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June 10, 2011

[hyperpublic] Final panel: Cooperation without Coercion

At the final panel of the conference. Judith Donath is moderating.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Charlie Nesson asks: “When we talk about our space, who are we?” In Jeff Huang‘s presentation, it seemed like he was given the perfect hypothetical — a desert — to build a public and private place. “In cyber terms, we are people of the Net. What then is our domain? It’s the public domain. And if you are to build the public domain, then I believe the wisdom to follow from a lawyer’s point of view is the same wisdom that has more or less informed the world of real property. If you want an orderly world of real property, you build a registry. If you want an orderly world of bits, you build a registry.” This is Charlie’s new project: a registry of the public domain. They’re starting with a musical score library. It has 93,000 musical scores in the public domain., exquisitely put together.

The Net divides into two domains, says Charlie, one that is free and one that is not. Free means free of copyright and other encumbrances. Charlie wants to build our domain on a foundation solid in law. The registry he’s building identifies works as public domain, with links to the registrars attesting to this. He wants it to be populated by librarians with public domain collections. But, the problem with registries is litigation risk, i.e., the threat of lawsuit. “So the essence of this idea is to couple the registrar with a pro bono commitment of legal service from a law firm of repute to defend litigation based on infringement.”

Where do you find the institutions that want to protect privacy, asks Charlie. How about libraries, he suggests?

“I’m tough on privacy, Judith,” says Charlie, in response to a question. “I’ve never liked it.” He explains it’s so often based on fear and looks backwards.

Martin Nowak looks at cooperation evolutionary term in which a donor pays a cost and a recipient gets a benefit. He explains game theory’s Prisoner’s Dilemma. Why do people cooperate? “Natural selection chooses defection,” rather than cooperation. In a mixed population, defection becomes increasingly more popular. So, natural selection needs help to favor co-operation. Martin categorizes the factors into five mechanisms: kin selection, direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity spatial selection and group selection.

Direct reciprocity (I help you, you help me). If you play the Prisoner’s Dilemma several times, the economics changes, as The Folk Theorem shows them. Martin quickly summarizes Axelrod and Rapaport. [Too hard to live blog. Read Ethanz. Really. Now.] Errors turn out to ruin cooperation, so you need a process that allows for forgiveness. Martin’s doctoral dissertation showed that if everyone plays randomly, the right tactic is to always defect. A tit for tat strategy corrects that, and generous tit-for-tat (I may still cooperate even if you defect) provides a math model for the evolution of forgiveness and cooperation. There are always oscillations; cooperations are never stable. We need structures that rebuild cooperation quickly after it is destroyed because it always will be destroyed.

Direct reciprocity allows allow for the evolution of cooperation if there’s a prospect of another round. Indirect reciprocity (I help you, someone helps me) leads to cooperation if reputation matters. You need natural selection to care about reputation, so to speak. “What you need for indirect reciprocity is gossip” to spread reputation. For that you need language. “You could argue this is the selection process that led to language.” “For direct reciprocity you need a face. For indirect reciprocity you need a name.” (David Haig) Our brain has both capabilities. If interactions are completely anonymous you run into problems. Also, you need gossip to be relatively honest.

Spatial selection = neighbors help each other. Martin flips through some graphs that shows that it selects for coop if you have a few close friends. Likewise, evolutionary set theory says that people wanting to join particular groups can also lead to coop.

Judith: What about strong vs. weak ties?
Martin: We assume equal ties. There’s a trade-off between wealth and vulnerability.

Nicholas Negroponte asks himself a question every morning: Is he doing something that normal market forces would do anyway? If so, he stops. He wants to do that which market forces will not do.

There are now 3M One Laptop Per Child laptops in the hands of kids. This isn’t huge since OLPC would like to get laptops into the hands of about 500M kids. Before that, people assumed computers teach by imparting content. Instead, you want to see children teaching. 20-30% of the million Peruvian kids with OLPC machines are using them to teach their parents how to read.

Nicholas goes through some points he made in a talk at the UN recently. Among the points: Measurement is overrated. You only measure when the changes are so small that you can only see them by measurement.

Judith: When we see well-off kids sitting side by side looking into screens, we think it’s a nightmare of anti-sociality, but when we see your adorable photos of third world kids in the same position, it looks desirable?
Nicholas: I don’t see the well-off kids that way. And why don’t we make OLPC’s available in the US? Because the issues are deeper than that.

A: Talk about anonymity…?
Jeff Jarvis: It’s foundational to democracy. It’s getting a bad name because of trolls. But it must be protected.

Q: This discussion is soaked in privilege. There’s much inscribed in the language that affects how people act. When you idolize the public space as a place where all can share their ideas safely, it feels really far away for me.

Q: (Charlie) Nicholas, you’ve said that Uruguay has given all 500,000 of its kids OLPCs. Given your position on measurement, what change will we see?
Nicholas: Their curiosity, the way they approach problems, the way they look at things…I think you’re going to see a nation that is far more creative than many other nations. Nicholas tells a story of kid whose homework got 100K hits.
Martin: Who teaches them how to use it?
Nicholas: It’s genetic :) We’re going to do a scientific experiment in which we drop OLPC laptops out of helicopters onto remote villages and come back in a year and see how many have learned how to read.

