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Computational Parenting: Are we nearly there yet?

Posted 1 year ago
7 Replies
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This is a light-hearted little piece of code I wrote to help deal with questions like "Are we nearly there yet?" of young children when driving a car.

Here is the idea. My daughter is in second class and has learnt to count, but it takes time for children to appreciate numbers and magnitudes. This is an important part of "Computational Thinking"; there is a sort of progression when children learn how to count and work with numbers. Based on my observation (and that is based on a sample of 2 or so), counting starts with very concrete objects like pieces of chocolate or building bricks or so. Only later will children learn to appreciate numbers as more abstract entities. It is typical that little children struggle to understand the magnitude of a number - they might be quite poor at estimating ages of people for a long time and putting numbers in perspective. ("How come that 1000$ is a lot, but 1000 grains of sand is too little to play with?")

If I answer the question "Are we nearly there yet?" with "30 minutes from now." It doesn't necessarily mean much. Saying "one episode of your favourite program" appears to be a more meaningful answer.

Now, we came up with this concept, where I basically tell my daughter to count to a certain number: Clara: "How long until my food is ready?" Me:"Count to 150."

Now I could do this very simply. There are all these calculations like: "To what number could I count if I were counting at a rate of one number per second and were to count all my life?"

enter image description here

gives 72.6yr, which I can then UnitConvert to seconds:

UnitConvert[Quantity[72.6, "Years"], "Seconds"]

That gives about 2.29 * 10^ 9 seconds and that would be what a person could count to if they start counting when they are born, and never sleep or do anything else, and get to say one number per second. Some of these assumptions might not be realistic.

Coding actual counting

I was interested in the actual counting time, i.e. ignoring sleep, breaks etc, and just wondering how many numbers I could really say in a given time, if I didn't do anything else. So I could ask Mathematica to make a sound file and speaking numbers for me. Counting up to 10 (at a reasonable speed) would look like this:

SpeechSynthesize[StringRiffle[StringReplace[IntegerName[#], "\[Hyphen]" -> " "] & /@ Range[10], 
",  "]]

Using Duration, I can find out how long it takes to say this:

Duration[SpeechSynthesize[StringRiffle[StringReplace[IntegerName[#], "\[Hyphen]" -> " "] & /@ Range[10], ",  "]]]

I obtain 6.45732 s, which is too high a precision for my taste, but gives me an idea of how long it takes to count up to 10. So it takes an average of 0.645732 seconds to say one of the numbers. As numbers become larger, it will take longer to say them. Let's count up to 100:

Duration[SpeechSynthesize[StringRiffle[StringReplace[IntegerName[#], "\[Hyphen]" -> " "] & /@ Range[100], ",  "]]]

which gives me 1min 44.4055 seconds, which is about 1.046 seconds per number. Counting up to 1000 is still an easy thing to do:

Duration[SpeechSynthesize[StringRiffle[StringReplace[IntegerName[#], "\[Hyphen]" -> " "] & /@ Range[1000],",  "]]]

gives 27 min 50.0569 seconds, which is on average 1.67007 seconds per number. Now I could produce longer and longer sound files, but if I count up to larger numbers that is not the most practical thing to do. So lets do a random sampling approach. If we want to estimate how long it takes to count to one million, I could ask Mathematica to choose 100 numbers and then scale up to 1.000.000:

1000000/100*Duration[SpeechSynthesize[StringRiffle[StringReplace[IntegerName[#], "\[Hyphen]" -> " "] & /@ RandomSample[Range[1000000], 100], ",  "]]]

Every time you run this you get slightly different results. Here are the results from 10 "realisations":

enter image description here

Of course, I can get better estimates by sampling more than 100 numbers. I would also like to use mixed units so give a better idea of the times. Here is a simple piece of code to do this:

results = Table[{k, UnitConvert[k/1000*Duration[SpeechSynthesize[
        StringRiffle[StringReplace[IntegerName[#], "\[Hyphen]" -> " "] & /@ 
          RandomSample[Range[k], 1000], ",  "]]], 
     MixedUnit[{"Years", "Months", "Days", "Hours", "Minutes", 
       "Seconds"}]]}, {k, NestList[10*# &, 1000, 6]}], k]

