Facing the Future

Person of Interest scene

Apple is heavily promoting the feature in their top line iPhone X that scans and recognizes the owner’s face to access the device. I won’t be getting one.

Although there are probably a few bugs in their Face ID system, I’m not especially worried about any potential security issues of someone opening my phone because the software mistakes their face for mine. It’s just that the 2-1/2 year old phone I have now works fine, thank you.

However, on the broader topic of face recognition technology in the real world, a recent edition of the podcast IRL suggests we all need to pay attention.

We aren’t quite at the level of the techies in police and spy TV shows who can access almost any camera in the world and then identify faces with near 100% accuracy, but that future is closer than you might think.

For example, China is creating a database containing the faces of their entire population – 1.3 billion people – and a system that can “match a person’s face to his or her photo ID within three seconds and with 90% accuracy”. They plan to have it in place by 2020, just three years off.

But some applications are much closer to home. The photo management software that comes with most computers does a pretty good job of matching faces in your pictures. Google’s cloud-based Photos application has already collected several hundred million photos and you gotta wonder what they’re learning from all that data.

Anyway, the podcast episode, produced by the Mozilla Foundation, is worth a half hour of your time.


The picture is a promotional scene from the television series Person of Interest. Their computer could do a whole lot more than just identify faces.

Bringing Back a More Spirited Web

Web Trend Map

That image above, resembling a subway map, is an imaginative visualization of the World Wide Web in 2007.1 The company that created this graphic, the design firm Information Architects, stopped updating it in 2011.

In a recent blog post, they explain why there won’t be a 2018 edition: “The most important ingredient for a Web Trend Map is missing: The Web.”

The Web has lost its spirit. The Web is no longer a distributed Web. It is, ironically, a couple of big tubes that belong to a handful of companies. Mainly Google (search), Facebook (social) and Amazon (e-commerce). There is an impressive Chinese line and there are some local players in Russia, Japan, here and there. Overall it has become monotonous and dull.

How can we fix that, and bring back at least some of that spirit? The folks at iA suggest we need more bloggers, those who used to write online and those new to the concept.

If you are one of those old or young bloggers, please join in. Drop Facebook, drop Twitter and drop Medium for original thought. Own your traffic. You can use them to engage in discussion. But don’t get lost in there. Write daily. Publish as often as you have something to say. Link to other blogs.

Completely agree. I would especially love to see more teachers online, posting content to their own domains instead of to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the other closed tubes. Creating communities of educators that own and control their message. Instead of producing material for greater advertising sales.


Thanks to Doug Belshaw for the link that triggered this rant. He includes lots of interesting links like that in his free weekly newsletter, Thought Shrapnel.

1. Click the image to see a larger, more readable version.

Average Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Fair

 

In all the yelling back and forth (aka “discussion”) about net neutrality rules last year, much was said and written about the “average” internet user in the US.

The FCC chairman, who led efforts to kill them, and his supporters claimed that competition in the market would take care of any issues related to ISPs who try to slow or block competitors on their networks. According to this theory, customers could just switch to another provider if their current ISP begins to play with the traffic.

Except that “average” doesn’t mean everyone is equal, and is usually a crappy way to understand any issue.

The map above illustrates just how bad the internet market is for most locations in the US. It uses actual data about the availability of high bandwidth access, the kind necessary to fully benefit from modern web services, and clearly demonstrates that it “varies greatly based on where you live”.

Average in this example is weighted very heavily in favor of metropolitan areas where households are likely to have at least two high bandwidth choices when it comes to internet service providers. The darker colors on the map show areas with fewer choices and slower speeds.

But even in those lighter areas, like that splotch of white around Washington DC where I live, choice doesn’t necessarily mean competition. Our two major ISPs offer the same packages at the same price. And once the furor over this issue dies down, both are equally likely to favor their own content over competitors. We do have a few other, smaller, options buzzing around but they are not equivalent, even if the chairman wants us to believe they are.

So, maybe “average” is acceptable to those who dislike all governmental regulation. But it’s not to the millions who are below, and far below, that average.


On another issue, this map was created using data from a variety of public sources and ESRIs wonderful Story Map application. You can zoom in to the county level to get more information, although you should pull the map into it’s own window for best results.

Digital Citizenship Was So Last Week

Last week was Digital Citizenship Week. My Twitter and RSS feed was full of posts about activities teachers were doing with students around the topics related to working responsibly online. Lots of pictures of kids doing digital citizenship stuff.

But what about this week? Will Internet safety, validating information, and fair use of copyrighted content continue to be front and center in classrooms?

In most schools, the answer, of course, is no.

As with Hour of Code, Digital Learning Day, and many other education-related special events, these topics are highlighted for a specific amount of time and then we go back to “normal”. There’s a reason why none of them are scheduled in the spring during testing season.

Certainly there are some teachers who keep these important topics in front of their classes every day. Better yet, they continually model best practices for working on and learning with the web in full view of their students.

However, if any of these topics and issues were really important, they would not be optional, distinctive occasions. Digital citizenship, coding, and the rest would be a core part of the standard curriculum, essential learning for every student.

Instead of one-and-done annual diversions from “real” learning. After all, none of this stuff is on the test.

The Whole Internet is a Distraction, Isn’t It?

This sorta ties into my previous rant

At some conference in the past year, this banner from a booth on the vendor floor caught my eye and got stuck in my phone.

Sign

I don’t remember the name of the company or their products, but it really doesn’t matter, does it? Most likely they sell some kind of network filtering/control system that schools use to prevent all those “distractions” from reaching the kids.

So, what sites on the web are distracting your students? Distracting them from what?

The simple answer, of course, is that anything not directly related to the learning goals dictated by adults must be added to that list of distractions. Anything students want to learn and the skills they want to master must be filtered out of school. Unless, by some chance, they intersect with the state standards of learning (or are contained in an “elective”).

Certainly there are some parts of the web that should be completely blocked from kids. But, in my experience, school filtering systems are often cranked up way too high and used by teachers and administrators as another tool for that “delivery” of instruction, rather than a real learning resource.

Finding, analyzing, and using the good stuff on the web is an essential skill for students, something we should be helping them learn.

That doesn’t happen when adults unilaterally declare everything they don’t like (or don’t understand) to be “distracting”.