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April 29 2013

Google Glass and the Future

I just read a Forbes article about Glass, talking about the split between those who are “sure that it is the future of technology, and others who think society will push back against the technology.”

I don’t see this as a dichotomy (and, to be fair, I’m not sure that the author does either). I expect to see both, and I’d like to think a bit more about what these two apparently opposing sides mean.

Push back is inevitable. I hope there’s a significant push back, and that it has some results. Not because I’m a Glass naysayer, but because we, as technology users, are abused so often, and push back so weakly, that it’s not funny. Facebook does something outrageous; a few technorati whine; they add option 1023 to their current highly intertwined 1022 privacy options that have been designed so they can’t be understood or used effectively; and sooner or later, it all dies down. A hundred fifty users have left Facebook, and half a million more have joined. When Apple puts another brick in their walled garden, a few dozen users (myself included) bitch and moan, but does anyone leave? Personally, I’m tired of getting warnings whenever I install software that doesn’t come from the Apple Store (I’ve used the Store exactly twice), and I absolutely expect that a not-too-distant version of OS X users won’t me allow to install software from “untrusted” sources, including software I’ve written. Will there be push back? Probably. Will it be effective? I don’t know; if things go as they are now, I doubt it.

There will be push back against Glass; and that’s a good thing. I think Google, of all the companies out there, is most likely to listen and respond positively. I say that partly because of efforts like the Data Liberation Front, and partly because Eric Schmidt has acknowledged that he finds many aspects of Glass creepy. But going beyond Glass: As a community of users, we need to empower ourselves to push back. We need to be able to push back effectively against Google, but more so against Apple, Facebook, and many other abusers of our data, rather than passively accept the latest intrusion as an inevitability. If Glass does nothing more than teach users that they can push back, and teach large corporations how to respond constructively, it will have accomplished much.

Is Glass the future? Yes; at least, something like Glass is part of the future. As a species, we’re not very good at putting our inventions back into the box. About three years ago, there was a big uptick in interest in augmented reality. You probably remember: Wikitude, Layar, and the rest. You installed those apps on your phone. They’re still there. You never use them (at least, I don’t). The problem with consumer-grade AR up until now has been that it was sort of awkward walking around looking at things through your phone’s screen. (Commercial AR–heads-up displays and the like–is a completely different ball game.) Glass is the first attempt at broadly useful platform for consumer AR; it’s a game changer.

Is it possible that Glass will fail? Sure; I know more failed startups than I can count where the engineers did something really cool, and when they released it, the public said “what is that, and why do you think we’d want it?” Google certainly isn’t immune from that disease, which is endemic to an engineering-driven culture; just think back to Wave. I won’t deny that Google might shelve Glass if they consider unproductive, as they’ve shelved many popular applications. But I believe that Google is playing long-ball here, and thinking far beyond 2014 or 2015. In a conversation about Bitcoin last week, I said that I doubt it will be around in 20 years. But I’m certain we will have some kind of distributed digital currency, and that currency will probably look a lot like Bitcoin. Glass is the same. I have no doubt that something like Glass is part of our future. It’s a first, tentative, and very necessary step into a new generation of user interfaces, a new way of interacting with computing systems and integrating them into our world. We probably won’t wear devices around on our glasses; it may well be surgically implanted. But the future doesn’t happen if you only talk about hypothetical possibilities. Building the future requires concrete innovation, building inconvenient and “creepy” devices that nevertheless point to the next step. And it requires people pushing back against that innovation, to help developers figure out what they really need to build.

Glass will be part of our future, though probably not in its current form. And push back from users will play an essential role in defining the form it will eventually take.

