Saturday, 5 May 2012

Life-size, 3D hologram-like telepods may revolutionize videoconferencing

TeleHuman (credit: Queen's University)
Queen’s University researcher has created a Star Trek-like human-scale 3D videoconferencing pod that allows people in different locations to video conference as if they are standing in front of each other.
“Why Skype when you can talk to a life-size 3D holographic image of another person?” says professor Roel Vertegaal, director of the Human Media Lab.
The technology Dr. Vertegaal and researchers at the Queen’s Human Media Lab have developed is called “TeleHuman” and looks like something from the Star Trek holodeck.
Two people simply stand infront of their own life-size cylindrical pods and talk to a 3D hologram-like images of each other. Kinect cameras capture and track 3D video and convert into the life-size image.
Since the 3D video image is visible 360 degrees around the Pod, the person can walk around it to see the other person’s side or back.
While the technology may seem like it comes from a galaxy far, far away, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Dr. Vertegaal and his team used mostly existing hardware — including a 3D projector, a 1.8 metre-tall translucent acrylic cylinder and a convex mirror.
BodiPod, an interactive 3D anatomy model of the human body (credit: Queen's University)
The researchers used the same Pod to create another application called BodiPod, which presents an interactive 3D anatomy model of the human body. The model can be explored 360 degrees around the model through gestures and speech interactions.
When people approach the BodiPod, they can wave in thin air to peel off layers of tissue. In X-ray mode, as users get closer to the pod they can see deeper into the anatomy, revealing the model’s muscles, organs and bone structure. Voice commands such as “show brain” or “show heart” will automatically zoom into a 3D model of a brain or heart.
Dr. Vertegaal will unveil TeleHuman and BodiPod at CHI 2012, the premier international conference on human-computer interaction, in Austin, Texas May 5-10.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Martin Luther King

Singularity University: meet the people who are building our future

Peter Diamandis, Singularity University co-founder

Space cadet? Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the Singularity University. Photograph: Andrew Brusso/ Andrew Brusso/Corbis

It's day one at the Singularity University: the opening address has just been delivered by a hologram. Craig Venter, who was one of the first scientists to sequence the human genome and created the first synthetic life form, is up next. And later, we will see two people, paralysed from the waist down, use robotic exoskeletons to rise up and walk.
But first, the co-founder of the Singularity University, Peter Diamandis, gives us our instructions for the day. Your task, he says, is to pick one of the "grand challenges of humanity" – the lack of clean drinking water, say. And then come up with an idea that "can positively impact the lives of a billion people".
It's 9.30 in the morning. Some of us haven't even had coffee yet. There's about 50 of us present and the room has been divided up into tables, one for education, another for poverty, another for water, and I'm not sure where I should sit. Diane Murphy, the university's PR executive, hesitates for a moment and then directs me over to the table marked "food". "Tell you what," she says. "Why don't you take Ashton Kutcher's chair over there. He's not coming until later." (When he does arrive, he pulls up a chair at the next table over. What can I say? If Ashton Kutcher fails to solve global hunger, it will be my fault.)
The Singularity University is really not much like a regular university. And not just because it's a place that manages to accommodate the likes of both Venter and Kutcher (and where, during a Q&A session, somebody asks a question about taking the Singularity University into the ghetto, and it turns out to be from the musician
Its courses aren't accredited, and it has no undergraduates. Stanford University might have been the cradle for a hundred Silicon Valley startups and the hothouse for some of its greatest technical innovations, but the Singularity University is an institution that has been made in the valley's own image: highly networked, fuelled by a cocktail of philanthro-capitalism and endowed with an almost mystical sense of its own destiny.
It is both Silicon Valley's elite future thinktank and its global outreach arm: Google and Microsoft both came to the founding conference and gave money, Nasa provided the campus space, and emblazoned across the website is a quote from Google's co-founder, Larry Page: "If I was a student," he says, "this is where I'd want to be." Its aim is "to assemble, educate and inspire a new generation of leaders who strive to understand and utilise exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity's grand challenges".
So, no pressure then. Although, of course, the easiest thing would simply to be British about all this and scoff. Ashton Kutcher! (I read later that he's been cast to play Steve Jobs in a forthcoming film and slightly suspect that he thinks he might actually be Steve Jobs.) A billion people! It's the kind of thing you can imagine someone in a white coat writing down as evidence just before they decide to commit you. What's more, Diamandis is the kind of can-do entrepreneur that, as a nation, we're inclined to lampoon and shun. (He's good friends with Richard Branson.)
The only problem with this as a strategy is that half the people in the room actually have done things which have had a positive impact on a billion people. Or, in some cases, more. Not just Venter, who has flown in on his private jet; there's also Vint Cerf, who is considered one of the fathers of the internet – he worked on Arpanet, the internet's predecessor – and is now "chief internet evangelist" at Google. AndSebastian Thrun, the man behind one of Google's latest and potentially most disruptive technologies yet, the self-driving car. He's also the head of the top-secret Google X lab, part of the firm that most employees didn't even know existed until the New York Times ran a piece on it last November.;_ylt=Aj94JHUXSBXTn.9QPbKl7gm1qHQA;_ylu=X3oDMTQwNDRianM4BG1pdANNb3N0UG9wdWxhciBMaXN0aW5nBHBrZwNhNTRmZDdlNC1jOTNkLTM5MTItOWIwNC05ZWZhY2ZhNmZkMDMEcG9zAzIEc2VjA01vc3QgUG9wdWxhcgR2ZXIDOWM5MGFhNzAtOTQ5NS0xMWUxLWE5ZmYtODA3YzE5N2JkMTZm;_ylg=X3oDMTFlamZvM2ZlBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdAMEcHQDc2VjdGlvbnM-;_ylv=3

Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think.

Peter H. Diamandis, co-author of Abundance and co-founder of Singularity University, thinks that our brains are not wired to understand exponential change.   We have evolved to think arithmetically rather than exponentially, and therefore have a hard time wrapping our heads around the implications of Moore's law type performance/cost improvements of digital technologies. 

We should not limit our thinking about exponential performance-to-cost improvements to transistors. Exponential improvements have characterized network bandwidth (Butters' law), and computer storage / per dollar (Kryder's law). A computer of 1982 is 100 times heavier, 500 times larger, 10 times as expensive and 1/100th as powerful as the smart phone in your pocket.

The authors of Abundance ask if exponential technological improvements will translate into a commensurate exponential increase in our standards of living? Can the story of the computer be replicated in medicine, agriculture, and perhaps even education? The answer depends on the extent to which these economic activities take on the characteristics and designs of digital technologies.

It is hard not to finish Abundance with the belief that our children will enjoy abundant energy (as renewable power technology follows the exponential performance/cost curve) and dramatic improvements in health and lifespan (as medical technologies miniaturize and become implanted in our bodies).

You and I may have plenty of arguments with Kotler and Diamandis. The power of digital technologies may be impressive, but digital technologies do not address the fundamental problems of environmental degradation, political repression, or structural inequality.  An iPhone will not solve water shortages, endemic infectious diseases, or the absence of the rule of law.

None of these complaints, however, should stop you from reading and enjoying Abundance.  
Our day-to-day work and personal lives are characterized by resource constraints. We live without the time to do everything we need to do, and the dollars to invest properly for what is next. A book like Abundance gets us out of what is immediately before our eyes, and gives us a framework to think about where we may go in the future.  
If we can figure out how to align our work with those of digital goods, and therefore reap the benefits of exponential cost and performance improvements, we might just figure out how to move our industries (even higher ed) from scarcity to abundance.

Read more:

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Billionaire to Build New Titanic for 2016

Australian real estate billionaire Clive Palmer announced that he's planning to build a replica of the Titanic and have it ready for its maiden voyage in late 2016. It will  sail from England to New York, the same path the first Titanic was taking.

"It will be every bit as luxurious as the original Titanic, but will have state-of-the-art 21st-century technology and the latest navigation and safety systems," Palmer said in a statement. He called the project "a tribute to the spirit of the men and women who worked on the original Titanic."

Palmer is to include all modern technology, but will still make it look like the original design. For example: Despite being diesel-powered, the new ship will still have four smoke stacks, like the coal-powered original, but they will be purely decorative.