The NYT is boarding the AR train — here’s what that means for storytelling

The New York Times has just announced it would begin incorporating augmented reality in its journalism. The Times prominently featured the announcement on its website’s front page, speaking to the publisher’s commitment to offer its readers and subscribers the highest quality news content by investing in new digital content technologies. Continue reading “The NYT is boarding the AR train — here’s what that means for storytelling”

Move over, voice: Holograms are the next user interface

During Apple’s fourth-quarter earnings call with analysts, CEO Tim Cook said, “AR is going to change everything.” He wasn’t exaggerating. Augmented reality (AR) is shaping an entirely new paradigm for mass technology use. We’ve quickly evolved from typing on our PC keyboards, to the point-and-click of the mouse, to the smartphone’s tap or swipe, to simply asking Alexa or Siri to do things for us. Now AR brings us to the age of holographic computing. Along with animojies and Pokémon and face filters, a fresh and futuristic user interface is emerging. Continue reading “Move over, voice: Holograms are the next user interface”

AI might just live up to all the hype one day

If AI isn’t the most hyped technology of the 21st century, it’s certainly right up there with earlier manias for mobile, virtual reality, the internet of things, and big data. Companies large and small feel pressure to claim they use AI in some key way to drive their business. But does AI deserve this level of hype? On one end of the spectrum are the doomsayers (including heavyweights like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk) who see the technology posing an existential threat to the future of humanity. In contrast, there are those who see AI as the breakthrough that could solve many of the world’s most intractable problems. Visionary Ray Kurzweil believes AI will soon enhance virtually everyone’s mental capabilities. Musk’s own startup, Neuralink, is reportedly developing a brain-to-machine interface that could improve memory or allow for more direct interfacing with computing devices. Continue reading “AI might just live up to all the hype one day”

VR transforms health care: 3D human model coming to a school near you

Surrounded by darkness, the looming 20 foot skull is so close I can touch it. With the click of a mouse, the 3D model of the human head and neck pivots and I’m inside the eye socket examining this complex system from the inside out. It’s A viewpoint typically reserved for surgeons on the operating table; I’m amazed by the scale and detail of the mechanism that gives us the miracle of sight. Continue reading “VR transforms health care: 3D human model coming to a school near you”

3 practical ways that VR is improving health care

When we think about virtual reality (VR), games such as Job Simulator and Raw Data usually spring to mind. It’s understandable that many of us view VR headsets like the Oculus Rift as glorified video game consoles; VR’s early breakout commercial successes have largely been in the entertainment genre.


In fact, VR has quietly been making significant improvements to the lives of people with issues such as chronic pain, lazy eye, and autism. In this piece, I’ve interviewed three VR entrepreneurs who are pioneering virtual solutions to improve healthcare. Continue reading “3 practical ways that VR is improving health care”

Academics search for meaning in images of Mark Zuckerberg

The first edition of essays to examine ways Mark Zuckerberg has been depicted in mass media is now available. Released online today, the California Review of Images and Mark Zuckerberg contains a collection of writing dedicated to analysis of depictions of Facebook’s CEO either by news media, Facebook, or Zuckerberg himself at various stages in his life in the public eye.

Essays included in the first edition include “Neocolonial Intimacies,” a look back at an awkward hug between Zuckerberg and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi; and “Mark Zuckerberg’s Significant Insignificance,” a breakdown of Zuckerberg’s early Facebook profile photo. There’s also an essay that dives into this cringe-inducing, sweaty 2010 interview with Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg.

Authors whose work was included in the publication were paid a $300 stipend. A symposium for further examination of essays in the first edition of California Review of Images and Mark Zuckerberg may be held in San Francisco in early 2018, creator and editor Tim Hwang told VentureBeat in a phone interview.

Hwang made the publication in his free time, but his day job is director of the Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative, a $27 million venture to support research and projects that propel AI for the public good. From 2015 to 2017, Hwang served as AI and ML lead for Google’s public policy team.

Since Hwang floated the idea of the publication in a Medium post in late summer, much of the news surrounding Facebook has dealt with Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“We’re coming at this at kind of a strange time,” Hwang said. “We’ve had a call for more people who want to write articles, so we might very well do a Volume Two.”

As one of the best known people alive today, other examinations of Zuckerberg imagery could explore hacker-punk Zuckerberg, a deeper dive into his 50-state U.S. tour that convinced many he may run for president, or Zuckerberg in augmented reality, like his recent virtual tour of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico that raised some eyebrows.

360 degree cameras aren’t VR — and it’s important we say so

The consumer electronics industry is evolving every day, and the world of cameras is no exception. We’re seeing incredible things happen with photography, and recent products like the GoPro Fusion and Ricoh Theta V are pushing the industry forward. But despite all of their advancements, there’s one thing many recent cameras are claiming to accomplish that they simply don’t: virtual reality.

