Second Life Founding Engineer Working on Google's Computerized Contact Lens Project

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 11.59.56 AM

You might have read Sergey Brin's recent announcement that a Google spinoff company is now developing "a project to put computing inside a contact lens", a seriously cool technology with all kinds of potential applications. As it happens, one of Brin's lead researchers is Dr. James Cook, one of Linden Lab's very first engineers. And I don't mean "Dr." as in Dre -- along with being a programmer, James is also a medical doctor, making him perfect for the project.

"Technically I'm just part of 'Google Life Sciences' overall -- the contact lens is only one of the things we do," James tells me. "I work on the 'Baseline study'." That's this, a project to "create what the company hopes will be the fullest picture of what a healthy human being should be."

Details about Google's computerized contact lens project are pretty sparse so far, but you have to think an augmented reality display is almost by definition one of the applications that'll come out of it. If so, Dr. Cook can draw from his past experience at Linden Lab, where he helped create the very first early demo of Second Life, called LindenWorld:

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Our Selfies May Soon Become 3D Avatars of Ourselves

This is pretty impressive technology for creating a 3D avatar modeled after someone based on their smartphone selfies:

Usually, photorealistic 3D avatars are created in a motion capture studio, which is hardly the best way to make that tech mass market. But most everyone has a smartphone, and these developers at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (a Swiss university) have figured out how to make the smartphone act like a mocap studio:

Using a smartphone to replace studio conditions – which include proper lighting and numerous cameras – was a real challenge. “We begin by assuming that people will take pictures of themselves in conditions that are impossible to control,” said Alexandru. The main difficulties: changes in the light, blurry shots without a tripod, and limited picture quality depending on the smartphone's camera.

No word on when this will be available to consumers, and I'd love to see how well this actually works outside the school's demos. But it's definitely tech worth following.

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Read Mary Meeker's Internet Trends to Understand Why the Future of VR Must Be Mobile

Mary Meeker, analyst with top VC firm Kleiner Perkin (early investors in Google, Amazon, and Twitter, among many other industry leaders), publishes a yearly report on Internet trends, and this year's (like every year's) is mandatory reading:

Lots of great data for understanding the massive global reach of the Internet and how it's connecting and changing our culture, and for NWN readers, it's a massive footnote to my post from last month, that virtual reality must be mobile, or die.

Just a few selected slides on that tip:

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Her is Here: Microsoft Chatbot Already Loved by Millions -- and She Hasn't Even Been Hooked Up to a VR Avatar Yet

Her AI Chatbot Microsoft

... and it's already even huge without Scarlett Johansson's voice:

"She is known as Xiaoice, and millions of young Chinese pick up their smartphones every day to exchange messages with her, drawn to her knowing sense of humor and listening skills. People often turn to her when they have a broken heart, have lost a job or have been feeling down. They often tell her, 'I love you'.
When I am in a bad mood, I will chat with her,” said Gao Yixin, a 24-year-old who works in the oil industry in Shandong Province. “Xiaoice is very intelligent.”
... Microsoft has been able to give Xiaoice a more compelling personality and sense of “intelligence” by systematically mining the Chinese Internet for human conversations. The company has developed language processing technology that picks out pairs of questions and answers from actual typed human conversations. As a result, Xiaoice has a database of responses that are human and current — she is fond of using emojis, too."

I bolded the quotes above, because they remind me of what I wrote when Her premiered a couple years ago -- how normalized the users' relationship with an AI chatbot has already become:

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Scientist Reports Evidence of Self-Aware Robot as Hawking, Musk Etc. Urge Ban on Weaponized AI

There's too much future happening today. In this month's news of cyberpunk becoming reality, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and many other brilliant scientists/technologists are calling for a ban on AI-powered military robots, a topic Hawking is so concerned about he's even making a Reddit AMA appearance right now. This happens to be happening just as an experimental robot is showing signs of self-awareness:

Keep watching until the end of that video, because that's where the sign of self-awareness supposedly comes in:

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Rosedale Demoes Drone-Powered Cocktail Delivery Service

Taking time off from High Fidelity, here's Philip Rosedale rocking an electric blue swim suit, demonstrating a brand new Rosedale service just in time for Summer - drone-powered cocktail delivery:

Pretty impressive, and I can see this Rosedale service scaling to become massive.

