Archive for the ‘innovation’ Category

Serious games

June 23, 2008

I saw a Washington Post article about an emerging trend of serious games.  It mentions a very interesting initiative called “Games for change“, which describes itself in the following way:

Games for Change (G4C) provides support, visibility and shared resources to individuals and organizations using digital games for social change. We provide special assistance to foundations and non-profits entering the field. Today, G4C acts as a national hub to help organizations network and develop videogame projects beyond their traditional expertise. Our members represent hundreds of organizations and include partners in the games industry, academia, nonprofits, local and state governments, foundations, the UN and artists.

They have a rather interesting website with many examples of serious games and it also seems that there is quite a vibrant community surrounding these issues.  They have a section of youth produced games, which currently has only one game and i could not really see how it was youth produced (but maybe i am missing something).  Nevertheless, the concept is interesting.

It also reminded that it’s been a while since wanted to post a note about (already not so) new project by Impact Games (creators of Peace Maker).  It’s called “Play the news” and it is kind of a dream league, but for news.  I’ve been following this project since its beta and i find it as an interesting approach to keep people interested in the world’s matters.  My only “worry” is that it seems (based on the discussions on the site) that at least the current pool of participants consists primarily of people who are already curious and knowledgeable about the world affairs.  It would be interesting to see how this idea flies among the youths, who are being blamed to become more disengaged, apathetic, and more.

Things you can do Wii with

June 14, 2008

A while ago i wrote about things you can do with Wii. Now i learned about a group of young Israelis, Veronica’s former colleagues, who created a software that allows you to make Wii using a regular webcam. The product is called CamSpace and they have already registered a company that is promoting it. Check out their video and feel free to sign up for beta-testing. I think it is very impressive!

Technologies that help

June 2, 2008

It’s been a while since i read this article (HE) about two young Israeli entrepreneurs who participated in developing GPS software that would be friendly for the visually impaired people. If you ever used a GPS, you would know that many (most?) of them are capable of providing voice directions. However, it is not good enough if you cannot see properly. The program that they developed makes more use of voice. For example when you select destinations or want to find out where you are at the moment and what is there in your surroundings. One interesting feature of the program is its adjustment for the use of public transportation – it will tell you what bus stop you are at and when you should get off. The main downside of the program at the moment is its price.

Recently I also read this news update about a free email service, RoboBraille, that translates text into audio or Braille. According to this article, it takes the program “can return a simple text in Braille in under a minute while taking as long as 10 hours to provide an audio recording of a book”, which i think is still very impressive (provided that the final quality of the output is good). They report to work on about 500 documents a day and have translated a quarter million texts so far. My only unanswered question here is how a visually impaired, probably blind person is supposed to send that email. That would probably require some more expansive hardware and software, which still maintains a barrier.

Even though I still have some questions, I am really excited when the information technology is used to solve real, substantial problems. If you have more examples, please share!

Innovation and confusion

May 20, 2008

XO-2 Laptop AI read some exciting news today. OLPC project revealed its plans for the next generation of the “$100 laptop.” It looks really neat and i think has a number of really innovative ideas. For example, the double touch screen one part of which can also be used as a keyboard, sound really fascinating. Reading about it makes me really wanting one.

Then, as i continued reading, i got confused, particularly by looking at the feedback provided by people who own the current version of XO (read the comments here for example). It seems like while concentrating on technical innovation, the OLPC crew neglected mundane things such as production, service, and implementation. Although XO-1has been deployed, it seems too soon to conclude this phase as successful. Particularly with the recent changes iXO-2 Laptop Bn the project’s leadership and the ongoing debate about the identity of OLPC as a technological vs. educational project, there are still a lot of question marks. One of the more obvious ones is whether or not it will be relevant by the target date of 2010 with the recent exposure of low-cost laptops.

So, at the end of the day, i think the ideas in XO team are rather brilliant (looks like they can also design in an Apple style!) and i truly hope they will be also capable of translating this innovation into substantive change.

Innovating for conformity?

May 7, 2008

OLPCJust read a blog post about the new CEO of the OLPC project, who seem to envision the project in more technological and less educational terms. Then i read a response to that post written by Gaurav Chachra, who presents himself as “founder member of OLPC India Student Chapter“.

Gaurav is actually making a very good point about the (unrealized) potential of the OLPC project to impact the power balance between people and technology as a primarily commercially-driven institution. He asks a simple question about why would we want OLPC to run Windows XP in first place? I can think of potential answers such as Windows being the most commonly used platform and thus it is necessary to work with it in order to compete in the modern economy. At the same time, I wonder where does it put those, who are joining this competition race at this stage, in the technological hierarchy. It looks like if those who are joining now will have to catch up, while on the other hand there is knowledge in the system that could potentially allow them to leap-frog the catching up or just approach the entire situation from a different angle.

