Earlier this month the mobile-app game Pokémon Go was released in the U.S., and the game has been ubiquitous ever since. Aside from being a sudden pop culture phenomenon, the game’s success poses some significant implications. First of all, this is clearly a breakthrough moment for augmented reality. Pokémon Go is not the first augmented reality game, nor is it the most ambitious, but it has undoubtedly brought AR into mainstream consciousness. Secondly, the success of Pokémon Go has led me to reconsider all my previously held assumptions about the uses of mobile apps and gamification for interfacing with urban spaces. I have historically been cynical about the prospect of using mobile games or AR interfaces to interact with urban space, since they usually strike me as shallow and insignificant, typically resulting in a fleeting diversion like a flash mob dance party, rather than altering people’s perceptions of place in any lasting or meaningful way. Pokémon Go satisfies all the requirements of my earlier preconceptions, yet despite my best critical instincts, I really like the game.
The buzz about Pokémon Go had been building on various forums online, and after it was released it was virtually impossible to avoid Pokémon Go-related posts. Save for maybe 10 minutes with a friend’s Game Boy in the late 90s, I’ve never played a Pokémon game and I preemptively wrote off Pokémon Go as yet another cultural fad that I would never partake in or understand. Curiosity got the best of my wife, however, and she downloaded the app and we walked around our neighborhood to test it out. To my surprise, the game was a lot of fun; our familiar surroundings were now filled with digital surprises, and we were excited to see neighborhood landmarks and murals represented as Pokéstops, and wild Pokémon hanging out in the doorways of local shops. We meandered around discovering which of our local landmarks had been incorporated into the game, and each discovery increased my enjoyment of the app. Yes, the game is simple and shallow, but I was completely charmed. I downloaded the game so I could play, too.
Reactions to Pokémon Go have been as fascinating as the game’s widespread adoption. Many news articles sensationalized the inherent dangers of playing the game: distracted players wandering into traffic or off of cliffs, people’s homes being designated as Pokéstops and besieged by players, and traps being laid (using the games “lures”) to ambush and rob aspiring Pokétrainers. There have also been insightful critical analyses of the game. An early and oft-shared article by Omari Akil considered the implications of Pokémon Go in light of recent police shootings of black men, warning that “Pokemon Go is a death sentence if you are a black man“:
I spent less than 20 minutes outside. Five of those minutes were spent enjoying the game. One of those minutes I spent trying to look as pleasant and nonthreatening as possible as I walked past a somewhat visibly disturbed white woman on her way to the bus stop. I spent the other 14 minutes being distracted from the game by thoughts of the countless Black Men who have had the police called on them because they looked “suspicious” or wondering what a second amendment exercising individual might do if I walked past their window a 3rd or 4th time in search of a Jigglypuff.
Others questioned the distribution of Pokémon across neighborhoods, suggesting that poor or black neighborhoods had disproportionately fewer Pokémon and Pokéstops. Among urbanists, however, reaction to the game has been mixed. Mark Wilson at Fastcodesign declared that Pokémon Go “is quietly helping people fall in love with their cities“. Ross Brady of Architizer celebrated the game for sparking “a global wave of urban exploration“. Writing for de zeen, Alex Wiltshire boldly states that the game has “redrawn the map of what people find important about the world“. City Lab contributor Laura Bliss proclaimed “Pokémon Go has created a new kind of flaneur“.
Others have been more critical of the game, with Nicholas Korody at Archinect retorting: “No, Pokémon Go is not an urban fantasy for the new flaneur“. At Jacobin, Sam Kriss implores readers to “resist Pokémon Go“:
Walk around. Explore your neighborhood. Visit the park. Take in the sights. Have your fun. Pokémon Go is coercion, authority, a command issuing from out of a blank universe, which blasts through social and political cleavages to finally catch ‘em all. It must be resisted.
Some, like Jeff Sparrow at Overland, drew direct parallels to the Situationists:
On the one hand, that’s way cool – suddenly, the old pub near your house is inhabited by monsters.
On the other, there’s something faintly distasteful about the recuperation of specific real histories into a billion-dollar corporate mythology. Nearly 150 people lost their lives when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned to the ground, entirely needless deaths caused by the atrocious working conditions of the garment trade. The tragedy became a rallying point for the trade union movement, the name of the factory, a shorthand reference to employers’ greed.
Now, though, it’s three free Pokeballs.
We might also say, then, that, even as the game leads players to embrace the derive, it also offers a remarkable demonstration of the phenomenon that Debord critiqued.
