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Bill Gates Seeking Patent To Make Shakespeare Less Boring 338

Posted by Soulskill
from the textbooks-are-as-tedious-as-a-twice-told-tale dept.
theodp writes "GeekWire reports that Bill Gates and Nathan Myhrvold are seeking a patent on making textbooks less boring by using a cellphone or other device to scan text on a page, parse its meaning, and automatically create suitable accompanying video or pictures to keep students engaged. From the patent application for Autogenerating Video From Text: 'A student is assigned a reading assignment. To make the assignment more interesting, the student may use his or her mobile phone to take a picture of a page of the textbook. The systems and methods described herein may then generate a synthesized image sequence of the action occurring in the text. Thus, rather than simply reading names and dates, the student may see soldiers running across a battlefield.' Furthermore, the patent explains, the experience may be tailored to a user's preferences: 'For example, in a video clip about a Shakespearean play, the preference data may be used to insert family members into the video clip instead of the typical characters.'"
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Bill Gates Seeking Patent To Make Shakespeare Less Boring

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  • Has it worked on any of his textbooks yet, or just on iambic pentameter?

    • by reve_etrange (2377702) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @05:39AM (#44562641)
      I'm not sure what "it" is since the patent itself doesn't describe an algorithm. It's just a wish list of potential features.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @05:52AM (#44562693)

        I'm not sure what "it" is since the patent itself doesn't describe an algorithm. It's just a wish list of potential features.

        Isn't that how *all* software patents are, nowadays? A lot of hand-waving and absolutely zero meat.

        Imagine if all patents were like SW patents. You could patent the flying car, and all you need to write is a description of what your flying car will/should be able to do. And anyone who actually builds such a flying car will be hit over the head with your patent! That's totally Apple's style of doing business.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jythie (914043)
        'Wish' is right. This might make a nice bit of speculative fiction, maybe the core of some future story about a dystopian eduction system where the heroin discovers that evil people have altered the universal animation program to deliver subconscious ads for soyelnt green into the minds of impressionable youth causing an increase in demand for human flesh resulting in a sharp population decline allowing the villains to buy up all the twinky factories before a radioactive comet hits the earth (which they ha
        • by Shavano (2541114)

          'Wish' is right. This might make a nice bit of speculative fiction, maybe the core of some future story about a dystopian eduction system where the heroin discovers that evil people have altered the universal animation program....

          I knew there were drugs involved.

    • Well done, sir. I grant you the win in this case, but not when the mods judge our race.

  • What problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @05:31AM (#44562621)

    What problem are they trying to solve here? If people don't want to read, why force them? Sure, reading is a skill we all should possess, but by doing this you don't help with learning how to read at all. So all the benefits of forcing them to read are removed.

    • Re:What problem (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lxs (131946) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @05:56AM (#44562711)

      The problem is the mentality that something is only worth doing if it makes you feel better right now. This "solution" only makes things worse. It's like a parent trying to get compliance by bribing their toddler with candy.

      • Re:What problem (Score:5, Interesting)

        by readingaccount (2909349) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @07:17AM (#44563009)

        The problem is the mentality that something is only worth doing if it makes you feel better right now. This "solution" only makes things worse. It's like a parent trying to get compliance by bribing their toddler with candy.

        I'd like to connect your quote with something another commenter said:

        Why do we object so strongly to the idea of teaching children the value of deferred please; that hard work and effort now can produce greater rewards down the line?

        Both of you have the same concern as I do - that as a society we only seem to be interested in short-term efforts if they bring immediate rewards (with the exception of perhaps college, but only because so many people have to these days to get a half-decent job it seems). Long-term investment in time and effort is seen as a waste because the payoff might take quite a while to eventuate... and the problem is that not only is this true, it's also not guaranteed that a payoff will even eventuate after all that work.

        Short-term effort shows the results reasonably quickly, good or bad. Long-term effort is a difficult thing to justify in our busy lives, so many people avoid it, whether that be consistent exercise, working on a hobby that will take months to produce something half-decent, or indeed, building any skills that aren't strictly necessary to survive.

        • Re:What problem (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Aguazul2 (2591049) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @08:43AM (#44563473)

          Short-term effort shows the results reasonably quickly, good or bad. Long-term effort is a difficult thing to justify in our busy lives, so many people avoid it, whether that be consistent exercise, working on a hobby that will take months to produce something half-decent, or indeed, building any skills that aren't strictly necessary to survive.

          I agree. All this will achieve is distract children from actually understanding anything by looking at a feed of supposedly related pictures/videos instead. It reminds me of a YouTube video of "My favorite things" (Sound of Music) in which someone had put clipart pictures of all the things. How completely irrelevant and distracting. The point of the song is not the list of things!

