Reciprocity – First Peek, Part II

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The air stunk of mildew of cigarettes. At least in the front foyer. Farther inside, the aroma of cooking smells and latrines began to intensify and take precedence. The interior floor space looked gutted, nothing but concrete floors and beams with barely any demarcation between one section and the next. In a central beam that lay several dozen meters inside, a large monitor had been mounted that was tuned to the local news.

The reporter recapped the game-winning goal by Villanueva, then quickly moved on to cover the displacement camps in Darwin clashing with police. After a few introductory words Shen could not hear, they moved to aerial footage of people with tan-complexions rioting, overturned cars and fires, and light-skinned police retaliating with shields and batons.

They passed many improvised rooms as they walked through the building proper. Tall stacks of crates or sheets of plywood, drywall or corrugated plastic that denoted the boundaries of different rooms. And inside, those who were at home sat huddled before monitors or gas stoves, cooking their afternoon meals or engaged in some online gaming. In one, a young lady as busy pleasuring and older man. Both parties looked up to acknowledge them as they passed a bead curtain that acted as the doorway, and then went right back to their carnal activity.

“This way,” said Shen, as they neared the stairwell at the end. The smell of mildew followed them, and on every stoop, a new waft of cooking smells. By the time they reached the fourth floor, the density decreased and it looked as if the entire space was dominated by one living area.

Not far from the doorway, two young toughs sat on some stacked plastic crates and exchanged words. The taller one wore a faux leather vest, what appeared to be tā moko ink on his arm. The smaller one wore a white tank and jeans, and his eyes glowed with a band of copper that indicated he had displays. Both jumped to their feet as soon as Shen and Ping walked in.

The tall one snapped his fingers, alerting three more youths in the room to approach them. Shen noticed the ink on his arm beginning to change shape, the intricate system of lines morphing to form something entirely different.

When the tall one spoke, he did so in Tagalog. “Ano ang gusto mo, tao?”

A small field of green characters formed in the lower right lens of Shen’s glasses.

What do you want, man?

“Is Wáng around?” he replied in Mandarin. He directed it to the smaller one, who immediately accessed a translation app and relayed it to the tall one. He stuck to Tagalog, and replied just as curtly.

“Siya ay hindi dito!”

He is not here!

Shen looked to Ping and reached into his pocket. Everyone reacted at once, pulling out assorted handguns and pointing them at him. Ping moved too, producing the impact gun he had inside his jacket. The weapon clacked loudly as he whipped it out, it’s targeting laser focused on the forehead of the shorter man.

“Stop!” Shen yelled.

The tall one’s ink had changed again. The line segments now converged to form the face of an angry tiger, mouth agape, fangs fully bared. Its purpose was clear to him now.

Dynamo ink, adrenal-activated, he thought. A way of letting people know exactly how pissed he was. He imaged there were many kids in Tondo that had them, perhaps it was a local gang’s calling card. Understandable that Wang had taken to hiring a few for security.

“Everyone just relax,” he said, raising his free hand defensively while the other slowly withdrew something from his jacket pocket. The tall one moved quickly to fetch what he’d removed as soon as it was clear.

A small folding leather case which he opened and examined. The display card inside read off a designation for a unit that no longer existed, and an army that went by a new name. But the identification and the picture were clear enough. A look confusion was the tall one’s reaction, which he directed at Shen. Shen nodded to him, motioning to the far end of the floor space, where he imaged Wáng would be.

“Go on. He’ll know what it means.”

The tall one said something to the others in Tagalog, and then ventured to the back, disappearing behind a large partition wall. All the weapons remained trained on them while they waited. Shen stood perfectly still and never stopped smiling. Ping, meanwhile, kept his weapon trained on the short one, his finger gently resting against the gun’s trigger. He, in turn, was now aiming his Glock squarely back at Ping.

Shen knew that if things went south, Ping would be the first to get a shot off. The make and model of the pistols the boys had indicated that they were old-world relics, double actions pistols with casings. No digital architecture in their design. In the time it took them to squeeze their triggers and ignite a single round, Ping’s weapon would have accelerated a full burst of caseless slugs into the short one’s forehead.

Of course, he also knew that that would be the only shot Ping could get off. Regardless of how fast the boy was, they had three more weapons aimed at them. And Shen knew he could only disarm one before the remaining three got a shot or two off at him.

Shooting first didn’t count much when you were horribly outgunned. Luckily, the tall one emerged again from behind the partition and yelled to his friends.

“Sabi niya ang mga ito ay okay!”

He says they are okay!

Shen smiled. He nodded to the men around him, who looked slightly dejected as they lowered their weapons. Ping lowered his as well and began to follow, when the tall one made an addendum.

