Archive for July, 2019

I would love to travel the world but I’m a little hesitant to visit certain places due to the language barriers that exist.  A portable universal translator built into our phones or affixed to wireless ear buds would help with that.  But that wouldn’t solve all of our foreign language needs.

By and large we’d still be limited in what we can learn, what content we can consume, and with whom we can communicate. But what if there was a better way?  A way in which someone could broadcast a message and have everyone in the entire world simultaneously understand what they were saying? Would such a technology revolutionize the world, spreading knowledge in ways not seen since the advent of the Gutenberg press?  Would it take globalization to the next level and transform politics? Well, we may soon find out thanks to a new breakthrough from Microsoft that enables holograms to appear as though they are speaking a foreign language in a perfectly natural way.

As Futurism puts it, “Imagine a world leader delivering a speech, and every person across the globe feeling like the leader was in the room with them and speaking the local language. Or a world-class professor giving a lecture that anyone could attend and understand — without leaving their homes and without learning their teacher’s language.”

This amazing breakthrough comes to us by combining mixed reality technology with an AI breakthrough known as neural text-to-speech.  According to Futurism, “Neural text-to-speech can be used to make interactions with chatbots and virtual assistants more natural and engaging, convert digital texts such as e-books into audiobooks and enhance in-car navigation systems.”  Or in this case it can be used to create holograms that speak foreign languages.

Holograms have long been a science fiction stable but it was always assumed that their uses cases would be benign.  Used to help us make work presentations remotely or attend classes while we’re home sick. A means of transporting ourselves to another location, a way to let us be in two places at once.

Actually having our holograms perform tasks, such as speaking another language, that our normal selves don’t know how to do – well that’s a whole new ballgame.  One that points to what the future of holograms, and society at large, may look like down the road.  And I for one can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

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Is a hologram that speaks a foreign language the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Eyeglasses.  Sunglasses.  Reading glasses.  Bi-focals.  Monacles.  Contacts.  Transition lenses.  From fashion statements and fashion faux-paus to cosmetic enhancements and life-saving medical procedures there are all kinds of eye wear for all occasions.  By now you would have thought that every possible type had already been invented.  But as it turns out that’s far from the case.  For auto focusing smart glasses are on the way!

According to Engadget, “Researchers at Stanford University have created glasses that track your eyes and automatically focus on whatever you’re looking at. The so-called autofocals, detailed in a paper published in the journal Science Advances, could prove a better solution than transition lenses or progressive lenses.”

So, how do these amazing new facial accessories work?

“Their glasses take a cue from how eye lenses work; the autofocal lenses are filled with fluid that expand and contract as your field of vision shifts. As you’d expect, there are eye-tracking sensors to figure out what you’re looking at. The lenses and trackers already existed, and the researchers created software that pulls in eye-tracking data to make sure the lenses properly focus on the right thing.  A group of 56 people with presbyopia tried out the autofocals and found them to be more effective than progressive lenses for reading. They generally preferred them to progressive lenses.”

As someone who wears glasses I find this news particularly interesting.  In fact, I would say that it’s the best glasses related news I’ve heard since I first heard about Bionic Lenses that can give people 3 x 20/20 vision that will never deteriorate through a quick eight minute outpatient procedure!  It’s even better than the advent of Lasix eye surgery or anything having to do with my all-time #1 favorite invention Google Glass.  High praise I know.  Hopefully, it lives up to the hype and prevents hindsight in regards to this prediction from ever entering the equation.

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Are autofocals the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Elon Musk is best known for Space X, Tesla, smoking weed on Joe Rogan’s podcast, and sending outlandish tweets.  But there’s another secretive project that this real life Tony Stark is involved in that could be even more transformative than everything else he’s doing combined: Neuralink.  This neuroscience venture wants to give paralyzed people the ability to control devices with their minds but it’s their long-term goal that’s truly exciting: creating a brain to computer interface similar to the fictitious Neuralace from Ian M. Bain’s Culturenovels that will let people access the Internet with their minds.  Armed with this new-found ability to reference an unlimited amount of information at a moment’s notice humanity will be able to rise to incredible new heights.