The latter point brings an even larger question about the “digital culture” and this is where the question of power relations. Naturally, Microsoft has an invested interest in making Windows XP the primary operating system for any vast technology-literacy project/movement in the developing world. If we learn that the world is flat, we will be hesitant to go and explore the ages. Similarly, if we learn that computers are Microsoft, we will be hesitant to explore the alternatives (even if there would be people who explain to us that the alternatives are better). The question of the OLPC’s ability to run Windows XP is a clear outcome of this path dependency and us being used to a specific kind of computer mediated experience. However, the point Faurav is making is that the vast populations of children in developing world have never been socialized in the ways we are using technology in the more privileged parts of the world. So, what not using this opportunity to re-examine the values underlying our efforts in the technology and development realm?

I wonder if taking the OLPC to the Windows-dominated reality would not constitute something that looks like innovation for conformity?

Quickly glancing at OLPC

April 29, 2008

Quite a while ago i read this post about the rise of cheap computing solutions. In light of the growing critique of the OLPC project, it got me thinking that perhaps, by focusing on the details of this specific project we are overlooking some of its most important contributions.

OLPCJust three or four years ago OLPC was the only project explicitly targeting the developing world and the market for low cost, simple computers. Today, we have over 7 competing models targeting this very market (potentially more). As long as this competition continues we can expect better machines and lower prices in this segment. Perhaps that is good, since industry is probably better in taking care of the technical aspects (even if sometimes it needs a push, such as the OLPC project), leaving space for the educators and activists focusing on developing a decent educational infrastructure to utilize this technology.

The main critique of OLPC from the very beginning was that it should be an educational and not a technological project. And I agree that the technological solution alone is meaningless and the true potential for change lies in appropriate adoption framework, particularly when we talk about education. At the same time, I think that its contribution to the technological push should not be underestimated. Does it make any sense?

On an unrelated note, now you can also use Skype on XO computers. I think this is really cool, even though Skype has been recently loosing its quality.

(Images taken from laptop.org, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5.)

An amazing robot

March 24, 2008

Recycling a video I first saw on Crooked Timber:

Give it a few moments. It is truly amazing!

Things you can do with Wii

February 14, 2008

Thanks to Veronica for sharing that one.

Did you know with a simple Wii remote, a few enhancements, a projector, and the help of John Lee from Carnegie Mellon, you can actually build a multi-touch white-board? Pretty amazing if you ask me.

“Technological optimism”

January 21, 2008

Just read about a new startup of Dov Moran, called “Modu” and it prompted a number of thoughts.

Moran is a remarkable person. In fact he is the one standing behind the invention of USB flash drive and M-Systems that was sold to SanDisk for $1.6 bln. “Modu” is his new startup developing a device that according to the article will revolutionize the world of mobile phones or in other words mobility of personal data. It was the claim for revolutionizing that kept me reading the article and thinking about it.

The idea of “Modu” is a miniature device with memory, energy source, and cellular abilities. It can be attached to anything from your land-line, the radio in your car, your laptop, etc. Once attached the hosting device is getting the capabilities of the “Modu”. In other words you have one mobile set of all your personal communication data, which is usually found in you mobile phone, and make it useful with all the other devices. You wouldn’t need a fixed line and a mobile – according to the limited information that Ynet journalists could gather (the project is very secret), “Modu” will take care of that.

According to the article, having all the personal communication data on a single miniature device will change the world (they actually start the article with this statement). This is where my social training is kicking in. Will it? Will people want to have everything on a single device? We don’t know enough about the product yet, but how is that information going to be protected and backed up? What about compatibility of “Modu” with all the other devices? Moreover, is there an economic model behind the device that will make the device standing out from being just another gadget? For example, the cellular communication is usually more expensive. How does that fit into shifting everything into a single mobile? Would organizations like their employers walking home with all the corporate information on their “Modu”? And the list can go on…

It is interesting how in most cases the new gadgets are described with such an optimism and, i would say, from a deterministic perspective. And then i start also thinking if such an enthusiasm about technology is necessary attribute for any visionary beginning in that industry. Most of the technological gurus i hear are always optimistic, as are the people behind technological startups. The fact that most of the startups fail and the fact that less than a decade ago we witnessed a major .com bubble, seems not being able to wipe out that belief in the next gadget changing the world (I suddenly remember Kindle and the fact that it has practically disappeared from the public agenda).

And that is interesting. I wonder how this technological optimism works. Is it an inseparable component of innovation? Is critical thinking here in fact limits creativity?

What do you think?

Even more on XO as an eBook

November 25, 2007

I feel like I should start apologizing for the amount of posts dealing with this issue :)

However, just today the OLPC-news blog posted a video of the Internet Archive project endorsing XO as an eBook reader.  I don’t think the timing of their post is random, but it definitely helps to clarify the point I was trying to make in the last two posts.