July 25 2012

Four short links: 25 July 2012

  1. Bank of England Complains About AR Bank NotesAfter downloading the free Blippar app on iPhone or Android, customers were able to ‘blipp’ any ten-pound note in circulation by opening the app and holding their phone over the note. An animated Queen, and other members of the Royal Family, then appeared on the screen and voiced opinions on the latest football matters.
  2. Kittydar — open source computer vision library in Javascript for identifying cat faces. I am not making this up. (via Kyle McDonald
  3. Quantified Mind — battery of cognitive tests, so you can track performance over time and measure the effect of interventions (coffee, diet, exercise, whatever). (via Sara Winge)
  4. Jellyfish Made From Rat Cells (Nature) — an artificial jellyfish using silicone and muscle cells from a rat’s heart. The synthetic creature, dubbed a medusoid, looks like a flower with eight petals. When placed in an electric field, it pulses and swims exactly like its living counterpart. Very cool, but the bit that caught my eye was: the team built the medusoid as a way of understanding the “fundamental laws of muscular pumps”. It is an engineer’s approach to basic science: prove that you have identified the right principles by building something with them.
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October 13 2011

Four short links: 13 October 2011

  1. Memorable Indexes (Futility Closet) -- Carroll's index also includes entries for "Boots for horizontal weather," "Horizontal rain, boots for," "Rain, horizontal, boots for," and "Weather, horizontal, boots for". They're silly and whimsical, but the underlying problem of making multiple accessible entrypoints into a single corpus of content is with us today and only compounded by the vast growth of the size of the corpora with which we deal.
  2. Geiger Counter for iPhone -- reports radiation levels via Twitter, too. Expect to see more mobile sensor add-ons as the various smartphone hardware interfaces mature. (via Sara Winge)
  3. Suwappu App Prototype (BERG London) -- augmented reality, without fugly QR codes, but with toys. what does a script look like, when you’re authoring a story for five or six woodland creatures, and one or two human kids who are part of the action? How do we deliver the story to the phone? What stories work best? This app scratches the surface of that, and I know these are the avenues the folks at Dentsu are looking forward to exploring in the future. It feels like inventing a new media channel.
  4. ShareJS -- Javascript implementation of the Wave collaborative editing algorithm. (via Avi Bryant)

June 17 2011

Augmented reality and books, together at last?

This is part of an ongoing series related to Peter Meyers' project "Breaking the Page, Saving the Reader: A Buyer & Builder's Guide to Digital Books." We'll be featuring additional material in the weeks ahead. (Note: This post originally appeared on A New Kind of Book. It's republished with permission.)

Most people — certainly readers of this blog — know about "augmented reality," whereby camera-powered computers gussy up the real world with extra layers of info. A popular example: point a smartphone's camera at a crowded city street and watch a bunch of labels appear onscreen indicating bars and restaurants. (The restaurant-finding Yelp app does that trick; just tap Nearby and then Monocle.)

It didn't take long, of course, for publishing types to scratch their heads and wonder: You know what? We could use the same trick in our products. And, man, have people come up with some pretty neat examples. Already we're starting to see models from human anatomy books "jump" off the page and become animations on nearby screens. Or dusty architecture tomes whose fragile and one dimensional drawings get charmed into 3D versions on a computer.

AR-powered architecture book

Here, then, are a few examples I've run across during my research, each of which illustrates how books and other publications are starting to use AR to power their pages.

Dorling Kindersley's 3-D books

Publisher DK is known for its visually lush books. Whether it's intricately designed page interiors, pull-out maps, or even a die-cut cover that lets readers peer inside at body organs — this crew likes to make books that are fun to look at and play with.

So it's no surprise they're experimenting with new ways of bridging print and digital. The initial titles in its just launched "3-D" series ("Human Body," "Dinosaur") feature AR extras that spin animations off the print page onto a nearby computer screen. Getting it to work does take a bit of work, but the results are novel enough to justify the setup effort, which goes like this:

  1. Buy the print book
  2. Download and install the free software on any computer with a webcam
  3. Open the book's pages and point any of its six "AR spreads" at the webcam. The webcam/software duo spots the special AR logo and the visuals begin. Onscreen you see a live shot of you holding the book, which now bears a superimposed animation of a walking human skeleton, a flexing dinosaur, and so on.

AR-powered architecture book

The result is a visual extra that depicts motion in a way that's obviously not possible in print. Now an equally obvious question: Why force readers to go through all this book/software/webcam hassle? Couldn't DK simply print a web address in the book and have the reader visit that web page to see an animation? Sure. But by staging the action quite literally on the print pages, there's at least a fighting chance the reader's journey is going to continue within the book rather than wandering off onto the web. It's certainly a valid question as to why DK chose to create PC-based software versus, say, a smartphone app. But these kinds of print/digital joint ventures are a fun glimpse of how print can do what it's good at (rich interior layout, large spreads) and digital can bring its special sauce to the party.