As exciting as this possibility seems it was long considered to be a science fiction dream. The longest of long shots.  After all, if we don’t fully understand how our mind’s work, where consciousness comes from, why we dream, etc. then how can we really expect to figure out how to merge them with computers? Doing so would be a daunting task that would involve unnecessarily drilling holes into our skulls and implanting chips that may get rejected by our existing wetware.  How many of us would really be comfortable becoming early adopters for a technology like that?

Well, as it turns out the answer is a lot of us.  Thousands of people are already clamoring for the opportunity to become enhanced cybernetic organisms.  Especially since the idea is coming to us from the messiah Elon Musk.  And now they’ll have a better understanding of exactly what this new technology may look like as we get our first public look at Neuralink’s line of thinking with several advances setting the stage for what is to come.

According to The Verge, “The first big advance is flexible ‘threads,’ which are less likely to damage the brain than the materials currently used in brain-machine interfaces. These threads also create the possibility of transferring a higher volume of data, according to a white paper credited to ‘Elon Musk & Neuralink.’ The abstract notes that the system could include ‘as many as 3,072 electrodes per array distributed across 96 threads.’  The threads are 4 to 6 μm in width, which makes them considerably thinner than a human hair. In addition to developing the threads, Neuralink’s other big advance is a machine that automatically embeds them.”

Obviously, there is still a long way to go before “threading” becomes the hottest new trend. For starters, learning to use the implant is said to be the equivalent of learning to play the piano.  No easy task.  But that won’t stop Musk from continuing to push the envelope, from continuing to dare us to dream bigger.  And now that the groundwork has been laid and the initial technology developed there’s no going back.  In fact, we may even be on the verge of conducting the first human tests as early as 2020 with successful mouse testing already taking place.  Suffice it to say, at this point the cat is out of the bag.

If human testing is successful Neuralink could wind up giving us an unprecedented fourth brain region. The first is the Basal Ganglia, the reptilian or primal brain that less evolved species operate from.  The second is the limbic system which imbues us and certain other mammals with emotions.  And the third is what separates us from everyone else, our neocortex which provides us with the ability to have rational thoughts.  But soon we may have a fourth threaded layer, voluntarily implanted into us by Neuralink, enabling us to take evolution into our own hands and keep pace with the latest advances in AI.

Perhaps now you see why I said that Neuralink could be more impactful than everything else that Musk is working on which is really saying something when you consider that he is also working on revolutionizing energy, transportation, and space travel!

Image result for neuralinkIs Neuralink the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Just because all life on Earth is carbon based that doesn’t mean that all life has to be that way.  Perhaps we will find sulfur based life forms or life forms made from substances that we can’t even imagine as we explore more and more of the Universe.  And as strange as that may sound it is certainly within the realm of possibility.  With the proof of concept coming to us from a new Artificial Intelligence related discovery that demonstrates just how creative life can get.  Even artificial life.

As Futurism puts it:

“It turns out that you don’t need a computer to create an artificial intelligence. In fact, you don’t even need electricity.

In an extraordinary bit of left-field research, scientists from the University of Wisconsin–Madison have found a way to create artificially intelligent glass that can recognize images without any need for sensors, circuits, or even a power source — and it could one day save your phone’s battery life.”

That’s right.  We’re talking about glass based AI that is entirely unlike any other type of AI that we had previously imagined.  A discovery that takes thinking outside the box to a whole new level.  Here’s how it works:

“In a proof-of-concept study published on Monday in the journal Photonics Research, the researchers describe how they made a sheet of  “smart” glass that could identify handwritten digits.

To accomplish that feat, they started by placing different sizes and shapes of air bubbles at specific spots within the glass. Then they added bits of strategically placed light-absorbing materials, including graphene.

