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Learning programs have come a long way from HAL’s lip reading in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey

Two learning programs are now widely available which revolutionise the concept of learning in order to teach.

It used to be true that ‘garbage in, garbage out’ was all people needed to know about computers. While still true, it doesn’t account for how so many programs now learn as they go along from what is inputted.

In teaching terms, no human person can know everything there is to know, but increasingly learning programs are reaching the point where they do know all that there is to know (so far) and are able to be tapped to help teaching and learning generally.


Affectiva: Using Emotional Responses

This company, Affectiva have built ‘the largest emotion data repository’ of millions of face videos ‘allowing us to derive unique insights with high accuracy.’

It shouldn’t be a surprise given the huge success of Channel 4s Gogglebox which films ordinary people watching and responding to television programmes.

Affectiva is a learning program using face reading software called Affdex which records people’s reactions to ads by building detailed models of their faces, ‘taking into account the crinkle of the skin around the eye when you smile or the dip in the corner of your bottom lip when you frown.’

It has logged around 11 billion data points, taken from 2.8 million faces in 75 countries. So all races, all ages and all kinds of ads are covered. Now it is being applied to movie trailers, films and TV shows to gauge success, appreciation, dislike, boredom in the faces watching and react accordingly so ads or shows are changed or dropped altogether.

In an article on Wired, Computers That Know How You Feel Will Soon Be Everywhere (April 2015) Jessi Hempel suggested that sometime next year ‘you’ll be able to watch a horror series that is exactly as scary as you want it to be—no more, no less.’

You’ll opt in to a show which relies on Affectiva’s learning program and the software will ‘read your emotional reactions to the show in real time. Should your mouth turn down a second too long or your eyes squeeze shut in fright, the plot will speed along. But if they grow large and hold your interest, the program will draw out the suspense.’

The learning program part comes in the fact that it no longer simply records human facial reactions, it decodes them, thus effectively decoding actual human feelings from empathy to loathing to losing interest.

Knewton: Personalised Learning Content

This digital robo-tutor, effectively a robot, can almost read the mind of a child or teenager and respond when he or she is seeking information to assist learning.

The cleverly entitled Knewton ‘pinpoints the exact pieces of content that are best for you from our ever-growing open library.’

Iain Dey wrote about it in The Sunday Times (30 August 2015) saying that by ‘mashing artificial intelligence together with big data research techniques and psychometric testing, Knewton ‘can find out what you need to know and how best to teach it to you.’

It’s accessible entirely free online by 3-year olds right up to postgrads. It’s aimed equally at students, parents and teachers and anybody can contribute content. Making no charge, the philosophy argues, means that every teacher or student who uses it makes it more intelligent and better able to read student minds.

So, this adaptive learning that aims to support and challenge is a powerful, universal global learning platform which goes beyond online educational tools, interactive courses and digital encyclopedias. In seconds it generates whole terms of guided study, tailor-made. High achievers are stretched more; slow learners are assisted.

Knewton also provides detailed performance data on each student and while the amount and scale of student assessment is a hot topic in many countries, Dey argued that ‘the concept of an intelligent robot analysing your child each night during homework may feel an unnecessary, and possibly, dangerous tool.’

What do you think?

Some related blogs:

Make Friends With Robotics, There Is No Other Choice, 2 March 2015

Robot Armies Filling All the Best Jobs Are the Spectre Facing the World Soon, 24 September 2014

How to Tell – The Human Giveaways in Our Behaviour, 13 August 2014

Bored With TV Progs? Never Mind, Watch Your Own Ads Instead! 4 March 2014

Your Face When Shopping Is the Retailers’ Biggest Asset, 16 December 2013

After Robot Soldiers and Robot Surgeons, Stand Up for Robot Teachers, 5 March 2013

Education and New Technology, 1 February 2012

Image: Carlos Pacheco