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Urban Augmented Realities and Social Augmentations that Matter: Talking with Bruce Sterling, Part 2

Fri, Sep 17, 2010

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Social Augmented Experiences leveraging geoawareness and human and machine intelligence to create real time information brokerages, combined with an augmented reality view, can create a new opportunities to reimagine our relationships with each other and our environment.

This Summer, I have been on a blogging hiatus, which has meant I haven’t been sharing as frequently and, unfortunately, the second half of two conversations I had earlier this year, both of which have much influence my thinking on social augmented reality, have languished in private mode -  part 2 of my talk with Bruce Sterling (see Interview with Bruce Sterling, Part I: At the 9am of the Augmented Reality Industry, are2010, and part 2 of my conversation with Anselm Hook - Visual Search, Augmented Reality and a Social Commons for the Physical World Platform: Interview with Anselm Hook, Part 1. Time to get caught up on some blogging!  The lightly edited transcript of Part 2 of my conversation with Bruce Sterling is posted in full below.

Bruce Sterling has been blogging all the key developments in augmented reality (amongst other topics of interest!) on his Wired Blog, and he brought my attention to Boskoi the Ushahidi based app for Android phones, augmented foraging pictured in use above – for more pics see fightthegooglejugend.


Augmented Reality and Real Time Information Brokerages

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Picture above is the path the “nomads” took through the Westhaven cryptoforest with Pieter Bol,co-auteur of the book Biological Globalisation and Theun Karelse of Urban Edibles Amsterdam “who presented his ‘augmented foraging’ app Boskoi.”  For more see, The Cryptoforests of Utrecht and, Westraven Psychogeography, 6 June 2010. Note: Cryptoforests: 1) Urban forests hidden from view 2) Urban fallows that might or might not be considered as forests 3) Gardens gone wild)

My interest in the Ushahidi family of ideas was already fired up by a conversation with Anselm Hook early this year.  We discussed a number of Ushahidi related projects, Swift, Crisis Filter and Anselm’s project Angel, Augmented Reality, and my own keen interest in an open, real time, distributed platform for augmented reality – ARWave.

The Ushahidi platform and the related project Swift has pioneered the real time brokerage of information with people acting in curatorial roles or matchmaking roles coevolving with machine assisted matching to connect wants to haves.  Ushahidi uses multiple gateways including SMS, and Twitter.  But the Ushahidi family of ideas is extremely interesting when combined with augmented reality and suggests many new possibilities for social augmented experiences, as Anselm pointed out, for human to human communications, human to civilization communication, and human to environment communications (e.g., perhaps, how machine intelligence can help bridge the difference in time scale that Kate Hartman explores in her, Research for Glacier-Human Communication Techniques).

Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, is a website that was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. It is now an open platform with a wide range of applications and growing developer community.  See What is the Ushahidi Platform? from Ushahidi on Vimeo.

Swift - a project that emerged from the Ushahidi dev community, is a human sensor/real-time brokerage for dealing with emergencies, enabling the filtering and verification of real-time data from channels such as Twitter, SMS, Email and RSS feeds.

Boskoiaugmented foraging is the first app,  I have seen, to begin linking Ushahidi with augmented reality – although I don’t think there is a full augmented view for Boskoi developed yet?

“The whole point of AR is to see things from a different point of view…”


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Click to enlarge poster from upcoming ARWave demo at Software Freedom Day – for more see below

I am often asked what augmented reality brings to the table with respect to location based social networking, which is on the verge of going mainstream in smart phone apps like Four Square. While the first part to my answer is usually to explain what is unique to augmented reality.

As Bo Begole notes, the full vision of AR requires machine perception technologies to detect the identity and physical configuration of objects relative to each other to accurately project information alongside/overlaid with a physical object (see this post on the PARC Blog by Bo Begole on the difference between AR and ubiquitous computing – thank you Rouli for bringing my attention to this).

But it is only in recent months that we have begun to see the kind of tools that make this possible become freely available to developers – see my interview with Jay Wright of Qualcomm here.   Also see this post on Bundler: Structure from Motion for Unordered Image Collections an open source system that allows the creation of 3D point clouds from unordered image collections, e.g. internet image collections.  We now have many tools available to move mobile augmented reality beyond the recent crop of apps relying on GPS and compass alone for positioning into a new era of vision assisted AR apps that will increasingly bring the full vision of AR into our daily lives.

Further, the integration of visual search applications like Google Goggles and Kooaba which can detect the identity of particular objects will add another vital tool to machine perception technologies enabling AR “checkins” on potentially anything in the physical world around us, and more fuel to the Gamepocalypse (e.g. it would be easy to turn every trash can in the city into a basketball hoop as we discussed at the ARNY meetup last month).  And soon, the Pandora’s Box of  facial recognition (Google Goggles have the capability though it is not released to the public yet) will open up.

Jesse Schell described the importance of AR in a nutshell in his keynote for are2010:

“The whole point of AR is to see things from a different point of view…How can there be a more powerful art form than one that actually changes what you see?”

But how AR matures as a social experience will be the key to Jesse’s suggestion that:

“Augmented Reality will be one of the things that fundamentally define the 21st century”

There are many interesting forms of AR that are not reliant on a tight registration between media and physical objects – several are put forward by Bruce in the convo below.  And, it is likely we will see AR eyewear as an occasional useful accessory to a smart phone long before we have the sexy, affordable augmented reality eyewear worn that we wear throughout the day.   These speech to text glasses would be a very useful and viable accessory to a smart phone right now for the hearing impaired.

