This project aims at creating a computer tutoring system. Unlike past attempts, our vision is to have a computer interface where the computer can observe the user’s actions, along with eye gaze, hand movement and so on, so that it can encourage, suggest, guide, and teach the user. In other words, we would like to bring the vision of computer-assisted education to the next level.

Why is this a good time to start this project? One main factor is that computers are getting more powerful. Also, a new generation of children is growing up in an environment where computers exist as a commodity. We would like to seed the idea that such devices are much more capable than a TV that sometimes responds to your finger flicks.

The computer has become an essential part of our civilization. However, the way people use this decades-old technology still has not unleashed its full potential. Alan Kay said nearly 20 years ago, and we still believe holds true: “The Computer Revolution has not happened yet”1.

People are often stuck with mundane applications provided by others. This is problematic because they cannot look under the hood to understand how things work, or modify applications to suit their own needs. Another problem is that applications are often mere simulations of old media such as paper print. We expect that treating the computer as its own medium (and taking advantage of its dynamic nature) will trigger a revolution that rivals the one that was brought on by the invention of the printing press.

What can we do to accelerate the revolution? From our observation, the computer revolution is intertwined with the education revolution (and vice versa). The next steps in both are also highly overlapped: the computer revolution needs a revolution in education, and the education revolution needs a revolution in computing.

We think that, for any topic, a good teacher and good books can provide an above threshold education. For computing, one problem is that there aren’t enough teachers who understand the subject deeply enough to teach effectively and to guide children. Perhaps we can utilize the power of the computer itself to make education better? We don’t hope to be able to replace good teachers, but can the computer be a better teacher than a bad teacher?

In other words, we are aiming to make the quip “Seymour on the disk!” reality. We hope that the idea will apply to wide range of subjects, but we are particularly interested in Powerful Ideas in mathematics, sciences and computer literacy.

(A research proposal  is available at the Writings page of the VPRI .)

  1. Alan Kay. The Computer Revolution Hasn’t Happened Yet, 1997. A talk given at the OOPSLA ’97 conference. Movies are available online. [return]