Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Seeing is learning…

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012 by Roberto Saracco

We, as many animals, learn, mostly, by seeing. Images flowing from our eyes to the neural cortex “teach” the brain what is the world. We learn to recognise cats and distinguish them from chairs…. In the process our brain develops specific structures that makes it more and more efficient in recognising things and in creating abstractions.

Why not trying to program a computer to learn from looking at the world? Digital cameras can provide all the images you want…

Well, this is what Vicarious is trying to do and they just got a further 15 million $ funding from venture capitals.

Creating a software that can learn from images is not new, Google announced some time ago they managed to have a program learning to recognise cats in images without having been told what a “cat” is. It was not an easy task though. It took that program hundreds of thousands of images and 16,000 computers working in parallel to discover the “cattiness…”.

Indeed this is what our brain does as we are born and start to look around. Our eyes collect million and million of images that are slowly processed by millions of neurones (we do not know exactly how many, it might be billions…) and as they process they change and the cattiness properties starts to emerge.

Vicarious plans to mimic our visual brain structures to let computer analyse images and learn to identify entities and to create abstract concepts.

The applications of this software, once the challenges are overcome, can be many. They explicitly mention looking at radiographic plates to detect tumours or more simply take a look at the food on our plate to tell us how many calories we would be ingesting…

My feeling is that it will take a lot of time before we can see such capabilities in our hands, but I am sure in the long term it will become normal. The hurdles are many, both in terms of computation power (Kurzweil estimates that a desktop computer can reach the computational capability of a brain in the 4th decade of this century) and in terms of conceptual problems.

I guess we will be seeing some progress and benefit from that in the coming years. Someone may even claim that we are already using face recognition software in programs like iPhoto, and that is a step on the way…

Future of Learning showcased in London

Sunday, January 16th, 2011 by Katia Colucci

Yesterday it was the closing day of the BETT 2011 event , the biggest UK (it’s held in London) trade show for education. Over 600 exhibitors displaying the latest educational technology : Web interactive board, tablet PC, robot for homework and many other things that let you think that the future is too close.

Take a look at the videos on BETT on YouTube to get a glimpse on the many innovations presented there.

I liked this one on Lego Mindstorm, because it emphasizes how playing and manipulating can enhance the learning process.

But how much close is that kind of future?

It’s now clear that ebooks, and the availability of devices that enables a good user experience in reading and studying are fundamental elementsfor an evolution in learning processes .

Ministries, publishers, teachers, device and technology vendors well understand this concept and all over the world initiativeswith the objective to understand how to use these technologies and the ones coming in the next future to improve the learning processes and to foster the evolution of school through new paradigms are mushrooming.

The Future of Learning project goes in this direction and want to understand in advance how future will definitely transform education and learning, by exploiting the opportunities offered by the web and new technologies in an increasingly pervasive way .

At the Future Centre in collaboration with the major Italian publishers in the school sector we are working on a trial in some Italian schools to experiment advanced learning : how could the school of the future look like. The publishers involved up to now are Zanichelli, D’Anna, Loescher and Pearson.

The trial is based on three pillars:

-The availability of digital contents: ebook, videos and other multimedia contents (provided from publishers)

-The availability of one device per each student (provided by the school)

-The availability of a web based learning platform that enables the courses’ management, the delivery of the lessons , other classroom activities and, last but not least the interaction, inside and outside the classroom between the teacher and students and the ones among students, using collaboration tools such as chat blog wiki andvirtual classroom.

The trial involves four classes belonging to the Cl@ssi 2.0 cluster in agreement with MIUR – document in Italian-  (

Our goal is not to force the introduction on new technologies in the education processes but to understand how these technologies can improve these processes and enable a better way of learning.

Let’s walk hand in hand with Julius Cesar…

Saturday, June 26th, 2010 by Roberto Saracco

I had the opportunity of participating at a workshop in Shanghai at the 2010 Expo on Culture and Arts. I am no artist and my cultural level is …well not good; I was there to discuss how to use technologies (the ones we have today and the ones that are moving their first steps in the labs).
It was interesting to see how the future is already shaping today’s arts and culture. In the restoration process neutron accelerator are used to look inside a statue, special lasers can tell us what is under the paint of a portrait and may be help in understanding the thinking of the artist who changed his mind several times before coming to the final masterpiece.
I found interesting the 3D reconstruction of monuments and entire cities, like Rome and Alexandria, created by Altair, . It made me wonder how it would have been like walking in those narrow streets hand in hand with Julius Cesar. He was not there, but the 3D rendering was so effective and so “credible” that it meade me feel I could have been there.
And then I made the next step: since that reconstruction felt so real, why don’t augment that “reality” to provide me with the feeling of being a citizen there at that time.
We already have Simulation Games, add to them environments feeling really … real, get your avatar to roam the place and experience the feeling. Engage yourself in a discussion with Cato, let Julius tell you about his latest war campaign in the Gauls.
I am pretty sure I would be able to learn so much more than by reading a textbook.
Yes, I feel my nephews will enjoy much better ways of learning.

