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Announcing the eSingularity Prize for Global Education

posted Feb 20, 2010, 5:17 PM by Foundups Michael Trout   [ updated Jun 11, 2011, 7:10 AM ]
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EDUIT, Washington D.C. has announced the creation of the eSingularity Prize for global Education. EDUIT will seek to raise the funds over a five-year period and use the funds to award the first person or group that develops an autonomously solution built mostly on open source software that take a 2 year old to an 8th grade equivalent in math, science and language arts. The Prize will be split between the three categories at a rate yet to be determined by EDUIT. EDUIT will spend the next five years raising awareness and identifying the funds and promoting the prize globally. Trout will be traveling in Asia in March announcing the Prize and securing key stakeholders in support of it. All funds will be held in an interest bearing escrow account and the interest will be used to fund the Prize, promote and run international capital campaigns to raise awareness and additional funds for the eSingularity Prize. Groups will have just seven years to complete the Prize. The Prize will terminate on June 7, 2017 and all funds with interest will be returned to the investing parties. 

The eSingularity or the Education Singularity is the moment in human history when all learning and education becomes a free and accessible natural right for all humanity. EDUIT's vision is to become the catalyst that helps to bring about The eSingularity nexus. 

"The simple fact is for the first time in human history we have the technology, connectivity and content to make basic education accessible to over 80% of the world. The only thing stopping us from developing a real solution for global education is greed, a desire to profit off others, and sell education and learning like it is some kind of commodity. This Prize serves as a catalyst to encourage others to focus time and energy in developing an autonomous education solution that will benefit humanity by making it possible for anyone to get a 8th grade education without a school or even a "living" teacher. Sophisticated software will become your teacher and school. " Michael J. Trout, EDUIT Founder and Chief Evangelist.   

Naming rights of the prize will be awarded to the corporation or individual that donates the first $25 million to seed the prize. "We hope that a group like Apple, Google or Microsoft etc.. will step up and help seed the prize." Said Trout. "I think the folks willing to step up and help seed the prize, that will in effect flatten global education, should be rewarded with their name on it. There are over 2 billion that make less then $2 a day that will never get a basic education unless we choose to provide it to them. The fact is, we can't build enough schools, train the teachers, and provide the bureaucratic infrastructure to give everyone in the world a basic education. That's the reality we need to face it. We must start thinking of school and teachers as accessories to education not requirements for it. A smart device can be both a teacher and school for the billions will never have access to them and a teachers aid for the others that have access to them. A simple smart mobile device will be all a student and family will need for a basic education. The reality is, if we can provide an 8th grade equivalent education in math, science and language arts we will be able to provide them any level of education in any subject matter." 

The specifics of the Prize will be based on 5 years of research done by Trout on how he would develop the solution himself with current and evolving technologies. His original plan was to build the solution himself, but realized that by focusing on raising the Prize and opening the opportunity up to others around the world there would be much greater effort for building it.  And the result would mean eSingularity would happen significantly faster. The goal is for over 60% of the software to be built with Free Open Source Software Solutions. Why 60% and not 100%? because there are lots of proprietary solutions that will need to be built into the solution that folks will need to licence. A learning engine is crucial and Trout has had several meeting with Cerego, the folks behind the Smart.fm learning engine and they have said that they would provide free access to their learning engine technology provided that folks do not turn around and profit from it. Trout believe that others would also provide access to their proprietary technology to help bring education to all. Trout added "The software platform will look and be very simple to use, one will not need to read to learn on it. It will make the choices for you. But by learning on it, as a by-product, you will learn to read and write in multiple languages. The technology behind it will be some of the latest and most cutting edge technologies developed to date and customized for the sole purpose of making it possible for a child or adult to learn without he need of a school or even a teacher. This some very sophisticated software and who ever builds it or even parts of it deserves getting the eSingularity Prize! "

Some key features the eSingularity software solution will be:

