Author Archives: Illah R. Nourbakhsh

About Illah R. Nourbakhsh

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NYT Sunday Two-Fer

The New York Times sunday edition today has two very relevant articles, one on our robot futures and the second about education and accountability.

Starting with robotics, Mark Bittman- yes, the same Bittman who writes many an NYT recipe column- presents his own take on the chronic underemployment problem served to us by our future robots being developed today: Why Not Utopia. His underlying argument, that we need to rethink the fundamental social formula governing how we humans achieve equity and meaning in a future age with few jobs, hits the mark.  Well done Mark.

Now for education. The National section has a long-format report by Motoko Rich and Tamar Lewin, Fate of Education Law Generates Hope and Fear, that cuts to the heart of several issues I discuss in Parenting for Technology Education.  The authors points out how No Child Left Behind did its best work by forcing statistics to make educational inequity between race and gender entirely clear across the U.S. But the same act created negative feedback cycles by forcing increasing proficiency in an age of ever-redefined proficiency measures. Schools began, and continue, to react to the wrong stimuli, trying to force greater federal spending instead of focusing on the authentic well-being of the students. This article is right in line with my discussions, and points out a depressing current-day reality: the most recent federal budgets are about to further decrease funding in school districts, such as Philadelphia, where lack of funding is already causing chronic problems that will not be served at all well with more sticks in the form of budget reduction. Our children face a challenging technology future; making their everyday educational experience poorer is no way to help them in the face of this uncertain future.

Technology Fluency toy wins my approval: Ozobot

Thanks to my friends Rich and Bob for snagging me an Ozobot at SxSW, I have already watched my kids combine craft with robot programming using it. This is a great example of a technology device that leaves the field open for creativity and exploration- good stuff!

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The children here are drawing mazes that the robot follows, then creating color sequences to try and experimentally determine all the color-sequence-codes that the robot understands, and what each does. Yes, you can go to the Internet and download it all. But this is far more interesting and challenging.

Speck for Technology Empowerment!

at South by Southwest today, we announced the general availability of Speck, an air quality sensor system designed to empower citizens and communities to take control of their indoor air quality. The official CMU press release is here; and the website is now open for orders: www.specksensor.com

We hope this sets a positive example up for community-centered technology empowerment.

TED as cult?

Also in the Times today, Megan Hustad writes The Church of TED, arguing that TED is on its way to becoming a secular cult in all the wrong ways. The article is a fun read, and it just might hold the seeds of a recipe of sorts for critically evaluating a TED talk as-it-happens. Is the talk taking a specific issue, then “lifting” it to ten thousand feet, producing sweeping sentences on human behavior or technology that are probably not supported by the initial kernel of detail? Thinking back, I have seen many a TED talk use this outline, and it can pull us along way beyond where we ought to be shaking our head and laughing it off. Robots aren’t the only ones who will eventually hone the power of rhetoric in speech– we humans are pretty amazing at innovating, tweaking and massively deploying new communication techniques too- the Internet just turbocharges the speed of optimization and the global infection rate.