Writing for the Atlantic, Ian Bogost mediated on “the tragedy of Pokémon Go“:
We can have it both ways; we have to, even: Pokémon Go can be both a delightful new mechanism for urban and social discovery, and also a ghastly reminder that when it comes to culture, sequels rule. It’s easy to look at Pokémon Go and wonder if the game’s success might underwrite other, less trite or brazenly commercial examples of the genre. But that’s what the creators of pervasive games have been thinking for years, and still almost all of them are advertisements. Reality is and always has been augmented, it turns out. But not with video feeds of twenty-year old monsters in balls atop local landmarks. Rather, with swindlers shilling their wares to the everyfolk, whose ensuing dance of embrace and resistance is always as beautiful as it is ugly.
Pokémon Go’s popularity has led to many online comparisons to the Star Trek: TNG episode “The Game,” in which the crew of the Enterprise is overcome by a mind-controlling video game. The game in Star Trek is not strictly-speaking an augmented reality game, but does involve projecting images onto the player’s vision similar to an AR-overlay. Previous gaming and gadget fads have been compared to the TNG episode, notably Google Glass (for it’s similarity to the eye-beaming design used to interface with the game in Star Trek) and the pervasively popular Angry Birds game (as evident in this parody video). The comparison has regained cultural cachet because, unlike Angry Birds which can be played on the couch, Pokémon Go is played in motion. This, of course, has contributed to the perception of the game’s zombie-fying effects; we’ve grown accustomed to the fact that everyone’s eyes are glued to a smartphone screen in our public spaces, but now there are whole flocks of people milling around with their eyes on their devices.
My cynical side is inclined to agree with the critics who see Pokémon Go’s proliferation as proof positive of the passification and banalization of our society; the visions of Orwell, Bradbury, and Phil Dick all realized at once. But there’s something there that has me appreciative, even excited about this goofy game. As my wife and I wandered our neighborhood looking for pocket monsters, we noticed several other people walking around staring at their phones. This is not an uncommon sight, but it is re-contextualized in light of Pokémon Go’s popularity. “Look,” my wife would say, “I bet they’re playing, too.” After a while she had to know for sure, and started walking up to people and asking, “Are you playing Pokémon Go?” Every person she asked was indeed playing the game. Then we were walking along with these people we’ve just met, discussing play strategies, sharing Pokéstop locations, spreading word of upcoming lure parties.
One night around 10:30 last week we went into the Oakland neighborhood, home to both Pitt and Carnegie Mellon’s campuses and a hotbed of Pokémon Go activity. When we arrived, at least 20 people sat along the wall in front of the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial, smartphones in hands. We walked around the base of the Cathedral of Learning, where dozens of people in groups of two, three, or more were slowly pacing, stopping to capture a virtual creature. We crossed the street to Schenley plaza, where still dozens more people trekked through the grass, laughing and exclaiming and running up to their friends to share which Pokémon they had just got. Sure, most of these people were only talking to their own groups of friends, if they were talking at all, but it was still a cool experience. For me, the greatest thing was not which monsters I caught or XP my avatar earned; rather it was the energy, the unspoken but palpable buzz generated by all these people walking around in the dark of a warm summer night. Yes, I was giving attention to my smartphone screen, but what I remember most from that evening are the stars, and the fireflies, and the murmuring voices. Pokémon Go is promoting a sort of communal public activity, even if the sociality it produces is liminal at best. Yes, it is still shallow, still commercial, still programmed, but it’s something; there’s an energy there and a potential that is worth paying attention to.
Pokémon Go is not the be-all-end-all of augmented urban exploration, nor should be it considered the pinnacle of how mobile technology can enable new ways of interfacing with city space. But the game’s popularity, and my personal experience using it, has given me hope for the potential of AR apps to enrich our experience of urban spaces and engender new types of interactions in our shared environments.
- Tech companies and weapons manufacturers are exploring the crossover potential for firearms and wearable technology devices like Google Glass. Brian Anderson at Motherboard reported Austin tech startup TrackingPoint’s foray into this inevitable extension of augmented reality applications and posted the company’s concept video:
“When paired with wearable technology, PGFs can provide unprecedented benefits to shooters, such as the ability to shoot around corners, from behind low walls, and from other positions that provide exceptional cover,” according to a TrackingPoint press release. “Without PGF technology, such positions would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fire from.”
The steadied rise of wearable technology is unlocking a dizzying number of potential killer apps. Indeed, If there was any lingering doubt that wearable tech is coming to the battlefield, the Glassification of a high-profile smart weapon should put any uncertainties to rest.
If being able to track and drop a moving target with single-shot accuracy at 1,500 feet using a long-range robo rifle wasn’t sobering enough already, to think basically anyone can now do so over a hill, perhaps overlooking a so-called “networked battlefield” shot through with data-driven soldiers, is sure to be even more so.
