Archive for July, 2007

Second Life is the New Afghanistan?

Spies watch rise of virtual terrorists | NEWS.com.au (via techcrunch)

Thank News Corp for breaking the shocking story of cyberjihadists using the internet, Second Life specifically, to coordinate and train for real-life attacks on us primitives (infidels, spheres, cubes…)

Apparently, with the high level of realism SL provides, both in virtually recreated locations and guns, it offers a great alternative to those old terrorist training camps we’ve now shut down.

Good grief. This is now the second major consumer-level application I’ve worked on that "terrorism experts" have branded a threat to our vital security. I think I’ll retire now, lest I accidentally destroy the world. Up next, Disney’s Cyberspace Mountain is being used by terrorists to design — and ride — their own virtual rollercoasters of destruction.

Never mind that using a mouse and keyboard is no substitute for real military training, or exercise for that matter. Never mind that one can get a better feel for coordinated tactics playing Counterstrike (that secret is out of the bag, I’m afraid — America’s Army is the only truly terror-safe video game because both sides appear as the good guys, thus denying terrorists a vital verisimilitude in training for evil acts.)

I suppose the one good thing about terr’sts using SL is that they’ll be easy to monitor, rate negatively. And if they act up, we can go in and grief the hell out of them.

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More on Google Acquires ImageAmerica

Google Acquires ImageAmerica – All Points Blog  

I’ve seen some head-scratching over this acquisition, especially in light of Microsoft’s purchase of other earth-content generation companies. So while I know nothing about Google’s current interests or plans, and next to nothing about ImageAmerica, I can add a few notes that may clarify some things. [I guess this could go into a "part 3" of the Google Earth series, if I can find enough patents to go into that in more depth. But let me finish part 2 first...]

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Snake Oil Under the Skin

Microchip implants raise privacy concern – Yahoo! News

This is actually an excellent AP article discussing the risks and theoretical rewards of chipping people, ala RFID. VeriChip and others are already pushing for chipping the most vulnerable human populations — those with Alzheimer’s, inmates, and migrant workers (add kids to the list). The article goes into the issues fairly comprehensively, though without much technical information.

It starts with the story of two employees who were chipped as part of their job — they now use their embedded, non-removable chips as "magic keys" for accessing the inner vault of a security company. That company is, not surprisingly, busy installing security cameras in many public places, so of course they need extra security.

To those who say this new security benefit is worth the risk to privacy, the question you can answer for me is: do these chips even provide the benefit they claim? If not, then why bother? Why not just write a three digit "secret code" on the forehead of each employee and call it a day?

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Teleportation for the [Atomic] Masses

There are a few of articles out today touting the creation of a new, better form of teleportation down in Australia (and if anyone needs it, they do). But in all of the "Beam be up, Scotty" articles I found, they always seemed to skip the details and just ask "So how long until I can beam myself from New York to Los Angeles?"

I would have thought that people who got excited about the science fictional potential of teleportation would also get a kick from the real science, but perhaps not.

Here’s the best article I could find thus far, for those of you who want some better details. And then lets get into the meat of the issue.

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Anti-Social Networks

I recently consulted for a startup that is trying to advance and combine social networks with virtual worlds. You’ll have to use your imaginations for the details. But I shared some advice with them (gratis, during the interview process, so I’m not double-dipping) that I’ll share with you.

The reason I don’t use social networks is that there are simply too many people in the world.

Yes, I know that’s ironic. And it probably sounds odd for someone who grew up, lives in, and loves New York. But New Yorkers are simultaneously the most accepting (not to be confused with ‘polite’) people and the most distant, at least when we’re "alone" on the street. That distance is a coping mechanism for dealing with the sheer number of people we encounter each day. Humans are built for living in small tribes, not giant cities. So we simply act as if we’re alone in public, on the subway or on the street, which explains why we don’t typically make eye contact or say hello to strangers. It breaks that bubble of unreality. But if someone needs help, even if they’re ‘different’ than us, then we generally treat them as one of our tribe.

Anyway, I advised that stealth startup that what we need are not more social networks to occupy our time, but more anti-social networks – networks that are designed, not to make a million "one-click friends," but to offer services to large groups of people while filtering out the effects of everyone we might not want to see, so that city bus becomes our limousine, and that crowded office elevator becomes our own personal Wonkavator.
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The Value of Censoring Google Earth

I’ve been having a continuing conversation with a local / vocal advocate of censoring Google Earth: Michael Gianaris, State Assemblyman from Queens, NY. We disagree on some fundamental points, though I am sensitive to his concerns. I just don’t think he’s properly weighing the harm of censorship against a realistic appraisal of its value.