Not the most elegant piece of code, but it gets the job done:

enter image description here

Other languages

Of course, we can try this in different languages:

Monitor[resultsgerman = 
  Table[{k, UnitConvert[k/1000*Duration[SpeechSynthesize[
        StringRiffle[IntegerName[#, Language -> "German"] & /@ 
          RandomSample[Range[k], 1000], ", "], Language -> "German"]],
      MixedUnit[{"Years", "Months", "Days", "Hours", "Minutes", 
       "Seconds"}]]}, {k, NestList[10*# &, 1000, 6]}], k]

which gives:

enter image description here

So it appears that Germans count a bit more slowly than English native speakers. Let's have a look at Spanish:

Monitor[resultsspanish = 
  Table[{k, UnitConvert[k/1000*Duration[SpeechSynthesize[
        StringRiffle[IntegerName[#, Language -> "Spanish"] & /@ 
        RandomSample[Range[k], 1000], ", "], Language -> "Spanish"]], 
     MixedUnit[{"Years", "Months", "Days", "Hours", "Minutes", 
       "Seconds"}]]}, {k, NestList[10*# &, 1000, 6]}], k]

which gives:

enter image description here

I tried some other languages, too, but that doesn't contribute a lot to this parenting problem.

Higher resolution

For the next application, I want some higher resolution data for English.

Monitor[resultsEnglishHighRes = 
  Table[{k, UnitConvert[k/Min[1000, k]*
  Duration[SpeechSynthesize[StringRiffle[StringReplace[IntegerName[#], "\[Hyphen]" -> " "] & /@ 
  RandomSample[Range[k], Min[1000, k]], ",  "]]], 
     MixedUnit[{"Years", "Months", "Days", "Hours", "Minutes", 
       "Seconds"}]]}, {k, Floor /@ Table[10^k, {k, 1, 9, 1/10}]}], k]

This gives me a long table; I'll only show every second entry though:

enter image description here

That's some serious counting going on right here.... If we plot this, we get:

ListLogLogPlot[{#[[1]], QuantityMagnitude[UnitConvert[#[[2]], "Seconds"]]} & /@ 
resultsEnglishHighRes, PlotRange -> All, LabelStyle -> Directive[Bold, Medium], 
AxesLabel -> {"Count to", "Time in seconds"}, PlotStyle -> Red]

enter image description here

We can also calculate the average time per number if we count up:

averagetime={#[[1]], QuantityMagnitude[UnitConvert[#[[2]], "Seconds"]]/#[[
     1]]} & /@ resultsEnglishHighRes;

ListLogLogPlot[averagetime, LabelStyle -> Directive[Bold, Medium], 
 AxesLabel -> {"Count up to", "<time> per number in secs"}]

enter image description here

Making this into parenting approved functions

Of course, these graphs tell me how long it takes to count up to a certain number, but they do not allow me to answer my daughter's questions.... So I need to build something to make predictions about how far she has to count until we arrive. We could do some simple curve fitting, but if we are too lazy (and I sure am), we can use Mathematica's more advanced features to get this done - quick and dirty.

Let's try two things:

(i) Let's predict how long we need to count to a certain number. (ii) Predict the number we have to count to if we need to count for a given time.

Let's predict how long we need to count to a certain number

Easy peasy. Here's a predictor

ptime = Predict[
  Rule @@@ ({#[[1]], UnitConvert[#[[2]], "Seconds"]} & /@ 
     resultsEnglishHighRes), PerformanceGoal -> "Quality"]

It's ok, but it doesn't give us units so let's do this:

 MixedUnit[{"Years", "Months", "Days", "Hours", "Minutes", 

So this predicts how long I have to count up to a million. I get:

1 mo 11 days 18h 21 min 26.8809s

As before, this won't be as precise as it pretends to be (!) and also is a wee bit different from my direct (but sampled) counting approach, which gave me:

1 mo 6 days 15h 32 min 21.4512 s

But then it is hopefully going to be more precise than the "one-number-per-second" assumption.

