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Ever suffer from Grand Theft Impairment?

Grand Theft Impairment is a condition that affects some video gamers.  It’s defined by Urban Dictionary as “the 4-hour period of time that you cannot drive or function in society due to playing [Rockstar Games’] Grand Theft Auto.”  According to UD   you may end up having “the intention to steal a car, kill innocent people, and/or drive recklessly.”, much like the object of the game.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

I’ve experienced the same impairment spending way too much time flying in a combat flight sim, (Graphsim’s F/A-18 Korea) then attempting to drive a (real) car.  The sense of invincibility that come with surviving a virtual air crash disaster with a mere reset somehow stays with you in the real world – only there’s no reset for dealing with a real world auto accident, unfortunately.  Your driving behaviour is definitely affected.  You tend to take the corners wider, accelerate that little bit quicker, and reach for the seat ejector when things get irretrievably out of hand (OK, maybe not the last one.)  Same goes for a straight driving sim like Need for Speed:  Most Wanted; even though the possibilities for wreaking havoc seems to be restricted to law enforcement chase-cars or race opponents, the sense of invincibility stays with you just the same once you hit the real road.

Given that most male drivers under 25 are likely to have a bullet-proof view of life built in, I can’t imagine the further impact of GTI on their driving skills, but it could explain some of the horrendous stats on auto accidents we’ve experienced lately (despite the increased compulsory use of safety technologies in all recently-sold vehicles).  This is just crying out for a comprehensive cognitive study on gameplay and driving skills…

(image: newsimg.bbc.co.uk)

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Lessons from the Uncanny Valley

Chart of the Uncanny Valley phenomenon by Mori

Chart of Mori's Uncanny Valley (1970) (image: Wikipedia)

The concept of the Uncanny Valley has its origins in early 20th century psychology. German psychologist Ernst Jentsch’s 1906 paper, titled “On the Psychology of the Uncanny“, explores ideas discussed by Sigmund Freud on childhood fears, such as the fear of dolls coming to life, known as pediophobia.  More recently, roboticist Masahiro Mori proposed the theory that the more human-like robots become, the closer they get to a critical point where positive acceptance by humans quickly turns to revulsion.  The “valley” concept derives from Mori’s chart of the phenomenon, which shows a downward dip in the data along a y axis which rates “familiarity” against “human likeness” (x axis).

Here’s a discussion on the Uncanny Valley (UV) and how the theory impacts on recent media by cognitive psychologist Karl MacDorman (Parts 2-7 can be found by searching YouTube or clicking its “More from:” link:

The recent box-office success of James Cameron‘s film Avatar prompted a lot of commentary on  how sophisticated 3D animation has brought us ever closer to the UV precipice.  Some CGI production houses, such as Image Metrics have made it their mission to cross the Uncanny Valley by producing graphic animations of human faces that are hard to distinguish from the real thing.  Meet IM’s Emily:

Roboticists such as David Hanson have also taken up the challenge of bridging the Valley. His robot torsos of Einstein and SF writer Phillip K. Dick are “uncannily” real.  Digital media artist Peggy Weil discusses the UV and the concept of the “blurring test” a kind of “reverse Turing test“, in Fora.TV’s Picnic series,  here.

For me, these artefacts are certainly getting us closer to the other side of the Valley, but we’re not quite there yet.  If nothing else, they force us to consider the very concept of humanity and what it means to be human.  So we’re close, but no cigar.

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eReaders: breakthrough tech for 2010?

Plastic Logic's QUE ProReader (Image: eMagazines.com)

In three days time entrepreneurial firm Plastic Logic will launch the QUE ProReader at CES, the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas that’s arguably the world’s largest venue for geeky hardware gadgets. The ProReader has been ten years in development and features a flexible A4-size display with a gesture-based interface for navigating between pages and annotating content. The reader’s frontpane is a display using E Ink Vizplex technology, the same tech used in Amazon’s Kindle Reader and Sony’s Reader Pocket Edition. E Ink is known for its low power consumption which means long battery life between charges.  The TFT-driven backpane provides single-pixel control embedded in a flexible substrate. Click on the related article below about Barnes and Noble’s partnership with Plastic Logic which contains a video discussing the mooted (northern) Spring release of a colour version of the reader. Skiff, a publishing startup backed by Hearst Publishing, will release a large-format (A4) black and white Skiff Reader this year, targetting customers who want to access newspaper and magazine content from a e-reading service.

Speaking of colour, we can probably learn a lot by adopting a biomimetic approach to design.  Here’s an article on Qualcomm’s Mirasol technology that promises highly readable colour displays with minimal power consumption – based on the physics behind an iridescent butterfly wing. And here are Qualcomm’s promo videos on Mirasol, described by one developer as a “bistable, reflective technology that is an interferrometric modulator”. Which is really a fancy way of saying a non-pigment-based colour generating technology. (See the related article from mashable.com, below)

Readius eReader
The Readius eReader unfurled
(Image: http://www.readius.com)

Polymer Vision, based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, is another  developer about to break into the e-Reader field with Readius – billed as the “world’s first pocket eReader”.  Readius is a rollable display that uses proprietary electrophoretic display technology on its frontpane. In its most compact form, the Readius fits easily into the palm of your hand.

Electronic paper (Side view of Electrophoretic...

An electrophoretic display. (image: Wikipedia)

These display technologies are all attempting to solve the problem of screen-readability.  That is, most monitors and screens sold today (both CRTs and LCDs) have a visual resolution quality far lower than a printed page that uses ink on paper.  In effect, the time that most people can spend comfortably reading text from a page is determined by the type of lighting used (i.e. reflected from a printed page versus transmitted from a back-lit display), the resolution of the text, and the contrast between text and background.  Until recently, the optimal combination of the above criteria was provided by printed black ink text on white paper.  E Ink technology had begun to challenge this by using bi-chrome (black and white) micro-beads as physical elements of a text display, rather than bombarding phosphors with electrons or matting out reflected light with liquid crystals.

According to a Forrester Research Report from October, 2009, US consumers will likely purchase six million eReaders in 2010, around twice the number sold in 2009.  If you’re wondering what the future holds for this emerging technology, the Forrester Blog for Consumer Product Strategy Professionals makes 10 predictions for eReaders and eBooks in  2010.

I’m yet to be convinced that printed pages have been superseded, however,  as (conventional) books have their own look and feel, can be scribbled on, and smell different, particularly when they get older.  It’s hard to imagine curling up in bed on a wet and cold evening with a “favourite” novel if it’s all contained within a single page reader, flexible or otherwise.

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