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Baby Meets Big Brother For Science 188

Posted by Zonk
from the all-about-learning dept.
dylanduck writes "A baby is to be monitored by a network of microphones and video cameras for 14 hours a day, 365 days a year, in an effort to unravel the seemingly miraculous process by which children acquire language. I guess that's what happens when your pop works at MIT's Media Lab. Thankfully his parents can switch off the surveillance for 'private' moments and delete short scenes. All the footage is being classified by algorithms."
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Baby Meets Big Brother For Science

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  • The mom... (Score:5, Funny)

    by crazyjeremy (857410) * on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:24AM (#15343140) Homepage Journal
    Meanwhile, the baby's mother (a hot Brazillian model) is not told about the cameras. The baby's father (the rich MIT geek) is clueless why his buddies picked HIS house to do the experiment.
    • Also, they were not told that the switching off for private moments only affects the video tape, not the cams themselves ...
    • That was a GE appliance commercial, right?
    • by linguae (763922)
      Meanwhile, the baby's mother (a hot Brazillian model) is not told about the cameras. The baby's father (the rich MIT geek) is clueless why his buddies picked HIS house to do the experiment.

      There is one problem with that joke. Since when did hot models marry (or even date) us geeks, rich or not? Disprove my conjecture, please.

    • Yeah, I was going to say.. this is an expensive way to get a sex tape of the wife made.

  • by nizo (81281) * on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:25AM (#15343145) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if the baby's name is Truman [imdb.com]?
  • Videos (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:26AM (#15343150) Journal
    I couldn't get the MOV files to work, something about a codec I was missing. The AVIs worked fine though.

    If you can't see them, there are 9 fish eye cameras mounted at certain points of the house and a day passes in 30 seconds (a la National Geographic plant blooming or Requiem for a Dream old lady on crack).

    Each camera seems to have a round piece of paper ready to flip up and down to cover it (possibly via light switch in the room/area) should the family choose it to be necessary.

    I think this is a wonderful and innovative idea, my only concern resides in the child's rights.
    Roy is aware that the project raises ethical issues. But ultimately he thinks he may be providing his son with an incredible gift. "He might be the first person to have a memory that goes back to birth," he says.
    I'm going to say I don't agree with even releasing these short clips to the public. I believe that this footage should be collected, protected & anonymity of the child enforced until the child is 18--at which point they will be capable of releasing the footage under whatever license (GPL even, lol) they deem appropriate. I understand that the parents have full custody, I only hope this child is in no way taken advantage of like so many prodigious children are by their parents.
    • I believe that this footage should be collected, protected & anonymity of the child enforced until the child is 18

      Care to enforce that rule with America's Funniest Home Videos as well?

      • Agreed to a point. This seems pretty harmless. It's a little more personal than baby photos and home videos since it's constant, but probably no more exciting to anyone. It doesn't sound like there is any intent to keep recording data beyond the age of 2 or 3 anyways.

        This is going to yield a huge dataset! I imagine a couple CS majors could make a good senior project out of writing the sorting algorithms. I'd be kind of interesting to see a follow-up on how they're going to go about that. The kind of data
        • Oddly enough, I just watched this movie last night for the first time. Interesting movie. I really liked the editing workstation they called, guillotine. That movie was the first thing that popped into my head when I saw this article post.

    • What makes you think an 18 year old will make a decision about the video they won't regret when they are older? Given that, what's the difference between parents making that decision for data in their own house?

      Besides, 18 years of age is an arbitrary amount of elapsed life. Why not 16? Or 30? Can the parents skirt the issue by having signs posted around the house saying "video and audio of this room is recorded between xam and ypm."? You don't have copyrights to video of yourself in public when this type o
      • 18 is the point of legal majority, it's as reasonable as any given date. The real issue is that as a child in America (or probably just about anywhere) you have basically no rights until majority.
      • What makes you think an 18 year old will make a decision about the video they won't regret when they are older?

        Because as the owner of his own image, the baby can decide when he's older that he made a mistake at 18 and opt to release it to the public.

        If the father makes it public now, and the child decides at either 18 or 80 that he does not want this stuff out there -- well, it's too late now, isn't it?