For the moment, as Bruce notes, some of the most interesting and useful augmented experiences to date have not been in the cell phone space:

“There are other aspects of AR besides the cell phone space. There’s Total Immersion’s big display screens. There’s the web-based fiduciary stuff. And there’s projection mapping. And then there’s experience design just for people who need their reality augmented for whatever personal or social reason.”

On of my favorite social AR experiences is this SMS Slingshot.

But I have been excited for a long while about the intersection of mobile social augmented reality, real time communications, and ubiquitous computing see Total Immersion and the “Transfigured City:” Shared Augmented Realities, the “Web Squared Era,” and Google Wave.  And I have described in many places why I think real time, open, distributed communications for AR are so important to developing social augmented experiences – see the slides for my talk at Augmented Reality Event here, here and here for starters.


ARWave at Software Freedom Day 2010, September 18th 2010

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Thomas Wrobel and Bertine van Hovell will demo the first ARWave Android client at Software Freedom Day this weekend!

A number of people have asked me, (including Bruce), What will be the future of ARWave now that Google Wave is no longer a stand alone application?  Yes, the recently announced release of Wave in a Box (see here and here) is very exciting for the ARWave team.

The ARWave Android client is the first open AR client built on an open, real time, distributed platform -  based on a server that anyone can download and set up, currently the “FedOne” server but Wave in a Box, hopefully, will be even easier to deploy.  Wave in a Box seems perfect for ARWave’s needs – for more see the WiaB Google Group here.  And for more information on the ARWave client -  click to enlarge the poster below, see the ARWave concept video here, and for more, and how to get involved see arwave.org.   Props to Thomas Wrobel and Bertine van Hovell (posters below from demo for Software Freedom Day), Mark Evin, Davide Carnovale, and Markus Strickler, for all their hard and brilliant work on ARWave.  Also to JCPT the open Android 3D engine that has saved a lot of work!

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Social Augmented Experiences that Matter

My ideas on the future of social augmented experience have been deeply informed by the the conversations I had with Bruce Sterling and Anselm Hook this year.

Bruce Sterling notes in the conversation below, location based social apps like, Four Square, are interesting because they are not “urban geography like Google’s satellite stare from above,” but rather “groups of citizens are doing portraits of their own region.” Augmented Reality, with its of lauded power to make the invisible visible is, of course, is the ideal tool for “citizen portraits”  to the next level.  Cory Doctorow described to me three years ago (see here) an “inverse surveillance society,” enabled by an augmented view  – “where all the data from the positional and temporal characteristics of all the objects that we own were in aggregate visible and available so that we can mix and match them remix them understand them and have more agency in the world.”

It is very cool to go back to reread this conversation now that it is becoming possible to build the kinds of apps Cory described, and Bruce Sterling envisioned in Shaping Things (see Amazon.org  page 111).

shapingthings

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My  conversation with Bruce earlier this summer (see below) took place on the heels of are2010 – Augmented Reality Event.   See the video of Bruce’s keynote, “Bake a BigPie,” here,  and the final keynote, “Seeing,” by Jesse Schell (see video here) in which Jesse riffed on AR and the man with the X-ray eyes.  Both these awesome talks are still fresh in my mind.  Bruce noted how we should pay attention to augmentations for people and situations that could really use some augmentation… and not get too fixated on the coming of AR Goggles.  He elaborated on this in our conversation (again full transcript below):

“Well, it’s a matter of deciding whose reality it is that you’re trying to augment. I’m not trying to be a bleeding heart about it, but obviously there are people in our society right now with reality that could really use some augmentation. They are mostly disadvantaged people. They are vision impaired, or maybe they have autism. They might be senile and just can’t remember where they put their shoes. These are people who could really use some help, right?”

So, start with people who really need sensory or cognitive help. Before you turn our geeks into Superman, why don’t you try turning some people who are harmed into more functional individuals? Then you’ll be able to learn how to do that. Then maybe you can ramp it up to these Nietzschian heights of the superb Man With the X-ray Eyes. Whatever.”

What will make AR interesting and useful long before and long after we see the full vision of AR eyewear manifest is its social aspects.  Bruce points out:

“My argument would be that if you want people to be more sensitive toward certain, say, issues and problems, it’s better to find the people who are already sensitive to those issues and problems, and give them a bigger stake in your augmentation system.”

“Say that I am really worried about public health. Well, if I have a lot of nurses that are using my system, people who are aware of my issues, then I could be walking around and I’ll see a lot more tags saying, “This is where he got food poisoning!” “In this shooting gallery, many people have caught AIDS!” Or, you know, “Tuberculosis has been spotted over here in this building.”

At that point, I could simply share their knowledge and get some social intelligence. As opposed to trying to amp the basements of my little hacker-mind and drag stuff up that’s escaped my conscious attention.”

Finding new ways to broker information – bring together needs with haves and different participants, empowered and disempowered  is., as Anselm discussed with me, one way to change our view of human to human, human to environment and human to civilization communication (particularly in light of this  “sobering account of how open data is used against the poor in Bangalore” that as @timoreilly noted recently OpenData Empowering the Empowered).

The key idea in a crisis filter, Anselm noted,  was to break up the participants into different kinds, to connects wants with haves:

“There are people who are in  situation.  We call them citizens.  And then there are reporters, people who report situations back to Twitter.  And then there are curators, people that canvas Twitter looking for important Tweets.  And then there are first responders, people who take the curating collection of responses and then act on them.”

