Future interior decorating

December 5th, 2017

If everyone is wearing mixed reality glasses then, as Vernor Vinge pointed out in his novel Rainbows End, we all get two complementary super-powers: (1) We can collectively see things that are not physically there, and (2) We can collectively not see things that are physically there.

People talk a lot about the first of these powers, but not so much about the second. But let’s imagine for a moment that we are living in a world where everybody is wearing.

While redecorating your home, perhaps you wish to have a nice new vase on your mantle to hold some flowers. Using one finger, you draw in the air above the mantle to specify the contour of the vase, and then you gesture to choose a nice color and pattern for your creation. From that moment on, the vase becomes visible, but not yet tangible, because it is not yet fully developed.

Meanwhile, somewhere nearby a 3D printer gets to work. After it is done, a robot delivers the finished vase to your door. You and your neighbors never see this robot because it doesn’t show up in your wearables.

There are also domestic robots that roam invisibly about your abode as needed, cooking and cleaning, making your bed, and performing various other chores that humans used to do for themselves. One of your domestic robots picks up the delivered item from where the delivery robot dropped it off, removes it from its protective package, and places it in its intended location.

You don’t see any of this. From your perspective, that lovely vase you had already added to your home simply takes on a more substantial appearance, which is how you know that it is ready to hold some lovely flowers.

Haiku from a parallel universe

December 4th, 2017

If we’d elected
Al Bundy instead of this,
Would it be better?

Future New Yorker cartoon spoiler

December 3rd, 2017

“On the Holodeck,”
I heard him say, “nobody
Knows you’re a robot.”

Some plastic device on your face

December 2nd, 2017

At this week’s Exploring Future Reality conference in NYC, I watched an interesting debate. Terence Caulkins warned against a future in which you would walk around wearing some plastic device on your face in order to see an augmented version of the reality around you.

Matt Hartman disagreed. He said that when Terence had first started describing this scenario, he thought it was going to be a positive description. Matt added that he personally thought it would be awesome to be able to wear some sort of device on your face that gives you an enhanced view of your surroundings.

What amazed me about this exchange was that the two gentlemen in question were both enacting the very thing they were debating, apparently without realizing it. Matt was wearing glasses. Terence was not.

Biomechanical turk

December 1st, 2017

At a research meeting today, one of my colleagues was bemoaning the fact that there isn’t enough publicly available open source human movement data. That is, data recorded on a motion capture stage of people walking around, waving, sitting, standing, and doing all sorts of natural movements.

Medical researchers use such data to understand human movement and to study balance disorders. Animation studios and game designers use it to create animated characters. Computer scientists use it to train machine learning algorithms that mimic human movement.

But there just isn’t enough of it. There is an open source human movement library at CMU, but that’s pretty much the only one and it’s not nearly extensive enough. It’s mostly all of a single young white male grad student, which is not nearly good enough to represent a general population.

So in the meeting, I suggested that we take a tip from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. That’s a system which allows people to earn money by solving problems on-line that computers aren’t yet good at. The name was inspired by the famous 18th century hoax by Wolfgang von Kempelen.

We could pay people to act out movements. Participants would see somebody moving or gesturing on their computer screen, then imitate it, and the result would be recorded by their webcam. In this way we could capture all of the many variations in movement style that you get from a diverse population.

In general, figuring out human movement from video is hard, but it gets a lot easier if you know what movement to look for. So if you know you are looking at people imitating a particular movement or gesture, it’s fairly straightforward.

We can also add a layer of verification: We pay other people to look at those movements, and we filter out the ones where the imitation clearly doesn’t match the original.

The best thing about this project is that I already have a cool name for it: Biomechanical Turk.

The end game

November 30th, 2017

Today I was on a panel about the potential societal impacts of VR/AR. The moderator first asked me what are some potential positive outcomes.

So I described a scenario, perhaps five years from now, when ubiquitous wearables will allow us to return to face-to-face conversation, something our evolution has wired us to do very well, rather than spending our time staring at screens.