        Think of it this way: will this guy ever have a shot at a career in politics?
        • Re:Videos (Score:3, Interesting)

          by 955301 (209856)
          And if the 18 year old releases it, but upon turning 26 finds out an insurance company turned him down because something in the video indicated a health issue predisposing him to cancer?

          the 18 year old can still have regrets later...
          • I see... I was reading your comment the other way around. That's true, but then at least it would be his mistake, instead of someone else's that he has to live with.
      • Can the parents skirt the issue by having signs posted around the house saying "video and audio of this room is recorded between xam and ypm.

        Clearly, the courts will say this experiment is legal based solely on the presence of such signs in the baby's room.
    • I don't really see how this impacts the child at all. He/she is zero years old - what possible privacy concerns can you have at that point?
      • The point is that, though the infant may not be able to "say" anything in its defense, the kid or adult that eventually emerges from said infant may feel weird about its early childhood having been exposed to the world. A society's supposed to take care of those who can't take care of themselves, not take advantage of them.
        • The kid or adult that eventually emerges from said infant may feel weird about pretty much any choice the parents make for him/her. Also, "being released to the world" makes it sound like they're showing it on Fox. It's not even clear to me from the article that humans will watch significant chunks of it.

          I can see how this argument can be made for a 3 or 5 year-old, since they are starting to have personality and make their own choices. But simply observing infants is pretty much all the same - they slee
          • I can see how this argument can be made for a 3 or 5 year-old, since they are starting to have personality and make their own choices.

            You are trying to make a rational argument about what is mostly an emotional issue.

            No, there is typically no reason to (for example) be scared of most spiders, flying in an airplane or such, yet people are even when understanding why it is unreasonable.

    • I'll admit that the public nature of the child's life is a little troubling for me as well, but I'm hard put to say why. Children don't even really have awareness of themselves as discrete entities in the world until they're several months old, so it's difficult to imagine what kind of privacy concerns the kid could have. I mean, other than, "Oh my god, my future (boy|girl)friend saw pictures of me pooping when I was six months old?!?"

      As for memory going back to birth: I find that pretty unlikely. There's
  • by stefanlasiewski (63134) * <slashdot@stef a n c o . com> on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:27AM (#15343159) Homepage Journal
    Suprisingly, the Baby's first words mimick the sounds made by the recording equipment:

    "beep"
    "zzzzZZZZZZzzz"
    "click click click click"
  • Just curious. Most people would.
  • the Linux / Windows debate of linguistics. Do we have a language gene, or is the exposure we get to language somehow able to give us all the clues we need to have more or less perfect grammar by the age of about three?

    I really wish we could solve this once and for all and just move on, hopefully this can help.
    (cue the jokes about how some slashdotters have the grammar skills of a three-year-old etc).
    • Indeed. There's definitly no reason to bash three year olds!

      Think of the children!
    • Humans will naturally develop communication, even without being taught how. For instance there are examples of groups of deaf children developing sign language on their own, etc. I do remember hearing that there is a time frame in which learning how to communicate has to be accomplished in. There were case studies of "feral" children who basically raised themselves from a very young age with no social human contact. After a certain age, they can be trained to become more civilized, but nobody has as of
      • Nix. Numerous 'feral children' have acquired (limited) language skills (most famously, Genie) - they provide an extremely poor study group for looking at language and social skills learning because a. they may have been abandoned because they were (or were percieved to be) subnormal, b. they tend to be significantly traumatised, either simply by circumstances, or by abuse (again, Genie). c. Case studies are a bugger.

        (Feral children covers a broad spectrum - we are not just talking about 'raised by wolves' h
    • ...to have more or less perfect grammar by the age of about three

      If three year olds have more or less perfect grammar by age 3, what the hell happens to adults? Seriously, is it something in the drinking water?

  • I'm surprised that they aren't taking weekly or monthly magnetic resonance images (MRI's) of the child's brain to track the growth of Broca's Area [wikipedia.org], a region of the brain long believed to control and develop speech.

    It was this that Carl Sagan wrote of in Broca's Brain when he speculated on our ability to speak and communicate adeptly and sets us apart from animals.