As manufacturers, we are part of the group who will set the trend for how each technology is perceived by the public. It is our responsibility to help define the lexicon. But even this deep in the camera industry, there seems to be confusion at the highest levels about what virtual reality is and how it differs from other 360 degree camera technology. As a result, this confusion is being passed on to the consumer, leading many to think that the terms “virtual reality” and “360 degrees” are synonymous. They aren’t. Continue reading “360 degree cameras aren’t VR — and it’s important we say so”

AR and VR are coming — let’s make sure everyone reaps the benefits

As we prepare to open this new floodgate of information and engage with complex data in the context of the world around us, it’s worth pausing to look at what the potential impact of augmented and virtual reality might be in our everyday lives. While much of this impact is positive, we will have to work to make sure those effects are evenly distributed.

Disconnected versus connected

Screeds about the malignant impact of technology on society are, for the most part, somewhat misguided. But as AR/VR moves closer to the mainstream, it’s certainly fair to wonder: if people are already exceedingly glued to their phones, how much worse will our collective situational awareness become when everyone can disappear completely into their own virtual universe?

Actually, there are several reasons to be optimistic on this front. AR/VR has the potential to give us a deeper understanding of our surroundings by enabling us to merge with and better understand the information around us.

Let’s look first at how this could impact us in workplaces. Consider a worker in a car factory. As an engine block comes their way, an augmented overlay highlights the exact places where various components need to be installed before it can be passed along the assembly line. The display also flashes red if it senses that a component is out of alignment or has otherwise been improperly installed.

Meanwhile, a maintenance & operations worker strolls the factory floor, making a comprehensive check of all the equipment. With the benefit of AR, the worker has a stream of speeds and feeds popping up in their field of vision every time they look at a particular machine. They can better understand exactly how the production line is running or when something will go wrong before it happens. This type of information immersion is much more sophisticated and actionable compared to reviewing on a clipboard or scrolling through a tablet to access.

While the automotive industry provides a fruitful example, the benefits of AR/VR can be extrapolated out to any variety of industries and settings: the lifeguard at the beach with an augmented display of tides and temperatures; the construction worker viewing building plans that are overlaid onto the construction site; the surgeon receiving ultra-realistic training on how to remove an appendix; and so on.

Let’s turn now, from the workplace, to a pedestrian walking down a crowded street. Can we expect similar benefits when out on the town?

We have every reason to be hopeful that technologies like AR will in fact provide an enhanced layer of awareness that will improve our fluency with our surroundings in everyday settings. Say you’re out shopping for a new shirt or a cleaning product or a gaming console – what if simply by looking at competing items we could see beyond just cost and aesthetics, but also understand and compare their relative environmental impacts?

In this way, AR has the potential to be additive rather than subtractive, making people more connected to their surroundings than they are today.

Power and responsibility

We’ve all heard the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility.” There is a responsibility on the people who are developing AR and VR technologies to make sure that it is done in a thoughtful and well-considered way.

It’d be all too easy for developers to unwittingly create a deeper digital divide in society by accidentally limiting who has access to these new technologies and who can benefit from them. Do we want a world where only the wealthy or the tech-savvy are able to enjoy the benefits of a virtual or augmented environment?

Of course not.

AR and VR are only going to become more commonplace in the years ahead. Those who adopt and embrace these new tools will have an information fluency that those who don’t have access to it will be lacking as the 21st century marches forward. If we want to prevent people from being left behind, we need to make sure this technology is accessible—meaning, both affordable and user friendly.

It’s still early and we don’t have it all figured out, but I’d like to propose three guiding principles for AR/VR hardware and software developers:

  1. Think outside the Silicon Valley bubble and create experiences that benefit people of different ethnicities, genders, nationalities and ages. Focus beyond the 22 to 38-year-old male cohort that tech so often caters to. The augmented information that a 25-year-old single male is interested in viewing might be different from the information that would be useful for a 40-year-old mother. There is a need here for Silicon Valley to make sure it’s taking a very inclusive approach to design—and that starts with having a diverse team of people imagining what AR/VR can be asked to do and how best to do it.
  2. As we’re imagining what AR and VR can accomplish, we also need to be careful about how much we let these technologies guide our behavior or influence our decisions. We live in a world where Google knows what we want to search for before we search it, Amazon knows what we want to buy before we buy it, and Facebook knows what kind of news or stories we want to read before we do. While largely positive, we’re only recently starting to understand the potential downsides of this reach. We need to approach AR/VR’s ability to influence our decision-making with prudence.
  3. Stay humble. Personal computers and mobile phones were around for decades before their full potential was unlocked, helping revolutionize the way we consume, process, and manage information. AR/VR is poised to unleash its own data revolution, and we need to recognize what we don’t yet know and maintain a willingness to learn, so we can hopefully avoid potential pitfalls around societal impact and make sure AR/VR develops and propagates throughout society in a beneficial manner.

The truth is, we’ll need to learn as we go. And that’s okay. But be sure to prepare yourself for the ride because our augmented future will be here before you know it.

Brian Pene is Director of Emerging Technology for the Office of the CTO at Autodesk, Inc.