Then he asked me about potential negative outcomes. I said it’s possible that people will merely pretend to engage in face-to-face conversation, while they are actually reading their Facebook feeds. Whether that happens, I pointed out, is not up to technology, but up to us.

But then later in the panel the moderator asked whether there were some really nightmare scenarios for advancing technology. So I told him one that’s not really about AR or VR.

Two weeks from today (on December 14), the FCC is likely to do away with Net Neutrality. When that happens, Comcast will be in its rights to refuse internet service to any content provider if there is a legal cloud over that content.

So in one scenario, the President tweets that CNN is fake news, and the Justice Department promptly issues an indictment against CNN for fraud.
While that case is wending its way through the courts, Comcast does not carry any CNN content.

In a democratic society, if only one party controls what information citizens can see, that party is guaranteed to win elections. The party in power then becomes locked in, and the society remains a democracy in name only.

So that was the answer I gave. Between you and me, I don’t think the tax bill was the end game. I think this is.

Domestic quandrary

November 29th, 2017

if, when tidying,
you swept it all in a box,
did that really count?


November 28th, 2017

Today I was at a meeting where the person who spoke before me started out by describing themselves as an autodidact. I was impressed. I have always admired autodidacts, and have wondered how they manage to achieve so much.

Since I was the next person to speak, I took the opportunity to express my admiration. I explained to everyone that I had tried to teach myself how to be an autodidact, but had not managed to do it.

And now I’m wondering, does somebody give a course on-line that can teach you how to be an autodidact? If so, I’d sign up for it in a minute!

Just around the corner from famous

November 27th, 2017

When I was a child, I used to wonder about Tony Romeo. I’m guessing you don’t know who Tony Romeo was.

He was the guy who wrote the monster hit for the Partridge Family I Think I Love You. He also wrote lots of hits for many other recording artists, as well as an impressively large number of TV commercial jingles.

I was the sort of little kid who wondered about the people nobody else was paying attention to. So when I saw the cover of the Partridge Family album, and decided that I Think I Love You was my favorite song on it, I began to wonder about the songwriter.

Also, “Tony Romeo” is a very cool name. To my twelve year old mind, a name like that conjured up glamour, intrigue and maybe even international spy stuff.

This morning, prompted by the recent sad demise of David Cassidy, I started looking on the Web for more info about Tony Romeo. I found discovered that he had tried to start his own singing career, but that it never gotten anywhere, and that he died in relative obscurity in 1995.

Curiously, searching on Google for “Tony Romeo” and “I Think I Love You” didn’t produce any photos of him. Although, not surprisingly, there were lots and lots of images of the young David Cassidy’s eerily pretty face.

I finally had some luck when I abandoned the ersatz Partridge Family and started looking for songs Romeo had written for The Cowsills, the real musical performing family that the fictional Partridge Family was based on.

That’s when I hit pay dirt: A single photo of Mr. Romeo proudly holding up his first ever golden record, for “Indian Lake”, a hit for The Cowsills in 1968.

It’s strange, isn’t it? Tony Romeo created a sound that was widely imitated, and his work is fondly remembered by millions. Yet he was never in the limelight.

And now the man himself has largely been forgotten. I wonder how many people like that there are in our culture — just around the corner from famous.

My smarter friend

November 26th, 2017

This weekend’s Saturday NY Times crossword puzzle was a real killer. Maybe it’s just me, but I found it to be the most difficult Saturday crossword in years.

Usually these days I can finish Saturday in about 20 minutes, and sometimes it can take 30 minutes. But parts of this one had me completely stumped. I wondered whether I had finally met my match.

But then I remembered that I have a friend who is much smarter than I am. When I really need him he’s always there, and we sort of work tag team.

So last night I went to bed, hoping that my smarter friend would be able to get to work while I got some shut-eye. I had a few fitful dreams, but woke up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to face the day.

I brewed myself a fresh cup of coffee, picked up the Saturday paper, and within a few minutes had polished off the puzzle. Sometimes your friends will let you down, but this one never has.