- Another recent Motherboard article reported on a model city being built in Michigan for the purpose of test driving self-driving cars:
The simulation is run by a proprietary software, and programmers will code in dangerous situations—traffic jams and potential collisions—so engineers can anticipate problems and, ideally, solve for them before the automated autos hit the streets. It’s laying the groundwork for the real-world system planned for 2021 in Ann Arbor.
There will surely be some technical barriers to work out, but the biggest hurdles self-driving cars will have to clear are likely regulatory, legal, and political. Will driverless cars be subsidized like public transit? If autonomous cars eliminate crashes, will insurance companies start tanking? Will the data-driven technology be a privacy invasion?
- In other robo-car news, this article by Philip Ross provides an extensive look at the future of driverless vehicles:
Today you can buy a top-of-the-line S-Class car from Mercedes-Benz that figuratively says “ahem” when you begin to stray out of your lane or tailgate. If you do nothing, it’ll turn the wheel slightly or lightly apply the brakes. And if you’re still intent on crashing, it will take command. In 5 years, cars will be quicker to intervene; in 20, they won’t need your advice; and in 30, they won’t take it.
Accident rates will plummet, parking problems will vanish, streets will narrow, cities will bulk up, and commuting by automobile will become a mere extension of sleep, work, and recreation. With no steering column and no need for a crush zone in front of the passenger compartment (after all, there aren’t going to be any crashes), car design will run wild: Collapsibility! Stackability! Even interchangeability, because when a car can come when called, pick up a second or third passenger for a fee, and park itself, even the need to own the thing will dwindle.
- Ray Kurzweil recently delivered a TED talk on hybrid computing. Video available on the TED site, which summarizes the talk thusly:
Two hundred million years ago, our mammal ancestors developed a new brain feature: the neocortex. This stamp-sized piece of tissue (wrapped around a brain the size of a walnut) is the key to what humanity has become. Now, futurist Ray Kurzweil suggests, we should get ready for the next big leap in brain power, as we tap into the computing power in the cloud.
- Finally, this post at SingularityHub covers Muse, a headband that monitors brain activity and may enable brain-to-computer interaction:
The headband picks up four channels from seven EEG sensors, five across the forehead and two conductive rubber ear sensors. Together, the sensors detect the five basic types of brain waves, and, unlike conventional sensors, they don’t need to be surrounded by gel to work. Software helps filter out the noise and syncs the signal, via Bluetooth, to a companion app. The app shows the user the brainwave information and offers stress-reduction exercises.
A bit further down the road of possibilities is brain-to-brain networking. Last year, researchers at the University of Washington used EEG sensors to detect one person’s intention to move his arm and used it to stimulate the other person’s brain with an external coil and watched as the second person moved his hand without planning to.
- I’ve long been fascinated by the gaming culture in South Korea, and Tom Massey has written a great feature piece for Eurogamer titled Seoul Caliber: Inside Korea’s Gaming Culture. From this westerner’s perspective, having never visited Korea, the article reads almost more like cyberpunk fiction than games journalism:
Not quite as ubiquitous, but still extremely common, are PC Bangs: LAN gaming hangouts where 1000 Won nets you an hour of multiplayer catharsis. In Gangnam’s Maxzone, overhead fans rotate at Apocalypse Now speed, slicing cigarette smoke as it snakes through the blades. Korea’s own NCSoft, whose European base is but a stone’s throw from the Eurogamer offices, is currently going strong with its latest MMO, Blade & Soul.
“It’s relaxing,” says Min-Su, sipping a Milkis purchased from the wall-mounted vending machine. “And dangerous,” he adds. “It’s easy to lose track of time playing these games, especially when you have so much invested in them. I’m always thinking about achieving the next level or taking on a quick quest to try to obtain a weapon, and the next thing I know I’ve been here for half the day.”
- As a cyberpunk/hyperreality aside, the city of Hong Kong has put up a blue-sky backdrop for when the real sky is too smoggy for tourist photos.
- In yet another cyberpunk dystopian tangent, I recently came across Chris Rogers’ site Fragments of a Hologram Rose: Re-seeing Blade Runner, with an assortment of content and analysis relating to the film.
- And one final cyberpunk diversion: this video is the first part of a lecture by University of Michigan professor Eric Rabkin covering cyberpunk, postmodernism, and beyond:
- Writing for The New Economy, Aaran Franda examines how the virtual economies seen in games like EVE Online provide valuable perspectives on real world economic activity:
Creation and simulation in virtual worlds appear to offer the best domain to test the new ideas required to tackle the very real problems of depravation, inequality, unemployment, and poverty that exist in national economies. On that note the need to see our socioeconomic institutions for the games that they really are seems even more poignant.