Q: (urs gasser) One vision says build a great tool and see what happens. The other is to study human behavior scientifically. (Nicholas vs. Martin). How difficult is the translation from findings from science about human behavior to adapting them to technology?
Martin: I’m fascinated by mathematics, but we do apply it to practical issues. In the field of cooperation, we’d like to bring the models closer to human observations. For example, many cultures like punishment, but I think it doesn’t work well to create cooperation because it creates complications. Reward seems better. So, we study that. We do the same experiment in multiple cultures. In Romania, for example, people differentiated between public and private outcomes, because they lacked faith that public engagement had positive outcomes.

Q: (zeynep) The Net has let the cooperative side of human nature be more manifest. Does your work in evolutionary biology take account of this?
A: The coop we see in the animal world must rely on direct observation. Humans can communicate. We don’t have to rely on our personal experience with another to decide whether to coop. The Net can help us to evaluate others quickly.


December 17, 2008

My laptop, in good hands

The beautiful girl in the blue striped shirt is Jessie. The OLPC laptop she’s carrying is the one I donated through WavePlace. This makes me very happy.

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September 8, 2008

Report on One Laptop Per Child from Nicaragua

Waveplace is bringing the One Laptop Per Child laptops (AKA “The $100 Laptop”) to poor parts of the world. Here’s a terrific post about teaching kids how to use the EToys program that’s included. For context, there’s this. And you want photos? Yes, you do. Here are some fantastic pictures. (And here’s one of my favorite photos of all time. BTW, the little girl is a double amputee.)

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June 3, 2008

[berkman] Berkman lunch: Walter Bender, Sugar Labs

Walter Bender, who was president of the One Laptop Per Child project, is now the founder of Sugar Labs. [Live blogging. Getting it wrong. Missing stuff. That’s just the way it is. Also, this will be much choppier than the talk actually is.]

The aim of OLPC, says Walter, was to transform education around the world. Laptops aren’t the solution the world’s problems, but learning is. And laptops can help with that. “It’s all in service to learning,” he says. He refers to the book Predictably Irrational. Chapter 2 is on “anchoring.” Walter says that he’s anchored to the idea that a “connected computer is the most powerful tool we have” for knowledge creation and sharing. It’s not a panacea, and you can’t just throw the laptops over the wall and wait for the magic to happen, but laptops can be a catalyst.

School reform is impossible, he says, if it’s top down. But it will be accomplished by students bottom up.

Walter’s talk to us is titled “Confessions of a Fundamentalist.” His Open Source fundamentalism was taken as “distorting OLPC in a way that distorted its mission.” He is a fundamentalist about what are the best ways of enabling learning, of planting seeds for learning. He’s willing to bend his principles about Open Source but not about learning.

He subscribes to constructionism, a theory of learning developed by Seymour Papert. Papert was a student of Paiget. “You learn through doing. If you want more learning, you want more doing. And what’s a better tool for doing than a computer?” The corollary is that “love is a better master than duty, so you want to engage people in things they’re passionate about.” Computers, as Turing machines, can do anything. Computers are a “damn good” vehicle for working on what matters to you. He gives an eample of a Thai village where the children used computers to figure out where the reservoir should be built.

Everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher. “It’s just inherent in our being.” And we’re expressive and social. The teacher-student dichotomy is false. We should instead by learning centric, Walter says.

“Proprietary tools are often associated with the delivery of knowledge,” he says. The criticism is that we’re trying to turn every kid into a Linux kernel hacker. “Yeah. we are,” he says, to chuckles. But they don’t expect every kid to become one. They really want kids to appropriate rather than merely access knowledge. “Open Source has a culture around appropriation that’s important to the culture of learning.” (Of course, he says, you can do constructionist learning with proprietary, or service-oriented with Open Source.)

When OLPC designs its gen 2 that’s more like a book, they’ll be making the mistake of forgetting the dyna in the dynabook (Alan Kaye’s idea that a ebook is more than an analogous), he says, in response to a question. We want books that make it easy to insert comments, for example. “You want to build in affordances that encourage the type of behavior you want to see.”

In a digression, he says that when he headed the MIT Media Lab, he had a three part process: Build, critique, iterate. “Use your time at university to make really big mistakes.

“Learning wants to be free.” There’s a difference between governance and the engagement of the ommunity The Open Source community has developed a “number of very powerful tools around engaging in collaboration and engaging in critique. Those tools are for the most part lacking in the world of education. Certainly in primary education.” They started a pilot in Nigeria where there are 300-500 languages. They were in a school where the primary language was Igbo. The OLPC’s dictionary was only in English. So the kids wrote their own. The kids discovered they had the power. “To me, that’s a real game-changer.”

