Archive for April, 2009

Transcendent Man: Kurzweil’s take on the future of humanity

The 2009 Tribeca Film Festival in New York recently released a documentary about Ray Kurzweil’s ideas on the future evolution of humanity in a computer-driven world.  Here’s a trailer for the film, Transcendent Man that attempts to summarize Ray’s ideas. 

My previous post on Singularity University briefly described how his  2005 book, The Singularity is Near,  discusses a possible future where the distinction between humans and computers becomes increasingly grey.

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G-Speak and SixthSense: coming soon to a wall near you

Tom Cruise in Minority Report

Tom Cruise in Minority Report

When Tom Cruise used a gesture-driven video display to search for future criminals in the film Minority Report he was interacting with a CGI-enhanced setup designed in part by John Underkoffler, a former PhD student of MIT’s Tangible Media Group.  In a fantasy-become-reality scenario, Underkoffler went on to form Oblong Industries, a design group that released a first version of G-Speak, a working version of the gestural interface from the movie, in November 2008.

A portable technology that takes a related role is SixthSense , developed by Pranav Mistry at MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group – a wearable computer that projects its display onto any surface and uses hand or finger gestures for interaction. For example, users can take a snapshot of a landscape scene simply by framing the scene with their (colour-coded) fingertips, similar to Tom’s gesture in the image  above. This technology extends the “multi-touch”  concept into a “multi-gesture” mode, allowing users to engage in more complex forms of visual interaction.  Watch a video of  the FIG’s Professor Patti Maes describing the system at a TED talk in February 2009 below.

Critics of gestural interfaces usually point out that existing interface devices such as touchpads, mice and keyboards require less physical effort than gesticulating in space with arms extended, as the G-Speak interface seems to require.  Personally, I think this type of interface has a place in certain disciplines where creative manipulation of virtual or real 3D objects can enhance learning.  Virtually conducting a synthesised orchestra could be one way of exploiting the potential of a gestural interface. Conductors could quickly experiment with the placement of virtual orchestral performers – maybe bring the French Horns in closer and push the Harpist off to the left, etc.

Adding force feedback to the interface opens up further potential for creative interaction or precise procedural activity.  Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Surgical System provides surgeons with sufficient tactile feedback to allow precision surgery where the actual procedure is done entirely by a human-guided robot. Virtual musical instruments such as bowed devices can provide musicians with sufficient synthetic feedback to create a virtuoso performance or create entirely new forms of music. Get in touch with your inner interface soon.

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Forvo: learning and teaching pronunciation – online

Here’s a great example of a collaborative online resource that relies on its users for most of its content – not unlike the model used by Wikipedia:

Forvo is an online pronunciation resource that is built by its many users. It currently has a database of 210 languages including all major western, african and asian languages and some more obscure ones such as; Occitan (Southern France), Hawaiian, Sudanese (East Africa) and Quechua (Peru). The total number of words currently held is 203,463 but only around 66% of these (133,030) have recorded pronunciations so far. The site lists words awaiting pronunciation recordings as “pending”, and encourages users to add their own recorded pronunciation of the word.  The recorded file is tagged with the user’s location so that anyone using the guide has an idea of how likely the recording is to be influenced by regional accents or dialects.  Someone fromn North Carolina, for example, would probably pronounce “house” rather differently from a resident of Manchester in the UK.  For this reason, Forvo encourages its users to add their own pronunciation of a word, even if a recording already exists.

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