Posted by: crudbasher | April 4, 2015

Great Article About Implications Of Self Driving Cars

I’ve been looking at self driving cars because it is I think a near term example of a massively disruptive innovation. Within a few decades I think our world will look very different with this one invention. Here’s a list of what I have written so far.

I came across this really good article from Vox.com investigating the actual implications of self driving cars.

H/T Vox.com

Today’s cars all look pretty similar: most have seating for four or five passengers, a trunk, an engine powerful enough for freeway driving, and a big enough fuel tank for hundreds of miles of driving. Yet for many people, the primary use of their car is for single-person commuting for no more than 10 or 20 miles.

Self-driving cars will allow greater specialization, and therefore greater efficiency. If you’re commuting by yourself, you might be able to hail a 1- or 2-seat vehicle that costs less and gets better mileage. If your trip doesn’t require freeway driving, you might get an super-efficient electric car that doesn’t go faster than 30 miles per hour. When you do need to transport more people or stuff, you’ll be able to get a gasoline-powered minivan or pickup truck at a higher price.

The biggest change, though, may be the rise of vehicles designed for zero people. For example, right now if you order a pizza, it’s usually delivered by a human driver in a full-sized car — that’s thousands of pounds of steel and glass to deliver a pizza that weighs a few pounds. But once you eliminate the need for a human driver, there’s no reason for delivery vehicles to be so big, heavy, and expensive.

That’s just a taste. It’s really good and worth a read. In order to see what is coming in this new century, it is important to understand that everything is up for grabs now. Articles like this can help train your brain to think outside the box.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 2, 2015

Virtually Explore An Asteroid

This is very very cool.

Nasa recently put a space probe into orbit around Vesta, an asteroid beyond Mars. They now have released a fantastic website and app which allows you to fly over the data collected, including images. In addition you can download height maps and if you have a 3d printer you can print out replicas of the terrain.

This is completely fantastic and is definitely something that school children should explore. Heck, I’m going to explore it too! :)

Simulation is going to be more and more relevant to education as we move further into the 21st century.

Posted by: crudbasher | April 1, 2015

Some Thoughts About Cheating At College

Consider this: H/T Mercurynews

[Stanford] University Provost John Etchemendy on Tuesday sent a letter to faculty and teaching staff that pointed to “an unusually high number of troubling allegations of academic dishonesty” reported to the school’s Office of Community Standards at the end of the quarter.
Among “a smattering of concerns from a number of winter courses,” he said, one faculty member reported allegations that may involve as many as 20 percent of the students enrolled in one of Stanford’s large introductory courses.

[…]

“In violating academic integrity,” Etchemendy wrote, “they are cheating themselves of the very core of our mission — the process of learning and discovery — as well as risking severe consequences.”

Of course cheating in school isn’t new so is this news? I think it is for a few reasons. First, it appears to be widespread and second, it is much easier to do with technology. Most importantly though is why are students doing this?

  1. It’s easy. Students are used to sharing things with each other and technology make it easier than ever.
  2. We live in a society of abundance. Students are awash in information, most of it for free. They are used to looking up information when they don’t know it and then forgetting it as soon as they are done. School is different because we ask them to remember things.
  3. They realize that information has no implicit value if everyone has it.
  4. Many of them might be unprepared for the level of work required and in desperation take the easy way past. With the amount of money they have paid, failure is not an option.

All those contribute to cheating but the most important reason can be found in Mr. Etchemendy’s comment. “In violating academic integrity,” Etchemendy wrote, “they are cheating themselves of the very core of our mission — the process of learning and discovery

That is how Provosts talk eh? Well I have news for him, these students don’t think like that. They look at college as a means to an end at best, and an obstacle at worst. They have never been taught to appreciate knowledge for its own sake because it has never been sold that way. We try to cram all sorts of subjects into a student in K-12, the vast majority of which they have no interest in, nor desire to learn. They do it because they have to and only put in enough effort to pass the class. This kills the natural desire to learn and turns it into a chore. It is no surprise to me then that when students finally leave home and go to college, they just want to get past it so they can get a job. Oh sure, they enjoy the social parts of it I suppose but I don’t think they view education the same way as our esteemed Provost.

It is this disconnect coupled with ever increasing costs that are going to make more and more young people skip college and find their own learning. They key to connecting with students again is to teach them what they want to know, when they want to know it. And do it cheaply with very low risk.

Obviously one cannot generalize all students this way, I am speculating instead about the ones who cheat. Those seem to be growing in number so it’s something to be concerned about.

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 brisbanetimes.com

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!

Awesome.

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?

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