This kind of brokerage between people acting in a curatorial role or matchmaking role with each other can be extended into and coevolve with machine assisted matching as Anselm explains.

It is also a vital part of creating social augmented experiences that matter.

One of Anselm Hook’s projects, which is called Angel is the the most radical expression of connecting wants with haves in that the idea is that “you have a situation, you broadcast that situation, and help magically appears.  You don’t even sign up for a service.  You just get help …

As Anselm explains this is the same idea of a brokerage for dealing with emergencies, but applied to the long tail of crisis response.  As Anselm describes it:

“I am interested in personal crisis.  ‘I lost my cat.  Help.  I can’t find where my kid is.  I am out of gas.  I have a flat tire.  My house is on fire.  My aunt is trapped in the bedroom.’  The kind of personal crisis that is just as important, but is not enough to get a national movement to help you…

I will publish this conversation with Anselm in full in an upcoming post.

Zorop – an ARG for World Peace

If you want to be part of a really exciting experiment to reimagine our relationships with each other and can be in San Jose this weekend, I highly recommend exploring this “rabbit hole”.

Thank you Gene Becker, Lightning Laboratories and Ubistudio for sending me this invite:

“Ken Eklund (@writerguygames) is developing a wonderful game for the 01SJ Biennial called ZOROP, aimed at creating World Peace(!). Some of you might know Ken from his work on the amazing ARGs EVOKE and World Without Oil. Anyway Ken, along with his collaborator Annette Mees, are furiously working to get ZOROP ready to go for the Sept 17th premiere at 01SJ.

Are you intrigued? I thought so, and here are your next steps down the rabbit hole:

> Check out http://zorop.org to learn about the game

> Follow @ZoropPrime to watch it unfold: http://twitter.com/zoropprime

> ‘Like’ ZOROP on FB for a different view: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Zorop/141140772593618

> Become one with the game; consider volunteering as a Zoropathian: curious@zorop.org

> Head down to San Jose on the 17th, play the game, and ride the ZOROP Mexican Party Bus. Seriously.”


Interview with Bruce Sterling

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Click on image above to see video clip from from brucesflickr

[Note the first part of this interview is here and I broke in anticipation of Part 2 just as I started experimenting with an idea Joshua Kauffman – an advisor and entrepreneur working on design in the public sphere gave me for an interview technique – the All Souls College one-word question interview.  Although apparently they recently scrapped it and I am not very good to sticking to a single word!]

Tish Shute: We were talking about these proximity-based social work networks like Foursquare and Gowalla and how they may influence the emergence of social augmented experiences.

So Joshua’s suggestion for the first word was “territorialization” e.g. how do these new mobile social experiences like Foursquare, and the observation that actually rather than breaking down territorialization – which would be a good thing, tend to support territorialization…

Bruce Sterling: Yeah, they’re re-intensifying it in a very odd, electronic fashion.

Tish Shute: Yes.

Bruce Sterling: It’s not true of projection mapping or the webcam fiduciary display stuff. But with the handheld stuff, and especially the urban informatic stuff, it really can’t help but take on a local flavor. Layar is like “Augmented Dutch Reality.”

And TonchiDot is “Augmented Japanese Reality.” It’s hard to imagine a Layar interface going gangbusters at Tokyo. Whereas the TonchiDot interface, which is so clearly influenced by Anime and cartoon graphics…. Maybe it could find some niche of hipsters in Amsterdam hash bars…

Stuff that’s socially generated by people on the ground, as with Foursquare and Gowalla, is bound to take on a regional influence. Right? It’s like the New York hipsters who were early adopters of Foursquare. They’re not mapping New York! They’re mapping Hipster New York.

It’s all about Williamsburg and places where 24-year-olds go to drink… They found a demographic niche there. These guys are building the service for them. They’re people who are willing to work for Foursquare for free, because they want to wear the little king hat.

Tish Shute: I got the far far away badge ‘cos I live on the Upper West Side!

Bruce Sterling: But that’s not urban geography, right? I mean, that’s not like Google’s satellite stare from above. That’s a group of citizens doing a portrait of their own region. You’re going to see interesting things happen because, of course, people who use Foursquare elsewhere are going to check into New York, and they’re going to look at the “New York Foursquare.” They’re going to be aliens who interact with Foursquare people in New York and annotate what they’re seeing.

Tish Shute: Oh! Yes. Good point.

Bruce Sterling: That Foursquare community has a certain émigré soul. It’s different from the normal émigré soul of simple tourists on New York. So you’re friend there is right about the territorialization.

Tish Shute: Yes, Joshua Kauffman is a smart guy! Yes I am interested to see what interesting kinds of deterritorializations proximity based social networks and the hyperlocal view of augmented reality might bring, not just the new territorializations.

Bruce Sterling: It’s not the intense kind of territorialization, like gangs putting down graffiti markers and beating people up. It’s an inherent regional character that comes with using peer production to build your database.

Tish Shute: We were discussing whether AR could break down the walls between people – people who share the same physical space but actually inhabit different territories even if they are sitting on the table next to you.

Bruce Sterling: You know, I just wrote an article for my Italian magazine column. I think I mentioned this to you – a report about ARE 2010. I titled it, “Chicks Dig Augmented Reality.”

