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Teaching In The Tank

Friday, September 8th, 2017

My students were inmates (they prefer detainees) in a boys’ prison (aka Honor Camp) governed by many guards (or probation officers.) I learned much in the four years I taught there. At their ages (15-18), the state is still required to educate them.

Through many gates, under razor wire, to an enclosed camp for felony offenders, I taught U.S. history to kids who had never heard of the Holocaust. It wasn’t an easy program to teach so many different levels of knowledge at once. Nor was it easy to avoid chaos in the classroom. They could be so volatile and break into fights at any moment.

Vocabulary among the boys was so limited we could not play board games until I allowed Spanish or slang. “Tuff is not really a word,” I had to explain. “It’s really spelled ‘Tough.’” “As long as you know that ‘uno’ isn’t English we can allow it.” I refereed during one game. Games were only allowed with “back-up” which was one or two officers in the room at the time because boys would fight over the outcome. Losing caused intense frustration and anger in some.

Hopefully, I expanded their vocabularies; they sure expanded mine. “Sharks” were big boys with mental issues, “Shanking up” meant taking things from my classroom to put in a sock later and using in a fight. A “single digit midget” was a kid with less than ten days left to serve on his sentence.

For a few, I saw little hope. Short of breaking his spirit completely, the student who answered “suck this, Teacher Daniel,” every time I spoke to him, I see little chance of him ever blending smoothly into society. I could have told him that he became the thing that went bump in the night because it terrorized him; he either had to become it or overcome it and he chose the former. I don’t think it would have made a difference to him.

My musical tastes tend to run in the country and western area so Wiz Kahlifa, Dr. Dre, Snoop the Lion (fka Snoop Doggie Dog) and Tupac, be he dead or alive, has never caught my ear. But I “traded” a reading assignment (which involved them checking out a book at the new library on the grounds) with my going home and watching a video. I did stop at the Julian Library and used a computer to watch “Tupac in Hologram” at a place called Coachella and it was fun to discuss it with them the next day. It was fascinating to watch actually, except for the foul language.

There was utter darkness but plenty of light in there. Some gave me a cold chill. One insisted on telling me everything his Ouija board was saying about me. “It’s how I talk to Satan,” he explained when I asked what drew him to such a macabre game. “He wants to know why you’re here with us,” he informed me. More than once I told him I was praying for him which was probably not allowed but neither are satanic communications on school grounds I figured.

I worked for the county and was moved me around between 3 facilities-all juvenile offender camps. My recurring thought when I visited these ‘campuses’ was how to move some of these inmates into the taxpayer file. Caging all these warriors at $30K per kid, per year, is always going to run at a deficit. There are too many of them and the numbers are growing. Classes were beyond capacity when I left.

My thought was that if I could inspire just one kid to ideate himself as something beyond a criminal, he could shift from being a burden to a taxpayer. Maybe then he could become the asset he was sent here to be. The painter, singer, builder, doctor-whatever the original cards dealt. I doubt the universe sent anyone here to be a thug.

One student announced that he had killed a guy and didn’t understand what he was doing still alive. He pointed to a new inmate that was being escorted in by guards and said, ” I killed that guy!” “Me and a friend wrapped him in a carpet, tied the ends and threw it in the Escondido reservoir,” he explained.

Later, that boy was in my class. I asked if he knew people thought he died and he said, “I did die. I drowned.” “The nurses brought me back and showed me the water they pumped out of me. It was filled with beetles and grass and it was nasty,” he told me. “I was underwater and my dead grandfather showed up and took me by the arm. He led me to a place ‘above’ my mother’s apartment and he pointed down into it and said “Don’t leave my daughter here. Go back and get her out of there. She is not safe!’” the boy told me.

Then he said “my old dog showed up and tackled me and while we were wrestling, I thought “Okay Grampa, I’ll go back.” “At that thought, I woke up in the hospital and my mother was there crying and the nurse said, ‘Welcome back!’” He said that he felt so good, so happy and peaceful that they didn’t understand. He said he hasn’t told anyone about seeing his grandfather.

“It’s called a ‘peace which surpasses all explanation’ son and it’s what my people aspire to experience. We live for it in fact. Thanks for giving me more hope that it is real,” I told him.

At the end of the day, I saw more hope than darkness. There’s far too much talent and raw energy in there to waste by ignoring it or hoping it will die down over time-while caged and learning all kinds of new ways to break laws. I hope we don’t lose these young men and we preserve some of that raw potential.

10 Hottest Artificial Intelligence Applications To Inspire You

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Let’s look at 10 hottest artificial intelligence applications that succeed in leveraging tons of data in today’s changing environment.

