Tag Archives: future

Netmasked Avengers — The Coming of the Digilantes

Tracking down the rioters, the high-tech way…

Not quite the Big Society our current leaders wished for, but we’ve seen some signs, over the past few chaotic days, of Londoners taking the protection of the streets into their own hands (Dalston shop-owners, we salute you)

Now we read in Forbes that a group of community-minded developers are working to identify some of the ‘malefactors’ from the London riots themselves, the high-tech way.

Un-inclined to suit-up and hit the streets, RLSH-style, these more technically-savvy crime-busters propose to run images of the rioters through off-the-shelf facial-recognition software, to put names to the shameful images of the past few days.

The plan might yet, we, guess, run aground on the rocks of the Law, but we wish them well in their quest.

UPDATE 15 August 2011: Evidently their software didn’t make the grade, and they’ve given up, to slink back into the shadows from whence they came…

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A camera you focus AFTER taking the picture.

Lytro.com / Eric Cheng — click the kitteh!

Photography has always required a few technical decisions before shooting. You (or your expert proxy, the camera’s computer) need at the very least, to focus the lens and set the exposure, based on your artistic intent, the subject at hand, its setting, and various parameters related to constraints specific to your lens and sensor or film stock.

Those choices always take a little time, and define irrevocable characteristics of the final image. A seriously out-of-focus subject will always remain a blur, while a blown-out highlight will always glare whitely and detail-less out of the print. Short of repainting the subject, there are limits even to post-processing stalwarts such as Photoshop.

But of course ‘exposure’ and ‘focus’ are concepts of optical engineering, of the process of photography, not characteristics of the world. The visual world is a field of light, from within which field a photograph is constructed by placing the limitations of a specific combination of lens and sensor at a specific location, at a point of time. The visual world itself is neither focussed nor unfocussed, neither over- or under-lit. It is merely light.

What if we could capture more fully a description of that field of light, and, after the fact, at our leisure, decide on what should hold focus, what should be the depth of field, what should be a highlight, what a mid-tone, what deep mystery of shadow? Aesthetically, such a choice offers obvious freedoms. Pragmatically, it means that time need not be wasted on camera-system configuration, but rather in getting access to, and framing the shot –- important for sports, street and wildlife photographers alike.

Two emergent technologies offer to deliver on that promise of leisurely, post-production exposure and focus. On the exposure front, High Dynamic Range sensors have been ‘the next big thing’ for several years now. When it comes to focus, the revolution may have just taken place. US-based startup Lytro has decloaked from stealth mode to announce its first Light Field camera, based on founder and CEO Dr. Ren Ng’s academic research. The camera itself is still vapourware, but Lytro’s algorithms are demonstrated in interactive Flash images on their site. Click on any part of an image, and hey presto, it springs into focus. This is a genuinely disruptive imaging technology, and comes with other interesting claims, including massively improved low-light performance, and single-lens 3-D.

It all looks cool — though rather low-rez — in the demos. Given the potential value of their intellectual property, we’re surprised that Lytro aren’t focussed (ahem) on licensing it out to the big players. Instead, they are (apparently) planning to swim their cool tech, under the flag of a startup brand, into the perilous waters of the consumer electronics market, buoyed only by a vapourware product and a brand positioning — living pictures — which is a weak undersell of the scope of their innovation. One has to wonder, why not aim elsewhere? Why not focus on the professional photography customers to whom Lytro’s very real benefits should have a high commercial value? Why, indeed? Is it possible, for example, their Light Field technology throws away resolution in exchange for its magic? Maybe there’s no way to integrate it with legacy optics, which would reduce its utility for professional photographers? There’s simply not sufficient information on Lytro’s site to tell.

Damn, though, their tech is cool, and double-damn I want one of their cameras, to take for a spin some steamy night at Superstore. We’ve asked them for an interview. We will keep you posted. In the meantime, we’re off to read Dr Ng’s original research papers…

UPDATE — some answers from Lytro

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Future PR

Selling cars with superlatives.

By 2020, nobody shall be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo.