Tish Shute: [laughs]

Bruce Sterling: There is a very heavy social element to AR, and a phone based element. So the question is: Why would a woman wear a fiducial marker? Like our Metaio speaker at ARE2010 who had a fiducial marker on her lapel pin.

Tish Shute: Right. Lisa!

Bruce Sterling: Why would a woman go out in public with her Facebook profile on her body?

Tish Shute: Well I can think of some reasons…

Bruce Sterling: So that men will approach her, of course.

Tish Shute: Yes the core of all successful social networks is always a form of dating app.

Bruce Sterling: You do it a social icebreaker. It’s like: I’m a woman, I’m sitting here alone, and you can sort of glide by and, you know, take a snap of me. Then you retreat and have a beer with your friends and you work up the courage, and then you come and say, “So! Susan! I understand you like bicycling! And, boy, me too!” Right?

Tish Shute: There are all kinds of social barriers between people in cities that AR might be helpful in breaking down. An extreme example is the dilemma you actually quite often face as a New Yorker as you walk around a city. There are people asleep on the pavement and you don’t know if they’re dead or alive.

Bruce Sterling: Right.

Tish Shute: And you sort of like have this awful ethical dilemma of like, “Am I walking by someone I should be shaking by the shoulder, right, to wake them up so they don’t die, right?”

Bruce Sterling: Yes.

Tish Shute: You said in your keynote that we should pay attention to augmentations for people and situations that could really use some augmentation..

Bruce Sterling: Right. There actually is such an app in Britain right now. I posted about it: two Augmented Reality schemes for rubbish and hobos.

Tish Shute: Right. Yes I saw that!

Bruce Sterling: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from garbage and hobos.” You don’t need to personally find out whether this hobo is worth your help. What you need is a good way to report the hobo to a hobo check-up service. They come in, and they look on their own database or supply a database to you, or a facial recognition unit, whatever. The service says: “Oh, well. That’s Fred. He’s a paranoid schizophrenic. He always sleeps in that alley. Let him be.”

The same goes for the rubbish — although I don’t want to compare rubbish to hobos. In fact, people do go out with their AR kits and take pictures of abandoned garbage bags and broken glass. They upload them with geolocated tags for the local garbage guys. Guys who are sitting around doing pretty much nothing because they don’t know where the rubbish is.

And they will come out and get the rubbish! I mean, they just deputize guys to go out and follow these alerts. Right?

But nobody predicted — least of all me — that you were going to have a high-tech Augmented Reality system that consisted of removing rubbish and derelicts. Right? But rubbish and derelicts always go profoundly under-reported. It’s just hard to get people’s attention.

But it’s very easy to set up a system so that, if you get ten reports on the same piece of rubbish, that’s going to work its way to the top of the stack. That’s why I was trying to get AR people away from the romance of the hottest app for the shiniest machine. More toward a design stance that’s more user-centric.

Where are the actual problems about stuff that we perceive? Stuff we can’t do anything about? Or people whose mechanisms of perceptions are harmed. They could be doing good work, being more participative, if they didn’t, basically, walk around without their glasses on.

Tish Shute: Well this leads well into the second word, Joshua suggested was interesting spring board – sensitivity.

On the one hand we can do these things for people who maybe need the augmentation because they have difficulty with one or another sense, e.g., their eyes are not functioning, or their ears are not functioning. But on the other hand, we can’t cross the social bridge to communicate with people who are temporarily disempowered in relation to the rest of society e.g. hobos and people who sleep on the streets of New York City.  And even though Augmented Reality could potentially be helpful it can even be more disempowering to the already disempowered.

Bruce Sterling: Right.

Tish Shute: But re “sensitivity” – does augmentation increase or decrease our sensitivity? This is a problem that Will Wright brought up [see video of Will Wright’s keynote at are2010], e.g, the problem of parking HUDs getting in the way of your intuitive parallel parking skills. The Lexus that takes driving control from you when you look back, ‘cos it knows that you’re looking at the road, and it starts to brake. Right?

Bruce Sterling: Right.

Tish Shute: The fact that the problem with technology is that it makes us less sensitive, right, augmentations sometimes get in our way?

Bruce Sterling: I suppose that’s true. But I’ve heard that said about practically every medium. Especially television.

Everybody wants to blame machinery for their lack of morality. It’s hard to top something like the Kitty Genovese killing in New York. This sort of legendary New York horror story from the 1960s. A woman is stabbed to death in public, no one does anything.

Tish Shute: Right.

Bruce Sterling: I don’t think that our media is making us any less humane or more callous.

Tish Shute: All right. Oh no! I see what you’re saying. Perhaps I misrepresented what Will was suggesting by putting it that way. The question is perhaps more how do we get the sensitivity into the technology. Human bodies are fantastically sensitive and sensory.

Bruce Sterling: Right.

Tish Shute: And we have these like sensitivities. For instance, How could augmentations of reality be like a blush ? You definitely want an interaction that’s not just this data being pushed at you. But what is the data that counts, right? Will shows a slide often of an iceberg with the tip of the iceberg which is the conscious mind.

Bruce Sterling: Oh, I see. Yeah.

Tish Shute: And underneath it is all the preconscious stuff that really counts, right? Any thoughts on that?

Bruce Sterling: I did take interest in that. Will has obviously been spending a lot of time studying cognition.

Tish Shute: Yes.

