Monday, November 24, 2008

From Literacy To Visuality: As Technology Shifts, Culture Bends

In the Screen Issue of the New York Times Magazine, Kevin Kelly discusses the modern-day Gutenberg revolution, or "how the moving image is upending the printed word." Kelly sees the proliferation of video technology (and amateur video artists) fueling our collective visual appetite. We are pervasively and resoundingly moving away from the word. We are becoming a people of the moving image, where literacy gives way to "visuality."

But Kelly reminds us that just as "Gutenberg's press did not fully unleash text," youtube, and the hand held video camera cannot fully unleash visuality. We need tech innovations that evolve visual consumption in addition to visual production. Just as the world needed literacy innovations (like punctuation, quotation marks, table of contents, and footnotes) to efficiently wield literacy, we need visuality innovations for visuality to blossom into prominance.

For full blown visuality, Kelly says, we should be able to index film, peruse table of contents, search for elements of mis-en-scene. We need to be able to, as google has noted on their blog, use a search engine to find a particular shot in a movie and conveniently and persuasively compare it to a particular shot in another movie. For this, search engines must understand video, not just text. This is the hope of the semantic web, and something Viewdle is fast pursuing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hollywood Looks To Nasa Roboticists For Realism

As Wired magazine reports today, Wall-E director, Andrew Stanton, used hard science to create the cute little robot. During development he visited Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to gather insight into how robots move, think, and learn.
Now Nasa is looking for creative input from students all around the county. They recently announced a contest to name the next Mars rover, scheduled to take off in 2009. Students age 5-18 are eligible.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Long Now Foundation Proposes A Clock For The Ages

From The Long Now Foundation website, a fascinating introduction to the clock that ticks just once a year:

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed-some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where 'long-term' is measured at least in centuries. Long Now proposes both a mechanism and a myth. It began with an observation and idea by computer scientist Daniel Hillis:

"When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 2000, and now no one mentions a future date at all. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium."

Such a clock, if sufficiently impressive and well engineered, would embody deep time for people. It should be charismatic to visit, interesting to think about, and famous enough to become iconic in the public discourse. Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think.

Monday, November 17, 2008

10 Year Old USB Gets A Makeover

Wired reports on the USB 3.0. The devices will likely first start showing up on HD video cameras but the 10-fold speed increase will start greatly reduce transfer time of all kinds of uploads: images, sounds, videos, memories...

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Incomplete Blueprint Of Life

From The New York Times:
Scientists have learned that the canonical “genes” account for an embarrassingly tiny part of the human genome: maybe 1 percent of the three billion paired subunits of DNA that are stuffed into nearly every cell of the body qualify as indisputable protein codes. Scientists are also learning that many of the gene-free regions of our DNA are far more loquacious than previously believed, far more willing to express themselves in ways that have nothing to do with protein manufacture (full article).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chess, Mold, Consciousness: The Mysterious Phenomenon Of Emergence

Nova's Science Now explores one of the most far reaching and fascinating topics in the sciences: emergence. Click here for a video exploring emergence, an interview with John Holland of the Santa Fe Institute (colleague of Cormac McCarthy) and a special bonus video of a brief history of emergence set to music.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Google Searches Help Track Disease Outbreaks

The New York Times reports
that new tracking tools from ", the company’s philanthropic unit, suggest that it may be able to detect regional outbreaks of the flu a week to 10 days before they are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."
Try out web search tracking for yourself at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Touch Bionics Releases Commercially Available Bionic Hand After 40 Years Of Research

The new iLimb from Touch Bionics possesses tiny motors in each digit that respond to electrical impulses in the arms muscle (called myoelectric control). The hand enables unprecedented bionic dexterity (picture gallery here).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg Says Each Year We Share Double

At the Web 2.0 conference last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, pronounced “I would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before.” His proclamation, now called “Zuckerberg’s Law,” seems linked to Moore’s Law (it’s unclear if that was intentional), which states that every 18-24 months the number of transistors capable of fitting on an integrated circuit doubles. It’s a thought-provoking statement.
So why do we share online? The innate desire to connect, to feel part of something larger, the promise of being discovered, the possibility of immortality in the digital realm as a hedge against our own mortality? Everyone has different reasons. Certainly for the younger internet users, the question isn’t why, it’s why not. This is the post-reactionary generation; the internet users that don’t dwell on the division between online and offline worlds. They see the internet as part of one fluid online-offline existence. Who hasn’t heard of a shocked parent chastising a teenager for posting intimate online information? Younger internet users simply have a higher threshold for acceptable exposure. Plus, when it comes to freedom, logging on to the internet has become the modern day equivalent of getting the keys the the car. As teenagers, don’t we all want to see how fast the car can go?
If we can possibly fulfill Zuckerberg’s prophecy, it will be the younger users that drive the trend, and the savvy entrepreneurs that make it happen. This entails not only enabling the sharing of new types of information seemlessly (real-time video, heart-rate, genome, gps location, etc..), but finding new ways to make it captivating and navigable once it’s uploaded (this is where avatars with AI technology can really start to make things interesting).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Google Floats Plans For Wave Powered Data Center

Google's continued dominance of online search and advertising depends largely on it's ability to store and utilize MASSIVE amounts of data. The servers that house this data are notorious energy guzzlers (1.5% of all US energy goes to data centers by some estimates). It's not suprising then, that google has gotten into alternative energy.
Recently, the internet titan has unveiled plans to house their data centers miles offshore, on floating barges. The benefits includes virtually free real estate, natural wave and wind energy, and ocean waters to cool the servers.
In reading about this ambitious plan I can't shake the image of the google barge tossed around in a 100-year Pacific storm, getting pounded by a rogue wave and sinking like a rock. It makes you reevaluate the percieved permanence of the digital world. The "internet cloud" often seems intangible, floating, and divorced from the material world. But in reality our virtual lives are very dependent on the real-life, physical servers that make them possible. I have heard rumors of patents for indestructible, self-repairing (waterproof?) server systems...which is encouraging, especially if they're bobbing around in the Pacific.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Contact Lens Could Bring Internet Closer

The contact lenses, implanted with circuits, and developed at the University of Washington, allow the user to view displays while maintaining their focus on the real world. The researchers hope to add wireless communication to the lens and in the future, they say, an individual could surf the Internet on a midair virtual display screen that only they would be able to see. If the lens is the iphone format in ten years, it would for the most part eliminate the value of memorized knowledge – who needs it when the internet is in your eyeball – and put much more emphasis on the creative utilization and synthesis of that knowledge (this is already happening of course). And, our conversational edicate would require some redefinition (this is already happening to I suppose..."stop texting while I am talking to you!")