Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I love robots: my latest auto-summarizing bot slave

You may have seen the recent film "I Robot" with Will Smith.  Great special effects, but I highly recommend reading the original science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov -- one of the classics in the genre.

In fact, I don't really know what I would do without robots.  They are at my constant bidding, never complain or ask silly questions, and unfailingly do a better job at the most mundane tasks than I could ever do.

  • My favourite robots at home are the dishwasher, washing machine, espresso machine, food processor and microwave.  
  • My favourite 'academic' robots are my word processor (which checks all my spelling for me), my iPhone (which reminds me about all my meetings, classes, exam dates, etc.), my GOOGLE reader (which aggregates all the blogs I follow) and TWEETDECK (which helps me manage, to some extent, the flow of TWEETS I follow), Mark Davies' corpus interface to COCA and REFWORKS (which takes care of all the APA citation conventions and even builds my in-text references and reference list for me).

I encourage my students to use robots like I do -- to remind me when I make mistakes, to eliminate redundant or boring tasks, to help me organize my thoughts, to help me manage my time, and to free my mind to concentrate on more creative productive tasks.  Some teachers think that this is somehow cheating, and students should use pen and paper to write, use index cards to do research, use a printed dictionary and make mind maps on a piece of paper.  However, asking students to use such methods is a bit like asking my colleagues to wash their clothes by hand...it can be done, but why if a machine can do it instead? And often do it better, quicker, and more efficiently?

One of the things I need to do is quickly read and summarize texts, since I don't have too much time to keep up with the ever increasing volume of reading I need to do.  I discovered a robot that will help me identify the key passages in a text, which is a great help. It lives at http://smmry.com. My robot doesn't always identify all the key ideas, but I can train it to help me reflect on what I think is a good summary.  I can't help but think that this robot would be useful for my students, as they can practice their summarizing skills and then compare their efforts to their auto-summary bot slave, and reflect on the differences and similarities.  I produced a short video to explain the process.  Let me know what you think about my bot -- and if you have found any other similar 'robots' that help with summarizing.


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