Bruce Sterling: I’m not convinced that AR has got a lot to do with that. There is certainly a trend there. There are a lot of people who want to do body hacks and brain hacks. I can imagine AR being used for that purpose, but it seems like a niche application. What is the point of our accessing even more stuff that’s outside of our consciousness?

Tish Shute: One of the things he is talking about is game dynamics, is it? The role of the imagination in play. For example, he shows the high dynamic range photos that make the world magical. Something you want to engage with playfully. This he points out increases a sense of agency because you are encouraged to engage and to play with the world.

Bruce Sterling: Well, I’m a literary guy. Italo Calvino did a lot of writing about this. He talked about the classics of literature. Why do we read the classics? Calvino said we do not read, but reread the classics. And the reason we do that is that, at first, we read a classic book and we think, “Boy, this book is really good.” Then, five years later, we read it again and we think, “Boy, this is a really good book, and it’s got so much more in it than I thought it had when I was 18.” Then we read it again at 28, and it’s like, “OK, now I really seem to understand this book, and it means something to me now that I didn’t know when I was 18 and 25.”

What you are doing through that access is learning something about yourself. So Will is arguing is what I really need is like a better augmentation. So that I can go in there and sop up the book all at once. I can grab every cultural nuance in it, instead of the stuff that’s sliding past me because I’m 18 and kind of young and hasty. Maybe I could have certain words and phrases helpfully underlined, that are like, “OK, well, this part is problematic for you.” In some sense, that’s not allowing me to be 18.

I’m never going to have the experience of my own maturation against this text, because I’ve devoured it all in one gulp.

My argument would be that if you want people to be more sensitive toward certain, say, issues and problems, it’s better to find the people who are already sensitive to those issues and problems, and give them a bigger stake in your augmentation system.

Tish Shute: Yes the social augmented experiences are going to be the most valuable.

Bruce Sterling: Say that I am really worried about public health. Well, if I have a lot of nurses that are using my system, people who are aware of my issues, then I could be walking around and I’ll see a lot more tags saying, “This is where he got food poisoning!” “In this shooting gallery, many people have caught AIDS!” Or, you know, “Tuberculosis has been spotted over here in this building.”

At that point, I could simply share their knowledge and get some social intelligence. As opposed to trying to amp the basements of my little hacker-mind and drag stuff up that’s escaped my conscious attention.

Tish Shute: Interesting that seems to bring us to another kind of repetitive theme in AR, the people tend to pigeon hole it as “merely” a visual interface. But actually, it’s the intersection, isn’t it, of social intelligence and augmentation.

Bruce Sterling: Well, it depends entirely on how you design the system. If I’ve got a military augmented reality, I would expect that to be mostly about urban fighting. It’s going to be about kicking in a door and shooting terrorists. If I pull that helmet off my head and put that on the head of an emergency worker or a cop, I’m going to get a militarized cop or a militarized emergency worker.

Tish Shute: Well the histories of the two great mass media of the twentieth century – TV and the atomic bomb were intertwined, and I suppose the evolution of ubiquitous media, augmented reality and urban warfare is already intertwined too.  So how can we encourage augmented realities to move beyond military roots that is common to much technology and into more peaceful urban realities?

Bruce Sterling: Well, it’s a matter of deciding whose reality it is that you’re trying to augment. I’m not trying to be a bleeding heart about it, but obviously there are people in our society right now with reality that could really use some augmentation. They are mostly disadvantaged people. They are vision impaired, or maybe they have autism. They might be senile and just can’t remember where they put their shoes. These are people who could really use some help, right?

So, start with people who really need sensory or cognitive help. Before you turn our geeks into Superman, why don’t you try turning some people who are harmed into more functional individuals? Then you’ll be able to learn how to do that. Then maybe you can ramp it up to these Nietzschian heights of the superb Man With the X-ray Eyes. Whatever.

Tish Shute: Did you notice that a couple of apps actually like TagWhat have apps geared towards people with disabilities – I haven’t had a chance to check it out.

Bruce Sterling: I’m sorry, I wasn’t looking at their tags.

Tish Shute: I was discussing this with Joshua who mentioned Zachary Lieberman’s Eye Writer, which is for people with locked-in syndrome. Do you know that?

Bruce Sterling: Sure. And people appreciate that because the poor guy, he’s laid up with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Now they’ve given him a way out. AR is like a spark of new hope that gives his life meaning. What’s wrong with that?

Tish Shute: Yeah. And Tim Byrne using Sixth Sense for Autism is interesting.

Bruce Sterling: Let’s consider it the other way. Let’s say this graffiti writer there, instead of him being sick and weak, let’s say he’s an athlete. So I want to make him into a super-human graffiti writer. I want him to run around graffiti-tagging the entire town before dawn. Is that a good idea? Do we need that? Super human, super taggers? What if he’s going to spray up stencils of Nietszche? I kinda wonder whether the game is worth the candle.

Tish Shute: Yes I suppose it is not a great social scenario to be always augmenting the lives of the elites! Hmm, the third single word interview question is “homophily,” and earlier were you’re saying that we’ve kinda got to accept this is very much part of AR – as how it works, because hyperlocal experiences gets created by local communities – that up to know have tended to be homophilies.

Bruce Sterling: Well, I think that’s easily handled with some design thinking. You’ve got to do some user observation and show some sympathy with the user, and to be aware that you’re designing for the user and you’re not designing for yourself.

