Archive for October, 2018

Future object permanence

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

When you were a small child you learned about object permanence: Even when you are not looking at an object, it continues to exist. If you put your teddy bear on a particular shelf in your closet before you leave for school, it will still be there when you return.

When we are all wearing mixed reality glasses (or contact lenses or implants) object permanence for many things won’t be a necessity. More and more of the “built world” we see around us will be virtual constructs, unconstrained by the laws of physics and inertia.

Yet we may choose to impose a virtual object permanence anyway. When we place a virtual object in a particular place in the physical world, we might wish to impose constraints upon that object’s behavior, so that it stays where we have put it.

To me the question of how much — or even whether — we will do this, in the long run, is quite deep. It comes down to the following question: Is object permanence an intrinsic feature of our biological human brain, or is it simply an adaptation that our brain makes in childhood in response to encountering the physical world?

If the latter case is true, that increases the possibilities for a mixed reality future. If object permanence is not an intrinsic feature of our human brain, we may end up evolving as a social species to replace it with something far more fluid and flexible.

Of course children will still want to find their teddy bear when they get home from school. But in the future, maybe they will just Google it.

Not Virtual Reality

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

For the last four years our lab has been equipped with much of the latest in Virtual Reality technology. To try many of our research experiences, people put on VR headsets and run VR software. So it would seem logical for me to talk about predominant VR practices when discussing our research, and then discuss how our work veers away from those practices.

Yet a friend who attended a talk I gave in Paris this past week pointed out to me the problem with this approach. She said it sounds as though we are setting ourselves up as a kind of alternative to predominant VR practices.

In fact, she said, we are not actually doing research in Virtual Reality, as that term is usually understood. We are doing research in future practices for reality itself.

Predominant VR practices focus almost entirely either on experiences for one person or on experiences shared by people who are remotely located from each other. Our research focuses almost entirely on experiences shared by people who are in the same physical room, perceiving each other in their actual locations.

So at the most fundamental level we aren’t actually researching “Virtual Reality” as that term is usually understood. Rather we are attempting to model what will, in the future, be the everyday ordinary reality for people who will still be moving around in the physical world with their physical bodies.

You might say that what we are researching is “Future Reality”. I agree with my friend that I really need to get that message across more clearly.

Fortunately our lab is called the “Future Reality Lab”. So that helps.

Analysis of Oceans Eight

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

I have a good friend who is concerned, as am I, about the representation of women in public discourse. Which is why she had held out high hopes for Oceans Eight. It’s sequel of sorts to Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of the Rat Pack heist film Oceans Eleven, but this time with an all female cast of thieves.

She said that she had wanted to really like it, and was surprised by how unengaged she felt watching it. She told me she wondered whether this was due to some unexamined gender bias on her own part.

Having not seen the film, I asked her a few questions, after which I developed a theory that the problem lay not with her, but with the script. Both iterations of Oceans films spent a lot of time working through the relationships between the men. You cared about the heist because you cared about them, and you cared about them because you saw them work through their interpersonal issues with each other.

Today on my flight back from Paris I went ahead and watched Oceans Eight. And it was exactly as I had predicted and feared. The entire cast was wonderful, the action scenes were perfectly executed, the general look — cinematography, lighting, costumes, sets — were a marvel.

But nothing actually happened between the principal characters to make you feel that they had worked to develop their bond with each other. It was all simply assumed, and never tested. So for all of the great acting on screen by Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and others, nothing they did truly felt like it mattered on a human level.

The takeaway for me is that if you want to move the needle on films involving women out in the world, you still need to do the work of building a story that focuses on how the relationships between them are tested and worked through. That is a principle which holds true for all storytelling — no matter what the gender focus.

Or as old Shakespeare might have put it: “The fault lies not in our Stars, but in our screenplay.”

White Mirror mirror

Monday, October 8th, 2018

I realized that my blog post today at our Future Reality Lab is a bit of a manifesto.

So today I am going to link to that post, in order to help the conversation around the issues I discuss there.

