Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Brief Note on Robo-Grading

I wasn't inclined to take the recent articles in the NYT and Inside Higher Ed about a study that "proves" that computers can grade essays as well as people seriously. But then I read Historiann's post about getting a direct solicitation from Pearson offering her an honorarium if she included two short assignments in her course that would be "graded" by Pearson software. 

Read her response, and the comments. I don't have much to add, except to say that this seems to me to be of a piece with a recent trend I've noticed that sees many skills as fungible. While plenty of thoughtful academics have written about the oft-absurd system of doctoral education in this country that uses ABD students as low-paid labor, and requires these same students (especially in the humanities) to go through a rigorous and often poorly guided process to produce a work of scholarship over the course of a decade to receive a professional qualification, the fact remains that this is a professional qualification. Being a college professor (or a high school teacher or a primary school teacher) requires significant professional training. Learning how to be an effective teacher, how to set learning goals for students, how to communicate expectations for an assignment, and how to assess student work takes a lot of experience and thought (as I'm constantly realizing). I don't pretend that my PhD in History or my experience teaching college students makes me an expert on post-adolescent mental health (for example); likewise, I won't entertain the notion that a computer can accurately (or even thoughtfully) assess my students' work.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

RoboCop? More Like ED-209

Obviously, it was only a matter of time before this happened: Robotics scientists in South Korea have designed a prototype of a prison guard robot and have now begun testing it. The RoboGuard is equipped with multiple cameras as well as "software designed to gauge a prisoner's emotional state" in order to prevent suicide and fights.

Perhaps what they need is something like the Salvatio Romae, the elaborate alarm system attributed to Vergil by Alexander Neckam in De naturis rerum (On the natures of things), ca. 1190s. According to Neckam, Vergil had made a building, inside which stood a number of statues, one for each province of the Roman Empire. Another statue stood on top of the building. If any of the provinces threatened revolt or came under outside attack, the corresponding statue would ring a bell, and the statue on the roof would swivel around and point in the direction of the threat.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lost Robot Weekend

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about talking heads recently, and haven't had as much time for blogging. But I was delighted to have a serendipitous encounter with two robots this weekend.
1) The Waffle-Bot. He makes waffles drenched in syrup, follows you around, and then forms an emotional attachment that leads to a life-saving intervention. Thanks, Waffle-Bot!

2) "The Punishment of X-4," Ben Hargrove's  Ken Cosgrove's short story about a frustrated robot that exercises the only choice available to it. I always knew I liked that Ken Cosgrove. The shout-out to fantasy and sci-fi literature makes perfect sense in this episode, too. The first episode of "Star Trek" is only a few months away (September 1966), and sci-fi and fantasy fiction were hugely popular in this period. But it looks like the Campbells and the Drapers just don't get it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Passover/Easter Recipe Guide: Taketh One Unicorne...

For those of you wondering what to prepare for a traditional Seder or Easter meal, you might look to the newly discovered cookbook manuscript at the British Library. The fourteenth-century compilation has recipes for fish stew, blackbird pie, hedgehog, and unicorn.
London, British Library, MS Add. 142012, fol. 137v.
 In the bestiary tradition, the unicorn was a symbol of the Incarnation, and the death of the unicorn was understood as an allegory for the Passion. So really, this is the perfect time of year to serve one at your own domestic banquet.

Given the traditional relationship between unicorns and young maidens, it's no surprise that the woman in this miniature looks so bummed to be serving unicorn head for dinner.

H/t to AW, Medieval Robots' DC liaison, for this April Fool delight.