Future perfect

I was looking at some mid-century interior decorations today — the simple shapes, the bright colors, the sense of optimism — and it made me realize how much our society has shifted in 60 years.

There was a time when the future meant household robots! Rocket ships! Exploring the universe!! Now everything is dark and foreboding, and the future means dystopian disaster.

I wonder exactly when we lost our collective optimism. Maybe it’s time we got some measure of it back.

Mix and match movies

I wonder whether technology will ever get to the point where we can watch our favorite movie with our favorite actor even though nobody ever made that movie with that actor before we thought of it.

Below the surface, there would need to be plenty of machine learning and lots of other advanced technologies. There would also need to be other kinds of artificial intelligence, perhaps more advanced than anything available today, because human choices in acting are not readily amenable to algorithmic solutions.

But if we get through all that and we end up with being able to dial in our own cast for our favorite movies, I wonder how it will be received. Will people see it as a valid new medium, will it replace the conventional approach, or will it be rejected out of hand?

A proposal is like a house

We are in the final stages of writing a major proposal to the National Science Foundation. It involves lots of people and lots of money, and we have no idea whether it will get funded.

Even less than a week ago, much of the proposal was a mystery to me. But since then I have gotten familiar with every nook and cranny.

You know that feeling the first time you walk into a large house? There are many rooms, and you aren’t sure where everything is. This corridor leads to the kitchen, that door opens to the garage. Somewhere upstairs there may be two bathrooms.

But after you’ve been in that house for a while, it all starts to make sense. You know where everything is, and how to get from one place to another.

That’s what has happened to me with this proposal. But it’s like we’re building the house and getting to know it all at the same time.

As I get familiar with the garage, the basement, the living room, I’m also refurnishing them, making some rooms bigger and others smaller. I’m sort of hanging around in the house while I’m building it

In another few months we will know whether this proposal will be funded, and then we will really be able to move into our new house. I just hope the roof doesn’t leak.


Today I talked to my mom. I wished her a Happy Valentine’s day and she wished me a happy Valentine’s day.

I asked her how she was spending the day. She told me that she spent much of it attending a mindfulness session, which is being held on-line on Zoom. I asked her how it went.

She told me that for most of it she just turned off her microphone and video and did other things around the house. I found that to be delightful.

And I’m sure there is a great joke in there somewhere.

In-between day

Today is an in-between day. Yesterday was the Lunar New Year, and tomorrow is Valentine’s day.

I suppose there is some mystical meaning to this confluence of meaningful dates. Perhaps the Universe is communicating to us something deep and profound, and perhaps we should try to listen.

At the very least, we should take away the most obvious of messages: Let us all celebrate and share our love for this precious gift of life, and for the opportunity to start anew and face the future together.

Future weather

When we have truly immersive interaction between people who are in different parts of the world, that will be the beginning of what now seems like an odd phenomenon: We can feel like we are in the same room, but you can be in summer while I am in winter, or vice versa.

Perhaps you are in Rio de Janeiro and I am in New York in December. It might be very hot where you are, but freezing cold where I am.

Suppose further that we decide to take a walk together outside, using our future immersive communication technology. I am trudging through snow, while you are walking along a sandy beach.

I wonder whether we could eventually turn this around. Maybe we could use this sort of technology to allow a person in NY in the dead of winter to have the feeling of walking with their friends along a sandy beach on a beautiful sunny day in Rio.

I, for one, would be in favor of that. 🙂

H.B. T.A.E.

Of all the inventors essential
There’s one who’s especially groovy

His record was quite influential
He even invented the movie

So a light bulb went off in my head
When I saw it’s the birthday of Edison

Since a light bulb went off in my head
I probably should take some medicine

Visible and invisible

I am having a debate with a colleague of mine about using virtual reality in education. It comes down to a simple question: Is it more useful to visualize the visible or the invisible?

He thinks it is more useful to use VR to get a better insight into things that we can see but not normally interact with, like planets. I am more excited about using VR to interact with things we normally could never see, like atoms.

It’s not exactly that one of us is right and the other wrong. It’s more a question of which is the more natural fit for VR in education.

At the end of the day, my guess is that we are probably both sort of right. Like my dad used to say when I would ask him a silly question: “Do you want to go to Brooklyn or by bus?”

Beyond The Mandalorian

The Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian is a great example of a new wave of cinematic production. All of the sets and backgrounds are done as computer graphics displayed onto a big screen behind the actors.

As the camera moves, the virtual set moves accordingly, creating the illusion of a coherent 3D world. The light from the virtual set spills onto the actors, creating a compelling illusion that the actors are situated in that world.

Right now this is all very expensive, which is generally the case for new production technologies. I wonder how long it will be before the equivalent of this capability will go down in cost to the point where it is accessible to consumers.

At some point, this sort of virtual world visualization will become available to the equivalent of today’s Zoom users and YouTube posters. It will just be taken for granted that if you have a computer or SmartPhone, you will be able to believably situate yourself into a world of your choosing, for all the world to see.

At some point it will no longer be possible to know whether somebody is actually in the environment you see on the screen. This will have all sorts of implications, both beneficial and harmful.

I, for one, hope it gets used by the Light side of the Force, not the Dark side.