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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Avatars, Dirrogates, AR, and “Memories With Maya”-A Book Review and Commentary by Allen Eppenberger





I ZOOMED IN AS SHE approached the steps of the bridge, taking voyeuristic pleasure in seeing her pixelated cleavage fill the screen. What was it about those electronic dots that had the power to turn people on? There was nothing real in them, but that never stopped millions of people every day, male and female, from deriving sexual gratification by interacting with those points of light. It must all be down to our perception of reality.


Dsouza, Clyde (2013-02-27). Memories With Maya.  . Kindle Edition.


The first paragraph of chapter one from the book is something we’ve all asked ourselves as residents of Second Life.  What is the pleasure we derive from either socializing or wandering aimlessly in exploring a sim that’s new to us?
           
            I became aware of Mr. DeSouza while following commentary in an Augmented Reality group I follow on LinkedIn.com.  His summary page reads:  Clyde DeSouza works behind the scenes with leading Stereographers and professionals in the film making and Broadcast TV industry. His work also includes advising Government and educational institutions in the creation of collaborative environments and advanced media labs to further the knowledge capital of a country.




In the group’s commentary, he refers to sections of his book, “Memories With Maya”.  Amazon’s Book Description reads: Cutting through genres, “Memories With Maya” touches on today's hard science focus: Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Transhumanism and Technological Singularity, and how these disciplines will affect Human emotions, relationships and our very evolution as a species.


I’d add Virtual Reality to that list as well.


            Intrigued, I bought a Kindle copy.  In the first chapter, I thought I was going to read a story about a criminal hacker. Then we're led to understand the motivations behind the lead character, Dan. What held my interest was the tech, and the description of it. There are tantalizing bits of what the near future holds in just the first few chapters. Much of the tech is AR, but with concentrations of how AI actually runs the programming in the background.


There are many hundreds of us that conduct business through SL.  There are many more thousands of us that socialize through our viewer of choice.  A good many of us are so completely woven into daily living in SL, that we’ve easily chosen to use our avatar names.  We become our avatar, and tune out the default world, rather than rely on default world standards.   The one thing we all share in common is our desire to be immersed in the reality of the moment we experience.  I feel that will be happening soon in technologies like the Oculus Rift (http://www.oculusvr.com/) paired with the Omni by Virtuix (http://www.virtuix.com/).


But what if in the near future we could take these same avatars into the default world? A new AR tech called “Meta” (http://www.meta-view.com/) is racing to become the first true immersive experience.  Augmented reality is finally reaching the point where it’s moved from the lab to our pockets, and from our pockets to our faces.  In the book, Krish and Dan discuss the tech of using an head mounted device called a “Wizer”:  “I've been working overtime on our ideas,” he said, holding up a peculiar looking pair of sunglasses with an amber LED glowing in the top left corner. It reminded me of a cat I had when I was a kid....  “Is that a visor?” I asked, sitting upright. “Yes, a prototype, with some rudimentary AI running on my phone.” “A Wi-zer!” I said. The term tripping out of my mouth. “With AI built in, it should be visor with a W.” “Brilliant,” he said. “I was going for the unimaginative I-visor.” “So what's the AI do?” He winked. “You'll have to come here and see for yourself. “I haven't shown it to the prof yet.” He wore the visor. It looked like a pair of funky sunglasses. “How'd you manage such a sleek profile?” “It's all in the optics,” he said. “Optical waveguide and other proprietary AYREE know-how bundled in.” “I gotta have that Wizer!” I said.


Dsouza, Clyde (2013-02-27). Memories With Maya.  . Kindle Edition.


Most of chapter four is dedicated to how their technology works:  A few moments later, the Wizer linked to my smart phone and displayed a list of options. He had updated the interface. “Choose Cricket,” he said. I selected the icon by swiping my finger over it. In an instant, 3D imagery filled my field of view and a Cricket pitch that looked like a short runway with wooden stumps on either side locked on and got overlaid between us....  “Watch this,” he said. Virtual shrubbery came up near the pitch, flanked with a few clumps of tall grass, gently swaying. “Amazing! I like the added touch of the animated grass.” “Thanks to our environment artist, Satish. By the way, in case you didn't notice, the grass blades are catching the wind in the same direction as the real tree.” He pointed to a coconut tree nearby. “How? Internet weather update?” I asked.  “We could do it that way as well. But we have weather sensors on the main campus building. The Wizer is tapping into the central server for an accurate reading. The server is also doing all the heavy lifting and feeding the animated imagery back.”...


The two cameras on the Wizer help the AI learn by digitizing locations in full 3D, segmenting and isolating distinct objects and then comparing them to its existing bank of entities, locations and actions.” “So while I walk around wearing the Wizer, in the background the AI is visually sampling the environment and comparing what it sees with its memory bank?” “You're catching on fast,” he said. “Yes, it's running routines that are the outcome of ongoing advances in computer vision know-how using stereoscopic image processing libraries. “My code takes forward classic AI logic from the 'seventies, and I'm hoping my algorithm can now make judgment calls on creating its own master frames at a macro level, based on entities and subjects that it sees in different locations.” As Krish spoke about AI and the algorithm he was working on, the far reaching implications and possibilities of a world with augmented intelligence became clearer. After all, if there was a depth map of the real world, inserting smart digital content into it would be progress in the right direction.


Dsouza, Clyde (2013-02-27). Memories With Maya.  . Kindle Edition.


And now think on those words “depth map of the real world”. Microsoft has just announced the Xbox One, with the newest version of Kinect. Gimodo has a review here: (http://gizmodo.com/kinect-2-full-video-walkthrough-the-xbox-sees-you-like-509155673)
Dan’s Fish-Eye camera in his apartment is very similar.  Google has been working on digitizing the default world for years.  And SL uses Google’s mapping tech to place us exactly where we want to go when we visit our locations from SL’s map.  It will be an easy thing to get our avatars to a baseball game at Wrigley Field, or a cricket match in Mumbai.


A term in the book that has started to grow on me is “digital surrogate”.  Or as the character Dan calls them, “Dirrogates”.  “Avatar” has had a good run, but its true meaning still lies with “a manifestation of a deity in bodily form on earth”.  As I have opportunity, I’ll be using dirrogates in my vocabulary now.


What kept my attention in the book was the simple love story. Maya and Dan made a great couple, but Dan didn't realize he was actually "in love”, until it was dreadfully too late. It's this lost love that changes the direction of the story, while never changing the motivation of the final goal.  There are just enough peaks and valleys to make “Memories With Maya” a good read for anyone with a good interest in what is possible just a few years from now. And the love interest is a bonus! I'll be following Clyde DeSouza in anticipation of his viewpoints in tech.  I reccomend you should too! 

 Here is the link to his book on Amazon:

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