  • Simple -- using only touch/multi-touch technology. A child of 2 should be able to interact with the software with no external assistance. Avatara can help and assist the learner. See below. 
  • Autonomous -- eliminates the need of a teacher or helper to use the software. The learning software must be a self driving personal learning experience. See Siri built on $150m worth of DARPA funded AI research. This technology could be adapted for education. There is also a lot of ground breaking AI research that could also be utilized. 
  • Monitors the user -- The software must monitor the learning progress and deliver learning to the user based on their specific personal needs using both video and audio recognition technology. See the new Nintendo DSi LL as an example of a hardware device that eSp could run on. It is a larger device and has 2 screens, a built in mic and camera that both could be used to monitor the learner. In 3 years these devices will be considered old and obsolete, but they would be perfect as the kind of hardware device that could run the eSingularity learning software.
  • Personalized avatar teachers/mentors  -- the software will include iconic mentors that will intelligently interact with the learner and respond to their needs as learning aids. See Lionshead Milo for ideas of the kind of technology that we would seek to use -- though we envisions that the solution would need something far simpler than Milo.
  • Recognition functionality -- using facial id software similar to what being offered by TAT augmented id the software will recognize users and admins and friends. Basically, no one else other than users or admins will have access to the device. Should someone try to use it. It will just repeat the message "Please return me to XYZ." This is important for a number of reasons. Most importantly it make the device worthless to anyone that seeks to steal it or profit off it. We need make sure the device is not seen as a commodity that can be stolen and resold like UN food donations are in Africa . Also, we want to make sure it is in fact the user is using the device and not some other person. We imagine that a family might just have one device and it will change automatically based on who is using it. 

  • Determining learning level -- simply by playing games the software will automatically determine the starting level of the first time user. For the first time user the software would run in "scaling up" mode. In the mode the software will be mixing and matching content levels to the user. It will do one test edugame then jump to another that is a predetermined grades higher if the user fails the jump, it will play a edugame half way between the first and the initial jump and keep dividing the jump until it get to the appropriate level. If the student passes the jump each subsequent jump would be bigger until the learner fails. Using this jumping process the system will very quickly determine the appropriate level of the learner. 
  • edugame testing -- edugames must be used to measure whether or not the learner has mastered the learning objects. Food for thought: The iPhone as over 6000 educational apps one could use Siri technology to take over the iphone and load start-up toddler games and monitors their progress and as soon as Siri detects they are getting bored (could use EEG headphones from Emotiv) it fires up another game. A kid could be taught to put the iphone to his ear and say "new game" and Siri would load up new game. Siri could also have the kid rate the games and use other measures to determine how much a kid liked the game. Siri would remember what and how the learner interacted and using Siri api that been added to the apps, the api would allow Siri to fire up the apps where the learner left off etc... Siri could autonomously load up the next iPhone app and deliver it to the learner. All the learner would need to do is interact with Siri driven education apps. Siri would in essence be running in the background like a Big Brother for learning keeping the learner on track. Small iPhone challenge... the iPhone doesnt have a facing cameras and would have to rely on EEG headset and or voice recognition to monitor the learner.  Unless someone developed a eLearning case that the iPhone slipped into that provide the forward facing cameras (we'd want two for a number of reasons).  

  • edugames and multimedia driven -- the multimedia learning objects must be short, no more than 3 minute long via edugames or multimedia. These edugames should be customizable allowing the community to create and modify them and build the edugames that will test learning objects. The Wikitube.tv ip will play a key role in allowing anyone to aggregate and mix multimedia that will be delivered via the eSingularity software solution.  
  • Community content development -- all learning content for the software needs to be developed by a community or use existing OER content from existing communities MoodleCurrikietc... that can be used to create multimedia learning content. 
  • Non text driven -- text needs to be a ancillary component to the solution not a primary driver. Just like the keyboard is an ancillary component on the iPhone. 50% of India is illiterate and there are over 900 languages in India alone and over 6000 world wide a solution primarily driven by text is useless for flattening global education. This does not mean that reading isn't important. It's very important and the software must provide the ability to overlay karaoke style text that will pop out text as the learner listens, plays or watches (this could be done with voice recognition software that will pre-map text to the apps and pop the text on the screen as the learner interacts with it). This simple approach will basically imprint reading on to a learner during the learning/playing process. In essence this simple approach would allow any language to be imprinted on a young learner.    
  • Mix and re-mixable learning objects -- the solution should allow anyone to remix the learning objects and easily convert them into any language. The software could build on Kaltura open source video platform to do this. The heavy lifting has been done by Kaltura it's just a matter of tweaking the platform to do what we need it to do. The software would use voice recognition Karaoke subtitles that would pop out the words as the multimedia and edugames used them. This is very important for imprinting language on the learner. In essence they would learn to read just by playing the edugames. 
  • Learning engine -- the software will track the learning and be able to deliver the learning objects to the user. Example of such a learning engine is CEREGO engine used at smart.fm. AI could also do this but the opportunity is to use the Cerego ip with IA.