“Siya ay nag-iiwan sa kanyang baril dito!”

He leaves his gun here!

Shen sighed and looked to Ping, nodding to his weapon. Ping didn’t argue, and flipped it around to pass it off to the nearest of Wáng’s henchmen. While reluctant, he didn’t appear particularly worried. He knew that the second any one of them tried to turn it on him, they’d receive a 2000 volt surprise.

Without further delay, they made it past the partition wall, and into the far end of the fourth floor. Shen immediately became aware of a long counter positioned next to the partition, and a large workstation pushed back against the far wall. Another thug-like man with dynamos was standing behind the counter, while at the workstation, a single Chinese national sat amidst a pile of scattered components and tools.

From the looks of things, he had been working on a wrist-mounted portable before they had arrived. Now, his eyes were fixed on Shen’s little “gift”. A monocle sat over one eye, but he wasn’t using it at the moment. As he gazed at the old credentials, no augments, apps or mediation were needed to make sense of it. Everything about it was known to him, as was the message it carried.

“Comrade Shen,” he said in Mandarin, his voice tired and harsh.

“Comrade Wáng,” he replied. “It’s been a long time.”

“Not long enough.” He kept his eyes fixed downward. “I can only imagine you coming here means that you are in some kind of trouble.”

Shen chuckled and advanced towards Wáng several paces. The man at the counter kept eying him carefully, his right hand clenching at something underneath. He paid him no mind, leaving that for Shen to do as he followed behind.

“Strictly speaking, I am no trouble. Nothing new, at least, old friend. But there have been some developments. Things which I need to speak to you about.”

Wáng looked at him momentarily, a look of bitter mistrust in his one eye. He looked back to the credentials quickly, and removed the monocle. His eyes took on a faraway look then, an expression that seemed to contain equal measures of nostalgia and sadness.

“Do you remember the day when we you first became a member of the unit?” he asked.

Shen took that as an invitation to come closer. “Yes, I do.”

“You should,” said Wáng, a trace of bitterness returning to his face. “For you, it was not as long ago. When I joined, the unit was still in its infancy. The concept of warfare not fought with tanks, bombs and assault rifles was still alien to most in the army. But those higher up had wisdom enough to know that information was the new measure of a nation’s wealth. It only served to reason that it would become the basis of warfare as well.”

Shen advanced the last few steps that stood between them.

“Methods that are not characterized by the use of the force of arms, nor by the use of military power, nor even by the presence of casualties and bloodshed, are just as likely to facilitate the successful realization of the war’s goals, if not more so,” Shen said, reciting the famous quote.

“You remember?” Wáng’s face momentarily brightened.

“Of course I do.” Shen replied, keeping his tone as even as he could. “And it’s what brings me here.”

Wáng removed the monocle and began to look at him ominously. He gave a quick glance at the man behind the counter, who stirred ever so slightly. Ping stood tensely by, poised to strike at the man with whatever weapons he still had at his disposal. At the moment, that was just his hands and feet. Perhaps it was time to get the point.

“I need to find Li.”

“Oh?” said Wáng. “I assume you mean our mutual acquaintance, from the old days?” Shen nodded. “I haven’t seen him in years.”

Shen removed his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. It had been a long day, and there were limits to his patience as well. “I know you make regular trips to the mainland, old friend. And I know that you’ve met with members of the unit on your trips before.”

Wáng cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve been spying on me?”

“Not necessary, or possible given my current circumstances. But I do hear things. And I know that you facilitate entry to the mainland for people looking to get back into Zǔguó. I am one such person.”

Wáng nodded. “I also hear things, Comrade. And I find it hard to understand why you would want to return a place that does not welcome you. If anyone at Interior knew you were setting foot on native soil, they would surely have you shot on sight.”

“I know,” said Shen. “But I know that you can help with that.”

“What is it that you think I can do?”

“I will need biometric IDs for myself and the young one here, ones which I know you can provide. And I need you to facilitate a meeting with Li. I will take care of the rest, and see to it that you come away all the richer for it.”

“What do you want from Li?” he asked finally.

Shen inhaled deeply and looked him in the eye as he said it. “Boaying.”

Wáng went silent for a moment and looked caught between disbelief and amusement. Eventually, he opted for the latter and began laughing.

“Boaying does not exist, old friend. It was lost with the ‘restructuring’, like so much else. I’m sorry you wasted your time –”

Shen raised his hand to interject. “I know that is not true. I know that certain copies were made and that Li had access. If you could just –“

“What you are asking for is not possible!” Wáng said, cutting off all talk. “And even if it were, I would be hard pressed to think of anything that would justify the risk for me.”