Applying human-centered design to emerging technologies

VR, AR, and digital assistant present exciting opportunities for the future, but how can we ensure we’re designing for what people really want?

By Peter Hyer, Fabian Herrmann, and Kristin Kelly

“If I could go anywhere, I’d want to go to Mars in my flying gold Lamborghini…bring my dog and eat ice cream.” — Amadi, age 11
When you dream of the future, what do you see? Do you dream about concurrent odometry or horizontal plane detection? Do you fantasize about hot words and utterance capture? Probably not. Most likely, when you dream of the future, you imagine the places you can go, the things you can do, and the people you can be… just like you did when you were a kid.
Continue reading “Applying human-centered design to emerging technologies”

Can Immersive Journalism Enhance Empathy?

Digital Journalism Vol. 0 , Iss. 0,0
Major news outlets such as the New York Times and the Guardian have recently launched ambitious immersive journalism projects. Adopting the technologies and rhetoric of immersive journalism first presented by Nonny de la Peña in 2010, these news outlets seek to use virtual reality and 360 video to create deeper engagement and empathy with their audiences. Yet can immersive journalism enhance empathy? The conclusion is twofold: On the one hand, I will argue that some immersive journalism projects are approaching a format that may enhance empathy, and on the other hand, I will propose that the project of immersive journalism needs to go beyond this goal and into adopting a more forceful role in shaping the future of virtual reality.

The Guardian remains committed to VR, despite limited commercial opportunities

The Guardian is remaining committed to virtual reality even though it’s unclear when it will become a moneymaker.

At the beginning of October, the publisher — which has experimented with VR for over a year — brought its nine different VR experiences into its Guardian VR app and sent out 100,000 Google Cardboard headsets to make its VR content more accessible.

“There’s a real enthusiasm and genuine excitement around the whole organization, including senior-level staff, about how VR can be part of our journalism here,” said Fran Panetta, executive editor of VR at the Guardian.

But for the commercial side, VR remains mostly a journalistic experiment rather than a big source of revenue. Distribution is VR’s biggest hurdle: For many publishers, the low number of people buying headsets doesn’t justify the cost of production, and low reach doesn’t encourage branded-content partnerships.

“Compared to the U.S., the scale in the U.K. market for VR is still catching up,” said Adam Foley, the Guardian’s commercial strategy director. “VR is still a young technology, but as it develops, we are confident the demand will grow.” All the Guardian’s VR pieces follow a first-person narrative on topics the publisher covers in other formats. For example, in “Limbo,” the viewer experiences what it’s like to seek asylum in Europe, while “Arctic 360” shows how humans cause ice caps to melt. To date, all of the Guardian’s VR films are under 10 minutes.

Right now, Google is funding VR for the Guardian, like it does for The New York Times. The problem is those subsidies nearly always run out, leaving publishers with VR teams to support through advertising and small audiences to boot for something that’s not yet mainstream.

“The Guardian is showing the brand community and viewers that it’s looking at journalism in new ways, finding new hooks,” said Mark Holden, global strategy director at Starcom. “It may be in a financially challenging place but still wants to engage viewers with the brand.”

Brands are being more selective about their VR investments than a year ago, Holden said. With limited distribution from publishers, brands can produce VR on their own rather than rely on people to download a publisher app, which can be costly and difficult.

The Guardian is under pressure to find a viable commercial model. In July, its parent company reported narrowed losses of £45 million ($59.3 million) in the previous financial year. The Guardian’s turnaround plan calls for a 20 percent cost reduction over three years. This week, The Guardian Media Group announced plans for a £42 million ($55.4 million) venture fund for new business lines.

The Guardian’s most recent VR piece, “The Party,” where the viewer experiences a birthday party through the perspective of a 15-year-old girl with autism, took the publisher’s VR team of five — from areas including editorial, digital, design and commercial — six months to develop, shorter than the nine months its first VR project required. The Guardian interviewed 10 women who either have autism or have experienced it through others, as well as researchers from the University of Cambridge and the National Autistic Society for “The Party,” Panetta said.

One consideration is whether to use scripted or real dialogue, Panetta said. The Guardian likes to incorporate real interviews, but putting people in someone else’s shoes often requires scripted dialogue. Working out how to impart information has also been a challenge — people don’t want to absorb facts in VR experiences. One way the publisher did this in “First Impressions,” an experience about the first year of life, was changing the film color gradually to show that humans start seeing the colors red and green before blues and yellows.

Panetta said it’s important that the Guardian controls the environment in which people experience its VR content. For instance, it refrained from uploading the full version of “6×9,” a piece where the viewer experiences solitary confinement, on YouTube because the immersive feel doesn’t translate well without a headset. Instead, an abridged version exists. “6×9” has had half a million views on YouTube; in comparison, the Guardian’s other VR films have each had up to 50,000 views. The publisher was unwilling to share numbers on how many people use its app. The app is No. 13 in news apps for the U.K. on iOS, according to App Annie.

The post The Guardian remains committed to VR, despite limited commercial opportunities appeared first on Digiday.

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