Not Quite Smart Enough [NYT] – Smart appliances are back, yet again! Engineers are crammed atop happily dumb products because, well, because they can. The classic of course is the Smart Fridge, the result of jetpack-denied technologists channeling their rage. We’ve heard the use cases over and over again, we aren’t that interested (are we?) but comically, that doesn’t seem to stop them. From past work, I believe there some wonderful opportunities for technology to have a meaningful impact in domestic chores, but this repetition of an undesirable product just isn’t it. Bonus funny/sad: Mike Kuniavsky’s 2008 blog post looks at the history of these ridiculous things. /SP
Still, there are differences in what is offered this time around – especially in the role of smartphones, which were not widely on the market a decade ago. In addition, even if the idea of a connected home, controlled by a smart electrical grid, is years off, it is more than just a pipe dream. For now, though, manufacturers are promoting the high-tech gizmos on their smart appliances, rather than focusing on the potential for being a cog in a smart grid. Samsung offers a French-door refrigerator with an LCD screen and its own apps, allowing consumers to check the weather, browse the Web for recipes, listen to music and keep tabs on what is in the refrigerator. The 28-cubic feet, four-door refrigerator costs about $3,500. LG is introducing a refrigerator that allows consumers to scan a grocery receipt with their smartphone so that the refrigerator can track what is inside. So if you buy some chicken, for instance, the refrigerator will keep tabs on when you bought it and tell you when it is about to expire. If you have chicken, broccoli and lemons in your refrigerator, it will offer recipes that include those three ingredients, even narrowing recipes based on specific dietary needs and goals. Several manufacturers are introducing washers and dryers equipped with Wi-Fi that alert consumers on their television or smartphone when a load is done, and gives them the option of fluffing towels for another 10 minutes or adding a rinse cycle. LG’s robotic smart vacuum can be told, again, through a smartphone, to clean up the living room. And since it’s equipped with a built-in camera, its owner can secretly watch what the nanny is doing, too.
Tenured Professor Departs Stanford U., Hoping to Teach 500,000 Students at Online Start-Up [The Chronicle of Higher Education] – Last week we explored the innovative physical learning environment at the Swedish Vittra school. This week we learn that the future of educational institutions may involve abandoning the halls of the academy entirely in favor of virtual pedagogy and entrepreneurial ventures. Is the university destined for obsolescence? Freelance online classes challenge the value proposition (and often prohibitive cost) of a university degree by offering affordable alternatives that connect teachers who are motivated to share knowledge with students who are eager to learn and apply it, regardless of location. This reminds me of a recent Kickstarter project I funded called Don’t Go Back to School: A handbook for learning anything. For $25 I am getting a whole course and textbook on independent learning. Bargain! /TC
During his talk, Mr. Thrun explored the origins of his popular online course at Stanford, which initially featured videos produced with nothing more than “a camera, a pen and a napkin.” Despite the low production quality, many of the 200 Stanford students taking the course in the classroom flocked to the videos because they could absorb the lectures at their own pace. Eventually, the 200 students taking the course in person dwindled to a group of 30. Meanwhile, the course’s popularity exploded online, drawing students from around the world. The experience taught the professor that he could craft a course with the interactive tools of the Web that recreated the intimacy of one-on-one tutoring, he said.
Interactive film, Bear 71, blurs lines between wild and wired [Montreal Gazette] – News articles on this work, currently showing at Sundance, have difficulty classifying it. Is it a film? A documentary? An interactive experience? Multi-media project? All-encompassing digital experience? An interactive film? Akin to Steve’s comments on smart-appliances above, the interactive multi-media experience has also been around for awhile – remember ye olde CD-ROM? This project, however, is doing more than just using technology to give viewers some ownership and direction in the story-telling. The film-makers seem very tuned in to the philosophical implications of inserting all this technology into a very natural environment, and conscious of the irony of their ambition to use technology to bring us closer to our animal state, despite their claims that technology is the very thing drawing us away from that state. Bear 71 official site. /JN
Enter Jeremy Mendes, a Vancouver-based artist and three-time Webby Award winner with a special talent for interactive work. “I drove out to Alberta and met Leanne [Allison], and when I saw these images, I knew right away that it was bizarre: It was surveillance equipment, essentially. These are the same cameras we use on ourselves. They’re the same cameras in Times Square and 7-11,” says Mendes. “I thought, ‘This is a technology story about us and this bear.'” “We prepared an outline and did all the research, and realized this was a story about communication. It’s about the communication humans use, and the communication animals use,” says Mendes… Call it the natural bulletin board, or deciduous Internet, but the scents tell each animal’s story to other animals – very much the same way we use Facebook of Twitter to keep tabs on other humans. “Humans probably had the same ability to understand that information before technology removed us from the natural world,” says Allison…It’s such a different approach to filmmaking and art, that it may take a while for the average Joe or Jane to take it all in, but that’s kind of the point: We’re only half-awake to our animal nature, and all our ambient technology only serves to shove us deeper and deeper into a state of instinct denial.