Gaming: don’t think it’s all bad for kids. It can be a step to a creative future | Technology | The Guardian

Gaming: don’t think it’s all bad for kids. It can be a step to a creative future | Technology | The Guardian.

The journey from playing to designing and making games can be a short one, and brings rich educational rewards for children

Project Spark
An image from Project Spark, a program that can be used to design and make games.

Despite their ubiquity, despite the vast sales and the increasing calls for the medium to be recognised as an artform, video games – that most obviously visual of media – still have an image problem. And it is more than superficial, it goes to the heart of the home, where concerned parents worry about the deleterious effect on their sons and daughters. However, while the evils of gaming rhetoric may make the most noise, parents who have fears may be intrigued to know that it is not the only story in town.

Children themselves are now refuting the stereotype that gaming is a mindless, pointless hobby, as the flexibility of the medium allows them to grow from player to creator. And the game-makers agree: “Games as a medium always involve creativity on the player’s part,” says Benjamin Donoghue, creative director at Blackstaff Games. “Creativity is about exploring what you can do within a defined set of rules.” Blackstaff is currently working on DogBiscuit: The Quest for Crayons, a drawing game for mobile devices in which the player designs parts of the game world.

The internet is fertile ground for the mosaic of allegiances out of which teens build identity | Jess Zimmerman | Comment is free |

The internet is fertile ground for the mosaic of allegiances out of which teens build identity | Jess Zimmerman | Comment is free |

Your teen years are a time to try on a bunch of different self-concepts. Today, you have to be careful when the internet doesn’t want you to change

teenager computer
When you don’t know who you are yet, the internet offers many possibilities to figure it out. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/Graeme Robertson

The internet was barely a thing when my friends and I were kids; we passed physical notes and wrote letters to keep in touch. We knew on some level there was a chance they might one day be read by someone for whom they weren’t intended – we used to joke about our correspondence someday being published as “Collected Letters”, because like any teens, we were always performing. But unlike Twitter or Tumblr or the now-semi-moribund Livejournal, that public audience remained imaginary. (Well, at least until now; I have known my most frequent teen pen pals for 20 years, and we sometimes haul out our shoeboxes full of embarrassing juvenilia and enjoy cringing together.)

Young people – at least weird young people, at very least weird young girls – are often eager to announce themselves. In lieu of a strong self-concept, the young build themselves out of a mosaic of allegiances. The online world is fertile ground for these. Tumblr, Twitter and 4chan, for example, are full of young people pledging fervent allegiance to a favorite fan culture, a political movement or a self-diagnosis, with all the rights, privileges, and rivalries that implies. Some of these will be important parts of a person’s identity for life. Others will mortify them within a year. At that age, it can be very, very hard to tell which will be which.

Building a self-concept means staking your claim for an audience, however small. I’m sure kids still write private stuff. But it’s hard when you are young and lonely – no matter how many fandoms you join – to resist a readily-available audience that doubles as a support group. I wouldn’t have been able to, I think: I wrote letters, but if there had been Tumblr back then, I would have been on it like scarves on Sherlock.

The support of the invisible masses can be incredibly positive. For teens who are isolated physically or emotionally, the internet might provide the first glimmer of understanding that there’s nothing actually wrong with them. It can be a way to connect with other people, to build support systems to which you don’t have access in your offline life, a way to live and explore an identity that you might have to keep hidden or secret for your own protection.

But there can also be pitfalls. Sometimes, when you’re trying to figure out who you are and what you believe, you test out a lot of convictions. (I had an “I hate feminists because they get mad when men hold doors for them” phase, for example.) Once you’ve made those statements in public, it’s harder to pull up, to nix one bit of the person you’ve created from scratch and go exploring down a different route. You’ve already told Tumblr that you are definitely, really a wolf with wings; you’ve argued in favor ofOtherkin rights and awareness; you’ve become a leader of the Otherkin community. Or worse, you’ve helped your 4chan buddies dox a female game developer and your rape-threat tweets are screencapped and re-tweeted all over the internet. You’ve pledged allegiance, and everyone saw you do it. Now, when someone challenges you, you have to double down.

Gadgets have their place in education, but they’re no substitute for knowledge | Daisy Christodoulou |

Gadgets have their place in education, but they’re no substitute for knowledge | Daisy Christodoulou |

The immense computing power we possess will only make learning easier if we acknowledge it will never make it effortless
‘The striking thing about many computer games is that while they often involve quite monotonous tasks, they still prove incredibly addictive. People playing Tetris don’t seem to struggle to ignore distractions.’ Photograph: Scott Kingsley/AP

The children returning to school this week with their new Christmas gadgets don’t remember a world without smartphones, tablets, e-readers and laptops. For some, this generation of digital natives are using technology in collaborative and social ways that will revolutionise learning.Others worry about the damage these devices are doing to their concentration spans and their ability to think deeply.