In the words of Vili Lehdonvirta, a leading scholar in virtual goods and currencies, the suffering we see today is “not some consequence of natural or physical law” it instead “is a result of the way we play these games.”
- Jon Evans at Tech Crunch looks at jobs, robots, capitalism, inequality, and you:
The global economy seems to be bifurcating into a rich/tech track and a poor/non-tech track, not least because new technology will increasingly destroy/replace old non-tech jobs. (Yes, global. Foxconn is already replacing Chinese employees with one million robots.) So far so fairly non-controversial.
The big thorny question is this: is technology destroying jobs faster than it creates them?
We live in an era of rapid exponential growth in technological capabilities. (Which may finally be slowing down, true, but that’s an issue for decades hence.) If you’re talking about the economic effects of technology in the 1980s, much less the 1930s or the nineteenth century, as if it has any relevance whatsoever to today’s situation, then you do not understand exponential growth. The present changes so much faster that the past is no guide at all; the difference is qualitative, not just quantitative. It’s like comparing a leisurely walk to relativistic speeds.
- This recent episode of Radiolab focused on talking to machines:
We begin with a love story–from a man who unwittingly fell in love with a chatbot on an online dating site. Then, we encounter a robot therapist whose inventor became so unnerved by its success that he pulled the plug. And we talk to the man who coded Cleverbot, a software program that learns from every new line of conversation it receives…and that’s chatting with more than 3 million humans each month. Then, five intrepid kids help us test a hypothesis about a toy designed to push our buttons, and play on our human empathy. And we meet a robot built to be so sentient that its creators hope it will one day have a consciousness, and a life, all its own.
- This video shows a demo of using Google Glass for interactive augmented reality:
- A recent Guardian article by Juliette Garside warns that our digital infrastructure is exceeding the limits of human control:
“These outages are absolutely going to continue,” said Neil MacDonald, a fellow at technology research firm Gartner. “There has been an explosion in data across all types of enterprises. The complexity of the systems created to support big data is beyond the understanding of a single person and they also fail in ways that are beyond the comprehension of a single person.”
From high volume securities trading to the explosion in social media and the online consumption of entertainment, the amount of data being carried globally over the private networks, such as stock exchanges, and the public internet is placing unprecedented strain on websites and on the networks that connect them.
- In an “anti-videogame manifesto,” Keith Burgun argues for intrinsic rewards and against grinding in videogames:
What I want is systems that have intrinsic rewards; that are disciplines similar to drawing or playing a musical instrument. I want systems which are their own reward.
What videogames almost always give me instead are labor that I must perform for an extrinsic reward. I want to convince you that not only is this not what I want, this isn’t really what anyone wants.
- This video from PBS Digital Studios’ Off Book looks at the rise of competetive gaming & e-sports:
- Will Luton at GamesIndustry International writes about the celebrification of game developers:
This ‘celebrification’ is enlivening making games and giving players role models, drawing more people in to development, especially indie and auteured games. This shift is proving more prosperous than any Skillset-accredited course or government pot could ever hope for. We are making men sitting in pants at their laptops for 12 hours a day as glamorous as it could be.
Creating luminaries will lead to all the benefits that more people in games can bring: a bigger and brighter community, plus new and fresh talent making exciting games. However, celebritydom demands storms, turmoil and gossip.
- The ongoing survey of Hollywood’s Summer of Doom continues with Isaac Chotiner’s New Republic article, Hollywood is in trouble and we’re all going to pay:
Spielberg’s theory is essentially that a studio will eventually go under after it releases five or six bombs in a row. The reason: budgets have become so gigantic. And, indeed, this summer has been full of movies with giant budgets and modest grosses, all of which has elicited hand-wringing about financial losses, the lack of a quality product (another post-apocalyptic thriller? more superheroes?), and a possible connection between the two. There has been some hope that Hollywood’s troubles will lead to a rethinking of how movies get made, and which movies get greenlit by studio executives. But a close look at this summer’s grosses suggest a more worrisome possibility: that the studios will become more conservative and even less creative.
- Finally, video of Slavoj Žižek and Paul A. Taylor discussing the difficulty of conveying philosophical ideas in today’s media:
- White hat hacker Barnaby Jack was found dead in San Francisco this week; he was 35 years old. From the Reuters article on his death:
His genius was finding bugs in the tiny computers embedded in equipment, such as medical devices and cash machines. He often received standing ovations at conferences for his creativity and showmanship while his research forced equipment makers to fix bugs in their software.
Jack had planned to demonstrate his techniques to hack into pacemakers and implanted defibrillators at the Black Hat hackers convention in Las Vegas next Thursday. He told Reuters last week that he could kill a man from 30 feet away by attacking an implanted heart device.