    I'd like to see this invetsigated further.
  • by El_Smack (267329) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:38AM (#15343235)

    4% Pooping
    26% Fussiness
    8% Crying
    18% Eating
    21% Drooling
    22% Peek a Boo
    1% Language Acquisition
  • Monroe: It's a special isolation chamber. The subject pulls levers to receive food and water. The floor can become electrified, and showers of icy water randomly fall on the subject. I call it... The Monroe Box!
    Grampa: Uh huh. Sounds interesting. How much will it cost to build?
    Monroe: Oh, that's the beauty part! It's already built! I need the money to buy a baby to raise in the box until the age of thirty.
    Grampa: What are you trying to prove?
    Monroe: Well, my theor
  • Well, the parents won't have to regret not video taping their kid as a baby later on. They'll have possibly more footage of their baby than any other parents in the world...
    • by geekoid (135745)
      I'd like to see them come close to the footage my wife takes!

      Hell, her still photos could be used as a flipbook.
  • The study itself sounds highly fascinating, but like others, I find myself wondering what the child will say in ten or twenty years. However, how many people truly object to the sharing of baby photos and home videos? It's nearly a given that people proudly display these items every chance they get. I don't think this study is going to help much, and it would most likely yield better results if the reserchers used many different babies in other households.
    • I find myself wondering what the child will say in ten or twenty years.

      Probably "he touched me here..." while pointing to a doll in the courtroom.
    • This is really kind of funny but the vast majority of people teach their children how to speak yet we don't know how they they teach their children how to speak?
      Just like it is easy to write a program that can calculate sin but really hard to write one that can follow verbal directions as well as a a four year old?

      In other words it is easy to teach a machine what is taught in school.
      It is very hard to teach a machine what is taught by parents.
  • Call me crazy but my wife and I just had a baby and the last thing I would want is for for her to become an experiment.

    How do they know that this type of intervention/interference at such an impressionable age won't have life altering reprocussions? There are just some things that should be left well enough alone and this is one of them.

    Maybe it's just me though.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There is not much more for a camera to record here (of the baby).

    The baby will make sounds constantly. More and more sounds as time progresses.

    The parents (video camera operators?) will from time to time notice sounds that sound like sounds they understand and respond very positively to these sounds.

    OH MY!!!!! I just heard the baby say XX OR XX OR XX OR XX (all references to daddy).

    All these will be thought to be something profound concerning the babies actions.

    But not due to the baby saying them, but becau
  • by mailman-zero (730254) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:47AM (#15343311) Homepage
    My major is in Computational Linguistics. This sounds like a good idea as far a research goes, but the sad fact is that this will not be enough. We already know a LOT about the developmental stages in which children begin to acquire language and the relationships between the mental dictionary lookup and the rule applying mechanisms that compete with one another to produce the fastest possible production of intelligible sentences. What we don't understand is how it happens. This study will not let us know that.

    What would be better is to develop algorithms that try and mimic the learning process we already have observed in native language acquisition and then continue to refine our algorithms until we have perfected that process. We will only know we have it right when you can take those same algorithms, put them to use by exposing it to a different language and have it still learn it right.
    • One thing this will address is the kinds of input kids get, since we're interested in what kids have to learn from exposure vs. what they get for free from their genes (so to speak). Currently our guesses at this are based on brief recordings taken weeks apart, usually in a structured setting (see the CHILDES project at CMU for more info). A lot has been made of productions that children allegedly make without having been exposed to a model in parental speech, but we don't always know if it's true. The reco
    • But mailman, building better algorithms to mimic the learning process won't exactly tell us how it happens - it will just show us one possible way that learning can happen. (Which has value, of course...) But unless our algorithms accurately mimic the scale of the child's zillions of neurons involved in language (unlikely anytime soon), we will only be building a simplistic model.


      Someone else above mentioned taking frequeent fMRI's - this would tell us more about what actually is going on.

  • Well... (Score:2, Funny)

    by nosredna (672587)
    It worked out well for Ender [wikipedia.org]
  • by Cthefuture (665326) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @11:53AM (#15343351)
    when my own child was born. Back then I was working in artificial intelligence (for a commercial application, and I'm no MIT graduate) and I spend the first couple years taking meticulous notes, video, audio recordings and similar. I also worked with a few other children but not as deeply.