        • by _anomaly_ (127254)

          I wanted to say that I agree 100%.

          I also wanted to comment on the suggestion that someone would want to substitute family members into Shakespearean plays. I don't think that whoever wrote that part of the patent text has read any Shakespeare.

      • Re:What problem (Score:4, Informative)

        by Attila the Bun (952109) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @08:49AM (#44563535)

        The problem is that people are being taught Shakespeare without seeing the plays. The books are just scripts - useful for studying the play, but they were never meant to stand on their own. Without the actors the lines are dry and uninteresting.

        Even a video doesn't convey why Shakespeare is regarded as one of the greatest English writers. His plays were meant to be watched in a theatre, where actors can captivate the audience and convey their story. Good actors will make the story clear and accessible to anyone, as Shakespeare intended, in spite of the old-fashioned and sometimes-difficult language. Only then, once you've seen and understood the play can you start to study it in more detail.

        The patent sounds technically dubious, but it's not even addressing the real problem.

        • Sound like they are trying to have your device take over for your imagination.

          The other day we ran out of aluminum foil and I was telling my son how I had built a model rocket out of the cardboard roll from a box of aluminum foil when I was his age 13yrs old... I told him about building a small generator that would power a light bulb using old speaker magnets and enamel copper wire... he found none of it the least bit interesting and went on about playing his video game.

      • The problem is the mentality that something is only worth doing if it makes you feel better right now. This "solution" only makes things worse. It's like a parent trying to get compliance by bribing their toddler with candy.

        It doesn't help that the described 'invention' will actually make the task slower in the attempt to make it palatable; while making the bribe worse by trying to make it 'relevant'. Does anyone suspect that a computer throwing together clip art is going to produce especially compelling footage(except occasionally by sheer accidental absurdity)? Or that time spent watching stock footage of guys with swords is something that helps you in actually reading the text?

        If you wanted to bribe kiddo, it'd be far easie

        • If it makes them read it slower that's probably a good thing. Shakespeare can be skimmed over really quickly, but almost every line requires some pondering if you really want to appreciate it.
          Your suggestion on the other hand encourages the opposite: Get through the reading requirement as quickly as possible to reap the reward. The parent has managed to transfer his disengagement from the topic to their child. Hardly very useful.

          The more successful parent will try to increase the engagement with the medium,

    • by mwvdlee (775178)

      The problem they are trying to solve here is the problem of another company potentially inventing something cool having to do with books and not having a weapon to bludgeon that company into submission.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      the problem they're trying to solve is one where, in some unspecified future if someone comes up with a way of making textbooks more interactive by inserting multimedia and other content then Billy and Nath won't be able to assert their vague and speculative patent to extort loadsa cash.

      By registering this vague and speculative patent, this problem gets solved! hurrah for the boost in innovation and economic prosperity (for Billy and Nath obviously, not the sucker who might actually come up with the innovat

  • by e70838 (976799) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @05:38AM (#44562637)
    the integral collection of Marquis de Sade [wikipedia.org]
    • The first thing this will be used for is going to be porn, not Shakespeare. The disturbing thing is that it will be used for all sorts of porn "frowned upon" as well. How legal is this generated porn and can the creator of the application be held liable for generating the content?
      • How is that disturbing? I prefer society's perverts getting their jollies from auto-generated virtual kiddie porn, to them getting it from porn produced using actual children. One could argue that access to virtual porn will fuel their desire for the real thing, but virtual porn might also be sufficient to satisfy their needs so that they will no longer need the real deal.
      • by sbjornda (199447)

        The first thing this will be used for is going to be porn, not Shakespeare.

        Hey, it's not "either-or".

        HAMLET to OPHELIA: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
        OPHELIA: No, my lord.
        HAMLET: I mean, my head upon your lap?
        OPHELIA: Ay, my lord.
        HAMLET: Do you think I meant CoUNTry matters?
        OPHELIA: I think nothing, my lord.
        HAMLET: That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.

        --
        .nosig

  • by reve_etrange (2377702) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @05:41AM (#44562653)
    This patent is just a wish list of features with no disclosure of any technique for realizing any of those features.
  • by RogueyWon (735973) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @05:54AM (#44562703) Journal

    This proposal just makes my flesh crawl. Why are we so afraid of the idea that some classic works of literature (just like classics in the field of art or film) require a degree of diligence and attention to get the most out of them? Why do we object so strongly to the idea of teaching children the value of deferred please; that hard work and effort now can produce greater rewards down the line?

    It's not just a problem in the arts. If we teach the next generation that all study should be easy, quick and fun, then how do we get over the fact that a learning lot of the science that underpins our current standard of living is none of those things.

