The disappearing headset

Google makes headsets “disappear” or at least show the face of the VR-user. The Google Research Blog had all the details about “headset removal for virtual and mixed reality“. their definition of Mixed Reality is a bit limited I think:

a related medium that shares the virtual context of a VR user in a two-dimensional video format allowing other viewers to get a feel for the user’s virtual experience.

Compare with Wikipedia:

Mixed reality (MR), sometimes referred to as hybrid reality,[1] is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real-time.

Anyway, as Google explains, this is more than a gimmick:

Headset removal is poised to enhance communication and social interaction in VR itself with diverse applications like VR video conference meetings, multiplayer VR gaming, and exploration with friends and family.

VR news roundup: increasing competition for Oculus

Some rather important news about virtual reality developments: it seems Oculus is getting some serious competition.

-Playstation 4 VR Headset Project Morpheus could come to market in the second half of 2016. (Roadtovr)

– Valve and HTC unveiled a very impressive system at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona. This stuff is expected to ship to developers in Spring 2015. TechCrunch John Biggs has a glowing report on it.

– A Secret team at Google is working on new version of Android for virtual reality, so Rolfe Winkler announces on The Wall Street Journal.

– So what is Oculus doing? No hard announcements yet for the launch of a consumer version of their headset. However, Gear VR, the Samsung mobile headset powered by Oculus, would get a full launch with Samsung’s next cycle – probably this Fall (TechCrunch).

I updated the VR wiki mindmap accordingly. 

Big tech in love with VR and AR, so we update our mindmap

Crazy times for virtual reality, or so it seems. ‘It’s the future’, people at Facebook say. Users will not only be able to experience immersive Facebook-experiences, but will also create them, Eric David posts on SiliconAngle. ‘Users’ means not just developer-types, but the average user. However, it is totally unclear when virtual Facebook-apps would hit the market.

While Facebook executives dream about immersing all of us in their product, some people at Apple share that dream for their own products. Apple was awarded a patent titled “Head-Mounted Display Apparatus for Retaining a Portable Electronic Device with Display,” which details a virtual reality headset powered by an iPhone or iPod, according to Apple Insider. The device does look not fundamentally different from other systems strapping your smartphones on your face such as Google’s Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus).

But we may still have to wait a long time before Apple presents a consumer-ready device, and that device could also be something rather different from Oculus and be more along the line of Microsoft’s HoloLens – as one could think looking at patents filed two years ago, BusinessInsider says.

Since I started a wiki mind map about Oculus Rift developments, quite some people added useful stuff to it. I now added these latest developments (use the icon with the arrow under the map to maximize):

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

#SUsummit Amsterdam showcases the augmentation of everything

Virtual worlds are often weird environments. The innovators in that industry have a broad view on our future. Conferences and community conventions offer fascinating insights and discussions. I remember how futurist and technologist Ray Kurzweil gave a (virtual) presentation during the Second Life Community Convention 2009 in San Francisco. Afterwards I rushed to the Green Apple bookstore to buy his book The Singularity is Near (2005). Wikipedia explains:

Kurzweil describes his law of accelerating returns which predicts an exponential increase in technologies like computers, genetics, nanotechnology,robotics and artificial intelligence. He says this will lead to a technological singularity in the year 2045, a point where progress is so rapid it outstrips humans’ ability to comprehend it. Irreversibly transformed, people will augment their minds and bodies with genetic alterations, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence. Once the Singularity has been reached, Kurzweil predicts machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined. Afterwards, Kurzweil says, intelligence will radiate outward from the planet until it saturates the universe.

Fast forward to December 2012, when Kurzweil was hired by Google “to bring natural language understanding to Google”. He was involved in various education and learning projects, one of the most interesting is the Singularity University (SU) which he co-founded with Peter Diamandis (2008).

The headquarters of the SU are at Moffett Federal Airfield (NASA Research Park), California, but in Europe we can attend two-day Summit conferences. Last year I attended the Singularity University conference in Budapest, Hungary and I (together with other participants) built a mind map about the state of the future at that time, topics of that mind map include ambient intelligence (sensors, ubiquitous computing, networks), robots, energy, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, synthetic biology, health and medical services, organizational change. In short, it’s about how the augmentation of the human intellect materializes itself and disrupts about everything.