When the team then wrote down a number, the light reflecting off the digit would enter one side of the glass. The bubbles and impurities would scatter the light waves in certain ways depending on the number until they reached one of 10 designated spots — each corresponding to a different digit — on the opposite side of the glass.

The glass could essentially tell the researcher what number it saw — at the speed of light and without the need for any traditional computing power source.”

One potential use case for this amazing new technology: biometric security.  In this scenario the glass would be programmed to only recognize one person’s face.  Considering that it wouldn’t need electricity or a Wi-Fi connection to work it could then keep your valuables safe for the duration of your life.

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Is glass based AI the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Friday at the Philadelphia Art Museum’s Rocky Statue.  Saturday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.  Sunday at Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the All-Star Futures Game.  Wherever I went last weekend there were people standing in my way, obscuring the shots I was trying to take of landscapes, city skylines, and everything in between.  Sometimes this is a minor inconvenience.  Just wait a few moments until they pass by and then take the photo you want. Other times, such as the case with the Rocky statue, the line is so long and time-consuming that it becomes prohibitive to do what you want to do.

Thankfully, there’s a solution on the way, a new app known as Bye Bye Camera, that eliminates this pesky problem by digitally removing people from your photos after the fact.  No more waiting on lines.  No more getting photobombed.  Just point and click and move on with your life as quickly as possible in pursuit of an even more perfect photo somewhere else.

According to TechCrunch, “Bye Bye Camera works using some of the AI tools that are already out there for the taking in the world of research. It uses YOLO (You Only Look Once), a very efficient object classifier that can quickly denote the outline of a person, and then a separate tool that performs what Adobe has called “context-aware fill.” Between the two of them a person is reliably — if a bit crudely — deleted from any picture you take and credibly filled in by background.”

This is a real game changer for travelers, tourists, and wannabe Instagram influencers.  Anyone with a camera and a desire to make lasting memories.  Which is pretty much all of us.  Bye Bye Camera? More like Bye Bye Hassle.

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Is Bye Bye Camera the Greatest Idea Ever?

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We are only a few years away from having fully functional Babel Fish, the fabled technology From The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy that would allow for near instantaneous real-time translation between speakers of different languages.  In fact, Google’s Pixel Buds are already available in 40 languages and a whole host of other AI powered translation services are in use and on the rise.  But Babel Fish technology will do a whole lot more than just allow tourists to have an easier time traveling aboard.  In fact, it completely transform the human experience, impacting society in ways not seen since the advent of the Internet.  Starting with completely altering the way we communicate with one another.

As Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly writes on Medium, “the first thing it will do is to enable people around the world who have very desirable skills, except the skill of English, to participate in the global economy. This Babel fish would permit a talented programmer in Jakarta who spoke no English to work for a Google. It would allow a talented programmer in Utah to work for a Chinese company, in Chinese. Nor does the translation have to happen online. Two employees in the same room could each be wearing the Babel fish. Of course it is immensely effective combined with virtual telepresence. When a colleague is teleporting in from a remote place to appear virtually, it is relatively easy to translate what they are saying in real time because all that information is being captured anyway. For even greater verisimilitude, their mouth movement can be reconfigured to match what they are saying in translation so it really feels they are speaking your language. It might be even be use to overcome heavy accents in the same language. Going further, the same technology could simply translate your voice into one that was a different gender, or more musical, or improved in some way. It would be your ‘best’ voice. Some relationships might prefer to meet this way all the time because the ease of communication was greater than in real life.”

Some of Kelly’s points are ones that I had never considered before.  Straight up speaker translation in real-time.  Yes.  That makes sense.  But actually getting to the point where we could also correct regional accents or alter the voice of our significant other to find one that is more pleasing to our senses?  Well, that’s a whole new ballgame.  One that could have far-reaching social implications.

Just imagine the possibilities from suddenly being able to tolerate an annoying sport announcer’s voice to now finding people saddled with high-pitch squeals more attractive.  Divorce rates would plummet, tourism would skyrocket.  All while the global economy undergoes a profound shift as millions of suddenly qualified workers flood the marketplace.