    "Sit down, shut up and read" might not be patentable as a teaching method due to prior art (though part of me wouldn't be surprised if somebody tried), but it strikes me as far more useful than the technology described in TFA.

    • Because hard work down the line doesn't translate into higher exam scores today.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Because hard work down the line doesn't translate into higher exam scores today.

        But it will translate into a generation of children getting out into the workforce who can't do any actual work because they've been coddled and who have been educated in such a way as to maximize standardized tests.

        And then we'll be really screwed. Pay the cost of educating them now, or pay the cost of living with that as your workforce later.

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @06:08AM (#44562737)

      The proposal isn't actually about literature; it's explicitly about textbooks. I dare say it'd have a really hard time with literature because important contextual information is unlikely to be held in the text snippet that it's supposed to visualise. For example it would be pretty trivial to put together an illustration of "1000 men storm the river whatevs" given that it's an abstract, but "What light through yonder window breaks?" takes a lot more foreknowledge.

      I suspect the original intention was for them to be able to programatically generate those little illustrative videos you used to see on Encarta articles. Most of the claims are trashed so whatever the original patent was, it was quite a bit more substantial.

    • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @07:05AM (#44562971)

      To be fair, Shakespeare's plays aren't *meant* to be read. They're meant to be performed. So seeing a performance of the play is actually quite appropriate.

      • by RogueyWon (735973)

        Yes, point taken on the plays.

        I'd also take issue with the phrase "make Shakespeare less boring". Most of Shakespeare's work (and I will make an exception for a couple of the romcoms, which I do feel are a bit crap) are anything but boring.

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      The problem is that in our 'classless' society, we seem to believe that EVERYONE needs to be some sort of intellectual, enjoying reading Shakespeare or knowing the dates of important things in history. I mean, EVERYONE should go to college, right?

      The fact is, of course, 95% of everyone could get along very nicely never doing either. In fact, we'd be far better off if we somehow 'decided' that knowing how to do plumbing, how to farm, or how to be an electrician was somehow just as 'valued' as Shakespeare?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Original Romeo and Juliet Balcony Scene:
      But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
      It is the east and Juliet is the sun!
      Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
      Who is already sick and pale with grief (5)
      That thou her maid art far more fair than she.

      Translation:
      Look at that lady up there. That bitch be fly!

  • by ctrl-alt-canc (977108) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @06:12AM (#44562755)
    Learning to use Windows is quite boring, so I used their invention to make the task most interesting. I scanned the textbook, but the system returned me a boring image, with the pixels of the very same colour. I guess it is suggesting me to think about the sky or the sea, but I do not understand why...
  • by fuzzybunny (112938) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @06:18AM (#44562771) Homepage Journal

    Misleading headline aside, Shakespeare is hilarious.

    Violence, sex, creative insults galore, betrayal, incest, murder, sword fights, pork sword fights, ghosts, and more invented words than you can shake a pork sword at.

    It is awesome and even suggesting that the short attention span squad deserves being pandered to is borderline criminal.

    • Try Ben Jonson instead. You'll lever look back.

      Discussions like this always make me remember my last English teacher at school. It's only literature if there is a four letter word in each sentence. He apologized to us for making us read A midsummer night's dream. When some of us went to see Volpone on a class trip, he announced it as some play by a guy like Shakespeare. I've always wondered what would happen if he actually read something by Poe - his head would probably explode.

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)
      The best adaptation of Shakespeare that I ever saw was Baz Luhrman's Romeo+Juliet. The juxtaposition of the original dialogue in a modern day setting is slightly jarring at first, but then makes it much easier to understand the language than simply reading it or watching a film set in the correct time frame. I actually really enjoyed it, especially the opening sequence and the pool hall scene. Now, the Shakespeare Tavern here in Atlanta put on a pretty good performance of Taming of the Shrew(but of cours
  • ... but the proposed gadget will likely make the problem worse
  • by gsslay (807818) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @06:25AM (#44562801)

    I used this autogenerated video already for my study of Shakespeare's Hamlet.

    That's how I know about his brave fight against a sea monster called Fortune, despite having come under heavy fire from arrows and sling shots.

    Strange that they always cut that bit out of the film adaptations, I thought it was the most exciting part of the play, even though it didn't seem to make much sense.

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @06:26AM (#44562803)
    ... and it could definitely be improved with some pictures and captions
  • It's called "imagination."
  • After all, even typography is all about making text more readable and beautiful. And that's not too objectionable unless you're an MLA submission committee. I'm sure there was a time when spaces, capital letters and punctuations were debatable as crutches.

