All items by Alistair Croll

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The sequel to Deus Ex, one of the top-ranked games of all time and a pioneer in the cyperpunk genre, is nearing release. The sequel paints a pretty bleak picture of human augmentation. But this live action trailer goes way beyond promoting a game; it’s nothing short of a short film on the consequences of human augmentation.

Watch the clip. Forget it’s a video game. How likely is this kind of thing in coming years?

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Periodicity

I have a rather awkward subject to discuss. The last time I brought it up in mixed company, someone slapped me. But I’m going to do it anyway, because it’s worth discussing.

Natural language processing and semantic analysis allows us to extract sentiment from documents. Marketing organizations and community managers rely on tools from Scoutlabs, Radian6, and others that try to understand how online communities feel about their brands and products.

As we share more of our lives online, there’s more to analyze. Researchers from Northeastern University and Harvard University analyzed Twitter’s mood over the day. This kind of sentiment analysis can look at someone’s online messages and decide whether they’re angry or content, happy or sad. Given data over time, it can likely recognize patterns of mood, even cycles.

Such as those that occur every twenty-eight days.

(It’s at this point that my dinner companion launched a well-aimed palm at my somewhat scruffy chin.)
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Part four: digital classrooms demand a new kind of teacher

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

Tablet computing is the catalyst that can trigger a classroom revolution: the digital classroom, personalized learning, cheap access to content, and a transformation of how we learn. They promise a shift in education that puts the student, not the teacher, at the center of the learning experience. And tablets can capture and analyze everything about how someone learns.

In other words, tablets make teaching accountable, bringing to it the kind of clarity and can’t-argue-with-that science that has transformed online marketing. But as we saw yesterday, there are powerful forces terrified of what the harsh light of accountability will reveal, as we saw yesterday.

Tablets don’t just display, they collect

Tablets are the ultimate analytical tool. They collect copious amounts of data that can be analyzed, letting us crunch all aspects of a learning experience: What was read, touched, and heard; when and where that learning happened; what was read slowly and what was rushed through. Properly instrumented, a tablet is a window into how a student acquires knowledge. It’s the perfect sensor for educational analytics.

And analytics, as anyone who runs a website will tell you, mean accountability. As we saw yesterday, accountability is something that unions have resisted defiantly for decades.

Tablets, and the digital revolution they bring into the classroom, could radically change the way we learn, and with that, the fate of a society. But they’ll be fought every step of the way by teachers who fear for their jobs. If those teachers win, it’ll be another continent’s turn. So convinced of this was the producer of 2 Million Minutes that, when I saw him speak last year, he admitted to buying a condominium in Mumbai for his retirement because he expected India to have the best standard of living.
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Part three: the problem with teachers’ unions

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

At this point in my research, as I explained in yesterday’s post, I’d concluded that learning isn’t a priority in North America — politically, culturally, or economically. It seems to me that tablets — with their access to affordable, tailored education — offer a tantalizing cure to the ills of North American’s classrooms, and a path to the digital classroom that can help us catch up with the rest of the world.

When I started looking into the issue of education in North America, I assumed that military spending outstripped healthcare and education dramatically. That’s how it is in many regions. In San Francisco, for example, 21% of a family’s taxes in 2007 paid for war, while just 5% went to education. Globalissues.org puts military spending — and the financing of past wars — at 44.4% of the US tax haul, with education just under 7%.

In absolute terms, the US pays a tremendous amount for its education (putting aside “special budgets” for specific wars). Universities in the US are the most expensive in the world, and despite spending all that money, the K-12 educational system is dysfunctional.

Comparing standardized test scores, spending on teachers in North America climbed dramatically while performance remained flat.

In other words, despite spending a lot on education, we aren’t seeing good results.

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Part two: Tablets could change the fate of the Western World

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

Yesterday, we looked at the sorry state of Western education. Now we’re going to consider the ways in which a digital classroom — made manifest by the modern tablet — could reverse the decline.

Digital education isn’t a new idea. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project started shipping cheap, reliable computers to students years ago, and the Web has been a critical resource for many rural and remote schools. But it’s the arrival of ubiquitous tablet computing that can really transform the modern classroom.

If students have their own tablets, they’re equipped with a powerful platform for learning. Here’s why:

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Part one: The state of education

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

In his novel The Diamond Age, author Neal Stephenson describes a digital book his heroine carries with her. Dubbed the Young Lady’s Interactive Primer, this device is part guidebook, part tablet, and part personal guardian. It’s interactive, changing stories and allegories based on the predicaments our heroine faces. Some of its content is recorded; much of it is prepared, on the fly, by actors thousands of miles away.

Much as he colored in the picture of virtual reality — Stephenson coined the term Avatar as a representation of a virtual self, and his novel Snow Crash is the inspiration for Second Life — he may have nailed tablet computing. With the release of Apple’s iPad, we’re finding dozens of uses for a device we didn’t know we needed. It’s a console, a reader, a movie screen, a musical instrument, a game board, and a window into other worlds.

Beyond all these uses, however, the killer app for tablets could be education. Done right, personal tablets can reverse the precipitous decline of learning in much of the Western world. By putting the world’s knowledge at a student’s fingertips virtually for free, making it interactive, and tailoring it to each student’s abilities and interests, tablets could completely alter the way we teach and learn.

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color stay by unclestabby from http://www.flickr.com/photos/unclestabby/2706034988/

As we move online, the definition of a community changes. Our neighbors aren’t just those people physically near us, but those we hang out with. This flexible definition of a community has serious repercussions for law and social morals: when we find kindred spirits online, we start thinking that everyone is just like us. At the same time, different communities hold us to different standards, and now that those communities leak into one another we need to apply context to our judgement.

In the 1970s bestseller The Joy Of Sex, we learn about a man who could only be aroused in a bathtub full of spaghetti. Back then, he probably led a lonely, normal life — albeit one in which he bought a lot of pasta and had a higher water bill than his neighbors. It’s unlikely that he had friends who shared his particular turn-on. Read more »

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Mozilla Seabird concept phone

This concept piece from Mozilla Labs provides some interesting ideas of how mobile devices could change in the coming years. Highlights include a separate gestural interface and a projected screen/keyboard dock.

Bonus: there’s also a 3D version of the video clip, using Youtube’s 3D technology (side-by-side, red-blue, and so on.)

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Visualizing social data

The folks at Contagious Magazine have an interesting piece on visualizing check-in data. Weeplaces.com lets you visualize your check-in data across several services, including Foursquare and Facebook Places. I generated mine fairly easily.

FourSquare Visualization by WeePlaces.com from Eric Wu on Vimeo.

This reminds me of nothing as much as Plazes, an early check-in competitor (that relied on MAC addresses to “claim” locations — this was pre-iPhone, of course.) Plazes caught on a bit, and was eventually bought by Nokia, but lacked the critical mass needed for applications like Foursquare, Groupon, and Gowalla.

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Computers make better decisions than humans because they aren’t weighed down by biases, ego, and the need to rationalize decisions after the fact. An economically rational player would make more money on Deal Or No Deal than a stupid human. We can’t help it: it’s the way we evolved. Everything from shopping, to teamwork, to the way we elect our leaders is tainted with the stupidity of how we make decisions.

Just as external storage can become a form of prosthetic memory, so computers can become prosthetic decision-makers. If we were to make them understand the dilemmas before us, computer assistants could advise us on the economically rational thing to do.

Would we be able to deal with being told we’re wrong so much of the time?

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