  • WiFi -- the software will use WiFi to connect with other mobile devices building a distributed commuting network. Similar to what OLPC hardware uses.
  • P2P -- the software will use open source Bit-Torrent technology to share learning objects among its distributed computing network. This will allow the network to use p2p to download content and then use WiFi to share it where it is needed. This eliminates the need to rely on the Internet in regions where there is little or no connectivity. Allowing satellite connectivity to be used in remote regions. 
  • Internet independent -- the software must be Internet independent. It can't be reliant on cloud computing or live content streaming. If the internet is available it will use it to send data packets about the users and receive network learning content. What this means is that the software can use the p2p WiFi network for cuing up content, but it must not be reliant on the internet for core functionality. Put another way, the software will anticipate the learning need in advance and use p2p, WiFi and distributing computing to pull the content from the WiFi network and cue it up for the learner ahead of time. Like the iPhone the device is always on. It might be downloading content for another user in your network and deliver it within WiFi range or pass it along to the device that needs it... 

  • Multi-platform functionality -- The software needs to be able to be used on just Linux operating system or at least 3 major mobile software platforms such as: MS Mobile OSSymbian OS, iPhone software, Android OS etc.. 
  • Other functionalities (not part of the prize) -- Imagine if each family was given one device. It would be used by the family for education, and the device could also become more than just a learning device. It might become a voting device or census taking device. It could become a money transfer device, a way to track infectious diseases, alert about impending calamities, a gps device for finding the child or families etc... 
  • Internet functionality (not part of the prize) -- the software will allow the learning content to be pushed via widget, and to the web to other existing OER. Complimenting and enhancing existing open educational outlets such as Moodle, Curriki, MIT ocw, wikipedia etc (see diagram).  

"The goal is a $50m - $100m Prize but what will determine the actual size will be the market and the interest in supporting the Prize that will in essence make anyone with a smart hardware device get an 8th grade Education in math, science and language arts. Consider India, China or Africa, how will they ever build enough schools or train enough teachers or lay the bureaucratic infrastructure? Never. It is feasibly impossible to do. And consider the cost to do it and maintain it all, even if money or manpower wasn't an issue? Once you accept that then the idea of using technology to substitute schools and teachers becomes a very feasible proposition for Asia and Africa." Trout   

Public Benefit: 
Once your prize is awarded, what are the short and long-term benefits to humanity? How will these lead to addressing the Grand Challenge identified above?

For the first time in human history will education be "on tap" and all one will need is to make available one of many hardware devices that currently exist to access it. Educational group from around the world will be able to work within their community to get the hardware devices to the end users. The Nintendo DSi LL is perfect for the solution and in 5 year when eSp is built it will probably only cost as little as $10 per unit to make or refurbished NDS units for global education. There is absolutely no reason why we could not eradicate illiteracy within the next 10-15 years using the eSingularity platform for global education 

Utility of the Prize:
Why is a prize the best mechanism to solve this problem? Are the prize goals already being addressed by existing commercial forces or government programs? If not, why not?