- Writing in the MIT Technology Review, Don Norman asks whether wearable devices can augment our activities without distracting us from the real world:
Without the right approach, the continual distraction of multiple tasks exerts a toll that disrupts performance. It takes time to switch tasks, to get back what attention theorists call “situation awareness.” Interruptions disrupt performance, and even a voluntary switching of attention from one task to another is an interruption of the task being left behind.
Furthermore, it will be difficult to resist the temptation of using powerful technology that guides us with useful side information, suggestions, and even commands. Sure, other people will be able to see that we are being assisted, but they won’t know by whom, just as we will be able to tell that they are being minded, and we won’t know by whom.
- This CNN.com article looks at “wearable tech that will turn man into machine by 2015” via an hour-by-hour breakdown of a hypothetical day in the life of a wearable tech aficionado:
9am to 1pm: Throughout the day you connect to your Dekko-powered augmented reality device, which overlays your vision with a broad range of information and entertainment. While many of the products the US software company is proposing are currently still fairly conceptual, Dekko hopes to find ways to integrate an extra layer of visual information into every part of daily life. Dekko is one of the companies supplying software to Google Glass, the wearable computer that gives users information through a spectacle-like visual display. Matt Miesnieks, CEO of Dekko, says that he believes “the power of wearables comes from connecting our senses to sensors.”
- In another article from the MIT Technology Review, Rachel Metz ponders the possibility of smart contact lenses:
Researchers at Belgian nonelectronics reseach and development center Imec and Belgium’s Ghent University are in the very early stages of developing such a device, which would bring augmented reality–the insertion of digital imagery such as virtual signs and historical markers with the real world–right to your eyeballs. It’s just one of several such projects (see “Contact Lens Computer: It’s Like Google Glass Without The Glasses”), and while the idea is nowhere near the point where you could ask your eye doctor for a pair, it could become more realistic as the cost and size of electronic components continue to fall and wearable gadgets gain popularity.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Wearable Technologies conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Eric Dy, Imec’s North America business development manager, said researchers are investigating the feasibility of integrating an array of micro lenses with LEDs, using the lenses to help focus light and project it onto the wearer’s retinas.
- Ben Gilbert at engadget reports on prototypical Universal Translators ala Star Trek:
The biggest barrier, beyond the translation itself, is speech recognition. In so many words, background noise interferes with the translation software, thus affecting results. But Barra said it works “close to 100 percent” when used in “controlled environments.” Sounds perfect for diplomats, not so much for real-world conversations. Of course, Google’s non-real-time, text-based translation software built into Chrome leaves quite a bit to be desired, making us all the more wary of putting our faith into Google’s verbal solution. As the functionality is still “several years away,” though, there’s still plenty of time to convert us.
- DVICE writer Colin Druce-Mcfadden looks at the potential of life-size humanoid holograms:
There will be limitations, however. It’s easy to think that a life-sized human being, standing in your living room, would be capable of giving you a hug, for instance. But if that breakthrough is coming, it hasn’t arrived yet. Holodeck creations these are not. And images projected through the magic of HoloVision won’t be able to follow you into the kitchen for a snack either — not unless you’ve got a whole network of HoloVision cameras, anyway.
- Cyborgology contributor davidbanks addresses “what’s really disturbing about retailers tracking your every move“:
The implications of Euclid’s technology do not stop at surveillance or privacy. Remember, these systems are meant to feed data to store owners so that they can rearrange store shelves or entire showroom floors to increase sales. Malls, casinos, and grocery stores have always been carefully planned out spaces—scientifically arranged and calibrated for maximum profit at minimal cost. Euclid’s systems however, allow for massive and exceedingly precise quantification and analysis. More than anything, what worries me is the deliberateness of these augmented spaces. Euclid will make spaces designed to do exactly one thing almost perfectly: sell you shit you don’t need. I worry about spaces that are as expertly and diligently designed as Amazon’s home page or the latest Pepsi advertisement. A space built on data so rich and thorough that it’ll make focus groups look quaint in comparison.
- In the New York Review of Books, James Bamford says the NSA knows “much more than you think”:
Of course the US is not a totalitarian society, and no equivalent of Big Brother runs it, as the widespread reporting of Snowden’s information shows. We know little about what uses the NSA makes of most information available to it—it claims to have exposed a number of terrorist plots—and it has yet to be shown what effects its activities may have on the lives of most American citizens. Congressional committees and a special federal court are charged with overseeing its work, although they are committed to secrecy, and the court can hear appeals only from the government.
Still, the US intelligence agencies also seem to have adopted Orwell’s idea of doublethink—“to be conscious of complete truthfulness,” he wrote, “while telling carefully constructed lies.” For example, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was asked at a Senate hearing in March whether “the NSA collect[s] any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper’s answer: “No, sir…. Not wittingly.”
