Are you ready for your daily sign that robots will become our overlords sooner rather than later? Good, because researchers at Penn State University have developed a new technology that helps faculty members create entire textbooks with the help of robots.
The new program is called BBookX, and it uses open online resources to help the user create a wide variety of media, from study guides to textbooks, in a new genre Penn State is calling "the bionic book." Users create the material by assigning each chapter of a digital table of contents text or related keywords or keyphrases that they'd like to see reflected in the information. BBookX then uses matching algorithms to return text, which users can keep or combine with text of their own.
BBookX seems like it could have many benefits for both faculty and students. Faculty can use the program to more easily tailor their course materials to their exact curricula and also update them as things change and new information becomes available from year to year or even while the class is in session. These textbooks can also be distributed for free, which could help alleviate some of the cost of attending college for students.
"In any rapidly changing field, such as information sciences and technology and computer science, it's important that books stay up to date," C. Lee Giles, the David Reese Professor in the university's College of Information Sciences and Technology who helped build the system, said in a press release. "I wanted an easy, inexpensive way for faculty and students to have access to the latest knowledge and information."
Over time, BBookX is designed to apply choices made by professors after they review the textbooks made by the program to improve the book in each iteration, similar to how Netflix suggests titles for users to watch based on what they have previously viewed, Penn State's director of education technology services Kyle Bowen told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Penn State launched BBookX as a pilot program and now plans to expand it to other faculty members and students at the university. Students can also use BBookX to make their own course materials to help their learning, which has already been built into the curriculum of the IST 110: Introduction to Information, People and Technology course at Penn State. BBookX also doesn't return search results based on users' past search histories, which can aid in the learning process by allowing them to discover new information that might be helpful.
Who knows? Maybe BBookX will inspire students to spend more time loading up their "bionic book" during class and less time surfing Facebook.