His argument at first seemed to be that terrorists could use Google Earth to plot attacks. And that was obviously bad. So we should obviously censor sensitive sites in Google Earth to prevent that outcome, despite the 99.999999% of non-terror-plotting uses (or in mathematical terms, 200 million download vs. 1 alleged use of Google Earth to help blow up JFK.)

After talking to him, I find his position to be a bit more nuanced — he readily admits that any image one can get for free via Google Earth can be obtained elsewhere for slightly more time and/or expense. After all, Google doesn’t own its own satellites (yet) — they buy the stuff on the open market like anyone else.

But, he says, if Google voluntarily censors, maybe everyone else will follow their lead. But more importantly, what Mr. Gianaris asserts is that making terrorists go that "extra step" to get good intel will help us catch them — using Google Earth is way too anonymous, he says, whereas they’d have to at least use a credit card to buy the same or better imagery elsewhere.

So I decided to put his theory to the test, which btw, is the same theory of "credit card validation" that ostensibly prevents kids from viewing porn on the internet… Still, I wanted to give it a fair test. I decided to think like a terrorist, at least to see how they might act given a Google-censored Earth.
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Holographic Video for Your Home

Technology Review: Holographic Video for Your Home

The Media Lab’s video holograms appear to float above a piece of frosted glass. An electronic device behind the glass, called a light modu­lator, reproduces interference patterns that encode information about the pictured object. Laser light striking the modulator scatters just as it would if it were reflecting off the object at different angles.

Nothing can beat true holography for responsiveness, accommodation, and presence. Systems that track your head to draw two, or any a small number, of "correct" views will always have some latency — it takes time to read the sensors and the image rendering pipeline also takes time to use the new data, at least a frame or two. A sixtieth of a second may not seem like a lot, but it’s noticeable as visual lag.

As for accommodation, I’m referring to the whole set of things your eyes do to adjust to natural light coming in — they tilt, they converge or diverge, they focus on near/far imagery. Without measuring each person’s facial geometry, there’s no way to perfectly adjust a stereo pair of images. And the fundamental problem with non-holographic systems (except perhaps volumetric ones) is that no matter where the virtual object seems to be, the pixels are generated on a 2D screen, which means your eyes get confused as to where to focus.

On Presence, you can read this for some of the issues. Peripheral vision may be more important than accommodation, less important than latency, but every little bit helps.

What remains to be seen is how the consumer version of this system will handle these issues — will it be more like typical stereoscopic rendering, rendering just 2, 4 or a few dozen different views, subject to the above constraints? Or will the ideal images you want to see for a quality experience be sitting there, ready, before you move your eyes, for a nearly seamless result.

I can’t wait to find out.

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How Google Earth [Really] Works

Introduction

After reading an article called "How Google Earth Works" on the great site HowStuffWorks.com, it became apparent that the article was more of a "how cool it is" and "here’s how to use it" than a "how Google Earth [really] works."

So I thought there might be some interest, and despite some valid intellectual property concerns, here we are, explaining how at least part of Google Earth works.
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Five Disruptive Technologies You Hardly Ever Hear About

People who think a lot about the future follow trends like anyone else. In fact, that’s their job, at least in the better sense of “follow.” But both senses are true. They tend to over-predict over-predicted outcomes like “The Metaverse” — a set of new virtual world experiences cited, curiously enough, in an older form of virtual worlds (i.e., the novel). There’s always the standing prediction of A.I. “coming soon,” to lure us with a potential liberation from the drudgery of thought. And then there are the all-too-common buzzwords floating around, like “convergence,” just begging some genius to build that one device to rule them all. Read the rest of this entry »

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Second Earth

Technology Review: Second Earth

Now that Linden Labs has open-sourced the Second Life client, if any Google Earth engineers chose to study it, I might no longer be the only person lucky enough to know both the Google Earth and Second Life internals well enough to make a bold statement on a mashup of the two. It would be great if others (besides me) could do so soberly. Because all I’m hearing lately is a lot of “wouldn’t it be great?” and not much “here’s how” and, better yet, “here’s why” practical discussion.

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