Week Five Activity: Reading and Literacy – *Trend Reflection*

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    • #1301
      Will Wood

      This week I attended QUT’s Robotronica festival held at the Gardens Point Campus and was blown away by the many performances, interactive displays and highly engaging talks that were on offer. One such performance that was particularly relevant to this week’s topic of reading and literacy was ‘Robot Story Time’ an educational entertainment initiative created by Cake Industries.

      Robot Story Time presentation slide
      Their presentation utilises a multimodal format that takes the idea of digital storytelling one step further by giving the digital element physicality in the form of ‘Radius’ the story telling robot who uses video, music and an array of gestures to interact with kids with the help of his two ‘scientist’ friends, the creators of Cake Industries: Jesse Stevens and Dean Petersen.

      When asked, almost all of the children responded that they knew what a robot was. A good handful also made it clear that they owned robots and had them at home. One particularly young child asked the assistants if Radius the storytelling robot was a cyborg which took me by surprise as it showed a familiarity with technological concepts that I don’t think I had at 2 or 3 years old.

      All of the children responded very well to being spoken to by Radius even though he had come with a warning stating that parental presence was required as he could be a little scary at first. A warning that I thought was appropriate when I was finalising my booking as the image on the website of Radius’s legless torso and passive face reminded me of a villain in a retro science fiction film rather than an affable children’s entertainer bot.

      Radius the storytime robot before being switched on
      Unfazed by his machinelike exterior the kids crowded around and listened to the story of a little robot called Clean-O who was running out of battery but couldn’t find his missing charger. Clean-O visited a number of other robots in his search for a power cable and eventually met a new robot who willingly shared his with the little bot in need with the moral of the tale being that by meeting new people we make new friends who can help us on our journey. The message was positive but from my jaded adult perspective his delivery was lacking. Unfortunately Radius had been programmed with a monotonous and unmodulated voice that was reminiscent of Microsoft Sam rather than Bicentennial man and as he droned on I found myself having trouble focussing on what was being said (though I had had little sleep the night before, only one small coffee and am not often active before 10am so there is that). In Chapter 5: Early literacy programs for children and families found in Children’s Services Today: A Practical Guide for Librarians and written by Jeanette Larson it is suggested that there are a number of core reading skills that need to be developed in young children in order to prevent early literacy issues becoming more prevalent in later life. These core competencies included phonological awareness and an expressive vocabulary. Two areas in which Radius was unable to deliver due to his robotic intonation and something that would need to be considered if this technology was developed to the extent that it would be considered for regular library programs or used in education. In saying that though, technology such as this lends itself to structured programming that could be used to present tailored content that is delivered in the same way each time allowing for easy analysis of its effectiveness. This is in line with the article Expanding on early literacy: Promoting emerging language and literacy during story time which states that:

      To be effective, it is important to decide explicitly what the information is the child should learn, to model the desired activity or skill, and to provide the opportunity for the child to try it out and give feedback.

      This was a real experience for me and one I am glad I was able to attend as it got me thinking about the use of this technology in future classrooms and library programs and the viability of this sort of tech as an educational tool. Though slightly different in practice to the event I attended today the concept of digital storytelling has been gaining a lot of traction in recent years due to the proliferation of technology. Even QUT has been getting involved by offering short courses and interactive workshops on the subject. Digital storytelling is here defined by QUT as a “platform for exploring the benefits and possibilities of social participation in our mediatised world. These include improved digital literacy and communication skills, healthier and more resilient communities, and a public culture enriched by perspectives and experiences that might otherwise be missed.” Usually reserved as a format for expressing a point of view of personal narrative through a multimodal approach it was interesting to witness digital ‘storytelling’ aimed at those in our society who arguably love stories the most: children. This new take on the format (that as far as I could tell from some small research) is being pioneered by Cake Industries with much refinement could help to promote new developments in the way we can use technology to assist learning but also to entertain through human computer interaction.
      Radius telling a story about Cleano-O

      As I mentioned briefly before, my only issue with the performance was the monotonous voice of the android and in reflecting on that I came to the conclusion that for me personally it was due to the fact that emotion is an integral part of learning as it can help to convey depth that words alone cannot. As technology continues to become more prevalent and ubiquitous in daily life I think it will be important for it to capture more aspects of what makes humanity human in order to make it more relatable and accessible. Not in the sense that robots such as Radius should look more like us as it has been shown that without it being perfect we can experience innate repulsion such as the uncanny valley effect but instead robots should perhaps behave more like us by appealing to the conventions of human to human interaction. One example of this is the motion tracking camera software that is allowing digital face models to replicate the facial expressions of those in front of the camera. Perhaps a robot with a screen for a face that has pre-recorded facial expressions set by an actor and a modulated voice that can convey emotional depth could further this new educational format? Or perhaps not, but regardless studies have been showing that robots are definitely a new tool that can be utilised to achieve different and positive results such as these experiments with robots and autism.  