“Oh?” said Shen, genuinely surprised. “I can think of much and more in that regard. I would imagine you would leave this hovel behind in a heartbeat if you could afford to do so. And I know that Comrade Li would be most grateful to you once he hears what I have to offer. He has accrued great wealth and power back home.”

“Quite,” said Wáng, rather bitterly. “Such are the rewards for those who ingratiated themselves with the new government.”

“Yes, but his power currently has limits. What I am proposing to him could potentially benefit him more than anything the Tuánjié zhèngfǔ has given to him. And knowing that you helped facilitate would put him in your debt for life.”

Wáng once again looked caught, this time between disbelief and anger. Mentioning his current surroundings, and raising the issue of Li’s own status back home was sure to do that. For a moment, neither man said anything. The silence only broke when Wáng looked in Ping’s direction and frowned.

“This one I do not recognize. He is new, yes?”

“He is that, yes.” Shen replied.

Wáng shook his head, drew in a deep breath and spat it out like it was bile. “He’s not even old enough to remember, is he? In fact, he looks barely old enough to know anything of what you are talking about.”

“Do not speak about me like I’m not even here!” Ping stepped forward with his hands curled into fists. The man behind the counter removed the submachinegun he had been concealing until now and aimed it at squarely at Ping. A small laser sight beamed in the dusty air, painting a small, steady dot on his right temple.

Shen looked at him angrily. Wáng could only respond with laughter.

“You see? He exhibits the petulance of the new generation. No deference at all.”

Ping face turned red and he was prepared to say something obscene, but thought the better of it. At this point, he had another gun aimed at him and was too far away to do anything about it. Shen was thankful at least that cooler heads were prevailing and the latest in Wáng’s group of thugs hadn’t lost control yet.

“One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade,” Shen said, hoping to get them back on track. “Perhaps the fault lies in the world we left for them. It has corrupted them with excess and makes them forget.”

“Perhaps.” Wáng turned his attention back to the materials on his desk and began to tinker with them quietly. “But it too late to help that now. The world has moved on without us. My advice to you, Comrade, is to accept that.”

Shen waited momentarily. He was sure his old colleague would have more to say. When nothing came, he stepped back from the table and turned to Ping.

“I shall be in the city for a few more days. Please let me know if you reconsider.”

Wáng kept his eyes on his work and didn’t bother to reply. Shen turned to leave, but paused to say one last thing.

“Life certainly has not worked out the way any of us planned, old friend. Despite what you might think of the path I have chosen, I know that we share the same sense of loss. All that I ask is that you consider helping me right that wrong, and leave something better for those who follow in our footsteps.”

Wáng still would not acknowledge him. But Shen knew he had absorbed everything he had just said and that it made an impression. He came about again and walked by Ping, who seemed surprised and a bit beleaguered to see that they were leaving. Following Shen out, they returned to the thugs that guarded the stairwell where he retrieved his weapon. Stern glances were exchanged between them as they walked out, but Ping ignored them. His only concern at the moment was keeping up with Shen, and asking him the obvious once they were well out of earshot.

“Is that it? We’re just leaving?”

Shen slid his glasses back on and powered them back up. He had a number of new messages, all encrypted. No doubt, they were from his contacts back east. “He will come around. Just give him some time to think it over.”

“And what if he doesn’t?”

Shen smiled. “You do not know him as I do. He will not pass up an opportunity to place Li in his debt. And he is not as satisfied with his current predicament as he would pretend. He just does not want to admit as much openly. Give him time.”

Ping sighed, checking his weapon to make sure Wáng’s men hadn’t stripped it of its magazine. He was pleased to see that all the slugs were still there. “In the meantime, what do we do?”

They had come to the ground floor, where Shen stopped and turned to look at him. “Same as always,” he said. “We stay with those who would harbor us, and hope that no one in Beijing realizes we are here. Otherwise, we can expect to be returning to Zǔguó ahead of schedule.”

Reciprocity – First Peek

shutterstock_117410959Happy Holidays everyone! Hope this post finds everyone safe, snug and warm in their homes, preferably surrounded by loved ones and lots of new swag! While I’m on break from my writing jobs, I thought I’d switch gears and get back to my personal writing for a bit.

And as luck would have it, I made some headway with my latest story idea – the near-future thriller Reciprocity – and I thought I’d share some of it. So far, I’ve got a few introductory chapters, and a prologue that introduces the antagonist. So, over the next few days, I thought I might share some of this work and see how it stacks up.