Walter now talks about Sugar, the user experience that has come with the OLPC by default. It’s available on Ubuntu. Sugar is based on the first principles: be a learner, be a teacher, be expressive, be a learner. Three things abbout Sugar:

1. It wraps applications in “activities,” adding sociality: everyone is right there with you. E.g., when you’re writing a doc, anyone is one click away from “putting their cursor in your document.”

2. The Journal makes sure that everything is preserved, but the importance is that it creates a diary, a portfolio of your work. You can there have a conversation with a teacher or parent about your progress. That march through time “is an important feature of learning.”

3. The framework is simplified and transparent. The transparency means there’s no upper limit. E.g., TamTam starts out as a “busy box”: choose a sound and slap the keyboard. But you can progress to TamTamJam, which is more network-centric and lets you layer instruments. From there you can go to TamTamEdit, where they can compose music. Then, in the SynthesizerLab you can create your own instrument. Then you can edit the Python code underlying the instruments, or hack C-sound (“midi on steroids”). “No upper bound on complexity.”

Sugar is now reaching out to be a general-purpose environment in the Linux “and perhaps even in the Windows” world. “I don’t know how to do it in the Windows world,” he says, but …

“Sugar is pretty raw. It’s alpha. It’s flaky. And it’s in the hands about about 600,000 kids…which is pretty good!” The kids are giving feedback and making improvements.

“Now I come to David Hilbert.” In 1900, he posed 23 problems to mathematicians. Walter has 23 problems facing people interested in technology and learning. He’s going to blog them. They include: How can we make the damn network work? Create malleable code that doesn’t turn into malware? How to get localization/internationalization tools that are two orders of magnitude better? How do we a better job of using more wisely a very scarce resource: power? Does constructivism scale? We need better tools to introduce change. How to transplant the culture of freedom and critique from computer science into education? Economic challenges. Research correlating learning and economic development?

Q: Learning should be free? Which senses?
A: Not free as in beer. But you learn to program by copying code.

Q: OLPC has inspired a bunch of commercial tiny laptops. Will this help?
A: Five were announced last week. It’ll help.

[me] Is the constructionist theory cross-cultural?
A: Constructionism is built on first principles that are not culturally dependent. It’s no more culturally tied than Piaget. What children love — what matters to them — is culturally dependent. And what’s the role of the teacher? The teacher is unleashed. They have a lot more fun.

[clippinger] Constructionism has implications for authority, which have dramatic cultural implications.
A: The finance minister is always interested because they see that that’s how they’re going to get entrepreneurs.

[roger] Have the proprietary software companies gotten there first? How does that play out?
A: That will be one of the big social-economic battles over the next 20-30 years. The ones who go with Open Source will do better.

[harry] That’s part of your fundamentalism. For me, the question is how many types of cheap laptops there will be in five years. Will there only be a couple?
A: OLPC tries to keep the pressure on. The market will be big enough. But I worry. If these things are used to replace chalkboards, it’ll be a drag on the process.

What about when you look at college students? Some of these principles are not being taught.
A: Part of one’s education should be getting dirt under your fingernails and building stuff.

Q: [ben] We changed so much after Nigeria. Do you think the trial was successful?
A: What we have today is much better, but those kids were learning and constructing.
Q: Much of what was broken were the social affordances. Maybe the lesson is that we can achieve success without the fancy features…
A: There’s a bit of a placebo effect, sort of. You say “This is yours. It’s about sharing, expression, communication.” That in itself was enough to make the change. Those early systems couldn’t support the growth, but they had enough to introduce the change in culture.

Q: The idea of glossiness. If you present an interface that looks a bit broken, people are much more willing to get their hands dirty and play with it, and think they have something to contribute.
A: You don’t want things to break, but you do want people to explore. Rather than trying to make everything hard to break, we’ll make it easier to repair. As long as it’s easy to get back to where you were, people will try things out. [Tags: ]


February 8, 2008

Make your “Buy 2, Get 1” OLPC Laptop into a “Bought 2, Have 0” deal

From Timothy Falconer:

Waveplace is a non-profit starting an XO pilot in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, in ten days. OLPC was going to be giving us laptops, but it fell through, which is why I’m trying to get twenty XOs from elsewhere.

Your laptop may end up in the hands of one of the most needy children in the Western Hemisphere. The school where the laptop will be sent is run by Susie Scott Krabacher, who has been the Mother Theresa of Haiti for 15 years. In fact, a major motion picture is being made about her life right now, based upon her autobiography: Link.

You could really help by agreeing to sell us your laptop. We’ve only got ten days to get the laptops to Miami, as we’re leaving for Haiti on Feb 17th.

To see the kids that will get them, watch this video, which we shot last month: Link

Susie’s organization:Link (click slideshow to see the conditions)

To read an article by Susie from our newsletter: Link

One way or another, we’ll be in Haiti in ten days. Please help us bring more laptops.Please pass the word, and if you have a laptop to sell, click contact on the Waveplace site.

Thank you!

Tim Falconer
Waveplace Foundation

I’m giving them mine.

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