or even the remote workspace — localised centres based around suburbs or communities will emerge as the home of business as a response to the growing expense of traditional inner-city office buildings, Mr Raik-Allen says.

These giant warehouses, used by employees from many different companies spread around the globe, will be home to the technology that makes the interconnected workplace possible.

“Within each will be rooms filled with giant wall-sized screens allowing us to work in a fully virtual, telepresence model. Banks of 3D printers would be continually churning out products ordered by the local community.”

Ok let’s stop right there. Even today we are seeing the rise of personal, wearable display devices such as Oculus Rift, and Google Glass. In 10 years, I predict we will all have access to contact lenses and glasses that will create fully immersive virtual experiences around us. So if we have access to that, why do we have to have a building with wall sized screens?? Seems like a waste of space to me.


Launching a new business and hiring 500 people could be done in minutes, he argues. “Your company could be just you and a couple of project managers: the thinkers, controlling every aspect of the company through new digital interfaces.”

Yes I agree completely and to carry it further, I expect businesses will be created and then destroyed very quickly. I expect most people will work for many companies at the same time and at all times of the day. You will either be creative, or unemployed. Manual labor will be taken over almost completely by robots. We all have a lot more free time. In fact I think the 40 hour work week will disappear.


Here’s where it gets really crazy. If you thought smartphones and wearables were the height of personal technology, wait until you have chips implanted under your skin and downloadable apps for your brain.

Nanobots will swim through your blood, diagnosing illness and clearing blood clots. Brain augmentations will heighten our senses or allow us to control technology with our minds.

For example, implants in the retina could farm off the raw data to miniature processors implanted in our bodies, analysing the images to identify things that can’t be seen with the naked eye, and then feed that back ‘into the stream’, effectively giving us augmented vision.

Ok so again he is predicting personal immersive virtual reality and yet he thinks we will work in buildings with wall screens. ;)

The whole brain modification thing is something I haven’t done a lot of research on but nothing I have seen leads me to say it’s impossible. What if you can upload information directly into the brain? What if you can upload skills? What if in 10 minutes you can become a violin virtuoso? Direct brain interface sounds outlandish but there is nothing I can see that says it’s impossible.

2040 is only 25 years away. My son will be 27 years old. 25 years ago was 1990. I was graduating high school. In that time we have seen the Internet and Smartphones be developed and sweep the world. What will happen in the next 25 years? Does it seem likely that in 25 years we will still be grouping children together into a room to hear a teacher talk about a topic? I don’t think so so what will we do and how do we get there? That’s what this blog explores.


Posted by: crudbasher | February 2, 2015

A PC For $35

Every year new phones get released and they are pretty much the same cost as the year before. This tend to mask the overall fact that computing is getting cheaper, very quickly.

When you look at the cost of computers you should look at the cost to do a calculation, not the cost of the machine itself. If this year’s computer costs the same as last years and yet does double the calculations, then the cost per calculation has dropped by 50%. Because of Moore’s Law, this is pretty much what has been happening for the last 50 years.

One of the big initiatives in the public school system is to buy laptops and tablets for their students. Many times this flops because of a lack of followup support, or a lack of teacher training or any number of factors but I have been saying for a while that it’s a pointless task because they will become nearly free within the decade. Case in point:

H/T Gizmodo

What does that mean in reality? Well, the Raspberry Pi Foundation claims that performance is six times faster than the old model. Speaking to The Register, the company’s head Eben Upton explained that “it’s a usable PC now. It was always the case that you could use a Raspberry Pi 1 as a PC but you had to say ‘this is a great PC in so far as it cost me 35 bucks’. We’ve removed the caveat that you had to be a bit forgiving with it. Now it’s just good.”

And, somehow, it still costs just $35.

Microsoft has also announced their new Windows 10 will be free for the Raspberry Pi. That’s just really impressive. So keep in mind that in another few years this performance level will be nearly free. The thought of the public school leviathan trying to keep up with that technology curve is ludicrous. Just let the kids bring their own gear and focus on innovative teaching methods to use them.

See also Why Bring Your Own Device To School Is Inevitable

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