- Kotaku reports on using the Oculus Rift to pilot a drone:
The drone is carrying a laptop so it can communicate with the headset, but right now the sticking point is range; since it’s using wi-fi to communicate, it’ll only get to around 50-100m.
- Now for the Cyberpunk promised in the post title: the script-writer of the film adaptation of the Deus Ex video game series says the movie will be “a cyberpunk film, not a video game film”:
“It’s not a video game movie, it’s a cyberpunk movie,” Cargill said. “Eidos Montreal has given us a lot of freedom in terms of story; they want this movie to be Blade Runner. We want this movie to be Blade Runner.”
- io9 recently linked to this interview with William Gibson from the Paris Review:
There’s a famous story about your being unable to sit through Blade Runner while writing Neuromancer.
I was afraid to watch Blade Runner in the theater because I was afraid the movie would be better than what I myself had been able to imagine. In a way, I was right to be afraid, because even the first few minutes were better. Later, I noticed that it was a total box-office flop, in first theatrical release. That worried me, too. I thought, Uh-oh. He got it right and nobody cares! Over a few years, though, I started to see that in some weird way it was the most influential film of my lifetime, up to that point. It affected the way people dressed, it affected the way people decorated nightclubs. Architects started building office buildings that you could tell they had seen in Blade Runner. It had had an astonishingly broad aesthetic impact on the world.
- Finally, a piece by Tim Leary on the “Cyberpunks”:
The concept was formally introduced in William Gibson’s 1984 punkn novel, NEUROMANCER. Although this first novel swept the Triple Crown of science fiction–the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Philip K. Dick awards–it is not really science fiction. It could be called “science faction” in that it occurs not in another galaxy in the far future, but 20 years from now, in a BLADE RUNNER world just a notch beyond our silicon present.
In Gibson’s Cyberworld there is no-warp drive and “beam me up, Scotty.” The high technology is the stuff that appears on today’s screens or that processes data in today’s laboratories: Super-computer boards. Recombinant DNA chips. AI systems and enormous data banks controlled by multinational combines based in Japan and Zurich.
- In case you haven’t already heard, scientists have implanted false memories into the brains of mice.
Scientists have created a false memory in mice by manipulating neurons that bear the memory of a place. The work further demonstrates just how unreliable memory can be. It also lays new ground for understanding the cell behavior and circuitry that controls memory, and could one day help researchers discover new ways to treat mental illnesses influenced by memory.
- The inevitable Total Recall references have already appeared. Others have gone with Inception as the pop culture touchstone.
- I recently discovered the Augmented Reality Trends website. Some noteworthy posts: How augmented reality aids advertising.
Augmented reality blurs the line between the virtual and real-world environment. This capability of augmented reality often confuses users, making them unable to determine the difference between the real world experience and the computer generated experience. It creates an interactive world in real-time and using this technology, businesses can give customers the opportunity to feel their products and service as if it is real right from their current dwelling.
AR technology imposes on the real world view with the help of computer-generated sensory, changing what we see. It can use any kind of object to alter our senses. The enhancements usually include sound, video, graphics and GPS data. And its potentials are tremendous as developers have just started exploring the world of augmented reality. However, you must not confuse between virtual reality and augmented reality, as there is a stark difference between them. Virtual reality, as the name suggests, is not real. It is just a made up world. On the other hand, augmented reality is enhancing the real world, providing an augmented view of the reality. The enhancements can be minor or major, but AR technology only changes how the real world around the user looks like.
And a profile of SeeMore Interactive and their work on augmented reality shopping:
Augmentedrealitytrends.com: Why augmented reality and why your prime focus is on retail industry?
SeeMore Interactive: We recognize the importance of merging brick-and-mortar retail with cloud-based technology to create the ultimate dynamic shopping experience. It’s simply a matter of tailoring a consumer’s shopping experience based on how he or she wants to shop; the ability to research reviews, compare prices, receive new merchandise recommendations, share photos and make purchases while shopping in-store or from the comfort of their home.
- Brian Matchick at Geek Exchange writes about how Deep Learning brings A.I. one step closer to Hal, Skynet, and the Matrix:
Deep learning is based on neural networks, simplified models of the way clusters of neurons act within the brain that were first proposed in the 1950s. The difference now is that new programming techniques combined with the incredible computing power we have today are allowing these neural networks to learn on their own, just as humans do. The computer is given a huge pile of data and asked to sort the information into categories on its own, with no specific instruction. This is in contrast to previous systems that had to be programmed by hand. By learning incrementally, the machine can grasp the low-level stuff before the high-level stuff. For example, sorting through 10,000 handwritten letters and grouping them into like categories, the machine can then move on to entire words, sentences, signage, etc. This is called “unsupervised learning,” and deep learning systems are very good at it.