    What I found is that the sample size was way too small. Almost every child has vastly different development patterns and to see the big picture you need a bigger sample than one kid. We're talking about a huge effort to collect that much data on many children but I think that is what will be required to even begin to understand how it works.
  • This family will take home the prize on all the "Funniest Home Videos" shows every time. The funniest moments with my kids always happen when we're not using the camcorder.
  • by khendron (225184) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @12:05PM (#15343457) Homepage
    I hope the kid's first words are something to be proud of.

    I once saw a Mother eating some take-out fast food with her gurgling offspring. The kid was very vocal but couldn't say anything more than "goo" and "ga ga." The mother was doing the traditional "say Mommy, say Mommmmeeeee" thing when the kid pointed at the logo on the paper cup and said, very clearly, "McDonalds."

    The mother did not look pleased.
    • That is awesome.

      I have a seventeen month old. Her first words were, I believe, Mommy and Daddy, but following very closely behind that was "kitty." Since then, our cat has been a constant source of fascination for her, and prompts a lot of conversations along these lines:

      the kid: Kitty!
      me: Yes, honey. It's a kitty!
      the kid: Lookitda kitty!
      me: I know! I see the kitty!
      the kid: Mao mao mao!!!!!

      Et cetera.
    • The mother was doing the traditional "say Mommy, say Mommmmeeeee" thing when the kid pointed at the logo on the paper cup and said, very clearly, "McDonalds."

      There's one thing I still don't understand. Sure, I know that McDonalds all pervasive advertising campaign virtually assure brand recognition by age three. I know that McDonalds isn't the only company engaged in this. I know how this works.

      No. What I don't understand is why it works. Why do children fixate on McDonalds so much? What is the secret sause here? And it's not just McDonalds. Apparently, brand loyalty can be instilled before the third year.

      This perplexes me. What's driving these kids to say McDonalds before Mommy?
      • My guess would be that Mommy is letting the TV raise her kid and this baby has spent more time watching McD commercials than it has being read to by its parents.
      • What I don't understand is why it works. Why do children fixate on McDonalds so much? What is the secret sause here? And it's not just McDonalds. Apparently, brand loyalty can be instilled before the third year.

        For starters you've got the fact that a lot of the brands that go after kids have (you'll note) simple clear logo designs that tend to be in very crisp vibrant colours. If you're looking for something to imprint on a small mind then simple clear lines and bright colours are the way to go.

        In practice
      • The way that children learn words is by people saying the word and pointing to it. My guess is lots of commercials where Ronand McDonald points to a big golden "M" and says "McDonalds".

        Then again, I don't watch much children's television. It's incredibly easy to influence young children. I bought my nephew some He-Man DVDs for Christmas, and now his favorite toys at Grandma's are my old He-Man toys from the 80s.

      • My wife and I are due to have another baby in October. We never eat at McDonalds and we no longer have a television. So, my guess is that Lucy (that's her name) will not recognize McDonalds by age 3. But we will see.
      • There's one thing I still don't understand. Sure, I know that McDonalds all pervasive advertising campaign virtually assure brand recognition by age three. I know that McDonalds isn't the only company engaged in this. I know how this works.

        No. What I don't understand is why it works. Why do children fixate on McDonalds so much? What is the secret sause here? And it's not just McDonalds. Apparently, brand loyalty can be instilled before the third year.

        This is hardly scientific, but this is what I think:

        1) M

  • Thinking of B.F. Skinner [wikipedia.org] and the Skinner Box [wikipedia.org]
    • hopefully, because there's a pretty big goddamn difference between a Skinner Box and simply videotaping someone.

