The IBM Computer Cloud of Unknowing

This press release is making the rounds this week, announcing a collaboration between Sesame Street and the letters I, B, and M. Big Bird and Big Blue are teaming up to do “learning in the cloud” with Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings Watson the Super-Computer. Their first project together is called a “cognitive vocabulary learning app”:

Watson’s augmented intelligence capabilities are designed to enable the app to provide digital assistance in the classroom. Teachers can monitor children’s vocabulary development in real-time through a secure dashboard and adjust lessons, pacing, and curriculum to each child’s needs. The app will use adaptive assessments to determine a child’s current vocabulary range, and then deliver vocabulary learning experiences that focus on specific words. Continuously learning as a child engages with the app, words and areas that require additional focus are refined to deliver content and experiences that are engaging, fun (sic) and inspiring.

I admit that it all does sound engaging, fun, and inspiring, not to mention sufficiently complicated enough to require one of the world’s most powerful computers. I mean, how on Earth did kids learn new words before the teacher got her hands on a secure dashboard with real-time monitoring and adaptive assessments?

No one will be left out on these advances. The robots will of course be coming soon to your home as well. We (and stockholders) are assured that the:

cognitive vocabulary learning app is only the beginning of what’s possible with this technology. IBM and Sesame are customising Watson for early childhood as well as developing new capabilities for it. Educational toys, apps, and games enabled with Watson’s speech- and image-recognition capabilities are expected to take the platform’s personalised learning beyond the classroom.

One of the listed advisors to the project is Dr. Todd Rose, Director of Mind, Brain, and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He says he is “encouraged by the program’s progress in just one year,” but no actual research reports or results are referenced. (I’ve emailed to ask.)


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