Allstate, the second-largest insurance provider in the US, recently sent out video games to 100,000 of their clients aged 50 to 75. “The set of five games, together called InSight and made by Posit Science, are designed to improve the mental acuity of older drivers.” Allstate expects to see fewer accidents among the group receiving the video games than from those who did not.
Allstate professes that “ten hours of game play turns the clock back 10 years in terms of memory, useful field of view, processing visual information, and general cognitive functions.”
The idea of training the brain to perform better is something that has been studied for centuries. Think of it as putting your brain through its own workout routine – it needs to do lifts, squats, push-ups and of course cardio. This is most commonly in the form of games.
So will we be seeing more and more brain training in the future?
This is a great 30 minute video featuring Sir Norman Foster, one
of the preeminent architects of our age, that brings us up to speed
on many of the intertwining issues within the ecological agenda,
the defining issue of our generation. From the perspective of the
design process, Foster discusses how green design is producing the
iconic products of our age. He takes it a step further by
discussing the interconnection of buildings, cities, and
It nicely summarizes the problems we face today coupled with
potential solutions, by one of the greatest designers of our time.
Showing how technology and computers can assist in green design,
Foster describes how we must look to technology to move forward the
most important work of our age. (cont.)
I can feel my relationship with nature changing. The other day a big ass bumble bee was hovering around my face for a prolonged period of time. I mean we were having a stare down. I’m relatively sure that it was a real bee, but it spent an unusual amount of time right in my face – flew away and then back several times. It felt like there was some intelligence and intention behind it’s activities. Like it was gathering information.
Now before you label me as paranoid (at least wait until the end of the post), consider all of the increased surveillance activity that we know is going on and think about what we might not (take Bob Woodward’s cryptic interview reference from last week as an example).
Advances in robotics, miniturization and cost reduction in video cameras are transforming the economics and viability of surveillance. The increasing number and granularity of commercial satellite technology platforms, aerial drones, advances in facial recognition and image processing are increasingly enabling visual quantification of everything that happens in outdoor space. This is a trend that will only accelerate, driven primarily by security threats and the increase in destructive capabilities of small groups of people and individuals.
For large metropolitan cities, there really is no choice in the matter. London has already embraced extensive monitoring of public spaces and New York City has undertaken an ambitious project which includes the Ring of Steel. Though interfaces like Google Maps and Google Street View are currently static, they will eventually become real-time as the world moves towards becoming an unscripted 24-7 reality tv program.
So how do I know if that bee was real or surveillance. Well, short of swatting it and finding out for sure, I don’t. But I do believe that pretty soon these will be just another weapon in an increasingly large arsenal of behavior mapping and large scale societal surveillance.
Ericsson, one of the largest companies in Sweden, unveiled their plans for a revolutionary new cellphone capable of 20 Megapixel photos and true HD video recording capability.
At the press conference, Ericsson representative Jonas Lundstedt said they see the cellphone of the future as more of a “mobile terminal” than just a cellphone. With the capability to replace objects in our lives with just one great device, Ericsson is following the way of some of the other major players in the cellphone industry by combining services and devices into one simple object.
The day is coming where the cellphone could possibly no longer be called a cellphone, but a terminal like Lundstedt mentioned. When the cellphone can function as a phone, camera, video camera, map, credit card, etc, can we even call it a cellphone anymore? With AT&T recently approving the tethering of the iPhone to other devices such as televisions and other household appliances this forecast isn’t too far off. The all-in-one device may only be a few short years away. Maybe call it a Universal Remote?
It is notoriously difficult to comprehend the compound growth
potential of exponential forces driving innovations in computing,
nanotech, and solar power, but pro futurist and regular future
Uldrich does a great job explaining this counter-intuitive
phenomenon in his latest book Jump the Curve . Therefore I was
thrilled to come across this short & sweet video synopsis of
exponential potential by the man himself:
By employing comprehensible metaphors and gradually relating
accelerating change to our lives, Jack succinctly and effectively
gets the idea that “the really big change is still ahead of us”
across (no small feat). So if you’re looking for a link to send to
your non Accel-aware buddies, co-workers or relatives, this is
Google’s Vint Cerf, the man
that many refer to as the father of the internet, says that
widening bandwidth and data transfer speeds will soon allow video
downloading to rival, then replace, video streaming as the primary
mode of online video consumption.