      If I had to draw an analogy, I'd say it's kind of like the difference between having a police officer glare at you dissaprovingly and being jailed.
  • ... when it was called "The Truman Show [imdb.com]".
  • This really interests me since I have a 7 week old baby girl. A couple my wife and I know has an 11 month old baby and they said about a few weeks ago, that everything just suddenly clicked. He started to say words and actually knows the meaning of them, started to walk and many other things in about a weeks time. Its like the light switch was finally switched on. With my baby who is much much younger, my wife and I saw a big change about 2 weeks ago. She started to react to situations the same (happy,
    • As for speech, I believe the learning curve for babies to talk depends on how they are spoken to. If you GooGoo and GaaGaa at them all day in gibberish baby talk, they aren't going to learn how to speak very easily. But if you talk to them as you would talk to a young child, they are more apt to speak early themselves.

      I wish I had my Child Psych text from college with me. I used to think that, too, but there was a study noted in the text that showed that baby talk actually helped language acquisition. I

  • Obligatory (Score:4, Funny)

    by GrouchoMarx (153170) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @12:22PM (#15343599) Homepage
    Think of the children!

    (Someone had to say it...)
  • Segfaults? (Score:4, Funny)

    by 19061969 (939279) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @12:35PM (#15343688)
    Quoth the article: "All the footage is being classified by algorithms."

    Ha! Just imagine what an algorithm would say when it fills its nappy: "Core dump - segfault at location @r$e."

  • by hey (83763) on Tuesday May 16, 2006 @12:36PM (#15343696) Journal
    First baby thows out an early prototype. eg "Ga-ga". This is praised
    however some constructive critism by the clients (parents) is offered - eg "Da-da". Baby then adapts the first prototype and re-demos it for the users and clients. And so on.

    By the time version 3 (years) is reached baby is still in the iterative refinement design and development mode. For example: "I eated dinner". The user-clients offer "I ate dinner" as a correction that is a new feature in version 3.5.
    • I wish I had mod points; You should be modded +5 Right On.

      I have a three year old and an 11 mo. old, so we are in both stages right now. It seems to me to be about a constant input-praise-input cycle. My three year old's vocabulary is increasing so rapidly it is amazing to witness, and the young one is trying so hard to communicate (sometimes anyway; others it is just 'can I make noise?').

      On the topic of being recorded 14 hrs a day, I sure would not want that. Maybe it is just personal preference w
  • Sure there are some ethical questions surrounding this, but he is making a huge personal sacrifice in the name of science and has insured that reasonable safeguards are in place. This could provide incredible insights into the language acquisition process.

  • The father and mothers friends, family, and neighbors will stop returning their calls after the second time they hear "come see the video of everything junior did today!"

    Junior's first girlfriend will die of starvation after 36 straight hours of family videos.

    Junior will spend the second 5 years of his live watching what he did for the first 5 years of his life. That 5 year event will be recorded and used to determine how people learn by watching videos of themselves learning.
  • Will all this result in a kid with an unhealthy fixation toward being in front of camera lenses?

    ...Ye gods, this must be where Hilton sisters come from!!

  • I wish I could remember where I read about this... it was decades and decades ago... but there was a case of a child who was brought to a psychiatrist because he had suddenly and completely stopped talking. The psychiatrist was asking the parents for details, and they said, beamingly, "Oh, here are our notebooks." They brought out an enormous stack of notebooks in which they had written down everything the child had said.

    At some point, the child became disturbed by this and simply stopped talking.

    The psychi
  • ... as long as nobody puts baby in a corner [imdb.com].
  • It's been done before. Back in the '60s or early '70s or so.

    A language-acquisition researcher recorded her daughter's waking activities continuously for several years as she developed language.

    One interesting thing to come out of this was that, as one point (I think about the three-word utterance stage) the kid started using this word that sounded something like "ehWIDdeh". (I don't recall exactly how the researcher spelled it but that's about what it sounded like.) It was never really clear what she mea
  • If you go to their house and they offer to show you "a couple of" baby movies, for God's sake say "NO."
  • I thought this kind of study wasn't allowed anymore.
    Doesn't the ability to cease data collection invalidate any insight that might be provided?
  • I'm no scientist, but I recall that just by observing something, you are inherently changing it. While it may be subtle and unnoticable ("hidden" cameras on a beach or home that no one notices), but things are not unchanged.

    Just the fact that the parents know there is recording going on is going to modify things. The extra time they take to deal with it and delete things is going to modify how the child learns.

    I'm not saying it's not cool, but it's not without some effects (even if small) on the child. S

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