Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The iPad as teacher

March 4, 2010

By now, most everyone has an opinion on the iPad: it’s a new computing paradigm, it’s a waste of money, etc. A few days after the announcement, I finally realized that this isn’t a device for the computer literate, it’s a device for those people who aren’t comfortable with computers or don’t want to learn how to use and maintain them. I’ve often written that the real computer of the future should function like a screwdriver: easy to understand, easy to use, no troubleshooting, and you only have to learn how to use it once.

The iPad might be the embodiment of that philosophy. Not only is pointing intuitive, but the iPad could actually help people learn. I assume it will start simply, and then get more complex as time goes on, perhaps going as far as agency.

Imagine opening an Algebra textbook. After the interactive theory, a student begins the exercises, but becomes stuck at simplifying an equation. The iPad software could wait for a minute or two, and then suggest a solution, going slowly, and going into more detail as the iPad and the student together simplify the equation step by step. If this happens with enough students, the iPad notifies the publisher that the thoery may be too difficult to understand based on the number of students having difficulty, and the textbook could be revised, with the updates pushed to the iPad.

Once developers learn how to help people understand and learn, it might be possible to break much more complex subjects into discrete elements. Imagine teaching Java programming interactively. We’ve all seen exams which test adaptively, but the iPad could instruct adaptively, quickly surmising a given student’s skill level and adapting the coursework accordingly. No more classrooms, no more teaching to the average student. Students could progress at their own rate, with the iPad gauging what they’ve mastered and what to teach next.

At that point, I think we’ve reached agency. If a computer has mastered a subject well enough to teach it adaptively, the computer could perform all sorts of functions, and be better at them, than humans. For example, let’s say you want a custom-designed customer management system. You don’t hire developers, rather you and the iPad spend hours together building the system yourselves. The iPad starts broadly, asking the user to select from several elements the system might possess. From there, the iPad and the user design the interface, with the iPad making suggestions, and the user accepting, rejecting, or modifying them as necessary. In this way, the iPad assists the novice user in the design of the system they need, but the iPad handles all the background programming and development. Now we’ve reached the point where the computer is the agent, not just a tool.

This might seem like science fiction, but I don’t think we’re that far away.

Why no live traffic on the iPhone?

January 6, 2010

With millions of iPhones in use today, Apple has an opportunity to create a real-time traffic condition reporting system. Current traffic information systems provided by XM and other are notoriously inaccurate, despite charging customers each month for the service.

Between the built-in GPS receiver, triangulation from cell towers, and the built-in accelerometer, Apple could have the iPhone upload its location, speed, and direction to a central server at predefined intervals. This information would be completely anonymized, retaining the phone’s IMEI just long enough to verify it as an actual iPhone, but recording no other personally identifiable information.

From these millions of iPhones, Apple could record traffic patterns 24 hours per day, correlating the traffic history of a given freeway with time of day, the day of the week, and even holidays and weather. After a few years, Apple would be able to predict the percentage chance of encountering a delay along a given route. The driver would enter the starting location and destination into the iPhone, and the route could be presented with both real-time traffic and predicted delays, and could be recalculated as circumstances changed.

What would such a service be worth to Apple’s customers? I’ll bet most would be willing to spend at least $5 per month for such an accurate system.