It all started with beavers. When Alex Pentland was three years into his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, in 1973, he worked part-time as a computer programmer for NASA’s Environmental Research Institute. One of his first tasks — part of a larger environmental-monitoring project — was to develop a method for counting Canadian beavers from outer space. There was just one problem: existing satellites were crude, and beavers are small. “What beavers do is they create ponds,” he recalls of his eventual solution, “and you can count the number of beavers by the number of ponds. You’re watching the lifestyle, and you get an indirect measure.”
The beavers were soon accounted for, but Pentland’s fascination with the underlying methodology had taken root. Would it be possible, the 21-year-old wondered, to use the same approach to understand people and societies, or use sensors to unravel complex social behavior? And in so doing, could we find a way to improve our collective intelligence — to create, in a sense, a world that was more suited to human needs, where cities and businesses alike were developed using objective data to maximize our happiness and productivity?
Pentland would spend the next four decades exploring those very questions, finding ways to observe people and their patterns from a computer rather than outer space. You didn’t need to be physically or emotionally close to someone, Pentland reasoned, to grasp the essence of their thoughts, actions, or motivations. “If you think about people across the room talking, you can tell a lot,” he points out. “He’s attracted to her, she’s pissed at him. If you could shadow someone for a day you’d know a huge amount about them and you’d never have to listen to a word.”
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.
Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.
Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!
Maker Business — To make it through a tough business cycle, layoffs should be a last resort
Wearables — Plastic discoloration? Don’t despair!
Electronics — Lower power!
Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: Happy 8th Birthday MicroPython, sponsorship and more! #Python #Adafruit #CircuitPython @micropython @ThePSF
Adafruit IoT Monthly — ESP Earrings, RP2040 WiFi, and more!
Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Arcade Spring Update
EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey
New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — JP’s Product Pick of the Week 5/4/21 NeoKey Socket Keyswitch Breakout FIX @adafruit @johnedgarpark
No comments yet.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.