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.

Microsoft has its own Project Glass

“Microsoft has it’s own Project Glass cooking in the R&D labs.

It’s an augmented reality glasses/heads-up display, that should supply you with various bits of trivia while you are watching a live event, e.g. baseball game. ”

The information is based on a patent application, so don’t expect a Microsoft Glass for Christmas. 
via Diigo

patent drawings for microsoft glass

Nicholas Carlson at BusinessInsider explains the differences between Microsoft Glass and Google Glass. It seems that Google Glass will be more like a tiny screen somewhere in your vision while the Microsoft project is about overlaying digital information on the physical environment. However, the Microsoft project seems to be more about events – where the user is more or less staying on the same spot, while Google Glass is also about the users moving around, sky diving etc.

Purists would say the Google is not working on augmented reality (if the information about Google Glass) is correct as it does not really is overlaying digital information. In my opinion, if you look at it from a slightly different angle, in both cases we’re (at least in some applications) annotating the physical world.

Let Google hack your mind!

Alternate Reality Games (ARG)! conspiracies! Augmented Reality! Mind hacking! Soon all this on your Android (now in closed beta) – and I guess less soon also on iOS. Meet Ingress, Google’s ARG. It reminds me of Shadow Cities, but then again I could not yet try out Ingress. It seems to be more interesting in this sense that it integrates the digital game layer more into the physical reality – however without actually using physical objects. Also visit the companion website Niantic Project. Cannot wait to experience these things wearing Google glasses… (and of course, while pretending to be a game, Google will eventually hack your mind):

Read also:
- Google Launches Ingress, a Worldwide Mobile Alternate Reality Game by Liz Gannes on AllThingsD
- Inside Ingress, Google’s new augmented reality game by Casey Newton on C|Net
- Niantic Project Wiki
Read even more:
- Are ARGs Dead? A Closer Look at a Common Refrain by Adrian Hon on ARGNet
- Niantic Labs Bears More Fruit: Location-Based Massively Multiplayer Game Ingress Hits Google Play by Darrell Etherington at TechCrunch. Notice that the term ‘alternate reality’ is not being used here, but instead ‘location-based multiplayer gaming’.

Build your own course

I’m looking at Course Builder – as it is explained on it packages the software and technology used to build the Power Searching with Google online course.

The guys at Google say:

We hope you will use it to create your own online courses, whether they’re for 10 students or 100,000 students. You might want to create anything from an entire high school or university offering to a short how-to course on your favorite topic.

Some familiarity with html and JavaScript is needed, but it seems the wiki is very informative and well-structured.

I plan to give it a try and include my experiences in the handbook.

The Daily State Of Disruption: Design Principles, Project Glass and Its Discontents

An overview of some major discussions about the internet and technology during the last few days. About technology and ideology, big internet corporations and their doom, project glass and its discontents.

Race against the machine meets radical transparency

In the book Race against the machine, written by the MIT-researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, one of the examples of the exponential technological development is the self-driving Google car. Google claims to have safely completed over 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, even though there is some discussion about this.

Of course there is scepticism about the self-driving car (read also the post on TPM Idealab). Who is ultimately responsible if anything goes wrong? There must be some human to blame, no?

In Race Against the Machine  the vision is optimistic. It is told how in 2004 the first DARPA Grand Challenge (in an unpopulated desert) ended miserably. In 2010 Google could announce that it had modified Toyota Priuses into fully autonomous cars. In only a few years time something seemingly impossible became possible.

So maybe that in a not too distant future we’ll consider automated truck driving normal while we will deem the practice of humans driving dangerous trucks as foolishly dangerous. But then again, isn’t driving a car or a truck a most passionate act, and can we even imagine to make computer driving the default option?

Information technology could change other things as well on our roads, even without self-driving cars. When the Internet of Things turns objects into endless streams of communication, it would be very odd to continue with weird interventions such as random speed limit controls – and even weirder, the announcement and localization of those controls by the authorities themselves.  What we can expect are cars which constantly send out streams of information, triggering alerts when speed limits and other regulations are being violated. Those alerts could be easily communicated and the offending drivers would pay the consequences or would at least have to justify their driving behavior.

But do we actually want this to happen? Of course we can locate almost each and every one of us by way of smartphone signals, but monitoring this information and sending it to authorities seems unacceptable – except for very specific situations. Once again there is this notion of freedom and something “typically human” which seems to be challenged. Even though one could argue that hundreds of thousands of tragic traffic accidents could be avoided by combinations of computer driven cars and real-time monitoring, one can be sure that there will be stiff resistance by those claiming that fundamental privacy rights and other freedoms are being sacrificed in a kind of Big Brother system.

The wider discussion is about “radical transparency“, which not only demands that corporations and authorities are transparent, but that transparence would be the “normal” situation for every citizen. It seems to be the underlying philosophy of Facebook for instance. The idea is that such transparency would make the diversity of lifestyles obvious and as such increase tolerance. Media expert danah boyd discusses this for instance on her blog apophenia, discussing these quotes from Facebook-founder Zuckerberg:

“We always thought people would share more if we didn’t let them do whatever they wanted, because it gave them some order.” – Zuckerberg, 2004
“You have one identity… The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” – Zuckerberg, 2009


She explains her position also in this recent video:

Webstock ’12: danah boyd – Culture of Fear + Attention Economy = ?!?! from Webstock on Vimeo.

What is fascinating is that these discussions are not about some distant future. All these things, the ubiquitous social networks, the internet of things, self-driving cars, the demand for radical transparency, the viral spreading of fear are realities – sometimes in very early phases, but realities nevertheless.