Here is the first snippet, which takes place in the Philippines in the year 2029. Enjoy!

*               *               *

Manila, Philippines, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative

He was bathing in a sea of connectivity, looking out onto the second skin that blanketed the Earth. There was virtually no corner of it now that wasn’t covered, but finding oneself in a major city was like standing directly in a pivot. After spending many weeks off the grid, it was like stepping back into the light of day after days in a dark cave. His entire body awash with high-fidelity photonic light and a microwave glow.

He felt like his skin should be burning, and yet it wasn’t…

Setting his glasses to normal view, the microwave landscape disappeared and was replaced by the stark, colorful reality of the favela. At once, his sense adjusted the combination of movement and sound that was so common to such places. A world of congestion, decay, and waste, yet teeming with so much life. Shen remembered coming to the region before, back in the day before reality could be mediated and augmented.

Now, the unseen energy and information that coursed through the landscape was illustrated in any number of ways.

At the moment, it took the form of a dozen colorful overlays that played across his contacts. He looked left and right along the thoroughfare and was awarded with helpful icons and some less-than-helpful adverts. Compared to the Metro area, the visual landscape here was not nearly as cluttered. But there were still tourist markers and small tags that he could access if he so chose. Slum tourism had become its own business of sorts, a form of adventure tourism that appealed to the reckless and irresponsible.

And for their convenience, Tondo’s checkered past and the locales that had played a role were mapped out and catalogued. They walked a few more blocks, sticking to the overhang that shaded them from the beating sun. Bagyó season was fast approaching, and the air had taken on a sticky, wet quality. For those unaccustomed, it could be the most stifling thing in the world. But for expats accustomed to venturing across the Pacific, it was within the realm of the ordinary.

They passed several rows of vendors; men, women and children who had brought their stands directly out into the street, offering large piles of oranges, bananas, watermelon, dragonfruit, mangosteens, and lychees. Farther on, they were hit with the scent of fresh and rotted produce, and the stands changed their offering to provisions of cassava, okra, pak choi, and bitter melon.

Much like the clothiers, toy sellers and peddlers or wearables that resided not far away, they would be sitting on the very edge of the streets until the weather turned. Until the rain began to pelt down with incredible fury and the flooding began. A tenacious folk, and one that seemed to respond to escalating catastrophes like the coming and going of the tide.

“Is that it?” asked Ping, pointing to a hazy standing structure at the end of the block.

Shen squinted to allow his contacts to zoom in on the building, shrouded by dew and smog. An icon appeared over top that read Cathay Towers, and a small stub explaining the nature of the housing project and how its status was currently listed as Postponed Indefinitely.

“Yes, it is,” Shen replied, tapping on his glasses again to adjust the display. He cycled to IR and noted the sheer number of heat signatures located on the first three floors. “Looks like Wáng has found himself a colorful place to live.”

“Is it safe to just walk in?”

Shen looked to the fourth floor, noted the few bodies that were standing about. Another tap and the display adjusted again, aided by the small sensor suite attached to the outer frame. He zoomed and adjusted until the scanner had just the right resolution, producing signature of a different kind and in different color. Opal and green came together to indicate the outline of weapons, all small arms from the look of it.

“There’s not many protecting him. And their weapons are antiquated. We’ll have no trouble.”

They pressed on, moving through the sea of humanity and commerce. Upon reaching the thoroughfare that ran perpendicular to them, they passed into a different crush. Countless vehicles, smart and dumb, forced them to pick up their feet and weave through the tangled mass of metal and plastic. The shouts of vendors were replaced by cab drivers and commuters exchanging expletives in Tagalog, Spanish and English – often in the same sentence.

At the front entrance, a large set of double doors that were permanently open, they paused. Shen touched the small protrusion in his jacket pocket to make sure it was still there. An odd thing to do, but if things went awry in there, it was his assurance that they might make it through.

He looked to Ping, who appeared to be doing the same. Except in his case, his fingers tapped against the PDW stashed under his coat and next to his hip. In a pinch, he knew the boy could be counted on to retrieve it and squeeze off a maelstrom before anyone else got a shot. Hopefully, his old friend would be in a talking mood and it wouldn’t come to that.

“You ready?” he asked. Ping nodded, a look of hard resolve on his face. “Good. Stay close and try not to be appalled by what you see inside.”

The Future of Devices: The Wearable Tech Boom

Wearable-Computing-RevolutionThe wearable computing revolution that has been taking place in recent years has drawn in developers and tech giants from all over the world. Though its roots are deep, dating back to the late 60’s and early 80’s with the Sword of Damocles concept and the work of Steve Mann. But in recent years, thanks to the development of Google Glass, the case for wearable tech has moved beyond hobbyists and enthusiasts and into the mainstream.