This year my newspaper colleague Peter De Groote went to the Amsterdam Summit. He reported in De Tijd that the fully self-driving car will be available in ten years time, that robots are still toddlers but are growing up fast (and they can read your emotions), that artificial intelligence evolves from disappointing to disruptive, that we no longer should limit ourselves to wearables but that implantables are next in line to augment us:

Virtual Worlds

So… nothing about virtual reality and virtual worlds in this disruption overview? Yes there was. First let’s take a step back: in September Jason Dorrier posted on SingularityHub about Virtual Reality – will it become the next great media platform? He showed this inspiring video:

The idea is that technologies such as Oculus Rift and the new generation of virtual worlds (think High Fidelity) will make it possible to visit the worlds in the other person’s head. We make our dreams accessible, quite literally. Which brings us to brain-to-brain communication and yes, this is a Singularity topic. One example being discussed: University of Washington researchers can transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

Rob Nail talked during the conference about exciting applications like allowing a surgeon to operate from 10,000 km distance, to a pilot assisting a non-pilot to land an aircraft. Or how we network and augment our brains very literally…

Understanding Media by Understanding Facebook

Professor Owen R. Youngman teaches a great course about Understanding Media by Understanding Google, but maybe he should consider a follow-up: Understanding Media by Understanding Facebook. Ravi Somaiya explains in The New York Times how Facebook is changing the way its users consume journalism. For quite some time media experts have been talking about the ‘unbundling’ of news – the fact that people no longer want to buy complete newspapers or magazines, but focus on individual stories which they find through search and social networks. What they ‘consume’ is determined at least partially by the algorithms used by Google and Facebook. It seems that the unbundling is happening right now.

Aaron Sankin posted on The Kernel a story about how Facebook is ‘wrecking political news’. In his opinion, the ‘trending topics’ feature on Facebook causes media to surf along whatever is ‘trending’ in order to attract the crowds they need for their traffic and advertizing revenues. Not only the choice of the topics is debatable, also the fact that stories are published in a hurry in order to benefit from the momentum leads to particularly bad journalism.

These are issues which should be discussed in both courses I’m following right now: the above mentioned Understanding Media by Understanding Google but also the Connected Courses which studies education and web culture. Facebook is changing online culture in very important but not always very visible ways. The world of blogs, RSS-feeds, social bookmarks and probably even web-based search is increasingly being replaced by a very different environment dominated by mobile social networks.

Understanding Google, embeddable content and MOOCs

googlecourseWhat makes mobile so transformative? Why is Google a revolutionary company? These are questions asked and answered in the Coursera course
Understanding Media by Understanding Google. Professor Owen R. Youngman (Northwestern University) focuses during six weeks on Google and what makes it so important, not just for media people but for all of us. If you use a smartphone or a social network, you should know why these technologies are so much more than gadgets. The course offers the typical talking head videos but professor Youngman also adds his talent as a curator by selecting half a dozen books and many press articles dealing with fundamental aspects of Google – and of course both highly critical and more jubilant commentators are being discussed.

MOOCs and embeddable content

This is a second run for this course. Of course, it would be interesting to ask the question What Would Google Do (title of a book by Jeff Jarvis) about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as they are organized by Coursera. In an interview by Youngman, professor Jeff Jarvis promotes the idea of the ’embeddable article’. Just like Google makes YouTube-videos embeddable, media companies could do the same for their news articles (incorporating their brand and ads in the embeddable content and adding a link back to their site). Wouldn’t this be a great idea for parts of the Coursera-content – or not really? Maybe this is less a problem for more connectivist-styled MOOCs such as Connected Courses – ultimately it boils down to choices about the business model (or lack of such a model).

Imagine 3D-sensors…

… in your phone, and what you could do with it as a developer… Imagine the games, the education projects, consumer and business projects…. These are exciting times, as Google says about its Project Tango. Google has built a prototype Android smartphone that can learn and map the world around it – what would you do with it?

Seth Rosenblatt on CNET has pretty interesting background information. Movidius’ Remi El-Ouazzane explains in an interview how his chip firm is more than just another partner in Google’s mobile 3D-mapping project — it’s at the center of a revolution in how computers process visuals. The chips can be used far beyond smartphones and tablets: think wearables, robots, autonomous cars, drones…

Google itself mentions various possible applications: interior design, helping the visually impaired, but also immersive gaming – mixed reality style.

R.I.P. Google Reader and the Open Web

A friend of mine started a Facebook page, asking for one minute of silence for the demise of Google Reader.

For many of us, Google Reader was a crucial part of the curating toolkit. Just subscribe to RSS-feeds, organize them in folders, view it in various ways. Save the interesting stuff for later, then put those articles which stay relevant for a longer time in diigo/dilicious/pearltrees… It was easy, and then Google killed it.

The company said it wants to focus on fewer projects. They felt there were enough good alternatives. And mostly, I guess, they were convinced Google Reader was no longer the future. So what is the future according to Google? Curation via social networks, first of all Google+, but of course also Twitter and Facebook. Algorithms and clever apps such as Flipboard and Zite are the present, readers the past. The future: even more algorithms, pushing information to you based on your explicitly and implicitly revealed preferences, your social graph, your locations, the time of the day… through wearable devices such as Glass.

