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39 years after it began, Internet-based electronic mail has finally been granted the same recognition as other forms of communication, meaning that it cannot be intercepted by authorities without a warrant. It’s nice to see some privacy rights being given back in a time when much of our privacy is being eroded in the name of fighting terrorism. The interesting question now is whether this will affect Project Echelon and its routine monitoring of e-mail traffic. It will also be interesting to see if it serves as a precedent for other countries.

Read more at Geekosystem.

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Can computers help us remember?

"Memory is full" (cc) by Rutger Middendorp

What if you could Google your own memories and recall details with perfect clarity? What if your iPhone could ensure you never forget to buy birthday gifts for the people you love? Can we trust our own recollections of past events? Will we all have digital assistants in the future?

These are just some of the questions discussed in this 30-minute audio interview with Sunil Vemuri. Sunil spent 2 years digitally recording his own life while he was a researcher at MIT, and went on to found reQall, a company whose product specializes in helping you remember what’s important as you go about your daily life, with a minimum of effort.

Click here to listen to the full MP3 interview. (Length 32:19, Size 31Mb).

Editor’s note: This interview was recorded back in March 2010, as the first episode in a regular Human 2.0 podcast series. Unfortunately, as Human 2.0 is made in our free time, we’ve had to put the podcast plans on hold for the time being. We’re publishing this as a one-off audio post, but watch this space as we may feature more audio content in the future!

Image (cc) by Rutger Middendorp on Flickr.

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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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Swedish design company TAT just launched this video imagining the future of screen technology. There’s some great ideas in there like stretchable screens, see through monitors and being able to physical drag media between devices:

The ideas were the result of the OpenInnovation competition – read more at the site.

At first it seems quite useful, putting information onto surfaces like desks and mirrors. But if you take that to to the extreme you end up with something like the world shown in this second concept video, which uses augmented reality to put information everywhere. To me, it looks like something of a nightmare. What do you think?

(This video was created for an architecture project by Keiichi Matsuda. Read more here.)

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Understanding human behaviour is vital for good product design. But you can’t just ask people what they need, you have to observe them first-hand. iPods, eBay and TiVo exist because designers watched people, noticed a problem with current products, and designed a solution for a problem people didn’t even know they had.

At OXO Foods in the UK, researchers studied how people measure liquids while cooking, and noticed that most people need to bend down repeatedly to read the markings on the side of the container. None of them reported this as a problem when interviewed. So OXO designed a measuring jug(cup) which could be viewed from above (shown right). This is an example of the growing science of design ethnography – product design based on direct human observation.

How to measure human behaviour “in the wild”?

Observational studies are expensive to conduct, and sometimes distorted because you can’t always observe someone in their natural environment. Fortunately, computers now make it much easier to collect data from “real world” activities. Such data is invaluable – for product designers to better understand their users, and also for us to help us cultivate a deeper understanding of ourselves. Read more »

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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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Girl with Medical Tracker (c) Gizmodo

Dutch researchers have demonstrated a new type of network – not LAN or WAN, but BAN, the Body Area Network. What this means is that sensors in your body (for example electrocardiogram sensors monitoring your heart, or EEGs monitoring your brain) can now communicate via radiowaves to a wearable computer hung round the neck. This computer can send you a text message if readings stray from the norm. Your body will text you when it needs medical attention!

Read more at New Scientist. Image courtesy of Gizmodo

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