And with display glasses now accounted for, the latest boom in development appears to be centered on smart watches and similar devices. These range from fitness trackers with just a few features to wrist-mounted version of smart phones that boast the same constellations of functions and apps (email, phone, text, skyping, etc.) And as always, the big-name industries are coming forward with their own concepts and designs.

apple_iwatch1First, there’s the much-anticipated Apple iWatch, which is still in the rumor stage. The company has been working on this project since late 2012, but has begun accelerating the process as it tries to expand its family of mobile devices to the wrist. Apple has already started work on trademarking the name in a number of countries in preparation for a late 2014 launch perhaps in October, with the device entering mass production in July.

And though it’s not yet clear what the device will look like, several mockups and proposals have been leaked. And recent reports from sources like Reuters and The Wall Street Journal have pointed towards multiple screen sizes and price points, suggesting an array of different band and face options in various materials to position it as a fashion accessory. It is also expected to include a durable sapphire crystal display, produced in collaboration with Apple partner GT Advanced.

iWatchWhile the iWatch will perform some tasks independently using the new iOS 8 platform, it will be dependent on a compatible iOS device for functions like receiving messages, voice calls, and notifications. It is also expected to feature wireless charging capabilities, advanced mapping abilities, and possibly near-field communication (NFC) integration. But an added bonus, as indicated by Apple’s recent filing for patents associated with their “Health” app, is the inclusion of biometric and health sensors.

Along with serving as a companion device to the iPhone and iPad, the iWatch will be able to measure multiple different health-related metrics. Consistent with the features of a fitness band, these will things like a pedometer, calories burned, sleep quality, heart rate, and more. The iWatch is said to include 10 different sensors to track health and fitness, providing an overall picture of health and making the health-tracking experience more accessible to the general public.

iOS8Apple has reportedly designed iOS 8 with the iWatch in mind, and the two are said to be heavily reliant on one another. The iWatch will likely take advantage of the “Health” app introduced with iOS 8, which may display all of the health-related information gathered by the watch. Currently, Apple is gearing up to begin mass production on the iWatch, and has been testing the device’s fitness capabilities with professional athletes such as Kobe Bryant, who will likely go on to promote the iWatch following its release.

Not to be outdone, Google launched its own brand of smartwatch – known as Android Wear – at this year’s I/O conference. Android Wear is the company’s software platform for linking smartwatches from companies including LG, Samsung and Motorola to Android phones and tablets. A preview of Wear was introduced this spring, the I/O conference provided more details on how it will work and made it clear that the company is investing heavily in the notion that wearables are the future.

android-wear-showdownAndroid Wear takes much of the functionality of Google Now – an intelligent personal assistant – and uses the smartwatch as a home for receiving notifications and context-based information. For the sake of travel, Android Wear will push relevant flight, weather and other information directly to the watch, where the user can tap and swipe their way through it and use embedded prompts and voice control to take further actions, like dictating a note with reminders to pack rain gear.

For the most part, Google had already revealed most of what Wear will be able to do in its preview, but its big on-stage debut at I/O was largely about getting app developers to buy into the platform and keep designing for a peripheral wearable interface in mind. Apps can be designed to harness different Android Wear “intents.” For example, the Lyft app takes advantage of the “call me a car” intent and can be set to be the default means of hailing a ride when you tell your smartwatch to find you a car.

androidwear-3Google officials also claimed at I/O that the same interface being Android Wear will be behind their new Android Auto and TV, two other integrated services that allow users to interface with their car and television via a mobile device. So don’t be surprised if you see someone unlocking or starting their car by talking into their watch in the near future. The first Android Wear watches – the Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch – are available to pre-order and the round-face Motorola Moto 360 is expected to come out later this summer.

All of these steps in integration and wearable technology are signs of an emergent trend, one where just about everything from personal devices to automobiles and even homes are smart and networked together – thus giving rise to a world where everything is remotely accessible. This concept, otherwise known as the “Internet of Things”, is expected to become the norm in the next 20 years, and will include other technologies like display contacts and mediated (aka. augmented) reality.

And be sure to check out this concept video of the Apple iWatch:


Sources:
cnet.com, (2), macrumors.com, engadget.com, gizmag.com

The Internet of Things: AR and Real World Search

https://i0.wp.com/screenmediadaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/augmented_reality_5.jpgWhen it comes to the future, it is clear that the concept of the “Internet of Things” holds sway. This idea – which states that all objects will someday be identifiable thanks to a virtual representations on the internet – is at the center of a great deal of innovation that drives our modern economy. Be it wearables, wireless, augmented reality, voice or image recognition, that which helps us combine the real with the virtual are on the grow.