SIRI is one of the most famous artificial intelligence applications. It’s a personal assistant software for Apple devices, including iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple Watch and AppleTV, which works as an intelligent knowledge guide to recommend, answer questions and delegate requests to other connected web services. The software is controlled by voice and thus it returns individualized answers learning from a user’s language. According to Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi, Siri gets 1 billion requests a week. As of 2016 Siri is available in 20 languages.

Another intelligent personal assistant is Google Now developed by Google, which goes as a part of the Google app available for Android and iOS. To enable Google Now you need to launch the Google app and then allow Google to pull all the synced information from all Google services you use and your location history for making you recommendations and alerts. By turning off all the needed privacy and tracking settings in this probably the most practical artificial intelligence applications a user is able to see different Google Now Cards: Activity summary (steps you’ve made to stay fit), Boarding pass (sent to Gmail account, displayed later at the airport), Events (events scheduled on your Google Calendar), Flights (the status of your flight in real-time), Location reminders, Parking location (helps finding your parked car), Translation (look up translations of words), TV (a list of shows broadcast in real-time) and many other. All the commands in Google Now you can control by voice, however, they are limited. Currently Google Now is available in English and is a major competitor of Siri.

Cortana is the Microsoft’s intelligent personal assistant initially designed for Windows Phone, but now available on Android, Windows 10, xBox One, and on Apple’s iOS. Cortana software reacts to a user’s voice and accomplishes limited commands, answers questions using the information from the browser installed (Bing by default), works as a secretary by scheduling events, locating necessary files and opening the apps needed. The Cortana artificial intelligence application can process voice commands in English, German, Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese, Portuguese and Japanese.

Alexa is the voice service created by Amazon for Amazon Echo intelligent speaker, which was widely introduced in 2015. Alexa uses natural language processing algorithms to adapt to natural voice of the user. Moreover, as it is built in the cloud, Alexa is constantly learning by recognizing patterns from interactions with the user. The more a user interacts with Alexa the more it evolves and gets smarter, delivering higher quality answers to a user’s questions. The Alexa artificial intelligence application has a free SDK that can be used by developers in creation of new voice-based AI software and devices.

Kinect is an AI-based motion controller and a motion sensing technology by Microsoft that is used in Xbox One and Xbox 360 game consoles. Kinect analyzes natural user interface and reacts to voice commands and gestures. Microsoft offers a free SDK for developers to build Kinect-enabled applications. This has already resulted in wider application of Kinect technology for non-gaming purposes including healthcare, retail industry, military and robotics.

Braina is a free artificial intelligence application that works as a personal productivity software and a virtual office assistant on Windows computers. The software reacts to a user’s voice commands and performs different tasks on their computer accordingly. Due to the built-in speech recognition technology a user can interact with their computer remotely over Wi-Fi via the Braina app for Android. Braina is currently available in English, free and paid versions.

VIV is more than just an artificial intelligence application, but an artificial intelligence platform from the creators of Siri. Unlike Siri, VIV has an open platform that allows developers to build external plug-ins to work with it. The makers of VIV aim to make the first consumer-oriented, omnipresent assistant. The work on it started in 2012. The demo version of the ‘intelligent interface for everything’ was presented by VIV CEO Dag Kittlaus at TechCrunch Disrupt NY in May 2016.

P.A.N is a free artificial intelligence software that virtually analyzes any kind of textual data, such as poetry, fiction, history, newspaper etc. The application first parses the text, recognizes the structure of its sentences, the mood and tone of the given text. Generally P.A.N allows to put any text under a microscope and eventually provide different variations of its understanding based on a comprehensive analysis executed.

Wipro HOLMES is a cognitive artificial intelligence platform used for development of predictive systems, visual computing applications, digital virtual agents, cognitive process automation, knowledge visualization, drones and robotics. Wipro HOLMES learns from new information and can make recommendations, as well as predict failures. The platform was designed and introduced in 2016 by the Indian company Wipro for optimizing business processes in corporations.

Wolfram Alpha is a free intelligent answer engine, which uses artificial intelligence to provide answers to a user’s questions from curated set of data like statistics, source cross-checking, expert reviews etc. Wolfram Alpha differs from semantic search engines like Google in the way that it gives specific answers from a structured set of information rather than matches the question to the best answer from indexing multiple answers to that question. Wolfram Alpha is being used for answering some requests by Bing, DuckDuckGo and even Apple’s Siri. Wolfram Alpha app is available for iOS and Android, Kindle Fire, Nook.


Artificial intelligence is without a doubt a very powerful tool for creation of experiences never imagined before. We do hope that artificial intelligence applications entering our lives will stay serving the humanity in the most beneficial way.