No longer limited by language barriers mankind would now be free to move about the world in search of a new voice, one that best defines who they really are.  Freedom of Speech begetting Freedom of Expression.  All thanks to the Babel Fish.  So let the countdown to the dawn of a new “eara” begin for “sea” change is almost upon us.

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Is a Babel Fish style Universal Translator the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Not all libraries contain literary works.  Some contain works of art.  Or at least the Brooklyn Art Library does.  For here resides a place where artists’ sketchbooks gather from all over the world as a means of documenting the human experience and providing inspiration to all who are lucky enough to gaze upon its collection.

According to Atlas Obscura:

“The Brooklyn Art Library houses the Sketchbook Project: a collaborative library of artists’ sketchbooks that’s grown every year since 2006. The Library opened in its current location in 2010 and soon featured more than 10,000 books from 104 countries on six continents.

Today the library is home to almost 34,000 separate sketchbooks, from some 70,000 contributors in over 135 countries. And the project is not only open for people to contribute to, but also for people to browse.  For consideration in the project, prospective contributors can visit the library or the project’s website and sign up to receive a blank sketchbook.

When they are added to the library, each sketchbook is given a unique barcode and can be identified by artist, region, or even material. Visitors can come to the library and find amazingly unique, often improvised works from artists around the globe.”

But that’s not all.  Each participating sketchbook can also be digitized for an added fee, ensuring that it can live on forever in ephemeral or digital form.  The sketchbooks will also become something of a nomad, traveling around the globe while appearing in a minimum of at least three different cities at various popup exhibits, so that everyone, not just those who live in or visit Brooklyn, can enjoy their greatness.  In fact, artists even get notified every time someone checks out their sketchbook, which as they say, is a hell of a lot more rewarding than just receiving a lonely like on a social media platform.

Personally, I think this is the one of the greatest ideas of all-time.  Especially given the fact that anyone, even little old me, can contribute to it.  There’s no criteria for submitting.  No jury that you have to impress for inclusion.  The suggested themes don’t even have to be adhered to.  When it comes to sketching the only limits are those imposed by your own imagination.

As someone who has filled up dozens of notebooks with ideas it’s comforting to know that there’s a place where all of my random rants, ruminations, and ramblings along with all my doodles and drawings can be captured and appreciated by others.  My biggest fear of having all of my knowledge lost before I had to chance to share it is now a non-factor.  Soon the latest iteration of my vaunted Book of Ideas can join this impressive artistic collection where it can be immortalized, available for anyone to stumble upon or seek out for decades to come.  In this way, the Sketchbook Project is like an Artistic Internet, a platform for underappreciated artists to get discovered and for regional techniques to find a wider audience.  A free-flowing exchange of ideas and information.  But more than providing a roadmap for where we’re going it’s also a way for us to see where we’ve been.  A record of all the artistic renderings, sketches, markings, and meanderings of all those who came before us.  A constantly shifting guide for all those who have yet to put pen to paper or brush to canvas, who have yet to make their mark.

I only wish that this project had always existed, stretching back for thousands of years.  How great would it be if you could check out some of Leonardo Da Vinci’s codices, Shakespeare’s notes, or Jules Verne’s rough drafts.  Or if the collection included patent drawings or movie storyboards for some of our most famous inventions or greatest movies.  A definitive history of creativity, if such a place existed, would be a national treasure.  More valuable than all the gold locked away in Fort Knox.  Sadly, such a place can’t exist.  But the next best thing can. A definitive guide to artistry since 2006.  In a way, what this project is doing then, without even realizing it, is creating a time capsule of sorts.  A way for us to save the inner workings of the human mind for posterity, for future anthropologists to study hundreds of years from now as they wonder what life was like for the people of the 21st century.  What they’ll find, I’m sure, are lives filled with meaning.  Lives worth living.

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Is the Sketchbook Project the Greatest Idea Ever?


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