And so it’s really no surprise that innovators are looking to take augmented reality to the next level. The fruit of some of this labor is Blippar, a market-leading image-recognition and augmented reality platform. Lately, they have been working on a proof of concept for Google Glass showing that 3-D searches are doable. This sort of technology is already available n the form of apps for smartphones, but a central database is lacking that could any device into a visual search engine.

https://i0.wp.com/inthralld.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Say-Hello-to-Ikeas-2014-Interactive-Catalog-App-4.jpegAs Ambarish Mitra, the head of Blippar stated, AR is already gaining traction among consumers thanks to some of the world’s biggest industrial players recognizing the shift to visually mediated lifestyles. Examples include IKEA’s interactive catalog, Heinz’s AR recipe booklet or Amazon’s recent integration of the Flow AR technology into its primary shopping app. As this trend continues, we will need a Wikipedia-like database for 3-D objects that will be available to us anytime, anywhere.

Social networks and platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and Facebook have all driven a cultural shift in the way people exchange information. This takes the form of text updates, instant messaging, and uploaded images. But as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In short, information absorbed through visual learning has a marked advantage over that which is absorbed through reading and text.

Augmented_Reality_Contact_lensIn fact, a recent NYU study found that people retain close to 80 percent of information they consume through images versus just 10 percent of what they read. If people are able to regularly consume rich content from the real world through our devices, we could learn, retain, and express our ideas and information more effectively. Naturally, there will always be situations where text-based search is the most practical tool, but searches arise from real-world experiences.

Right now, text is the only option available, and oftentimes, people are unable to best describe what they are looking for. But an image-recognition technology that could turn any smartphone, tablet or wearable device into a scanner that could identify any 3-D object would vastly simplify things. Information could be absorbed in a more efficient way, using an object’s features and pulling up information from a rapidly learning engine.

https://i2.wp.com/24reviews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/QWERTY-keyboard.pngFor better or for worse, wearable designs of consumer electronics have come to reflect a new understanding in the past few years. Basically, they have come to be extensions of our senses, much as Marshall McCluhan wrote in his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Google Glass is representative of this revolutionary change, a step in the direction of users interacting with the environment around them through technology.

Leading tech companies are already investing time and money into the development of their own AR products, and countless patents and research allocations are being made with every passing year. Facebook’s acquisition of virtual reality company Oculus Rift is the most recent example, but even Samsung received a patent earlier this year for a camera-based augmented reality keyboard that is projected onto the fingers of the user.

https://i2.wp.com/blogs.gartner.com/it-glossary/files/2012/07/internet-of-things-gartner.pngAugmented reality has already proven itself to be a multi-million dollar industry – with 60 million users and around half a billion dollars in global revenues in 2013 alone. It’s expected to exceed $1 billion annually by 2015, and combined with a Google-Glass type device, this AR could eventually allow individuals to build vast libraries of data that will be the foundation for finding any 3-D object in the physical world.

In other words, the Internet of Things will become one step closer, with an evolving database of visual information at the base of it that is becoming ever larger and (in all likelihood) smarter. Oh dear, I sense another Skynet reference coming on! And in the meantime, enjoy this video that showcases Blippar’s vision of what this future of image overlay and recognition will look like:


Source: wired.com, dashboardinsight.com, blippar.com

Warning Signs from the Future

future-signs-02From bioenhancements becoming the norm, to people constantly wired into augmented reality; from synthetic organs to synthetic meat; driverless taxis to holograms and robot helpers – the future is likely to be an interesting-looking place. That’s the subject in a new Tumblr called Signs from the Near Future, where designer Fernando Barbella explores what signage will look like when we have to absorb all of these innovations into human culture.

Taking its cue from what eager startups and scientists predict, Barbella’s collection of photos looks a few decades into the future where dramatic, sci-fi inspired innovations have become everyday things. These include things like drones becoming a regular thing, driverless taxis (aka. robotaxis) and synthetic meat becoming available, high-tech classrooms servicing the post-humans amongst us, and enhancements and implants becoming so common they need to be regulated and monitored.

future-signs-01Barbella says that the project was inspired by articles he’s read on topics like nanomedicine, autonomous cars, and 3-D food printing, as well as classic books (Neuromancer, Fahrenheit 51), movies (Blade Runner, Gattaca), music (Rage Against The Machine), and TV shows (Fringe, Black Mirror). The designer chose to focus on signs because he figures that we’ll need a little guidance to speed up our learning curves with new technology. As he put it during an interview via email:

