Archive for the ‘Media and News’ Category

Computers in classroom have ‘mixed’ impact on learning: OECD report

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

The Globe and Mail and other sources are reporting that Computers in classroom have ‘mixed’ impact on learning. This is based on an OECD report titled Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection. The overall conclusion is that teaching is about the individual student and can’t be automated. Computers aren’t necessarily good for learning – they should be used for specific projects and used to teach real-world digital skills.

Students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after accounting for social background and student demographics. (p. 3 of Report)

The Globe quotes Prof. Slotta of OISE to the effect that:

Technology is most effective in the classroom when it is used to develop skills similar to those that adults are using in everyday life, such as finding resources, critiquing arguments, communicating with peers, solving problems and working with data…

Skimming the report and the slide deck shows a complex picture where often countries like Japan have fewer computers in classrooms and do better on learning. Massive investment in computers like that of school boards who get laptops for every child doesn’t seem to lead to improvements in learning.

Put simply, ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services. (p. 3 of Report)

The report also looked at loneliness and confirmed what parents have suspected,

Last but not least, most parents and teachers will not be surprised by the finding that students who spend more than six hours on line per weekday outside of school are particularly at risk of reporting that they feel lonely at school, and that they arrived late for school or skipped days of school in the two weeks prior to the PISA test.

The slide show prepared by Andreas Schleicher of the OECD suggest that there are larger questions about what sorts of skills should we be teaching in the coming age of automation. The second slide says “The kind of things that are easy to teach are now easy to automate, digitize or outsource.” A slide titled The Race between Technology and Education (title from work by Goldin and Katz) suggests that there is social pain when technology isn’t matched with education. The conclusion is that we need education for a world where many jobs can be automated. Just as the industrial revolution caused social pain in the form of dislocation and unemployment, so too could AI.

Journal of the Japanese Association for Digital Humanities

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

Announcing the first issue of the Journal of the Japanese Association for Digital Humanities. I am on the Editorial board of the Journal, but the real credit goes to Charles Muller, Christian Wittern and Kiyonori Nagasaki who are the working editors. This journal represents the maturing of the Japanese digital humanities scene. They have a Japanese Association (JADH) which was founded in 2011, and became constituent organization of ADHO in 2013. Now they have a journal. As Charles Muller, Editor-in-Chief, puts it in his “Dear Readers”,

While Digital Humanities has been practiced in Japan for more than two decades, up to now, little is known outside of Japan regarding the content of Japan advancements in this field. We therefore aim to rectify this situation by initiating a first-tier peer reviewed international journal published in English. Although we hope to be able to shed light on projects in developments in Japan, we will be accepting article submissions from DH practitioners around the world on a broad range of topics.

Why empathy is the next big thing in video games

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

CBC Spark with Nora Young had a segment on Why empathy is the next big thing in video games. The category seems to map onto “persuasive games” or “art games.” Some of the games mentioned:

  • RIOT – a forthcoming game where you experience being in riots
  • Spirits of Spring – about a “young native in a mythical land”
  • Papo and Yo – about alchoholism

Ian Bogost talks on the segment and makes the argument that in empathy games one feels a different type of empathy than in narrative media. When you make the choices you have something at stake. He also made a point about empathy with systems that I didn’t quite get. He talked about systems oriented game design where you get exposed to a different system or environment and learn about it through playing. The idea is that by playing someone running a fast food chain you learn about the system of fast food. You learn to empathize with the fast food mogul in order to understand the constraints those systems are under.

Nintendo asking for ad revenue for gaming on Youtube

Monday, April 6th, 2015

CBC and others are reporting on a new Nintendo Creators Program where Nintendo will take a percentage of the ad revenue associated with a YouTube channel or video with playthroughs (Let’s Play) of their games. See YouTube gaming stars blindsided by Nintendo’s ad revenue grab or Nintendo’s New Deal with Youtubers Is A Jungle Of Rights. This will

The Nintendo Creators Program presents this in their Guide as an opportunity to make money off their copyrighted materials,

In the past, advertising proceeds that could be received for videos that included Nintendo-copyrighted content (such as gameplay videos) went to Nintendo, according to YouTube rules. Now, through this service, Nintendo will send you a share of these advertising proceeds for any YouTube videos or channels containing Nintendo-copyrighted content that you register.

This program is only for “copyrighted content related to game titles specified by Nintendo”. This is probably because Nintendo has to be careful to not be seen as making money off playthroughs of other publisher’s games.

This new policy/program raises interesting issues around:

  • Fair use. Is a screen shot or a whole series of them that make up a playthrough covered by “fair use”? My read is that the publishers think not.
  • Publicity from Playthroughs. YouTuber’s like PewDiePie who post Let’s Play videos (and make money off their popular channels) argue that these videos provide free exposure and publicity.
  • New Economic Models for Gaming. Is Nintendo exploring new economic models tied to their copyright? Nintendo has been suffering so it makes sense that they would try to find ways to monetize their significant portfolio of popular game franchises and characters.

Nintendo Is Finally Bringing Mario to Mobile Phones (with DeNA)

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Wired and others have stories about how Nintendo Is Finally Bringing Mario to Mobile Phones. They are entering into an alliance with DeNA by buying DeNA stock (and DeNA will buy Nintendo stock.) Iwata (Director and President of Nintendo) and Isao Moriyasu (President and CEO of DeNA) made a joint announcement. You can see a translated version of the presentation on YouTube here.