It's the cheapest and only solution for an impossible problem and situation that is only getting worse not better.  Once the software solution is developed, the only cost is a hardware devices that currently are expensive but in the next five years will become cheap. How much will a 30g iPhone cost in 5 years? In Japan it is built in the plan and I pay $20 per month for it. In five the same iPhone would probably cost me a $1 a month for it or be completely free. The Prize goals are not being addressed because their are no political or commercial incentive to make all learning free and accessible to all. Because the reality is, if we can make it possible for an 8th grade education in math, science and language arts, then we can provide anyone with any kind of education or training for free. Why would the global educational complex funded by powerful lobby groups and publishing groups want to make all learning free and accessible to all? They want Education to be a commodity and credit groups want it as a mechanism to get secure and guaranteed government funding and offer loans to students and their families. There is no incentive for them to do so and these groups make vast investments into the political complex to lobby and pass legislation. In many respects this solution flies in the face of everything that the current 20th century paradigm is built on and has the opportunity to disrupt and redefine everything about how and what education is.  

Competition Rules:
What rules would you propose for the competition? Please specify the objective winning criteria. Please be precise as possible in providing numerical values and the empirical evidence that will be used to judge competitors.

To be determined by the eSingularity Prize governance subcommittee. 

Telegenic/Public Interest:
It must be exciting to follow and watch (i.e., “telegenic” or engaging for a TV audience). What aspects of the competition meet this requirement? How will the prize capture the public imagination and generate media attention, educational and outreach opportunities.

Most people are skeptical that one can learn on an autonomous learning software. It would be great to document it. The Education Singularity will happen just once and we should have a record of it and the impact it will have on billions who currently don't have access to education. One idea, is to have a TV crew follow 2 year olds as they learn and interact on eSp and also document how their family members use it and show how the whole family benefits from the technology in remote regions. It would not surprise me if Kids got to an 8th education substantially faster then we think they can learn. 

Adoption & Scalability:
Explain how the prize can be realistically adopted, scaled and sustained to ensure that winning breakthroughs lead to long-term intended outcomes. Are there natural commercial markets which will be created or expanded once the prize is awarded? What is the potential size of such market(s)?

Team Composition & Estimate:
Distinguish who can compete in the prize (e.g., cities, universities, individuals, established businesses, start-up companies, etc.) and project the number of anticipated competitors worldwide.


Registration Requirements: 
List the requirements for competitors to register. You may require them to submit business plans, stipulate the amount of public funding that they may receive and any other prerequisites or restrictions to ensure that the prize is engaging your target participation and ensuring your team composition goals.

To be determined by the eSingularity Prize governance subcommittee. 

Reporting & Judging: 
Describe how competitors should communicate their progress to prize officials and how judging should occur. How will judges determine a clear winner? What data will be used to compare teams? How should the data be provided to judges?

To be determined by the eSingularity Prize governance subcommittee. 

Purse Size & Distribution:
Provide minimum US dollar amount of the total prize purse and how the total purse would be divided between one or more winner(s)

$50 million to be divided among the 3 categories to be determined by the eSingularity Prize governance subcommittee. 

Funding Strategy:
Who is most likely to fund this purse and the operations of the competition? Distinguish between potential corporate, philanthropic and/or other donors. Please provide examples and specify if you have any assurances of funding.

Designate the length of time that the competition will run from the initial announcement to completion.

7 years. The end date is the same as the clock on the EDUIT, Inc count down for eSignularity.  

Additional Elements:
Identify any components that would augment the structure of the prize (e.g., government and regulatory engagement, requisite partnerships, public relations campaigning, volunteer participation, access to capital, market development in underserved populations and regions, etc.).

Capital campaign in India, China and Korea. 
Establish an eSingularity governance subcommittee of global leaders throughout the world. This committee will define and set policy for the prize.

Open Questions:
Question what issues remain unresolved and provide them in the context of the proposal.

Trout on eSingularity Prize

Trout shares his initial thoughts about the eSingularity Prize

History of prizes and the opportunity they present.

Peter Diamandis at X PRIZE's 'incentive2innovate' Conference (presentation)