“What I’m foreseeing frankly is that video will be used in
download mode more than it will be used in streaming mode as time
goes on,” predicts Cerf, “A gigabit per second would let you
download an hour’s worth of video in 16 seconds, kind of like what
happens with iPod where you can download music faster than you
could listen to it.”
It got me thinking — is our salvation really in the hands of these small microbials? Do science fiction writers have it right?
War of the Worlds
An invasion of Martians threaten to obliterate humanity. Humans are forced to run, unable to combat the technologically advanced tripods the Martians are manning. All seems lost until tripods start falling down for unknown reasons. Eventually, all the Martians have died due to a lack of immunities against Earth’s bacteria.
Earth, due to overpopulation and pollution, has seeded Mars with oxygen-producing algae in the hope of being able to eventually move to the planet. Astronauts are sent to the planet to find out why oxygen production has stalled and discover a native bug which feeds on the algae and produces oxygen. Running out of air, the astronauts remove their helmets expecting to die but find oxygen.
This past June, Google-owned YouTube launched a new way to search for political videos on its YouChoose page:
Using speech recognition technology, the new function allows users to search for videos based on keywords that are spoken in the video. The resulting videos include yellow markers on the play bar to indicate where the keyword is uttered inviting the user to jump to that spot in the video. And if the user mouses over the highlighted area, a small overlay pops up with the phrase that includes the keyword, to provide some context.
Back when I lived in LA and worked on reality TV shows I would
often ponder the future of low-cost video production (which is what
enabled both the genre and the explosion of online video content)
and imagine a variety of camera placements that would soon be
enabled by new technologies. I was particularly excited about the
potential for aerial drone cams that could follow characters in new
ways, allow for low cost establishing shots and get to previously
unreachable positions. And so I was psyched to come across this
demo video of a hovering Microdrone camera that allows for
all of the aforementioned:
Of course, it’s been around for about a year (yet another awesome
technology that I’ve missed at inception) and is already being used
for surveillance, exploration, television and more. It currently
runs about $40,000 U.S. but as it drops in cost I expect that
reality TV producers, documentarians, news producers and low-budget
movie producers across the globe will employ it to shoot previously
unthinkable footage. (cont.)
Microsoft recently unveiled to the mass public a new gadget
called the Sphere they’ve been working on in their labs. The video
shows some pretty crazy applications that the Sphere could be used
for – the most amazing being their ‘earth’ demo which depicts a
spinning interactive globe. Check it for yourself:
If there’s one thing this video helps me to realize, it’s that
Google Earth would be incredible on this spherical display. But,
although it shows some ingenuity and outside-the-box thinking, this
display will most likely never make it past being a handy geography
The problems inherent in the Sphere are numerous. Flat displays
mean you don’t have to go searching all around for objects on your
desktop like photos or open windows. The game function is flat out
impossible in any competition-based scenario. The idea that you
would have enough time to react to a ball floating over the horizon
at a quick pace is laughable (the demonstrator himself has a hard
time finding the balls). And as for presentations, a large flat
screen will work better as a display tool than a ball of any
Human computation, the basis of which is discovering what tasks humans can do to make computers smarter, may someday be responsible for making computers not only smarter, but significantly smarter than humans.
Human computation has many applications. For example, computers aren’t very good at identifying what appears in an image, but humans are. To make online image searches more accurate, von Ahn developed the ESP game, which led to the creation of Google’s Image Labeler, and finally the compilation of five different games: Games With A Purpose (GWAP.com).
The model of game play works well. The games are fun, foster bonds and competition, and are free. These are all qualities that have attracted high numbers of players – thus, creating a strong effort to make not only image searches more durable, but also bring computers closer to thinking like humans.
The question is, when will all our game playing lead to a smarter computer that no longer needs our help?
In June 2006, von Ahn was invited to the Google campus to give a TechTalk lecture on human computation and brought up some interesting points about the bond and tension between humans and machines:
At one point von Ahn jokes that the interactions he’s created through GWAP could lead to a world similar to the one depicted in The Matrix; that is, one in which machines rule the universe and generate power from human brains.
Although his speculation appeared light-hearted, when I ask von Ahn what he thinks now, he asserts: “I completely believe computers will become every bit as intelligent as humans, possibly even more intelligent. I don’t see why not: the brain is a machine, we just don’t understand how it works yet.”