Predict the number we have to count to if we need to count for a given time

Luckily there is not much brain-CPU-time required for this either.

preversetime = Predict[Rule @@@ ({QuantityMagnitude[UnitConvert[#[[2]], "Seconds"]], #[[1]]} & /@ 
resultsEnglishHighRes), PerformanceGoal -> "Quality"]

We can then add units and use units etc as above.


Ok, now here's an hypothetical application - or an experiment which is of course not currently possible due to COVID restrictions.

[planning to drive from Aberdeen to Edinburgh in Scotland]

Clara: "Are we nearly there yet?" Me: "No, we are still in front of our house." Clara: "What do I have to count to?" Me: [takes out phone, opens Wolfram Cloud website (see below)] : "Count to 3573."

Crisis averted. Happy child, happy parent.

Here's how it works:

Ceiling[preversetime[UnitConvert[TravelTime[Entity["City", {"Aberdeen", "AberdeenCity", "UnitedKingdom"}], Entity["City", {"Edinburgh", "Edinburgh", "UnitedKingdom"}]], "Seconds"]]]

Then you deploy that to the Cloud:

CloudDeploy[FormFunction[{"from" -> "Location", "to" -> "Location"}, 
Ceiling[preversetime[UnitConvert[TravelTime[#from, #to], "Seconds"]]] &], Permissions -> "Public"]

and get a link to a website. Good times!


There are lots of things that can be improved and should be checked. All numbers were computed using a random subsample approach. So we would need to know error bars etc. That can be done, but is out of the scope of this post. We can run some easy tests though. For example:

 Entity["City", {"Aberdeen", "AberdeenCity", "UnitedKingdom"}], 
 Entity["City", {"Edinburgh", "Edinburgh", "UnitedKingdom"}]]

Gives 2 h 11 mins. The predictor suggests that I should count to 3573. Well, let's quickly do that and see how long it takes:

UnitConvert[Duration[SpeechSynthesize[StringRiffle[StringReplace[IntegerName[#], "\[Hyphen]" -> " "] & /@ Range[3573], ",  "]]],MixedUnit[{ "Hours", "Minutes", "Seconds"}]]

That gives 2 h 6 mins 24.2026s (with overwhelming precision!). Not too bad. The code has not been properly beta-tested and there might be bugs. I have not tried to count up to 1000000000 or so to check the results; this is basically due to my very limited life span. Also, I did not even try to make the code nice or efficient. It was basically just typing it in and getting it done - so there are lots of improvements to be made there.

Of course, the cloud version can be adjusted to estimate the number to count to for any given period of time so that it becomes more useful for everyday parenting.

All the best from Scotland, Marco

POSTED BY: Marco Thiel
7 Replies

Dear Marco,

it is always a pleasure to read your inventive posts - thanks for sharing! Certainly your kids never ever will be bored!

As a side note: It is probably not surprising that your findings in "time length for counting" (depending on language) seem correlate with the entropy of the respective used letters:

languages = {"English", "German", "Spanish"};
langChars = 
   Table[lng -> 
        IntegerName[#, {"Words", lng}] & /@ 
         Range[100000]], {FromCharacterCode[8208], " ", ","}], {lng, languages}];
entropy = N[Entropy[#]] & /@ langChars
(* Out:  <|English -> 2.6504, German -> 2.70404, Spanish -> 2.58885|>  *)

Best regards from Germany -- Henrik

POSTED BY: Henrik Schachner

I have a hard time interpreting the entropy measure in this case. For example:

POSTED BY: Mads Bahrami

Hi Mads,

I have no idea about the entropies. I think though that you are calculating some sort of cumulative string. If you do it per number:

s = Table[N@Entropy@
StringDelete[StringJoin[IntegerName[#, {"Words", "English"}] & @i], {FromCharacterCode[
8208], " ", ","}], {i, 1, 1000}];