    I would personally find use in an algorithm that highlights nouns or verbs to facilitate speeder reading.
    Another idea I have is an eye tracker in an eBook reader that will pick up on you getting stuck on a word and will sound it out for you to hear. If you

  • Is it just me ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NikeHerc (694644) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @06:57AM (#44562927)
    or are these guys trying to reduce knowledge to idiocy?
  • by spectrokid (660550) on Wednesday August 14, 2013 @07:04AM (#44562963) Homepage
    Brilliant! Instant porn versions of all masterpieces! My kingdom to be hung like a horse!
  • Given how shoddy Microsoft's interface to computing has been over the decades, I'm nauseated by the idea of the same people creating - and if this patent is granted, controlling - an interface to (some subset of) reality.

    Though it's ironic that people who used to insist text was the only interface the world needed and anyone who wanted more was mentally feeble are now basing a patent application on their ground-breaking insight that text is sometimes limiting.

    I do look forward to all the hilarious ways this

  • I can only imagine the carnage this will do...ala songsmith another genius idea to generate art forms of some sort. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kxqMpGAL3I [youtube.com]
  • Yes, make it so kids can't read a book without a smartphone to keep them entertained.

    Our kids can apparently barely read now, and writing with a pen is becoming something they don't know how to do.

    I don't think we need a room full of kids on smart phones scanning Shakespeare to get entertaining images. We need a room full of kids who can actually sit through a class without using their smartphone, and who can actually read and write.

    I don't see this improving that any. This is just more shiny stuff to mak

  • for pre-chewing food.

    Have we become so lazy that now we can't be bothered to read the text and visualize it ourselves, but have to rely on a computer algorithm to generate a video of its interpretation of the said text? This is the magic of the written word, that it stimulates our brain to build an entire world and populate it with locales and characters, to breathe life into a seemingly dead medium. The intellectual effort is the exercise that keeps our brain fit, that enables it to improve. You take th

  • Is he trying to get a patent on using your imagination to turn words into movies (on a smartphone)? I'm pretty sure that there's prior art for this in everybody who has ever read narrative fiction, and a lot of incomplete yet relevant prior art in the oral tradition as well.
  • Just wait for it having to buy the book + a school cell phone plan and school phone + with apps. At the high college prices.

    We need to get rid of the over priced books that come with online testing sites as well.

  • by Qzukk (229616)

    I go to look at the patent and over 90% of the claims were canceled (seriously there are 39 claims left, numbered 397-453, with gaps in the middle). What's left is basically what xtranormal [wikipedia.org] used to do [youtube.com], with OCR bolted on the front end.

  • (and people who have trouble spelling ilitteratcy).

    So, if this comes out, students no longer have an incentive to read - they just take their smart phone to class, take a picture of their books, and Bing returns youtube videos? Thanks a lot, Bill Gates, for killing reading and reading comprehension!

    • by jetkust (596906)
      Having a better understanding of what you are reading does not create laziness and illiteracy. It creates better understanding, which more likely will lead to more interest in reading.
  • to the bottom which is US education system - led by the "we must fix it!" crowd. I suspect most adults, let alone high school students, could not pass an exam given to 8th graders a century ago. This notion that everything must be easy to learn and nothing ever boring is the most evil kind of fantasy.

  • So, there's some boring textbook, and you scan a line, and some shitty algorithm (probably based on Bing search technology) generates some sort of vaguely-related video. How does that make the book any less boring? Videos are not inherently interesting - they are only interesting if they are made interesting by a human creator. This invention would just add a boring video to the boring text. What little interest can be extracted from this will be derived from the process's failures and unintended hilarious
  • ... the little dears should be required to develop an imagination. This is a giant leap forward in producing human automatons.
  • You don't need to be able to read. Your computer will do it for you.
  • What's lost here is the poetry. You don't read Shakespeare simply for the story, you read it for the eloquence of the writer. Cyrano de Bergerac would be whittled down to Roxanne. This is a bad idea. Why are we always trying to dumb down everything? Let him make the product and let it fail, but don't give him a patent.
  • It's been said many times that Bill Gates likes to rewrite history to fit his reality, this sounds like yet another avenue for him to do so. If they ever figure it out and produce something then expect lots of very interesting book reviews in schools of the Microsoft employees kids forced to use it.

    LoB
  • With certain things, the devil is in the details. I think this is one of those. I could patent "method to bring a person to Mars and back" but there are a lot lot lot of steps between writing "put them on rocket, send, have them come back" on a piece of paper and getting Chris Rock there and back safely (why Chris Rock? why not?).

    Remember for Apollo, they had a few ways of getting people to the moon and back [wikipedia.org]. What if someone had patented "method to get someone to the moon, somehow, someway" then waited for

  • Shakespeare is not boring; far from it. If your language skills aren't up to it, study.
  • A world in which technology takes over the job of your imagination. I used to read things and create still and moving pictures within my mind, but soon my phone will be able to do it for me!

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