So what is the truth about technology and education? Is it better to read War and Peace on a Kindle or on paper? Or should we forgo 19th-century novels completely in favour of co-creating our own stories on Facebook? As a recent New Scientist article acknowledged, the rapid pace of technological change means large-scale studies of many of these issues are lacking. However, there is some reliable research.


Ello might or might not replace Facebook, but the giant social network won't last forever | Ruby J Murray | Comment is free |

Ello might or might not replace Facebook, but the giant social network won’t last forever | Ruby J Murray | Comment is free |

Ello is the ‘anti-facebook’, positioning itself as a network with a social conscience. It might not be the one to replace the social giant, but Facebook is getting old



Ello: the new Facebook?


Predicting the end of Facebook in 2014 feels reckless. Like slapping a date on the fall of the wall might have felt in the 1980s.


As of June this year, the social networking behemoth had 1.32bn active monthly users. According to the latest data from the Pew Research Centre, 71% of online adults use Facebook. Considering 73% use a social networking site, that’s pretty much: all of us.


The startup world is full of people pitching and failing the next big thing. Two days ago, though, something exciting happened. San Francisco began jumping out of Facebook’s ad-splattered soup and into the clean, empty social networking world of Ello.


Ello is crawling with bugs, isn’t out of beta testing, and it’s still taking off in starship headquarters. 31,000 new users were asking to be beta testers at this week’s peak. On Thursday, the Ello team had to shut down new invites to the site as they struggled to keep up.


The brain-child of Kidrobot designer Paul Budnitz , Ello is the “anti-facebook.” It’s been around a while, but the LGBTIQ community’s recent struggle with Facebook’s “real-name” policy has been instrumental in the shift to the site. Ello positions itself as a network with a manifesto and a social conscience. Its logo has a V for Vendetta-like menace to it: an eyeless black smiley with a spinning mouth that mocks the social gaze we are so used to feeding online.


Humans like us forget that change is the only constant. Facebook will not last forever. The only questions are why the move starts, when it does, and where the party is next.

Don't believe the science hype – we haven't created true AI yet | Yorick Wilks | Comment is free |

Don’t believe the science hype – we haven’t created true AI yet | Yorick Wilks | Comment is free |

Despite claims made for the Eugene Goostman software there’s a way to go before chatbots will be able run call centres for us



A robot sitting at a desk

The winners of Loebner contests ‘are often just very laborious handcrafted systems which have programmed in thousands of possible replies to whatever is said to them’. Photograph: Blutgruppe/Blutgruppe/Corbis


At the Royal Society last week Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at Reading University, organised a version of what he called the Turing test – intended to decide if you’re talking to a human or a machine.

Warwick claimed that a program designed by the Amazon software developer Vladimir Veselov had passed the test by convincing 30% of the judges that it was a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy called Eugene Goostman.

This event has mightily stirred up the artificial intelligence research community, with a Guardian comment after Ian Sample’s article on 9 June capturing a typical view: “The problem is that this is a PR stunt for a mediocre university, not a useful measure.” Other comments recalled the history of Warwick’s eye-catching gestures – he once had a chip implanted in his arm so as to communicate directly with his partner.

So has some AI milestone been reached? Is Eugene Goostman the best conversation program ever created? Turing argued in 1950 that if a computer could be substituted into the old guessing game of “Am I getting notes from a man or a woman?” and no one noticed, then we should just admit computers could think and stop worrying. But Turing was not proposing a test of any sort, and in his setup, the question “Is this a machine or a person?” is never asked, because one thinks one is answering a question about sex. Once you pose the human-or-machine question directly, things start to get very odd.

The long-running Loebner competition has a similar format except that judges are not asked to say whether each candidate is human, but to rate them numerically. At the end, the scores are added and the performances are ranked. So far the “people” have always come out on top. The Loebner competition is not what Turing had in mind either, but it is at least systematic: it avoids the explicit question “Is this a machine?” with its ranking system, and publishes the transcripts of the best systems on its website, which Warwick declined to do.

All this makes it rather unlikely that Goostman was any better than the refined and experienced chatbots in the Loebner competitions; indeed, it seems Goostman competed there in 2012 and didn’t do well. A defect of the Loebner setup is that there is no methodology for comparing the winner one year with any other, so it’s not clear if the winners are getting better.

A team I led at the University of Sheffield won in 1997, and my hunch is that the winners now are much the same in terms of quality, but we cannot know for sure. What we can know is that there is no reason to believe Goostman is better than the Loebner winners.