New materials, mashups between living organisms and nanotechnologies, improved capabilities for formerly ‘dumb’ and inanimate things . . . There’s lots of awesome things going on around us! And the fact is all these things are going to cease being just ‘projects’ to became part of our reality at any time soon. On the other hand, I chose to express these thing by signs deployed in ordinary places, featuring instructions and warnings because I feel that as we increasingly depend on technology, we will probably have less space for individual judgment to make decisions.

future-signs-07Some of the signs – including one thanking drivers for choosing to ride on a solar panel highway – can be traced back to specific news articles or announcements. The solar highway sign was inspired by a solar roadways crowdfunding campaign, which has so far raised over $2 million to build solar road panels. However, rather than focus on the buzz and how cool and modern such a development would be, Barbella chose to focus on what such a thing would look like.

At the same time, he wanted the pictures to serve as a sort of cautionary tale about the ups and down of the future. As he put it:

I feel that as we increasingly depend on technology, we will probably have less space for individual judgment to make decisions. …I’ve sticked to a more ‘mundane’ point of view, imagining that the people or authorities of any given county would be probably quite grateful for having the chance of transforming all that traffic into energy.

future-signs-03He says he wants his signs to not just depict that momentum and progress, but to reflect the potentially disturbing aspects of those advances as well. Beyond that, Barbella sees an interesting dynamic in the public’s push and pull against what new technology allows us to do. Though the technology grants people access to information and other cultures, it also poses issues of privacy and ethics that hold that back. As a result, privacy concerns are thus featured in the collection in a number of ways.

This includes warning people about “oversharing” via social media, how images snapped using contact display lenses will be shared in real-time with authorities, or how certain neighorhoods are drone patrolled. His images offer a look at why those issues are certain to keep coming — and at the same time, why many will ultimately fall aside. Barbella also stated that has more future signs in the queue, but he says that he’ll stop the moment they start to feel forced.

future-signs-05You have to admit, it does capture the sense of awe and wonder – not to mention fear and anxiety – of what our likely future promises. And as the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousands words”. In this case, those words present a future that has one foot in the fantastical and another in the fearful, but in such a way that it seems entirely frank and straighforward. But that does seem to be the way the future works, doesn’t it? Somehow, it doesn’t seem like science fiction once it becomes a regular part of “mundane” reality.

To see more of his photos, head on over to his Tumblr account.

Sources: fastcoexist.com, theverge.com

The Future of Medicine: AR Treats Phantom Limb Pain

AR_plpStudies have shown that a good deal of amputees feel pain in their lost limbs, a condition known as Phantom Limb Pain (PLP). The condition is caused when the part of brain responsible for a limb’s movement becomes idle, and thus far has very difficult to treat. But a new study suggests therapy involving augmented reality and gaming could stimulate these unused areas of the brain, resulting in a significant reduction in discomfort.

Previous attempts to ease PLP by replicating sensory feedback from an artificial hand have included prosthetics and a treatment known as mirror therapy, where a reflection of the patient’s remaining limb is used to replace the phantom limb. Virtual reality systems have resulted in more sophisticated mirror therapy, but the approach is only useful for the treatment of one-sided amputees.

Mirror TherapyA research team from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology sought to overcome this and achieve greater levels of relief by testing a treatment where the virtual limb would be controlled through myoelectric activity. This is a process where the muscle signals which would control the phantom limb at the stump are detected and then used to create a pattern that will predict the limb’s movements and provide the requisite stimulation.

To test the treatment, the researchers connected amputee Ture Johanson – a man who have lived with PLP for 48 years – to a computer. Electrodes running from his stump to the machine provided the input signals, and on the computer screen, he was able to see and move a superimposed virtual arm. The electronic signals from his arm communicated to the computer and his movements were simulated before his very eyes, and then used to control a car in a racing game.

plp-augmented-realityWithin weeks of starting this augmented reality treatment in Max Ortiz Catalan’s clinic at Chalmers, his found his pain easing and even disappearing entirely. Mr Johanson says he has noticed other benefits, like how perceives his phantom hand to be in a resting, relaxed position rather than constantly a clenched fist:

The pain is much less now. I still have it often but it is shorter, for only a few seconds where before it was for minutes. And I now feel it only in my little finger and the top of my ring finger. Before it was from my wrist to my little finger… Can you imagine? For 48 years my hand was in a fist but after some weeks with this training I found that it was different. It was relaxed. It had opened.

Mr Johanson has also learned to control the movements of his phantom hand even when he is not wired up to the computer or watching the virtual limb.