In a field as young as this, it’s mostly geeks building cool stuff for geeks. In a lot of ways, it’s a “can you top this” contest. That’s OK, but it’s not good design to be your own client all the time. It’s like writing novels to amuse yourself, or sitting on the porch singing the blues on your own guitar with only yourself to hear.

Tish Shute: What will it take for AR mature out of this “geeks building cool stuff for geeks” phase do you think?

Bruce Sterling: It’s necessary to master some of the tools first. I think of the way the web has developed over the years. When the World Wide Web first appeared, it was just for physicists, and was all line commands and quite unstable and difficult. Then you got usability studies, and things like Ajax and so forth. It’s a very painstaking thing.

We’re not best at building interfaces for the best computer scientists. Web 2.0 was built from things like watching people cry while they were trying to fill out insurance forms. “Well, why are you so upset?”

“Well, I got to the end of the webpage, and then it said I took too long, and it cut me off and now I have to start all over!” Jesse James Garrett, right? Benefactor of mankind.

If you’re experienced, you think: “Why don’t I build a little module here, and kind of move the form over here, then I’ll periodically update it with some asynchronous Java and XTML.” And people are like, “Gee, how odd.” But that really works for real people. It comes from studying what people want to do. Whereas, the current AR approach to a problem like the insurance form would be like, “I will give you the ability to record the entire insurance form, and it will flash before your eyes!” OK great, that’s a cool hack, but I don’t really need X-Ray Eyes to fill out my insurance form. What I need is a more user friendly interface.

Tish Shute: Well it seems like we are moving into the terrain of Joshua’s fifth word “ventilation,” – if I understand it rightly – it is at least partially the antidote to territorialization because it’s this idea that a place needs air so we come out of our hermetically sealed boxes of the way we relate to a place and what kind of augmentation would bring more oxygen to that space.

There was an interesting moment in the Auggies because when Maarten Lens-FitzGerald presented the guerrilla shopping Layar and basically Mark Billinghurst and Jessie Schell who spoke first didn’t seem too impressed. They didn’t want to walk to shopping – that was what web shopping did, it saved us from walking to shop… but I felt, to me you picked up on something which might have some bearing on “ventilation” in that this AR shopping Layar was kind of squatting Prada – a favela chic AR shopping thing?

Bruce Sterling: I wasn’t sure if I was interpreting what Maarten had in mind by that. But I think Maarten sees his structure accurately as an experience thing rather than a mapping thing. I think he’s proudest of things like the Berlin Wall app on Layar, as opposed to Layars that help you go get a hamburger. It’s like…so when Layar inserts parasitic augmented shopping over other people’s real shopping? That was rather a subversive thing.

I think the key there is that his client is called “Hostage T-shirts,” right? I mean it’s actually kind of a transgressive little hippy T-shirt store that Layar can dump anywhere in the world. Layered right over, say, Versace and Prada. I don’t know what becomes of that effort. And I’m not sure about the term “ventilation,” because that’s a term of art I haven’t heard much.

Tish Shute: Maybe it’s like in a cafe. Ventilation would mean we were able to communicate with all these different categories of people that we normally would be unable to connect to, even though we might be sitting only a few feet apart.

Bruce Sterling: So it means ventilation in the bottles of our homophilies.

That’s not a personal problem for me. I commonly live in foreign cities and, you know, and spend a helluva lot of time talking to strangers at conferences. So I don’t think I’d have that particular tight little social island problem.

Tish Shute: Of the three judges at the Auggies, you seemed most enthusiastic about the Layar entry.

Bruce Sterling: It may be they’re not as familiar with the business models of locative AR as I am, and as Maarten is. It was kind of a subtle in-joke he was making about Layar’s own business model there.

Tish Shute: How do you explain that?

Bruce Sterling: Well, you know, Layar’s in the business of selling software to make mapping and urban structures into ecommerce.

The ideal way to do that obviously would be to move the richest customers into the most expensive shops in the most rapid way possible. Or at least distribute them in the directions they want to go, a la Google. Whereas this app that Maarten was talking about puts big barnacles in the way that are selling punk t-shirts.

Tish Shute: Right! Right!

Bruce Sterling: The Dutch are a bit subtle in their humor. I rather imagine there’s a lot of discussion in Layar’s inner circle about exactly what they want developers to do with their platform. They’re going to have considerable political difficulty deciding who can have a Layar key and how you discipline people when they start doing weird stuff. “The Oakland Medical Marijuana layar.”

Tish Shute: Well, finding nudists is one of the top layars at the moment.

Bruce Sterling: You know, obviously so. And finding narcotics in Amsterdam, or a prostitution layer. I warned them nine months ago this was bound to happen. I’m sure they’re aware of it. I don’t think Layar wants Google’s style of cool, technocratic detachment.

Tish Shute: But that’s pretty difficult to do in current augmented reality because we don’t have all the mathematical voodoo for full on AR search yet, do we?

Bruce Sterling: Well, you can hire it out. Somebody’s going to do it, if they get interested enough. There’s Nokia-Yahoo. Nokia-Yahoo! just did a big corporate deal…involving Nokia’s mapping system and Yahoo’s localization. So the Nokia-Yahoo! mash-up is called Nooo! Or could be called Yahno. Yakia! Unfortunately ridiculous names.

Tish Shute: It’s interesting because you mentioned the spiders’ mating problem at Google. They’ve got all the pieces to make this kind of level of AR obviously right now. But they actually haven’t done it yet.