It sounds fantastical but — according to Volvo — it’s true. According to the Volvo site:

This statement from 2008 clearly formulates a long-term vision to create cars that will not crash. Volvo Cars’ strategy to achieve Vision 2020 includes cooperating with social partners, integrating preventative and protective safety systems into the car and, in particular, to better understands people in traffic situations. Driver behaviour is a contributing factor in over 90 percent of all accidents.

“The goal is unique in that Volvo Cars has designated a year and is showing a social responsibility that also extends to people in other vehicles and pedestrians,” says Anders Eugensson, safety expert at Volvo Cars. ”We are very clear about the fact that our cars should not negatively affect other people at the moment of an accident. In addition, no unprotected roadusers should be seriously injured or killed.”
Whilst other car companies have also hit on the potential of future tech for safety, no one brand has been so bold as to turn it into a PR-able brand story. Which is what Vision 2020 is. And — vitally — it’s entirely credible.

According to Ed Kim, an analyst at automotive research firm AutoPacific, the zero-fatality goal is achievable. Within the next ten years, the confluence of safety technologies such as road sign recognition, pedestrian detection and autonomous car controls will produce far safer cars. Vision 2020 is a Utopian vision which suggests that the auto wreck – that horror symbol of the 20th Century – could be consigned to the past. A vision that Volvo now has the potential to own.

Story stolen with glee from Slashdot.

Image: Car Crash by Andy Warhol.
This post originally appeared on Anne-Fay’s work blog: Noise.

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Make3D (Does Exactly That)!

The latest contender for ‘coolest imaging/photography tool’ turns snapshots into 3D scenes. And it works!

MIT’s Technology Review highlights the new web service Make3D, which does a truly amazing job of extracting 3D data from normal 2D images.

A spinoff from research at Stanford, Make3D works its magic using:

a machine-learning algorithm that associates visual cues, such as color, texture, and size, with certain depth values based on what they have learned from studying two-dimensional photos paired with 3-D data. For example [...] grass has a distinctive texture that makes it look very different close up than it does from far away. The algorithm learns that the progressive change in texture gives clues to the distance of a patch of grass.

Note the key phrase ‘machine learning’. They haven’t tried to understand the world — they’ve built a tool which can learn to understand depth cues in visual imagery. Cool.

Currently the system only understands scene cues in outdoor landscapes and (rather curiously, we think) indoor scenes which feature staircases (but why not?). Future work will help their system learn about other kinds of scenes. But what it does, it does very well indeed as proof-of-concept. See the Make3D site for demos, or to upload your own scenes for processing.

Impressive as it stands. But as we see it, the most exciting place for this technology to turn up will be at the point of capture — in cameras. Our Nikon D200 already features a ‘programme’ mode for autoexposure, which uses scene cues to understand something of what’s in front of the lens: a big blue rectangle top of image , for example, is probably the sky, and should maybe be overexposed relative to the lower half of the scene so that whatever’s underneath doesn’t come out pitch-black in the photo. Add in Make3D, which could profit from a whole slew of data available at time of capture (by, for example, capturing more depth data before and after the photo is taken by playing with autofocus…) and you’ve got consumer 3D photography done and dusted. We can’t wait.

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Overheard on the tube

What did the twentysomething guy say to the other twentysomething guy?

“I don’t know why they call them TV shows. I never watch them on TV.”

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Life, Web 3.0 and Everything

Musings on What’s Next

Last night I had a strange dream. The Two Fat Ladies (of cookery show ‘fame’) came to me, explaining that my computer had the first real Mac virus and that I’d signed up for every porn site on the web automatically. I now owed in excess of $10m on my credit card and I’d better come up with something quickly.

Ignoring what this says about my psyche (TV-obsessed, with a thing for matron figures, obviously unclean, feeling guilty about my erased bookmarks and in dire financial straits perhaps?) it did start me thinking. Web 1.0 was rubbish. Web 2.0 was better but still every little piece of my life online was pigeon-holed somewhere. I was promised my 15MB of fame and have been forced to settle for 26 comments on one of my flickr pics (a woman walking naked down a busy Brooklyn street). What will Web 3.0 really be like I wonder? Well here are some thoughts.