ListLinePlot[s, GridLines -> {Range[1, 1000, 10], Automatic}]

enter image description here

Here's a (very badly plotted) image

entropyspeech = Entropy[SpeechSynthesize[StringReplace[IntegerName[#], "\[Hyphen]" -> " "]]] & /@ Range[1000];

Show[ListLinePlot[N[Entropy[StringDelete[StringRiffle[StringSplit@IntegerName[#, {"Words", "English"}], " "], ","]]] & /@ Range[1, 1000], PlotRange -> All], 
 ListLinePlot[entropyspeech // N, PlotRange -> All, PlotStyle -> Red],PlotRange -> All]

enter image description here

I cannot really tell yet what that means. Perhaps if I plot it better, and fix the problem I mentioned in the reply to Henrik...



POSTED BY: Marco Thiel

Dear Henrik,

thank you very much for your kind words. It appears that my kids would choose computer games and movies if it was up to them ;-) I do try to use the Wolfram Language though to illustrate computational aspects of their questions; I am still dreaming of a world in which maths/computation is used as naturally by children as reading.

Regarding your observation as the entropies, it is certainly quite interesting. I am not sure how the relationship between the written numbers and their pronunciation is. Here is a short visualisation of English word lengths and their "pronunciation time".

dataEnglish = {#, StringLength[#], Duration[SpeechSynthesize[#]], QuantityMagnitude@Duration[SpeechSynthesize[#]]} & /@ RandomSample[DictionaryLookup[], 2000];

enter image description here

We can represent this like so (string length vs time to say the word):

ListPlot[Select[dataEnglish, NumberQ[#[[-1]]] &][[All, {2, -1}]]]

enter image description here

If we fit a linear model to this we get:

lm1 = LinearModelFit[Select[dataEnglish, NumberQ[#[[-1]]] &][[All, {2, -1}]], {1, x}, x]

which gives

0.273066 + 0.0629077 x

We can compare that with the numbers:

stringlength = StringLength[StringReplace[IntegerName[#], "\[Hyphen]" -> " "]] & /@Range[1000];

speakingtime = QuantityMagnitude[Duration[SpeechSynthesize[StringReplace[IntegerName[#], "\[Hyphen]" -> " "]]]] & /@ Range[1000];

syllables = Length /@ 
(ResourceFunction["WordSyllables"][StringDelete[StringRiffle[StringSplit@IntegerName[#, {"Words", "English"}]," "], ","]] & /@ Range[1, 1000]);

We can plot this

ListLinePlot[{stringlength, 14 speakingtime, syllables}]

enter image description here

where blue is the string length, orange is the speaking time, and green the number of syllables.

And then:

ListPlot[Transpose[{stringlength, speakingtime}]]

enter image description here

I have also calculated the readability score, but suppose that lots of assumptions don't apply when applying that measure to individual words:

readabilityscore = ResourceFunction["ReadabilityScore"][
StringDelete[StringRiffle[StringSplit@IntegerName[#, {"Words", "English"}], " "], ","]] & /@ Range[1000];


enter image description here

I have no idea what most of this means. Well, string length is correlated with speaking time, which is trivial. I'll try to look at this for different languages and other texts/books which I have in different languages.

I'll try to post some things when I have fixed a little problem. If I run this:

dataEnglish = {#, StringLength[#], Duration[SpeechSynthesize[#]], <a href="mailto:QuantityMagnitude@Duration[SpeechSynthesize[#]]">QuantityMagnitude@Duration[SpeechSynthesize[#]]} & /@ RandomSample[DictionaryLookup[], 2000];

It appears to work for a while and then produces an error and then SpeechSynthesize stops working. Even killing the kernel doesn't help; it needs a reboot. Hope to fix that soon.

Thanks for your comment and all the best from Aberdeen,


POSTED BY: Marco Thiel

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POSTED BY: Moderation Team

Your children are incredibly lucky to have you. :)

POSTED BY: Danielle Rommel

Moderator Note: this post was highlighted on the Wolfram's official social media channels. Thank you for your contribution. We are looking forward to your future posts.

POSTED BY: Moderation Team
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