Bill Gates' magical bracelets to monitor kids' attentiveness

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offers $1.1 million to develop "Galvanic" bracelets that measure how engaged children are in school. How very scientific -- or, perhaps, just weird.

If only we'd had those bracelets at Microsoft, we'd have been far more productive.

Science, rationality's clever henchman, sometimes has strange ideas.

One that has entered the firmament is a "Galvanic" bracelet that uses physiological signs to measure just how engaged a child is in school.

I am grateful to the Washington Post for revealing that such bracelets are now subject to a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

I hadn't been aware that one's skin could be such a giveaway of my mental state. Sometimes, it's just dry because I forget to lather myself in lovely Philosophy body lotion. (Try it. It smells wonderful.)

And yet one grant to Clemson University and another to the National Center on Time & Learning seek to find ways to quantify human engagement through the skin.

It's bad enough when the likes of ad agencies and Facebook try to put a number on this engagement thing. It's worse, though, when you think that teachers might be judged according to the readings from a child's skin.

In any case, even if a child is giving off highly engaged skin signals, how would the machines know whether he or she is deeply engaged in a beautiful daydream rather than 14th century English literature?

Some will speculate whether the $1.1 million that is being dedicated to this research might better be allocated toward buying a few iPads (um, I'm sorry, what's the Microsoft version called?) to help kids learn things.

Imagine, too, if you are one of those children asked to wear the bracelet. Children are very, very good at cheating. They learn this very quickly. Why, only yesterday, I learned of a boy who took a 35-foot cheat sheet into an exam.

Might it not be tempting for kids who really, really don't like a teacher to get him fired by behaving in as disengaged a way as possible?

The young simply don't deserve that kind of power.

 

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