Let’s be honest: the mainstream web users never embraced Reader. So, was Reader right about stopping Reader? What’s all the fuss about anyway?

The fuss is about the fear that Google is turning its back to the open web. People like Dave Winer, Felix Salmon  and Anil Dash lament about link rot and ‘the web we lost’. The big corporates such as Twitter, Facebook and Google primarily want to lock the users into their very own walled gardens. You and your friends can get data into those places, but getting the data out is another matter. Not that your data are particularly safe, they are not. They are not longer YOUR data, they are owned by the big corporations. When the web was still young people worked really hard for interoperability. Now the open web is on the retreat.

The mainstream, who never made it to Reader, is addicted to Facebook, and somewhat less to Twitter and Google+. Robert Scoble says it’s too late to save the common web, because the common users left. He gets more conversations about his articles and videos on Facebook and Google+ than on his blog/RSS feeds. Bruce Sterling says talking about “the internet” makes no sense anymore, and there are five reasons for that: Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft (not clear to me why he doesn’t add Twitter):

Stacks. In 2012 it made less and less sense to talk about “the Internet,” “the PC business,” “telephones,” “Silicon Valley,” or “the media,” and much more sense to just study Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. These big five American vertically organized silos are re-making the world in their image.

Chances are this will be self-defeating. It reminds me of the old Compuserve and AOL, ancient examples of walled gardens brought down or being forced to reinvent themselves by the open web. Sterling does not think that the stacks are stable entities:

Still, the Stacks figure they can disrupt and disintermediate all those old-school businesses; it’s the stock-markets that scare them, because they all know that, if they’re destroyed, it will surely be through that method; moguls can destroy the Stacks just like they destroyed the world of the 90s dot-com boom.

Are the Stacks “stable?” In a word, No. They’re all dizzyingly unstable Napoleonic gimcrack empires built by eccentric geek weirdos. Besides which, they’ve all learned to hate each other, and they’ve been stocking up patents for an almighty legal war for years now.

Maybe there will be non-American stacks (Samsung? some Chinese conglomerate?) – or maybe the open source and Makers movements will come up with something which is open van vastly superior to what the stacks offer now. We simply don’t know.

Beware, the Singularity Comes Nearer: Kurzweil Teams Up with Google

((I had a rather troublesome evening posting this stuff about the entry of Ray Kurzweil in Google. I tried to use Storify for this, but that service and WordPress are a difficult combination. In general, I find WordPress to be rather difficult to use, compared to other blogging platforms.))

Anyway, here we go. The author, futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil joins Google as a Director of Engineering. The news is a few days old by now, and I wrote a column for my newspaper about the event. Here’s some of the stuff I used – videos and blog posts, and also some stuff I did not yet use.

Kurzweil and Google already had a good relationship as they work together in the Singularity University. Here is Kurzweil explaining about the Singularity and the academic program:”>< Here you find a trailer for The Singularity is New, featuring Ray Kurzweil:">< Kurzweil is known for his bold predictions, like his view that brain uploads are nearer than we think.

So do we have to conclude that Google and all the folks at the Singularity University are sharing these same convictions? I don’t think so. I guess that companies and institutions (not only Google, also NASA is involved with the Singularity University) are interested in the research linked to these visions – realizing that even when artificial intelligence and brain uploads will take more time than expected by Kurzweil or would lead to outright failures, we’ll learn lots of things which could be very useful in other contexts.

Read also these people about Kurzweil entering Google:
– Jason Dorrier on the Singularity Hub
– Jon Mitchell at ReadWrite

And now for something slightly different. What about politics and social issues in all this? I posted about a remarkable analysis by the Nationale Intelligence Council, indicating possible social and political tensions when only the rich would be able to augment themselves.

There are also consequences for national sovereignty as it discussed in this interview at Metahaven with Benjamin Bratton who is about to publish the book The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty (The MIT Press, 2013).

Virtual communities on Google+

Getting tons of invites for communities on Google Plus. A limited selection: communities for Digital Culture (look for Ted Newcomb to get an invite), Second Life (288 members already), Second Life Arts (135 members), Opensim Virtual (‘First there was Second Life, then there was Freedom), MetaMeets (3D internet conference), Augmented Reality, 3D printing (1,307 members), Ingress (the Google alternate reality game) (7,193 members) and other Ingress-communities (for the resistance, the enlightened, for various countries…).

Google+ also offers a selection of interesting communities and of course allows you to search for specific interests: fond out more at Google+ communities.

There are discussions about whether the discussion threads should be indexed, tagged (of should we use hashtages), privacy, big corporates, but I definitely have the impression it increases the activity on Google+ and makes it far more valuable.