Bruce Sterling: There must be at least some discussion in Google, but the same goes for Microsoft. I’m frankly baffled by Microsoft, because it’s just full of insanely brilliant people. What the hell are they doing in there? Name one serious innovation that’s come out of their labs in five years. They make Integral Research look dynamic. It’s really kind of sad.

Tish Shute: It’s a very curious situation with AR though, because AR more than any new technology relies on these big hordes of data particularly for the mapping, right? And only the big four have the data – although we are beginning to see upstarts, Earth Mine, Simple Geo… Did you get a chance to meet Di-Ann Eisnor from Waze – real-time maps and traffic information based on the wisdom of the crowd.  Waze is a very interesting project that is a potential giant killer.

Bruce Sterling: No, I didn’t talk to them. I’ve seen people speculate that Earthmine and Apple are going to make an allegiance. I guess if you’re thinking that urban informatic mapping is a super big thing for AR, that must be true. But I’m not convinced that’s necessarily the case. People have pointed out that you can just use Google Maps, and you don’t have to walk around with a little visor. There are other aspects of AR besides the cell phone space. There’s Total Immersion’s big display screens. There’s the web-based fiduciary stuff. And there’s projection mapping. And then there’s experience design just for people who need their reality augmented for whatever personal or social reason. [dog barking]

Tish Shute: Right. Oh, I’m in the middle… My son’s come. What a good hair cut!

Bruce Sterling: Hi, there.

Tish’s Son: Hi.

Bruce Sterling: How’s it going, sir? Good to see you…

Tish’s Son: Good.

Tish: [laughs]

Bruce Sterling: Yeah. Nice looking shirt. I like the back of it.

Tish Shute: That’s from the American Shaolin Temple. [laughs]

Bruce Sterling: All right. Awesome. Kung Fu geek shirt.

Tish Shute: Yup he is a bit of Kung Fu Geek. He and his dad did an iPhone app on it for Yu-Gi-Oh, for Yu-Gi-Oh scoring.

Bruce Sterling: Awesome. Plenty of Pokémon-style combat in Yu-Gi-Oh.

Tish Shute: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because you’ve talked about this aspect. That all of this, the Pokémon aspect of AR hasn’t kicked in yet. But it’s obviously a match made in heaven to some degree, isn’t it?

Bruce Sterling: One would think so, yeah. The whole little kid gaming thing. What does that have to do with Google or Bing? You don’t need a massive database for stuff like that.

Tish Shute: Yeah, you’re right. But good tracking, mapping and registration requires a lot of mapping…

Bruce Sterling: Well, our current tracking, mapping and registration requires that. Maybe there’s some other way to hack it that we don’t know about yet.

Tish Shute: That’s a very interesting point. We always have to stretch the way we think about mapping… perhaps its a real-time understanding of the location you’re in…perhaps the map is being negotiated through several social processes?

Bruce Sterling: There are maps, and then there are maps. There’s a kind of artillery map where you need to know the precise location of target spaces. And then there’s the kind of social map where I’m really looking for the IN-N-OUT Burger where my sister went last Tuesday. That’s a different system.

Tish Shute: And I think AR, at the moment, we’re getting the most out of the social maps certainly. And the other [machine perception technologies to detect the identity and physical configuration of objects relative to each other to accurately project information alongside/overlaid with a physical object] is still kind of the big dream, isn’t it?

Bruce Sterling: They say that men never ask for directions and women never read maps. Clearly, the genders have different ways of navigating the world. Who’s to say what manner of augmenting our experiences is hottest? I’m not convinced that today’s rather rigid geolocativity is really what our society wants from that particular service. Maybe what we want is something more folksy. Some useful nudge in the right direction as opposed to grids with 200 meters here and instructions to turn such-and-such.

Besides, there’s other hacks we haven’t considered. We’re very dependent on GPS, but just suppose all those satellites are blown out of the sky in a solar storm. Would we really want to give up mapping? Wouldn’t we just come up with some other nifty hack? Radio beacons, let’s just say. Atomic clock timers in towns. Or maybe just little QR codes on lampposts that give you the exact location of that lamppost, and just click the thing and have it calculate where you are.

Tish Shute: Yes the NextHope OpenAMD project had a clever way of triangulating location indoors.

Bruce Sterling: Well, GPS is there and people all want to use it. It’s got good API, so of course you want to. And the guys who are good at doing it are real geolocative freaks. But the mere fact that we can do it this way, and that you can make it pay, doesn’t mean that it’s the ultimate way to provide that service to people. It’s like saying that Egyptian hieroglyphics must be the greatest way to write, because we’ve got a lot of them and they’re hard to learn. What if somebody comes along with an alphabet? It’s going to be a little embarrassing.

Tish Shute: Yeah, that’s a very good point. Now, this is a more simple ordinary question about the event. YDreams went off the map in the Auggie voting, and walked away with The Auggies. No one doubted that that was the most…

Bruce Sterling: I don’t know. I thought those Occipital guys with the panoramic painting…. That was hairy. I would have been tempted to give them the prize myself, actually.

Tish Shute: And what did you like best about that? Because I agree. I love Occipital.

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Bruce Sterling: I thought it was a more technically difficult stunt than the hand registration thing. Using a hand as a 3-D cursor is hot, but not like painting a panorama in 3-D in real time. That was an impressive technical feat.

Tish Shute: And they hinted at the 2.1.1 AR, more AR version of that. What do you see coming out of that as possibilities?