Oh wait, I don't mean Philip Rosedale:

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3D Artist's Homepage is a 3D Web Masterpiece

3D designer website

3D artist Aaron Meyers unsurprisingly has a 3D-rich homepage worth a look if you have the bandwidth to load it up - click here to start. Compare with Jim Hall's equally cool 3D homepage.

Via: Andy Baio.

Virtual Reality Advertisers Seem Hellbent on Repeating Second Life Marketing Mistakes

Virtual Reality Advertising Second Life

AdWeek, the advertising industry's main publication, has a cover story on virtual reality as a new marketing platform, and my first thought when glancing at it was, "Welp, here we go again." I groaned further after I read the first two paragraph:

Nancy Bennett is a virtual-reality marketing veteran. (Yes, such people actually exist and are about to become hot commodities among talent recruiters.) In the mid-2000s, Bennett had her avatar boots on the Internet-code-built ground of Second Life, constructing cyber experiences for her employer at the time, MTV Networks. Of course, Second Life never really took off. So with her been there, done that perspective several years later as chief content officer at Two Bit Circus, she does not deal in hyperbole when it comes to the impact the much-hyped virtual reality headset Oculus Rift will have on marketing. Rather, Bennett leans on data. One-third of her agency's new business in 2014 was powered by the Oculus Rift developer's kit, helping grow her 2-year-old Los Angeles digital shop from 15 to 35 employees.

At least two things wrong here:

  • Second Life "never really took off", in great part, because major marketing campaigns that companies created for Second Life met with extremely low levels of engagement. As a result, the entire platform was largely written off by most people in tech, not to mention all the major organizations who wasted their money on that outreach. This failure was largely not the fault of Second Life, as I explained at length at the time, but when esteemed companies conspicuously blow tens of millions of dollars on a platform, people tend to stop listening.
  • Before the SL hype wave ended, Second Life-oriented marketing companies also grew at a rapid pace -- particularly the Metavese Big Three, The Electric Sheep Company, Millions of Us, and the UK studio Rivers Run Red. (As I recall, Millions of US, founded by a colleague and fellow ex-Linden, grew from just him to a staff of dozens in under a year.) But sad to say, that growth soon retracted when advertisers saw poor returns on their SL investment.

What's wrong with virtual reality as a marketing platform? I could go through the AdWeek article line by line to explain how misguided it (mostly) is, but let's just skip right to the TL;DR version:

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NPR Report: Women Were Once Interested in Computer Science -- and They Can Be Again

"When Women Stopped Coding" is an NPR report I hope everyone reading this blog gives a listen to (it's about 15 minutes), because while it's not what we usually write about at New World Notes, it speaks directly to the lack of women in virtual reality, and the poor representation of women in gaming/online worlds, which we write about quite a lot. The report revolves around this chart:

Women in Tech

Based on growth rates in the 70 and 80s, women were on track to graduate with as many computer science degrees as men by around the year 2000. (And even before that, as the report notes, some of the very first programming companies were founded and led by women.) But then in 1984, growth suddenly started falling -- fast. Why? Short answer: Marketing, and then social expectations influenced by that marketing.

This question came up during a recent Oculus Rift conference:

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Does Euclideon's SOLIDSCAN Capture Reality, or Just Hype?

What you're looking above, supposedly, is this:

Euclideon SOLIDSCAN takes an ordinary laser scan and enriches its resolution by around 200 to 1000 times, The data compresses down, and runs in Euclideon's Unlimited Detail engine, using Unlimited detail's streaming system - loading scenes in less than a second.

Well that might be, but longtime readers may recall Euclideon is the same company which did this 2011 demo video, provoking extreme skepticism (to put it nicely) from Minecraft creator Markus Persson and 3D graphics pioneer John Carmack, who told me:

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