Wednesday 29 January 2014

Technology and Our Memories

Who was the 30th president??
I don't think students need to memorize everything. I distinctly recall numerous teachers telling me not to worry about memorizing dates and facts. It was much more important to them that I understood the basic ideas rather than exact facts. "If you ever need need to know how high Mount Everest is, or how many wives King Henry the VIII had" they explained, "you can look it up in an encyclopedia."
In this day of smart phones most of the time we don't even need to find an encyclopedia. We turn to Google or Wikipedia and find the information we need, and usually I am OK with this.Many students take this one step further. They don't even feel the need to take notes. Instead they use their smart phones to take a picture of the board. While I do encourage the use of Google or Wikipedia to help a student understand a basic grasp of something, is technology affecting their memories? A recent study done by Fairfield University shows that when students take a picture of somethingthey are LESS LIKELY to remember it later. This "photo taking impairment effect" is something I discuss with my students the first day.
If they take a picture, and then go home and re-write the notes they will likely remember the information. However, simply by taking the picture they are, in part, telling their brain the information is stored elsewhere and they do not need to remember it.
What about Google? Is Google affecting the way they remember? It turns out there are good parts and bad parts to the ease of accessing information online. Since our memories are fallible it is a way to double check things and be sure that we are using the correct data.
On the other hand, when students are taught to properly weed through information on the internet it is very probable that they will find false information and reinforce that. Also, the lack of a basic set of knowledge makes comprehension of the topic (and thus deeper level thinking) much harder to achieve. The infographic below is from and does a pretty good job at showing some of the affects.

Please include attribution to with this graphic.

Google and Your Memory

Tuesday 14 January 2014

The Future of Self Driving Cars

Road rage and traffic jams could become a thing of the past when self driving cars take the wheel. Welcome to the future and innovation behind driverless cars! Roadmaps may become extremely antiques! It wasn't that long ago when the thought of autonomous cars were unimaginable to anyone not named Hasselhoff. But lets fast forward to a couple of months ago when Google's CEO Larry Page decided to send a car around to pick up a friend of his. This car had one special feature. There was no chauffeur. No driver at all. The car drove Larry's friend twenty miles to Google, without a driver. We've been dreaming about this for decades. In fact, if you had gone to the World's Fair back in 1939, you might have heard a special promise. That promise is that by 1960 we would all be riding around in our cars going 100 miles-per-hour safely with no one at the wheel. Well we're not there yet. But we're not quite as far away as you might think. Already we've seen a host of advancements to make you a safer driver. Things like lane assist, parking assist, and even collision prevention assistance. Now at first we saw these options in high end models, but as this and even more advanced technology finds its way to a larger fleet, future roadways could become a mesh network of autonomous vehicles. They'd share information with each other and a larger network about speed, braking, and other variables, and move in a coordinated formation. This rolling, hive mind could mean shorter trip times since it would now be safe to pack the lanes to capacity, and tailgating could be a thing of the past! So, need to get some work done in the car? Not a problem. Just hop in the car, let the car do the driving for you. How did we get here, and where are we going now? Go back to the United States Department of Defense. They had the DARPA Grand Challenge. This was an obstacle course, out in the desert originally, and they invited all these research groups to come in and build unmanned vehicles to run the obstacle course. The rules were simple. Once built you could not touch that car. It moved on its own. So no remote control assistance was allowed. In the end, Stanford walked away with the grand prize - two million bucks in 2005! Toyota is working on technologies that will allow a driver to sit behind the wheel of a car, never touch the wheel, never touch the pedals, and go from point A to point B safely. It's doing this with lots of technologies like laser sensors, high definition cameras, accelerometers and more. The upside of all this is that it takes human error out of the equation, which is a good thing. Human error accounts for 93% of all traffic accidents. And in 2010 there were 33,000 deaths on US roads. So maybe in the future we've got a little auto-pilot button on our dashboards - but are we going to use it? Our culture is so car centric. Just getting your drivers license is a right of passage. When you think about it, cars really represent freedom. So would we be willing to get rid of this symbol of free will? Just so we could have fewer traffic accidents, less traffic, maybe even get rid of road rage? Well, I don't know about you, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Smart Clothing: Charge Electronics with Your Shirt

In the future, your smart clothes will clean themselves, keep you from getting sick, and even charge your cell phone. Sunny day outside? Why not put on your solar panel shirt? We could even end up talking to our clothes...and they might talk back! Cell phone dying? Just plug it into your shirt. What have your clothes done for you lately? I mean, sure they keep you warm, and they give you a style, and I guess they help prevent you from getting arrested for public nudity. But apart from that they just kind of hang there. Well not for long. We are entering the era of smart clothing, where clothes will be able to do things like clean themselves, keep you from getting sick, and maybe even charge your electronics. Now if you're like me, and you lack the basic coordination necessary to transfer salsa from a corn chip to your mouth without getting it all down your shirt, then have I got some good news for you. Some Australian researchers have been working on these textile fibers by coating them with titanium dioxide nanocrystals. Now these crystals, when exposed to the sun, will produce hydroxyl radicals, which will actually break down organic matter through oxidation. So steal a couple of electrons from that red wine and bye-bye stains! And if you're tired of smelling like an ashtray every time you go off to the club or go to a concert, don't worry the nanocrystals can take care of that too. "But Jonathan!" I hear you all say. "My skin is made of organic material." Well luckily the molecules of our skin are too large for the crystals to break down, so don't worry about it dissolving you. Meanwhile, this means that we can actually conserve energy. How? Well, if the shirt cleans itself we don't have to put it in a washer and a dryer. And conserving energy is cool, but what about making energy? What if we could turn our style into chic mini power plants. Well we can do that. All you gotta do is move! To create these clothes, scientists coat kevlar fibers with layers of zinc-oxide nanowires only billionths of a meter thick. Each layer of nanowires is paired with a layer of fibers coated with gold to act as an electrode. The nanowires are shaped sort of like circular hairbrushes, and when you move they rub together, which causes them to bend. Now this pressure creates electricity via the piezoelectric effect, and the gold in the neighboring layers conducts the current down to a power adaptor that connects to your cell phone. In time our clothes are going to do more and more for us and that's going to change the way we think about them. And our style choices might go beyond don't wear white after labor day. Maybe we'll be thinking, "Hey! It's sunny outside, I should wear my shirt with a solar panel so I can charge my phone." Or "I am a total klutz, I gotta wear that sweatshirt that cleans itself all the time." They say that clothes make the man. And as out clothes do more and more, maybe we'll have to take that saying literally.

The Most Mind-Blowing Tech of CES 2014

We're at CES 2014, the largest consumer electronics show in the world, to showcase the incredible technologies that are coming to you very soon. From 3D printing robots to wearable computers and the Internet of things, all aspects of the future are represented! Here are Jonathan's highlights for the best of CES 2014. What do you think are the most exciting technologies at CES?