Bruce Sterling: Well, I’d heard of YDreams, so I wasn’t stunned. But I’d never heard of those guys. I wonder what else the heck they’ve got in the attic.

Tish Shute: very cool stuff…

Bruce Sterling: Well, more power to them. But clearly YDreams was the popular favorite. And who couldn’t like it? It was just so AR.

Tish Shute: It was so AR and so gorgeous.

Bruce Sterling: It was pretty, actually.  Except for their ugly menu button and poor font choice.

Tish Shute: Oh, yes. You didn’t like that, did you? [laughs] But with the Occipital panorama, what do you see the next stage of that?

Bruce Sterling: Well, obviously quicker and faster. Quicker and faster and more accurate in a network. Let’s just say I’m in New York and you’re in New York and I’m calling you for help. And you say where are you? I just whirl around like this and I mail it to you on a Google Wave. And you whirl around like that, and then we compare the two panoramas and do an instant triangulation. And you say: I’m over here on this red dot of your screen.

Tish Shute: Yeah, exactly.

Bruce Sterling: We’re navigating with panoramas by having two connected panoramas and considering the difference.

Tish Shute: Yeah, very interesting…

Bruce Sterling: Not shabby, right?

Tish Shute: Not shabby at all.

Bruce Sterling: If you could do it in real time.

Tish Shute: Then the other thing I missed because I was going to meet Will was I missed the Launch Pad competition. Did you catch that?

Bruce Sterling: I didn’t see it either. I thought of another app though.

Tish Shute: Oh!

Bruce Sterling: You’ve got a panorama maker in your home office, and it just scans the office 24 hours 365 and tags anything that moves, right? OK, where’s the clipboard?  At 8:15 it was over here. Now it’s vanished. Now another object is viewed over here. So, logically, ping, you hit it with a sticky light and there it is, right?

Tish Shute: Oh, that’s cool also knowing what has changed in any environment would be a big enabler for a lot of AR visions.

Bruce Sterling: I’m sure there are many other things you could do with panoramas.

Tish Shute: My jet lag is beginning to kick in big time – so many ideas to pursue from are2010 – those panoramas are very exciting though.

Bruce Sterling: Oh, well, it’s all right. We can augment reality! I’ve got three heads and six hands!

categories: Ambient Devices, Ambient Displays, Android, architecture of participation, Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, digital public space, Instrumenting the World, internet of things, Mixed Reality, mobile augmented reality, mobile meets social, Mobile Reality, Mobile Technology, new urbanism, social gaming, social media, sustainable mobility, ubiquitous computing, Web 2.0, websquared, World 2.0
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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Thomas Wrobel Says:

    Excellent interview. I’ll comment on some more later

    Just a quick comment for now;

    “Bruce Sterling: Say that I am really worried about public health. Well, if I have a lot of nurses that are using my system, people who are aware of my issues, then I could be walking around and I’ll see a lot more tags saying, “This is where he got food poisoning!” “In this shooting gallery, many people have caught AIDS!” Or, you know, “Tuberculosis has been spotted over here in this building.”
    At that point, I could simply share their knowledge and get some social intelligence. As opposed to trying to amp the basements of my little hacker-mind and drag stuff up that’s escaped my conscious attention.”

    To me this is more about linked data, and even semantic database’s with AR as just one possible output.
    It is, however, absolutely essential for the progress of various fields of science and research, medical being one of the biggest.

    We need technology to both collect data…we are halfway there…but also to correlate data. To find connections between things that a normal human might not spot. At the very least, bring the billions of possible cause’s and effects down to a short-list that researchers could study.
    I think for this reason we dont just need a AR-standard, but really as soon as possible a sharable standard for open semantic data which anyone can contribute feeds into. (and, for sure, some feed’s might not be so reliable…which is why Id suggested weighted semantic links, with stronger links being formed the more independent sources agree).

    I know this is quite of the topic of just augmented reality, but its another field that excites me. Imagine all the worlds data being compared to all the other data for patterns…..what might we discover?

  2. Tish Shute Says:

    Thanks Thomas for the comment – and all the brilliant work on AR Wave. As you know I am in total agreement about the marriage of AR and linked data. I know we talked about a simple base for semantics in ARWave earlier this year – to use annotations to blips prefixed by “meta” to indicate it is purely for describing data and not for placing it or changing it. The idea was to keep the possibility open to adapting Wave servers for an http end point to use SPARQL. Have you had anymore thoughts on this?

    Also I am very interested to know more about how you see weighted semantic links might be implemented in ARWave?

    Also how did the ARWave demo go at Software Freedom Day?

  3. Thomas Wrobel Says:

    Its all possible, but would need a dedicated wave web client written.
    Fundamentally an AR link says “put this data here”, itself being the data required to do that.
    If a webclient provided access to the ARBlip’s data (assuming its a public wave), then it could be used to semantically reference anything with geographical or image-associative location. So any blip posted automaticly would become searchable by any semantic search engine. (ie, “3d models in Tilburg” would look up the area of tilburg in terms of gps, what MIME formats are generally used to represent 3d models, and then cross-reference the too to find all the posts).
    Unfortunately we are quite a long way from being able to do this though, and semantic search engines online are rather lacking in power.
    Id hope within a few years though it would all be working together; AR being used to both create new linked data, as well as display the results from queries.

    “Also how did the ARWave demo go at Software Freedom Day?”

    Fantastically.

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