First of all I think that Social Networking will go beyond sending someone a virtual puppy on Facebook and start to morph into something useful. What’s the point of having 312 MySpace friends if you can’t borrow money from them?

I may be alone in this but I reckon that Social Networking will expand into community business with Friend Loans (yup, really ­ borrow money from those cyber friends, or put money into the pot for a decent rate of interest), group buying communities (you like Jabba figures too? Let¹s get together and negotiate a job lot) and Social Networking channels for people who like the same content and are happy broadcasting only to each other.

The End of Privacy

Everything I’ve done, said, thought and dreamed about in the last 2 years is somewhere out there online. I have no issue with that. Let’s face it; a lot of it was done not for immediate pleasure but in the knowledge that I’d get to post it later. I’ve said it often (as my web friends know) but I live my own life vicariously. The web has forced me to be interesting and if that means people being able to google my ass (literally) then so be it. At least in years to come I’ll be able to look back at a higher, firmer ass and say “those were the days”.

To this end I’m trying to get a bar concept off the ground. You round up all of the people indulging in a spot of on-cam cyber sex (via something like j-meeting) and you project them onto screens all around the bar. Turning something private into something public and helping end privacy once and for all. The great thing is they don’t know when/if they’re being broadcast.
Adds to the exhibitionist thrill for them and to voyeuristic thrill of my punters.

Marco Polo

There’s a lot to discover out there on the information superhighway. I predict, no I demand, that in the very near future people will pay ODiscoverers to go out and find specific content worth bookmarking for them. Actually they’ll probably just get the brands that they love to do it for them (I’d love to know what Gucci thinks is worth book marking).

Better brands

You know whether you’re a Match.com person or a Nerve.com person (are you looking for bridge and tunnel sex ­ not as dirty as it sounds) or for kinky sex with an underweight hipster on a urine stained mattress in a neighborhood that rings with Eastern European accents? The rest of the web is still a little unbranded. Right now 98% of everything sells something. But what nobody is taking into account is the fact that I want to buy my Burlesque books from someone I imagine wearing a corset rather than from the Amazon algorithm.

Babelfish 2.0

How about we move to one bloody platform. I have Mac, PC, Blackberry, CDMA phone, GSM phone and a Treo that I hate. Why don’t they all speak Intel? Somebody has to own portability. Somebody needs to offer me a techie babelfish.

Riding The Cloud

Let’s have lots of small, easily downloadable apps that surf the cloud of tags, images (and yes I want to be able to google search a picture too) and titles out there. I want to be able to Ovirtual tag the places that I love and search for things close by that I want to photograph. I want the world to be searchable and for my apps to all have access to that data.

So okay this has been a mad ramble. But it was a mad dream. Anyone that wants in on the bar, I’m serious about it.

Steve Walls is an inventor at What If New York.

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PhotoSynth: Making the World…

…One snapshot at a time

A brief (highly subjective) list of internet milestones:

  • 1980s: newsgroups and email & packet-switched internetworking
  • 1990s: multi-user virtuality, streaming media, dotcom 1.0
  • 2000s: people (finally) embracing social media

Anyway, you get the idea. Fast forward through Web 2.0 to get to 2007, and this — Microsoft’s PhotoSynth.

A bit of perspective: when I studied computational approaches to vision in the 80s, ‘state-of-the-art’ meant software that could get a cruise missile somewhere near Red Square, given a decent topographic map. PhotoSynth can build 3D models of Red Square (or anywhere else on the planet) from snapshots on Flickr, aggregate and process tags & other metadata to build a semantic web describing what’s there, then navigate the whole kaboodle in real time on any recentish networked PC. Google Earth: roll over and play dead. At least for the next few weeks, Microsoft owns the coolest tech on the block, bar none: some important part of the future looks like this. The original post and other options for viewing are here: just watch the video all the way through. You can see what the BBC have been doing with this tech over at their How We Built Britain site.