      A bit of an overarching theme for the Robotronica festival that I noticed was the idea that the future of robotics and artificial intelligence does not have to be the one we fear where robots become more intelligent than their creators and begin to self-replicate but rather that we as creators need to be present participants in our own futures and instead of being separate and in competition with technology we should adapt and better ourselves with it whilst retaining our sense of self and humanity. In an inspiring talk from the first recognised cyborg – Neil Harbisson he outlined that as wearable technology becomes implanted technology and then progresses to cellular or genetic technology we will start to view ourselves AS technology rather than being in conflict with it.

      I already feel like my mobile is an irreplaceable extension of myself so sign me up!

      • This topic was modified 8 years, 9 months ago by Will Wood.
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    • #1322
      Ruth McConchie

      Cool Will! This sounds amazing. I really enjoyed your trend reflection. I agree that retaining our humanity is such an important aspect of interacting with cyborgs or AI. Have you seen ‘Ex Machina’ at all? I think that maybe humans need to come to terms with the idea that maybe humans won’t physically exist in the future, our legacy will be our humanity which might continued by robots or AI. What do you think is more important?

    • #1385
      Shannon Franzway

      I really like the idea of using new technologies and robots as tools to engage children with learning.  In the grand scheme of reading and literacy currently though, I would consider it a bit of a novelty and a “nice to have” type of thing rather than “must have” – I don’t think anything can beat the one-on-one story reading experience with children – but it will definitely become far more mainstream in the future as the technology is developed.  A huge part of that would be cost – of course!!

      The cyborg comment made me laugh – my 4 year old knows what a cyborg is because my graphic novel nut of a husband taught her!

    • #1420

      Will, thanks for your engaging read once again.

      For including images in your posts try this – it’s not perfect by any means but you might think it’s better than nothing.

      Go to edit and select the ‘Text’ tab rather than the ‘Visual’ tab. On the tool bar in this mode is a button called ‘IMG’. Click here and you can enter a URL for an image. How you load images that don’t have a URL? No idea. After you’ve loaded it go back to the ‘Visual’ tab and click on the image – you can re-size, add a caption etc. I couldn’t get gifs to work but flat images were OK. You get an annoying strip of text next to the image after you’ve submitted the post – if you you work out how to get rid of this I’d love to know! Good luck, hope this works for you 🙂


    • #1437
      Will Wood

      Thanks so much for your comments everyone! Glad you all enjoyed my post.

      Ruth – Great question! I like to think of myself as a humanist and believe strongly in the value and agency of individuals and communities so selfishly I would hope that we as a race are not completely absent in our future and only to be represented by the robots or AI we had a hand in creating. I would like to think that through technological advancements we may dramatically change in form and capability but that we would retain some sense of humanity throughout that development. Who is to say what will happen though? Very exciting stuff to contemplate.

      Shannon – I agree that there is a long way to go before ‘robot story time’ or alternatives like it come anywhere close to one on one interactions with kids but that got me thinking that as robotics develops we could end up seeing a technology that fuses a physical form with skype-like technology that could allow children to be interacted with and read to by distant relatives in a more visceral way than current tech allows for which while not providing a comparable experience to face to face interactions it would open up some pretty cool options.

      Robynne – Cheers for the image advice! I will look into doing that for my next post as the photos I took and would like to add to this post are stored on my phone and I don’t have an imgur or other similar photo sharing account that could give me the url I would need. Thanks again!

    • #1892
      Steven Walker

      Hey Will, I also attended this , found it to be very inspiring and maes me feel good about the path of study I have chosen (technology).  However i didnt think it was a library hosted fumction, or I would not have written it as a Trend Reflection myself.

      • This reply was modified 8 years, 9 months ago by Steven Walker. Reason: Spelling
    • #2333
      Chris Sonneveld

      Hi Will

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I must say I’m extremely jealous as I love to see how technology can be used in new and interesting ways. I was listening to the Podcast Download This Show the other day and the topic of discussion was Technophilia. They discussed how reliant we have become on technology but also how we are using it to push the human race past its physiological limitations. They also mentioned AI and autonomous technology  as something we will need to develop so that it follow a code of ethics, whether that is programmed by us or by some other means. I’m not exactly sure which scenario sounds better.

    • #2424
      Will Wood

      Hey Chris,

      Cheers for your comment.

      I’m in a bit of a political mindset this week as I am doing an issues based reflection on research support which had me thinking about how much power current political opinion has over things such as which grant application should receive funding and which should be dismissed – a state of affairs I find to be fairly unethical or at least unbalanced or biased. So when I read your comment and thought about our reliance on technology I couldn’t help but consider it through this political lens – where politics will influence robotic development for the advancement of particular groups in society rather than all people. It made me think of a post I saw on Reddit a few days ago about a comment that Stephen Hawking made where he said that we need to be more afraid of capitalism than robots. As manual labor jobs and low skilled enterprise are replaced by robotic systems the profits from this will be distributed to those who are already in positions of power. I found an article about it here if you are interested in having a read.

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