Ethiopian Children Learn From Diamond Age Primers

Ethiopian children have been provided with tablet computers running software reminiscent of the primers from Neal Stephenson's 1995 novel The Diamond Age.


(Ethiopian first grader with tablet)

The devices involved are Motorola Xoom tablets—used together with a solar charging system, which Ethiopian technicians had taught adults in the village to use. Once a week, a technician visits the villages and swaps out memory cards so that researchers can study how the machines were actually used.

After several months, the kids in both villages were still heavily engaged in using and recharging the machines, and had been observed reciting the “alphabet song,” and even spelling words. One boy, exposed to literacy games with animal pictures, opened up a paint program and wrote the word “Lion.”

The experiment is being done in two isolated rural villages with about 20 first-grade-aged children each, about 50 miles from Addis Ababa. One village is called Wonchi, on the rim of a volcanic crater at 11,000 feet; the other is called Wolonchete, in the Great Rift Valley. Children there had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them.

The computers make use of the "Nell System", which has some interesting science fiction roots:

The interaction design of the Nell system described above is inspired by the “Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” in the Neal Stephenson novel The Diamond Age, from whose protagonist Nell takes its name.

Nell’s design embodies four key ideas: it is a Narrative interface using Direct Interaction which Grows with, and is Personalized for, the child. Nell uses these four key concepts to build a novel learning platform which addresses several challenges we’ve encountered in earlier work.
(From Growing Up With Nell: A Narrative Interface for Literacy)

The apps running on the tablet were inspired by the software running on the primer, a runcible computer, a book-shaped computer that has paper-thin LCD displays for pages:

Nell's first experience with the Primer

The book spoke in a lovely contralto, with an accent like the very finest Vickys. The voice was like a real person's - though not like anyone Nell had ever met. It rose and fell like slow surf on a warm beach and when Nell closed her eyes, it swept her out into an ocean of feelings.

Once upon a time there was a little Princess named Nell who was imprisoned in a tall dark castle on an island in the middle of a great sea... from time to time a raven would come to visit...

"What's a raven?" Nell said.

... it turned out to be a bird. Big letters appeared beneath. "R A V E N," the book said. "Raven. Now, say it with me."

"Raven."

"Very good! Nell, you are a clever girl, and you have much talent with words. Can you spell raven?"

...After a few seconds, the first of the letters began to blink. Nell prodded it.

The letter grew until it had pushed all the other letters and pictures off the edges of the page...
(Read more from Stephenson's Diamond Age primer)

(Compare this fictional narrative with this description of an Ethiopian girl interacting with Nell.)

However, this idea has additional science-fictional antecedents. In his 1992 novel A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge describes a specialized portable computer called a dataset that runs educational software in "kindermode":

The sounds and vids kept the monsters amused for several minutes. Eventually their random fiddlings convinced the dataset that somebody really young had opened up the box, and it shifted into kindermode. ...

"My name is--" Johanna heard a short burst of gobble with an overtone that seemed to buzz right through her head. "What is your name?" Johanna knew it was all part of the language script. There was no way the creature could understand the individual words it was saying. That "my name, your name" pair was repeated over and over again between the children in the language program.
(Read more about Vinge's dataset (Pink Oliphaunt))

You can take a look at the apps Nell's Balloons and Nell's Colors, which require modern browsers like Chrome or Firefox to run.

From Technology Review (Tablets), Technology Review (EmTech Preview) and Dr. C. Scott Ananian page. Thanks to Winchell Chung (aka @Nyrath) of Project Rho and Vik of Diamond Age Solutions (RepRap and 3D Printer Consumables ) for their contributions to this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/1/2012)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 1 )

Related News Stories - (" Culture ")

Wearable MRI Is Former Occulus/Facebook Exec's New Project
'Your cephalochromoscope... that you always turn on and play when you get home...' - Philip K. Dick, 1977.

51 Percent Of Job Activities Could Be Automated
'Mike did not have upsets, acquired sense of humor instead...' - Robert Heinlein, 1966.

Scotland Set To Implement Basic Income
'Earned by just being born.'- Philip Jose Farmer, 1967.

Life In Detroit's 'Agrihood' - The First In The U.S.
'countless tiny brown circles in the green fields ...occasional ruins of ancient cities...' - Philip K. Dick, 1954.

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

Cattle Avoidance Feature In Indian Autonomous Cars
'The driver went about the business of gently slipping the teflon-coated metal scoop beneath the first animal...'

Project KOVR Fashion Protection From Infosphere
'... the entire shroudlike membrane took on whatever physical characteristics were projected at any nanosecond.'

Twist Bioscience High Density Digital Data On DNA
'They tied the memory to the bloodline and that was their record!'

'We're Not Creating A Terminator' Say Russians About Gun-Wielding Robot Fedor
Nobody is thinking about the Terminator. Westworld, maybe.

Vantablack Now IMMEASURABLY Black
'a black coating now that’s ninety-nine percent absorptive...'

Mercedes-Benz Autonomous Taxi Fleet In 3 Years
'... the taxi utilized sophisticated electronic sensors to perceive its surroundings.'

Is 'The Pulsar Positioning System' Evidence For SETI?
'For a hyperspace jump, you need at least four beacons for an accurate fix.'

Someday, You Might Like VR Enough To Move In
'That barrier was going to melt away someday soon. The transhumanists had promised...'

Humans Use Mental Power For Turtle Slavery
Now we need to start looking for animals with fingers...

Solar-Powered Moisture Vaporator
'The atmosphere yielded its moisture with reluctance.'

DxtER! Tricorder Prize Won By Final Frontier Medical Devices
We've been waiting a long time for this, Star Trek fans.

President Trump's Wall As Otra Nation Hyperloop
'...an hollow tube must be constructed the whole distance... as to admit a four wheeled carriage...'

Pickup Lines From Artificial Intelligences
'They hate us, you know... The humans. They'll stop at nothing.'

Pooper Scooper Drone Robot Watchdog 1
'Robots pick up the garbage and junk...'

Cassie Robot Brings AT-ST Walker To Life
There's even a log test!

Hundreds Of Robot Lawnmowers Invade Texas Town
'The mower reached the edge of the lawn, clucked to itself...'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.