Writing is bad to your memory…

Thursday, June 17th, 2010 by Roberto Saracco

No, it is not true, quite the opposite. Still, that was a phrase reported from the past, at the time when writing was invented. Before that students were supposed to learn by memorising what was heard and repeating it over and over. Critics at that time pointed out how learing to write (and read) would decrease the motivation to “rememer” things, hence decreasing the ability of the “soul” to learn and become better educated. Indeed, why would you want to memorise things if you can just write them down and look at them when you need them. But what would happen when the paper (scroll) was not available at the time it was needed?
The debate, so tells the story, was hot. Obviously we know about that debat because somebody wrote about it!
Well that is clearly nonsense, more than that: it is a demonstrated nonsense. But what about learning to use a calculator? Would that decrease our mathematical abilities? What about forgetting about Latin? would that decrease our logical reasoning? I bet you can find people ready to swear that is just the case.
And what about the claims that Power Point presentations are reducing our world to bullet points, search engines dispose of our intelligence fostering skimming over the surface of information rather than going in depth into concepts or Twitter condensing the world into 140 characters?
As new technologies become available old (usual) resistance to change comes to the fore.
We have had more recent “worries” about radio, television, video games… It is also fair to say that some people took (take) the opposite view claiming that the new thing (technology) is the saviour, will lead to increased education, better behaviour…
Is there a way we can measure the impact of new technology on learning?
If we look at the average person we can say that she knows more than Leonardo da Vince knew. This means that, one way or another humanity has managed to digest the knowledge it has been producing over the centuries.
Science keeps progressing, it is actually accelerating. We have amassed more knowledge in these last hundred years than in all the previous recorded history of humankind. And we have learnt, on the average, to make use of it into our daily life.
Yes not everyone understand the inner working of a computer or of a telecommunications system but basically everybody knows how to use a cell phone: that is a computer and a telecommunications system.
I would advise the reading of two nice books (you can go the classic, paper way, or choose the glamour eBooks.. may be on the fancy iPad):

“The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us” by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
“The stuff of thoughts” by Steven Pinker.


The Digital Universe Decade

Saturday, May 29th, 2010 by Roberto Saracco

Take a look at the latest report from IDC, “the Digital Universe Decade: are you ready?”, .

According to this report by 2020 we will have complete the shift from analogue to digital: by that time all the content being produced and exchanged will be digital, and that means 35 trillion on GB per year.

Some statistics:

-         last year despite the global recession, the Digital Universe set a record. It grew by 62% to nearly 800 EB (800,000,000,000 GB). That is like a stack of DVD reaching from the Earth to the Moon and back.

-         In 2010, the Digital Universe will grow to almost 1.2 ZB (ZettaBytes), that is 1,200,000,000,000 GB

-         By 2020, our Digital Universe will be 44 times as big as it was in 2009. Our stack of DVD would reach half way to Mars.

This tremendous increase in the amount of information begs some questions, like:

-         How will we find the information we need when we need it?

-         How will we know what information we need to keep and how will we keep it?

-         How will we follow the growing number of government and industry rules about retaining records, tracking transactions and ensuring information privacy?

-         How will we protect the information we need to protect?

The report provides several possible answers to these questions and you can refer to it to look at them.

However, the reason for my posting, in addition to share with you this very recent report on our Digital Universe, is to engage you in reflecting on how this growing Digital Universe is impacting on our capacity of learning and how can we change, if needed, our current learning paradigm.

It is not just the growth of the information that is begging the question about learning, it is also the different tools that we are making available that may change the way we learn and the goal of learning.

It is obvious that already today there is no chance anybody can learn whatever is out there. Besides, even assuming one can, by the time she had learnt everything that everything will be but a small part of the information available since every two years we are doubling the available information.

We are condemned to have an outdated knowledge.

Probably, in the future we will need to focus learning on the tools that allow us to make sense of available information, rather than trying to capture as much information as possible into our brains.

Yes, I can hear a multitude of teachers telling me that we are going to create a humanity that does not know how to make 2+2 since they will resort to typing 2+2 onto a keyboard and read the answer. Still this is what we already do. I remember long time ago learning to use the calculating ruler to make multiplications. Nowadays most people wouldn’t know how to use it but today all of us get much more precise results by using a calculator.

What about learning languages? Using Google you can get now a pretty understandable translation of any foreign language (far from perfect, I know, but in ten years time it will be …perfect) and in a few years we can expect to get real time translation of what we say and what we hear. Shall we invest time in learning another language? I would say yes, but I am a guy born in a different era.

What will be next, after the “Born Digital”?

Monday, January 18th, 2010 by Roberto Saracco

I read recently a nice book on the latest knowledge derived from analyzing the human genome. A particular aspect made me think: what differentiate most humans from chimpanzees is the fact that humans are born with a brain that is not completely formed. This puts us at disadvantage, a newborn will have no chance to survive unless it is cared and nursed for a lengthy period of time.

It will take three years for the brain to become fully formed, differently from the one of the chimpanzee that is basically complete at birth.

We share 99% of our genome with the chimp and that 1% different …makes all the difference. Actually, according to scientists, the big difference is this late completion of the brain. A newborn has a smaller brain than an adult human being, making it easier (possible) the delivery.

What a child learns in those first three years shapes his brain. We are all born with the potential to learn any human language but after we get exposed to one (or more) in those first three years our brain gets wired in a specific way that will differentiate a child exposed to Italian from the one exposed to Chineese.

Now, what has this to do with the question I am asking?

Well, I started to think that what we call today the Digital Native have been born at a time when the world around them was not digital. It had some, a lot, of digital things but they got exposed to these, by far, after the magic three years period in which their brains were shaped.

What will happen to our grandchildren that will be born in a digital world, made by walls that are screen, objects that interact with them as they are touched, information overlaid on anything…

How will their brain evolve in such an environment? Those children will really be the Born Digital and may found themselves with a brain that is significantly different from any previous one!

I found this a very interesting line of thinking, particularly reflecting on the latest theories of evolution that have recognized the evolution of human beings as being influenced by the genome, the phenotype evolution and by the cultural evolution through the ambient shared during the first three years of life.

Will learning be something completely different once children will really be Digital Native?