Between now and January CES, Chris Ball and I will be building Nell for the OLPC XO-3 tablet.
Nell is a name, not an acronym, but if you want to pronounce it as
"Narrative Environment for Learning Learning," I won't stop you.
Nell's development will be demo-oriented—we're going to try to write the most
interesting bits first and learn as we go—so don't be upset if you
don't see support right away for legacy Sugar activities ("Sweet
Nell"), robust sharing support, mesh networking, or whatever
your favorite existing feature is. They'll come, but the new
crazy stuff is what we need to evaluate first.
Here are four of the big ideas behind Nell, along with pointers to some of our sources of inspiration.
Narrative. I probably don't need to restate that Neil
Stephenson's "The Diamond Age" has been hugely influential, and we also owe
a large debt to interactive fiction and the Boston IF group in particular. (Check out
the talks from our
Interfaces day" at OLPC.)
paper) and Mark Riedl
at Georgia Tech have demonstrated interesting approaches to story representation.
I'm also looking forward to the results of the Experimental Game Play
group's September Story
Emotion. The Radiolab podcast "Talking To Machines" crystallized my thinking about emotionally-attractive environments. The discussion with Caleb
Chung, the creator of Furby, is particularly apropos. Caleb's goal is
to make things which kids want to "play with for a long time," and he
contributes his three rules for creating things which "feel alive":
it must (1) feel and show emotions, (2) be aware of itself and its
environment, and (3) have behaviors which change over time. Furby's
pursuit of these goals include expressive eyes and ears, crying when
held upside down, reacting to loud noises, and gradually switching from Furbish
to English for its utterances. A living thing emits a
constant stream of little surprises. Expect to see Nell put the
XO-3's microphone and accelerometer to good use.
Talking and Listening. The "Talking To Machines" podcast also discusses ELIZA and Cleverbot, which
dovetails with my interest in the popular Speak
activity for Sugar and related toys like Talking Tomcat for
mobile phones. The key insight here is that a little bit of "cheap
trick" AI can go a long way toward making a personable and engaging
system. We want Nell to feel like a friend. Recent work by
the Common Sense Computing
Initiative at MIT's Media Lab shows how we can reset this on a sounder
basis and use mostly-unstructured input to allow the system to grow
and learn (creating "behaviors changing over time"). In particular, I'll cite ConceptNet for its
database and practical NLP tools, and inspiration from
"Empathy Buddy," "StoryFighter," and the other projects described in their
Common Sense paper. It's also worth noting that open source
speech tools are good and getting better (the VoxForge site points to most of them);
also interesting is this technique
for matching a synthesized voice to that of the user.
Collecting, nurturing, and rewarding. Collector games such as Pocket Frogs and
are sticky activities which
encourage kids to come back to the device and continue working toward a goal over a long period of time.
is educational software illustrating this technique: its users tend a garden of flowers by
mastering a set of flash cards. Nell will incorporate the sticky aspects of such games, possibly also integrating the Mozilla Open Badges infrastructure into an achievement/reward system.
I hope this has given you a general sense of the direction of our Nell project. In future
blog posts I'll drill down into implementation details, demonstration storyboards, and other more concrete facets of Nell.
Syndicated 2011-10-01 05:18:05 (Updated 2011-10-01 05:45:36) from Dr. C. Scott Ananian