Walking through Paris

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

Walking through Paris
The City of Lights
It’s easy to forget
How very quickly
Even with so much beauty
Darkness can descend
And cast its shadow
Upon an unsuspecting world


Saturday, October 6th, 2018

I keep trying to figure out how to look with compassion at people who are in favor of Trump and Kavanaugh. Yet the naked ugliness of the Trumpian agenda is so startling in its intensity, in its sneering contempt, that I am left scratching my head.

I am trying to understand what is going on with the millions of Americans who still support these people. What allows them think it ok that an out of control and nakedly partisan character like Kavanaugh is ascending to our Nation’s highest court?

Because I think we really need compassion here. We are talking about people who love their children, who help their communities, who I am sure still see America as something worthwhile.

So what is happening? Is this what it felt like in other countries, in other eras, as a society began to slide into authoritarianism? Were people so hungry for a “strong hand” that they allowed leaders who clearly lacked any moral center to start taking over all the reins of power?

I am wondering whether we can stem this seeming slide into the familiar pattern of a democracy sliding into Authoritarianism, if we manage to appeal to people through compassion. But things have gotten so extreme at this point that I am not sure where to begin.

I have friends here in Paris who had been planning on moving back to the U.S., but now they are scared of returning. They are worried about the thought of their children growing up in a country that seems to be becoming unrecognizably coarse and cruel.

Let’s get down to it

Friday, October 5th, 2018

OK, I get it. There are people out there who actually believe that Dr. Blasey deliberately set out to destroy her own life, open herself up to death threats, and turn her very existence into a living hell, just because it was, you know, um, fun.

According to this narrative, Brett Kavanaugh didn’t actually do anything awkward or socially unacceptable while he was blacked out drunk. You see, nothing bad happened, it was all a terrible misunderstanding.

But I don’t believe any of that, because over the course of this past week I’ve learned the meaning of the terms “booging” and “devil’s triangle”. It has been an eye opening education, let me tell you.

I don’t have the faintest idea how a guy who can lie about such disgusting things ends up being a shoe-in for the U.S. Supreme Court. What I can tell you is that I am utterly offended by the shallow pretense that he is some sort of innocent lamb.

Let’s get down to it. If you are American and are repulsed by the shenanigans of these people, you need to get yourself to the polls and vote on November 6. If you don’t, what happens next will be your fault.

16 research talks

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

Today, as external examiner for the once-every-four-years INRIA self-assessment in France, I watched 16 research presentations. The presentations represented, collectively, the scientific advances of a very large and diverse scientific research community funded by the French government.

The total yearly budget for this endeavor, as I understand it, is about 480 million euros. Thousands of scientists participate, there are major research collaborations with leading scientists around the world, and the entire enterprise is completely awesome in its sheer ambition and scale.

Needless to say, I was overwhelmed and delighted by many of the things I learned, new technologies that will improve education, health care, research and much more. The concept of a government of a major Western country believing in science, and in its ability to help make the world a better place, was a beautiful thing to behold.

In the U.S. we used to think that way. Sigh.

Political conversations in Europe

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

Today I am attending a conference near Paris together with a number of fellow researchers from many different countries. It’s fascinating to engage in dinner table conversation with them.

Everyone, no matter where they are from, seems to identity completely with the recent reaction at the U.N. when you-know-who claimed that he was leading one of the greatest American administrations of all time. That reaction, as you probably kmnow was a spontaneous explosion of laughter by a large number of delegates.

This pretty much describes the way my colleagues around the world think of our nation’s current situation. Although of course they are also worried. After all, if the U.S. goes completely nuts, it will not bode well for the world’s economy.

My colleague from Italy, at least, had an appropriate sense of humility. She acknowledged that the political leaders in her own country are as crazy as ours.

I’m not sure that counts as reassuring.

A day in Paris

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

I’ve been running around so much recently, flying here and there, racing for deadlines, that I had forgotten what it was like just to have a pleasant day not doing much of anything. Today I went to the market with my friends in Paris, took the Metro, wandered around a bit, and simply enjoyed the sheer beauty of the City of Lights in Autumn.

This evening we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at 42 degr├ęs in the 9e arrondissement, one of my favorite restaurants in the world. The food and the wine, like the company, were simply perfect.

With so much constant running around, frantically trying to get things done, sometimes I forget to simply stop and enjoy the day. Today I remembered.