Paranthetically, note the presence of the 90’s poster child of infinite zoom — a Mandelbrot set — at the top-left of the SeaDragon demo image used in the video. Does the demo go anywhere near it? No way. In 2007 we no longer use trippy fractals to show off the bewildering wonderfulness of our tech. Instead, we are taken on a zoom into a car ad to show how it’s possible to embed tech specs in a teeny corner of the image without pop-ups. How times change. Wasn’t there a moment there when we were dreaming of more than a better car ad? Maybe not at Microsoft. Sigh.

[via Tim, who sent me a link to the early Java proof-of-concept last year, and a link to this video yesterday]

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A Word To The Wise

From the man who believes “the best way to predict the future, is to invent it.”

Alan Kay — educator, scientist and co-designer of the OLPC device — in a recent interview:

The things that are wrong with the Web today are due to this lack of curiosity in the computing profession. And it’s very characteristic of a pop culture. Pop culture lives in the present; it doesn’t really live in the future or want to know about great ideas from the past. I’m saying there’s a lot of useful knowledge and wisdom out there for anybody who is curious, and who takes the time to do something other than just executing on some current plan. Cicero said, “Who knows only his own generation remains always a child.” People who live in the present often wind up exploiting the present to an extent that it starts removing the possibility of having a future.

[Via if:book]

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Vive La Revolution!

Paris turns 175,000 schoolkids into hackers by equipping them with open source software.

ZDNet reports that Ile-de-France, the political district of greater Paris, has plans to give 175,000 schoolchildren and apprentices a USB drive loaded with open-source software. The keys will be given to 130,000 secondary school pupils and 45,000 first year apprentices at training centres at the start of the 2007 school year. The aim of the project is to give “students a tool of freedom and mobility between their school, cybercafes and their home or friends.” The operation will cost around €2.6 million [hard to see how but hey]. The president of the regional council, Jean-Paul Huchon, is a self-confessed ‘partisan of the rebalancing of the supply of proprietary and open-source software’ who previously welcomed the launch of the Firefox 2 browser and led the support for a creation of a competitiveness hub based on open source.

And if they’re doing it, why aren’t you?

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HD Equals Horrific Detail

In porn, HDTV makes everything a bit too graphic.

We know a bit about the pitfalls of HD: cute animals and landscapes look stunning but humans can look downright terrifying. Having seen their pores magnified to the size of saucers on extra-wide plasma TVs, celebs are rushing to their plastic surgeons to get their skin HD-ready. But the porn industry is already on the case about how to deal with the advanced technology.

As acne-prone celebrities like Cameron Diaz have discovered, HD is extremely unforgiving. But for pornographers it’s not just just their actors faces which are under constant scrutiny — in fact the actors’ facial features are rarely the focus of the close up. As one actress, writer and director, Stormy Daniels explains:

The biggest problem is razor burn. I’m not 100 percent sure why anyone would want to see their porn in HD.

Others counter that HD makes the action more ‘real': “It puts you in the room”, says director Roddy D.

One major obstacle to HD porn has already been created by Sony who said last week it would not mass-produce porno on its Blu-ray high definition discs. The decision has forced the industry to use the competing HD-DVD format, or in some cases, find companies other than Sony that can manufacture copies of Blu-Ray movies. This seems like the latest in a series of strategic blunders from Sony, given the role of the porn industry in the VHS/Beta format wars of the 1980s and the proliferation of the Internet. [UPDATE: Sony have just denied blocking porn production for the format.]

Also, because of the sex industry’s experience in adopting new media formats and championing them, it is the ideal testing ground for HD. There is already work in progress to deal with the ‘highlighted physical imperfections’ issue. Two distributors, Vivid Entertainment and Digital Playground, have been shooting with high definition cameras for two years and says that their experience using the technology gives them the edge in understanding how to deal with hyperdefinition. Their techniques include using postproduction to digitally soften the actors’ skin tone: “It takes away the blemishes and the pits and harshness and makes it look like they have baby skin.”

Hollywood take note.

Source: New York Times via Nettime.

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