- This Economist article looks at predictive policing and American company PredPol (amazingly, a sly sub-section heading is the only reference to the book or film Minority Report and it’s pre-crime unit and pre-cog mutants.):
Intelligent policing can convert these modest gains into significant reductions in crime. Cops working with predictive systems respond to call-outs as usual, but when they are free they return to the spots which the computer suggests. Officers may talk to locals or report problems, like broken lights or unsecured properties, that could encourage crime. Within six months of introducing predictive techniques in the Foothill area of Los Angeles, in late 2011, property crimes had fallen 12% compared with the previous year; in neighbouring districts they rose 0.5% (see chart). Police in Trafford, a suburb of Manchester in north-west England, say relatively simple and sometimes cost-free techniques, including routing police driving instructors through high-risk areas, helped them cut burglaries 26.6% in the year to May 2011, compared with a decline of 9.8% in the rest of the city.
- The BBC web site has published an article on the cities of the future:
Although they may all look very different, the cities of the future share a new way of doing things, from sustainable buildings to walkable streets to energy-efficient infrastructure. While some are not yet complete – or even built – these five locations showcase the cutting edge of urban planning, both in developing new parts of an existing metropolitan area and building entirely new towns. By 2050, it is forecast that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. These endeavours may help determine the way we will live then, and in decades beyond.
- This piece from Vice’s Motherboard examines Bill Gates’ nuclear power company TerraPower and alternative nuclear fuel thorium:
Mention thorium—an alternative fuel for nuclear power—to the right crowd, and faces will alight with the same look of spirited devotion you might see in, say, Twin Peaks and Chicago Cubs fans. People love thorium against the odds. And now Bill Gates has given them a new reason to keep rooting for the underdog element.
TerraPower, the Gates-chaired nuclear power company, has garnered attention for pursuing traveling wave reactor tech, which runs entirely on spent uranium and would rarely need to be refueled. But the concern just quietly announced that it’s going to start seriously exploring thorium power, too.
- Unsurprisingly, a porno movie filmed using Google Glass has already wrapped:
Google might have put the kibosh on allowing x-rated apps onto Glass (for now) but that hasn’t stopped the porn industry from doing what they do best: using new technology to enhance the, um, adult experience. The not yet titled film stars James Deen and Andy San Dimas.
- Speaking of Google, the company’s research department recently announced details about their Machine Vision visual recognition program:
There has always been a basic split in machine vision work. The engineering approach tries to solve the problem by treating it as a signal detection task using standard engineering techniques. The more “soft” approach has been to try to build systems that are more like the way humans do things. Recently it has been this human approach that seems to have been on top, with DNNs managing to learn to recognize important features in sample videos. This is very impressive and very important, but as is often the case the engineering approach also has a trick or two up its sleeve.
- From Google Research:
We demonstrate the advantages of our approach by scaling object detection from the current state of the art involving several hundred or at most a few thousand of object categories to 100,000 categories requiring what would amount to more than a million convolutions. Moreover, our demonstration was carried out on a single commodity computer requiring only a few seconds for each image. The basic technology is used in several pieces of Google infrastructure and can be applied to problems outside of computer vision such as auditory signal processing.
- Brian Phillips at Grantland thinks spy movies present a fantasy of tourism:
The spy is the ideal tourist because he represents an inner self perfectly contained within an outer self that is adapted to any possible location or circumstance. Travel can broaden him by the width of a new sexual conquest, but for the most part, he’s seen everything already. Going to the Louvre won’t make him vulnerable, and he won’t stammer when he buys his ticket. The pathos of the whole Bourne series lies in the way it gives us a character who’s been left with the spy’s invulnerable outer shell but lost the inner self it was originally meant to protect.
- This video at Kotaku explores what PS4 games would look like on the Oculus Rift. Previously the site compared playing Portal 2 on Oculus Rift to a religious experience.
- Maclean’s recently published a recently-discovered McLuhan interview that includes questions about the surveillance state. McLuhan’s response seems prescient in light of the recent Snowden/NSA media coverage:
Newman: It has become a frightening world. We seem to be constantly under surveillance. How can we deal with this menace?
McLuhan: The new human occupation of the electronic age has become surveillance. CIA-style espionage is now the total human activity. Whether you call it audience rating, consumer surveys and so on—all men are now engaged as hunters of espionage. So women are completely free to take over the dominant role in our society. Women’s liberation represents demands for absolute mobility, not just physical and political freedom to change roles, jobs and attitudes—but total mobility.