This is a big change for Nintendo as they have been losing money as the traditional console gaming industry loses market share to casual and mobile platforms. I had heard ex-employees say Nintendo would never make the transition, but stay committed to tight integration of their games and dedicated devices. Obviously things have changed and now Nintendo will be deploying their IP to smartphones, especially to reach a global market. Nintendo stock closed 27.5% up.

My understanding of Iwata’s explanation was that they now see mobile versions as building their fan base and therefore helping sell dedicated devices/content. They are afraid that they will be marginalized globally if they don’t expand the reach of their IP. They have now decided how to use smart devices as a way into dedicated systems.

Because the interfaces are different, they don’t intend to just port existing titles to mobile platforms. Instead they will work with DeNA to create new content specifically for smart devices.

NSA phone record collection does little to prevent terrorist attacks, group says

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

One of the key issues raised by Snowden is whether all this surveillance works. The Washington Post has a story from a year ago reporting that NSA phone record collection does little to prevent terrorist attacks, group says. This story is based on a report:

(more…)

Snowden Surveillance Archive

Saturday, March 14th, 2015

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and partners have announced and released a searchable Snowden Surveillance Archive. This archive is,

a complete collection of all documents that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked in June 2013 to journalists Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, and subsequently were published by news media, such as The GuardianThe New York Times, The Washington PostDer SpiegelLe MondeEl Mundo and The Intercept.

It is dynamic. As new documents are published they will be added.

You can hear the announcement and Snowden in CBC’s stream of Snowden Live: Canada and the Security State.

One thing I don’t understand is why, in at least one case, the archived document is of lower quality than the one originally released. For example, compare the Snowden Archive of the CSEC Document about Olympia and the version from the Globe and Mail. The Snowden one is both cropped and full of artefacts of compression (or something.)

One of the points that both Snowden and the following speakers made is that the massive SIGINT system set up doesn’t prevent terrorist attacks, it can be used retrospectively to look back at some event and figure out who did it or develop intelligence about a someone targeted. One of the speakers followed up on the implications of retrospective surveillance – what this means for citizens is that things you do now might come back to haunt you.

It’s official: NSA spying is hurting the US tech economy

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

Slashdot pointed me to a ZDnet story that It's official: NSA spying is hurting the US tech economy. As one can imagine, the Snowden revelations are having an impact on American businesses. Who trusts them anymore?

A related story describes the brokers who handle data requests for companies like those from the FISA court. See Meet the shadowy tech brokers that deliver your data to the NSA. One of the bottlenecks is the shortage of lawyers with security clearance who could fight orders. The system seems designed so that few think about whether government orders should be resisted at all.

The problem with calls for more online data laws

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

One of the outcomes of the Charlie Hebdo attack is that politicians are using the terrorist attacks to call for more intrusive surveillance legislation. For example the BBC reports that UK Prime Minister David Cameron says new online data laws needed. Gibbs and Hern for the Guardian interpret Cameron as calling for “anti-terror laws to give the security services the ability to read encrypted communications in extreme circumstances.” (David Cameron in ‘cloud cuckoo land’ over encrypted messaging apps ban, Jan. 13, 2015) This would mean that either back doors are built into communications technologies with encryption or the technologies are banned in the UK.

Needless to say all sorts of people are responding to these calls for new legislation by pointing out the dangers of deliberately crippling encryption. If there are back doors they can be found and used by criminals which will mean that all sorts of companies that need/offer strong encryption will move out of the UK. For that matter, what would this mean for the use of global systems that might have encryption. (See James Ball’s article in the Guardian, Cameron wants to ban encryption – he can say goodbye to digital Britain, Jan. 13, 2015).

What few people are commenting on is the effectiveness of SIGINT (signals intelligence) in cases like the attacks in Paris. Articles in The Globe and Mail and the Guardian suggest that a combination of human intelligence and early interventions would be more likely to make a difference. The alleged culprits were known to all sorts of people (neighbours, people at their mosque, police). The problem was how difficult it is to know what to do with that information and when to intervene. This is a human problem not a signals intelligence problem. SIGINT could just add to the noise without guiding authorities as to how to deal with people.

To be honest I don’t know what would work, and perhaps predictive analytics, for all its problems, could be part of identifying at-risk youth early so that they are not thrown together in prison (as the Paris attackers were) and so interventions could be organized. Nonetheless, we clearly need more studies of the circumstances of those that are radicalized and we need to seriously try to intervene in positive ways. The alternative is arresting people for intents which are very hard to prove and has all sorts of problems as an approach.

We also need research and discussion about the balance of approaches, something that is impossible as long as surveillance is inaccessible to any oversight and accountability. Who would know if funding was better spent on human approaches? Who would dare cut the budget to nice clean modern digital intelligence in favour of a messy mix of human approaches? How to compare approaches that are hard to measure given the thankfully small numbers of incidents?

Some links:

And … we need to be able to talk openly about the issues without fear – Je suis Charlie

The computer program billed as unbeatable at poker

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

The Toronto Star has a nice story, The computer program billed as unbeatable at poker, about a poker playing program Cepehus that was developed at the Computer Poker Research here at the University of Alberta. Michael Bowling is quoted to the effect that,

No matter what you do, no matter how strong a player you are, even if you look at our strategy in every detail . . . there is no way you are going to be able of have any realistic edge on us.

On average we are playing perfectly. And that’s kind of the average that really matters.

You can play Cepehus at their web site. You can read their paper “Heads-up limit hold’em poker is solved”, just published in Science here (DOI: 10.1126/science.1259433).