This past weekend in Sylmar, a neighborhood in the far north end of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, a few hundred curious nerds descended upon New Deal Studios, a production company and special effects house who played host to the latest Virtual Reality Los Angeles event.
Companies on the cutting edge of the virtual reality scene—from Oculus VR to Sony and a host of smaller companies in between—showed off their latest wares. Some of it is consumer-ready, while other companies are essentially giving sneak peaks at what they believe will be the future of entertainment.
If the flying simulation I got to play with at the start of the event is any indication, they just might be right.
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Once upon a time it seemed that Amazon could have been destined to be that rare company that could do no wrong.
With a singular focus on providing the best value for consumers the company conquered the book selling market, forcing one major retailer, Borders, out of business and putting the other big national chain, Barnes & Noble, on the ropes.
The past few years have seen Amazon spreading its wings into making a wide variety of hardware: e-readers, tablets, and recently phones and set-top boxes. All of this to create a seamless distribution chain for digital content. Yet with every foray into new territory Amazon has come up against established competitors who have been able to deliver more polished user experiences. The ability to deliver content on the cheap hasn’t turned into big buzz.
This week Amazon entered another messy market: the contentious mobile payment space. They’ve brought their usual tactic–undercutting the competitors on price–but they’re entering the game at a turbulent time, one that may prove to be too late to make the impact the increasingly under pressure to be profitable company needs.
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Buckle up, because we’re headed for the future, and it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Last week the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project released a report on “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs,” and the basic conclusion is this: the droids are coming for your job. The idea that we are facing a robo-sourcing wave is perhaps less surprising than a proposal that a few notable economic thinkers are honing in on: Basic Universal Income.
Before we go there, let’s dig into the Pew report. First the good news: drudgery is going bye-bye and technology usually creates new jobs to replace the ones that are lost. Yet the “reasons to be concerned” section that follows the upside is more than a little heavy:
- Impacts from automation have thus far impacted mostly blue-collar employment; the coming wave of innovation threatens to upend white-collar work as well.
- Certain highly-skilled workers will succeed wildly in this new environment—but far more may be displaced into lower paying service industry jobs at best, or permanent unemployment at worst.
- Our educational system is not adequately preparing us for work of the future, and our political and economic institutions are poorly equipped to handle these hard choices.
As former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers put it in an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal last month, “the economic challenge of the future will not be producing enough. It will be providing enough good jobs.”
That’s the nice way of putting it.
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Remember, if you can, a more innocent time on the Internet—also known as last month—when we we all collectively losing our minds over a $10 Kickstarter project that became a five figure phenomenon.
I’m talking about Zack “Danger” Brown’s Potato Salad project.
Kickstarter’s Fred Benenson and David Gallagher bring us a look at the numbers behind the Potato Salad project, which closed up three days ago with a jumbo-sized total of $55,492.
It’s a fascinating look, revealing that this joke gone wild managed to become the fourth most viewed project in the site’s history beating out the Oculus Rift (#10) and Reading Rainbow (#8) and Double Fine Adventure (#5) amongst others.
Of course, it didn’t come close to the dollar amounts on those projects. Much of the traffic was probably guys like me: coming back every few hours to stare at disbelief in the rising total.
Missing from the tale of the tape, however, is the mystery of the two great drops. The story of this missing cash is hidden between the lines of Kicktraq’s chart which traces the arc of the full campaign.
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Amazon, the online retailing giant, saw their stock drop as much as 10% after a weak earnings call yesterday. This came on the heels of other bad news: the smartphone that CEO Jeff Bezos sunk so much of the company’s R&D money into has been universally panned as a dud.
Could it be that the bloom is finally off the Amazon rose? This after years of the company being rewarded by Wall Street for operating at a loss?
Eh, not necessarily.
This isn’t even the first big drop that Amazon has experienced on the market this year. While it is true that the narrative in the tech and business press is shaping up to be “Amazon has spread itself too thin” the stock will have to keep on falling for this to be anything more than your usual post-earnings call profit taking.
The thing to watch is this: will Amazon keep pushing into the hardware space, or has Bezos lost his appetite for making craptronics?
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Researches at Rice University have made a breakthrough in manufacturing resistive random access memory (RRAM), a new form of computer memory. The MIT Technology Review explains what RRAM is:
Like flash memory, RRAM can store data without a constant supply of power. Whereas flash memory stores bits of information in the form of charge in transistors, RRAM stores bits using resistance. Each bit requires less space, increasing the amount of information that can be stored in a given area.
What’s more, it should be easier to stack up layers of RRAM, helping to further increase the amount of information that can be packed onto a single chip. RRAM can also operate a hundred times faster than flash. Some prototypes can store data densely enough to enable a terabyte chip the size of a postage stamp.
While a number of companies have been in the RRAM hunt for years the chips have required extremely high temperatures to make. This is they did until the Rice University researchers figured out a way to make the material at room temperature. Bigger local drives on mobile units would take pressure off cloud servers: why stream something on the fly and deal with unreliable connections when you have a massive amount of storage on a phone?
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The rumors have been swirling for weeks now that Google was aiming to snatch up video game streaming platform Twitch for a cool billion dollars. Now VentureBeat is reporting that the deal is done, and other sites are following suit on the reporting.