- Writing for The Hollywood Reported Douglas Rushkoff discusses Deen, Snowden, Zimmerman and the Culture of Contagion:
Today, our social media amplify and accelerate word of mouth to a new level. These aren’t hushed water-cooler conversation about whatever salacious gossip we’ve seen on the news; they are publicly broadcasted pronouncements about who is a hero, who is a traitor, who is a liar, or who is a fraud. In a media culture that values retweets and “likes” even more than money, stories spread and replicate less because they titillate than because they are suitable subjects for loud, definitive, 140-character declarations.
So I’ve decided to headline these posts with interesting (to me) media-related content from around the web “In medias res”. Not very original, I know, but “in the middle of things” seems appropriate.
- I came across the semiotics-centric site Semionaut via this post: “Semiotics and non-verbal communication“. It looks to have a practitioner-oriented angle but they have some interesting analysis up.
- In other semiotics news check out this post on Arkham City art direction and semiotics from the site How Not to Suck at Game Design.
Following the semiotics goals I defined earlier, we will explore the complex network of sign language of AAA games, comic books, the Batman universe and related pop-culture, we will explore the narrative themes behind it all and we will examine how Rocksteady implemented said sign language using semiotic principles.
- I’ve come across what appears to be a blog for a graduate course in new media and an assignment centered on exploring new media via Marshall McLuhan.
- Some folks at the site Communication Steroids recently posted a podcast discussing the Attention Economy.
- Recently I’ve been delving into the literature on the political economy of communication, and that means I’ve been reading Dallas Smythe and Herbert Schiller. This blog post by Safiya Noble discusses the continued relevance of Herbert Schiller.
Schiller elaborates on the ways in which, “Corporate speech has become the dominant discourse…While the corporate voice booms across the land, individual expression, at best, trickles through tiny constricted public circuits. This has allowed the effective right to free speech to be transferred from individuals to billion dollar companies which, in effect, monopolize public communication (pg. 45).” Privatization, deregulation and the expansion of market relationships are cited by Schiller as the environment in which the national information infrastructure has been eroded (pg. 46).
- Tomi Ahonen, apparently the person who declared mobile technology the 7th mass medium (who knew?), has declared augmented reality the 8th mass media. The list of media, in order of appearance:
1st mass media PRINT – from 1400s (books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, billboards)
2nd mass media RECORDINGS – from 1890s (records, tapes, cartridges, videocassettes, CDs, DVDs)
3rd mass media CINEMA – from 1900s
4th mass media RADIO – from 1920s
5th mass media TELEVISION – from 1940s
6th mass media INTERNET – from 1992
7th mass media MOBILE – from 1998
8th mass media AUGMENTED REALITY – from 2010
- This New York Times article about the acquisition of Instagram by Facebook asks: With the advent and adoption of smartphones, who needs the web?
- Henry Giroux wrote an op-ed for truthout about the war on youth wherein he borrows a phrase from Virilio: “the Suicidal State”.
- The excellent media ecology blog Figure/Ground Communication has posted an interview with media ecologist (and coordinator of the upcoming MEA convention at Manhattan College) Thom Gencarelli. The interview follows Figure/Ground’s recurring format of focusing on the interviewees academic background and thoughts on the tenure system.
- Blog Literary Theory and Anglo-American Culture has a post analyzing Chris Nolan’s film The Prestige through a Baudrillardian lens.
- I came across this blog post of a video intercutting the poster’s commentary with a video by Sut Jhally titled Deconstructing Dreamworlds (btw, Jhally and Mark Crispin Miller appear in Morgan Spurlock’s newest documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It’s worth a watch, and made me want to go to Sao Paulo).
- Sherry Turkle is quoted in this USA Today article that confirms: geek is officially chic. Which I guess means it is no longer cool.
- Finally, I noticed some mentions of old-school theories of media effects in a couple of recent articles. This piece at Arab Media & Society titled Technology Cannot a Revolution Make mentions the “magic bullet” theory in discussing how Western media researchers have analyzed the Arab Spring movements.
The return to the “magic bullet” theory has led many Arab and Western media scholars to focus on the study of the role of social media in developing popular movements. Little or no attention is paid to folk and traditional communication outlets such as Friday sermons, coffeehouse storytellers (“hakawati”), and mourning gatherings of women (“subhieh”). These face-to-face folk communication vehicles play an important role in developing the Arab public sphere as well as in introducing change.
And this piece about a new sex-advice show on MTV mentions the “hypodermic needle” theory:
When you talk about “young viewers” as helpless victims who are targeted by a message and instantly fall prey to it, you are positing a pre-World-War-II era mass communications theory known as the hypodermic model.
This model saw mass media as a giant hypodermic needle that “injected” messages into our brains. And no brains were more susceptible to the injections than those of children.