AR_plp1Max Ortiz Catalan, the brains behind the new treatment, says giving the muscles a work-out while being able to watch the actions carried out may be key to the therapy. Catalan says it could also be used as a rehabilitation aid for people who have had a stroke or those with spinal cord injuries. As he put it:

The motor areas in the brain needed for movement of the amputated arm are reactivated, and the patient obtains visual feedback that tricks the brain into believing there is an arm executing such motor commands. He experiences himself as a whole, with the amputated arm back in place.

While he and his team points out that its research is based on the study of only one patient, the success in achieving pain relief following a series of unsuccessful treatments is a clear sign of efficacy and should lead to equally successful results in other test cases. Their research appeared in a recent issue of Frontiers in Neuroscience titled “Treatment of phantom limb pain (PLP) based on augmented reality and gaming controlled by myoelectric pattern recognition: a case study of a chronic PLP patient”.

Treatment of phantom limb pain (PLP) based on augmented reality and gaming controlled by myoelectric pattern recognition: a case study of a chronic PLP patient – See more at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnins.2014.00024/full#sthash.BRadRPRS.dpuf
Treatment of phantom limb pain (PLP) based on augmented reality and gaming controlled by myoelectric pattern recognition: a case study of a chronic PLP patient – See more at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnins.2014.00024/full#sthash.BRadRPRS.dpuf
Treatment of phantom limb pain (PLP) based on augmented reality and gaming controlled by myoelectric pattern recognition: a case study of a chronic PLP patient – See more at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnins.2014.00024/full#sthash.BRadRPRS.dpuf

And in the meantime, be sure to check out this video of the therapy being demonstrated:


Source: gizmag.com, bbc.com, journal.frontiersin.org

The Future is Here: VR Taste Buds and Google Nose

holodeck_telexOne of the most intriguing and fastest-growing aspects of digital media is the possibilities it offers for augmenting reality. Currently, that means overlaying images or text on top of the real world through the use of display glasses or projectors. But in time, the range of possibilities might expand far beyond the visual range, incorporating the senses of taste and smell.

That’s where devices like the Digital Taste Interface comes into play. Developed by Nimesha Ranasinghe, an electrical engineer and the lead researcher of the team at National University of Singapore, this new technology seeks to combine the worlds of virtual reality and gestation. As Ranasinghe explained it in a recent interview with fastcompany.com:

Gustation is one of the fundamental and essential senses, [yet] it is almost unheard of in Internet communication, mainly due to the absence of digital controllability over the sense of taste. To simulate the sensation of taste digitally, we explored a new methodology which delivers and controls primary taste sensations electronically on the human tongue.

digital_taste_interfaceThe method involves two main modules, the first being a control system which formulates different properties of stimuli – basically, levels of current, frequency, and temperature. These combine to provide thermal changes and electrical stimulation that simulate taste sensations, which are in turn delivered by the second module. This is the tongue interface, which consists of two thin, metal electrodes.

According to Ranasinghe, during the course of clinical trials, subjects reported a range of taste experiences. These ranged from sour, salty and bitter sensations to minty, spicy, and sweet. But to successfully communicate between the control systems and sensors, Ranasinghe and her team created a new language format. Known as the TasteXML (TXML), this software specifies the format of specific taste messages.

digital_taste_interface1While the team is currently in negotiations to make the technology commercially available, there are a few pressing updates in the works for the Digital Taste Interface. The first is a more appealing way to use the tongue sensors, which currently are attached while the mouth is open. To that end, they want an interface that can be held in the mouth, called the digital lollipop because it looks like the candy.

In addition to making the system look more aesthetically pleasing and appetizing, it will also allow for a deeper understanding of how electrical stimulation affects taste sensors on different parts of the tongue. In addition, they also want to incorporate smell and texture into the experience, to further extend the range of sensations and create a truly immersive virtual experience.

digital_taste_interface2Ultimately, the Digital Taste Interface has many potential benefits and applications, ranging from medical advances to diet regimens and video games. As Ranasinghe explains:

We are exploring different domains such as entertainment (taste changing drink-ware and accessories) and medical (for patients who lost the sense of taste or have a diminished sense of taste). However, our main focus is to introduce the sensation of taste as a digitally controllable media, especially to facilitate virtual and augmented reality domains.

So in the coming years, do not be surprised if virtual simulations come augmented with a full-range of sensory experiences. In addition to being able to interact with simulated environments (i.e. blowing shit up), you may also be able to smell the air, taste the food, and feel like you’re really and truly there. I imagine they won’t even call it virtual reality anymore. More like “alternate reality”!

And of course, there’s a video:


Sources:
fastcompany.com