This comes just one day after Re/Code broke word that AT&T and The Chernin Group’s Otter Media will buy a controlling stake in Multi Channel Network Fullscreen. While this is a bit like comparing apples to oranges—Twitch is a platform, Fullscreen a major player in the YouTube universe—it still shows that we are hip deep in a wave of major media consolidation.
Comcast is attempting to pick up Time Warner Cable. Disney just gobbled up Maker Studios. Rupert Murdoch is trying to get his hands on Time Warner itself.
Sooner or later the wave of mergers and acquisitions has to stop, right?
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Reddit, the popular link-sharing site best known to the wide world for its “Ask Me Anything” events with celebrities has always styled itself as the “front page of the Internet”. In the past few years this has proven to be apt, as the site has become a place where news junkies gather when rapidly evolving tragedies unfold.
My own first experience of this involved coming home after a screening of The Dark Knight Rises to discover the Aurora, Colorado shootings had happened. I then proceeded to not sleep but instead obsessively refresh reddit until I passed out.
The site, however, is not designed around the idea of breaking news, or at least wasn’t until a feature called “reddit live” entered beta months ago. Now the feature is being rolled out en masse. From the reddit blog post announcing the arrival:
reddit live is a new feature of reddit for real-time updates. A reddit live thread’s multiple contributors can post updates, and anyone watching gets sent those updates immediately without having to refresh. Unlike with self-post or comment based live threads, there’s no limit to how many updates can be posted during the course of an event. These live threads exist outside of subreddits and are designed to be submitted, like any other link, to whichever (multiple) subreddits are relevant to the thread. Pictures, video, and more can be embedded in the updates by simply pasting a link.
The feed rolls in reverse chronological order, which is how any sane news live blog is organized. What the feature doesn’t do is prevent rampant speculation and ham-fisted amateur sleuthing from occurring. That feature-set is expected sometime in the year 5,000,000,000 AD, when human nature is finally solved about six minutes before the sun goes supernova.
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We’re always on the lookout for interesting sounding virtual reality projects, and Motherboard’s Jordan Pearson has spotted one that aims to bring part of a literary classic to life:
[An] Irish filmmaker named Eoghan Kidney is designing a virtual reality video game that uses an Oculus Rift headset to put the player in the shoes of Stephen Dedalus as he meanders through Dublin on June 16th, 1904.
The game is currently in the development and crowdfunding stage, but it already looks pretty interesting, even psychedelic. Its title, In Ulysses:Proteus, comes from the chapter of the novel that it tackles. In it, Dedalus wanders across a desolate beach, closes his eyes, and ponders the shifting nature of reality and the disconnect between his inner self and the external world.
In Ulysses:Proteus doesn’t look to be anything like a traditional video game, but more in line with the emerging “virtual experience” genre. There is merit to the idea of creating an immersive experience out of what is traditionally an internal process: metabolizing the imagery of a novel. Whether Kidney is up to the challenge, or indeed if the project will get enough funding to test out his skills, is up in the air.
Via Vice’s Motherboard
Image: In Ulysses: Proteus Fundit video
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Advancements in prosthetics–like the DEKA Arm which was recently approved by the Federal Drug Administration– and machine vision (think: Google Cars) seem to finally pushing us towards the cybernetic future that made 1980s action movies so badass.
Yet the recent breakthroughs are still a far cry from the science fiction fever dreams of Gen X’s youth. Which prompts the question: why has it taken this long into the 21st century to see this technology come to the fore? Well it turns out that there are some deep differences in how biological and artificial systems deal with electricity. Check out the lead paragraph of a recent article at Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News:
The electrical activity of living organisms and human-made devices evidence a fundamental mismatch. Living organisms transmit electrical messages by moving positive charges, protons, and positively charged ions such as calcium and sodium. Human-made devices—retinal implants, nerve stimulators, and pacemakers—rely on negatively charged electrons.
So there’s our culprit: machines and mankind just don’t speak the same electrical code. Since we’re not going to rewire human DNA to better suit machines–not yet, anyway–the solution for the cybernetic divide will have to happen on the artificial side of things. Which is exactly what that GE&BN article is about.
Scientists at the University of California, Irvine have found a way to use a naturally occurring protein from pencil squid to create an electrically conductive material that transmits protons efficiently. This could–could, mind you–lead to a whole class of electrically conductive material and devices that interact directly with human biology.
Will it lead to half-men, half-machines who are all cop? Probably not.
All squid, maybe.
Source: Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News via Popular Science
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We seem to be on a collision course with wearable computing.
Polygon’s Ben Kuchera has a close-in look at the design philosophy going into Eve: Valkyrie, the “killer app” for virtual reality systems.
In the wake of the Facebook acquisition of Oculus VR the issue of the future of virtual reality beyond games has stepped into the media spotlight.
The Tribeca Film Festival leapt into the vanguard of transmedia art last year with the inaugural edition of Storyscapes, an event led by TriBeCa’s Director of Digital Initiatives Ingrid Kopp.
We’ve been keeping up with Simple Machine, the independent film curation tool for festival and art house programmers, since running across their booth at South By Southwest last year.