Let's face it: plenty of mainstream consumers are never gonna jump through all the steps the DK books require. U.K.-based Aurasma recently released a tool that makes the whole process a bit easier. First, the software is part of a smartphone app (iOS and Android), which eliminates the need to crack open, say, your laptop while on the bus. And they've figured out a way to eliminate those special on-page codes that only a geek could love.

Using image recognition technology, the app automatically recognizes on-page and on-screen visuals like logos and photos. Launch the app, point your smartphone or tablet camera at the target, and watch the extras spring to life on your display. For example, the company has put together some demos that use logos from USA Today, the New York Times, and other papers.

Aurasma has even rigged up the app so you can create your own AR extras. Want to thrill your kids with a video of them running on the front of a Cheerios box? It's pretty freakin' cool.

Star Walk

And yet, let's be realistic: even something like Aurasma requires a chain of participants lengthy enough that — no matter how innovative the results — it may never go mainstream. That's why the genius of the Star Walk app is less about the way it uses AR than how its users never even need to know about that geekish term, much less how to assemble its component parts. All that's required is to launch, point, and marvel.

Say for example you're trekking in Nepal and want help deciphering the night sky's star fleet. Fire up Star Walk, point your iPhone or iPad wherever you're curious and watch the screen alight with labels. Without having to do a lick of work you immediately see constellation names and the outline of those sometimes obscure objects (do you know what a Cetus is?) that boggle the imagination of many amateur sky watchers. As you rotate the device around, the labels change, reflecting whatever you're now pointing toward. Even better: the app lets you "watch" the sky from any location worldwide. So you can be in your windowless basement in Boston and see what the astronomical outlook is in, say, Sydney. All you need to do is use the built-in Google Earth-style map to pick the viewing location and up pops the relevant view.

Total Immersion's AR Magic Mirror

Woman with illustrated headgear composited on her face by Magic MirrorIt's worth noting that AR is not all about science and newspaper experiments. Sometimes it's just about being plain silly. Magic Mirror is an app that lets you futz with faces. Use your iPad's front-facing camera to frame your mug, and then add a wacky pair of sunglasses, a crazy hat, and so on. It all gets added to the live version of you.

For now the fun lasts about five minutes or so. In other words, it's a nice party trick. But the ways that a tool like this could be incorporated into publications like fashion catalogs, electronic greeting cards, and instruction manuals (think: hair stylists and beauticians) doesn't take much imagining.

Webcast: Digital Bookmaking Tools Roundup — Pete Meyers looks at the growing number of digital book tools: what's best, what's easiest to use, and what's worth putting in your book-building toolkit.

Join us on Thursday, June 30, 2011, at 10 am PT
Register for this free webcast


December 15 2010

Strata Gems: Kinect democratizes augmented reality

We're publishing a new Strata Gem each day all the way through to December 24. Yesterday's Gem: Manage clusters with Mesos.

Strata 2011 The combination of augmented reality with data and analytics will bring radical change to our lives over the next few years. You're probably carrying a location-sensitive personal AR device right now, kitted out with motion sensors, audio-visual capabilities and network connectivity.

Microsoft's Kinect technology has now made the Xbox 360 gaming console a perfect experimentation platform for augmented reality. Marketed right now as a camera-based controller for video games, the Kinect's longer term impact might well be in the creation of augmented reality experiences. And of course, the world of advertising will be first in line to exploit this.

Dustin O'Connor has been busy hacking with the Kinect and producing a href="">number of very cool demos. In the video below, he
demonstrates the ability to manipulate a 3D object using multiple touches.

frameborder="0"><p><a href="">kinect augmented reality multi<br /> touching</a> from <a href="">dustin o&#039;connor</a> on <a<br /> href="">Vimeo.</p></p> <p>Between technologies such as Kinect and the widespread availability of smartphones, the means to create augmented reality experiences is now highly democratized, awaiting exploitation and experimentation from hackers and innovators.</p> <div class="feedflare"> <a href=""><img src="" border="0" /></a> <a href=""><img src="" border="0" /></a> <a href=""><img src="" border="0" /></a> <a href=""><img src="" border="0" /></a> </div><img src="" height="1" width="1" />

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