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You know that scene in Bladerunner where Harrison Ford uses a computer to zoom, refocus and travel in 3D space within a photograph? For years we’ve all thought that would be forever impossible, but new technology from Lytro suggests that this sort of thing may soon be possible.

Their forthcoming light field camera captures not just one perspective of a scene, but uses a lenticular array to capture the entire light field, meaning that the 3D space from which the light originated can be explored after the photo is taken – so you can change which part of the scene is in focus, generate 3D images or even peek “behind” foreground objects.

The Silicon Valley startup clearly faces technical and financial challenges to change their prototypes into an affordable consumer product – but the cat is out of the bag on the idea, and we can expect camera manufacturers to race to catch up and enter this brand new market. This is a disruptive technology with huge potential to change the way we think about photography. Soon we may have a completely new kind of camera, which can truly capture a moment in a way we never thought possible. Some are wondering if it will take the skill out of photography, while others are already speculating about what this might do to re-ignite 3D film-making.

Read more details at AllThingsDigital and try refocussing images for yourself in Lytro’s Picture Gallery.

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Can computers help us remember?

"Memory is full" (cc) by Rutger Middendorp

What if you could Google your own memories and recall details with perfect clarity? What if your iPhone could ensure you never forget to buy birthday gifts for the people you love? Can we trust our own recollections of past events? Will we all have digital assistants in the future?

These are just some of the questions discussed in this 30-minute audio interview with Sunil Vemuri. Sunil spent 2 years digitally recording his own life while he was a researcher at MIT, and went on to found reQall, a company whose product specializes in helping you remember what’s important as you go about your daily life, with a minimum of effort.

Click here to listen to the full MP3 interview. (Length 32:19, Size 31Mb).

Editor’s note: This interview was recorded back in March 2010, as the first episode in a regular Human 2.0 podcast series. Unfortunately, as Human 2.0 is made in our free time, we’ve had to put the podcast plans on hold for the time being. We’re publishing this as a one-off audio post, but watch this space as we may feature more audio content in the future!

Image (cc) by Rutger Middendorp on Flickr.

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Periodicity

I have a rather awkward subject to discuss. The last time I brought it up in mixed company, someone slapped me. But I’m going to do it anyway, because it’s worth discussing.

Natural language processing and semantic analysis allows us to extract sentiment from documents. Marketing organizations and community managers rely on tools from Scoutlabs, Radian6, and others that try to understand how online communities feel about their brands and products.

As we share more of our lives online, there’s more to analyze. Researchers from Northeastern University and Harvard University analyzed Twitter’s mood over the day. This kind of sentiment analysis can look at someone’s online messages and decide whether they’re angry or content, happy or sad. Given data over time, it can likely recognize patterns of mood, even cycles.

Such as those that occur every twenty-eight days.

(It’s at this point that my dinner companion launched a well-aimed palm at my somewhat scruffy chin.)
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Understanding human behaviour is vital for good product design. But you can’t just ask people what they need, you have to observe them first-hand. iPods, eBay and TiVo exist because designers watched people, noticed a problem with current products, and designed a solution for a problem people didn’t even know they had.

At OXO Foods in the UK, researchers studied how people measure liquids while cooking, and noticed that most people need to bend down repeatedly to read the markings on the side of the container. None of them reported this as a problem when interviewed. So OXO designed a measuring jug(cup) which could be viewed from above (shown right). This is an example of the growing science of design ethnography – product design based on direct human observation.

How to measure human behaviour “in the wild”?

Observational studies are expensive to conduct, and sometimes distorted because you can’t always observe someone in their natural environment. Fortunately, computers now make it much easier to collect data from “real world” activities. Such data is invaluable – for product designers to better understand their users, and also for us to help us cultivate a deeper understanding of ourselves. Read more »

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Part one: The state of education

In this four-part series, we look at the impact of tablet computing on education: how tablets can save North American students, but how their ability to collect and analyze how students learn will make teaching more accountable — something that unions will oppose aggressively as they try to protect their members’ jobs.

This is a detailed write-up of the Short Bit I first presented at Bitnorth 2010, with lots of background and links to references I found while putting together that presentation. We decided to break it into several parts to make it easier to digest.

In his novel The Diamond Age, author Neal Stephenson describes a digital book his heroine carries with her. Dubbed the Young Lady’s Interactive Primer, this device is part guidebook, part tablet, and part personal guardian. It’s interactive, changing stories and allegories based on the predicaments our heroine faces. Some of its content is recorded; much of it is prepared, on the fly, by actors thousands of miles away.

Much as he colored in the picture of virtual reality — Stephenson coined the term Avatar as a representation of a virtual self, and his novel Snow Crash is the inspiration for Second Life — he may have nailed tablet computing. With the release of Apple’s iPad, we’re finding dozens of uses for a device we didn’t know we needed. It’s a console, a reader, a movie screen, a musical instrument, a game board, and a window into other worlds.

Beyond all these uses, however, the killer app for tablets could be education. Done right, personal tablets can reverse the precipitous decline of learning in much of the Western world. By putting the world’s knowledge at a student’s fingertips virtually for free, making it interactive, and tailoring it to each student’s abilities and interests, tablets could completely alter the way we teach and learn.

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color stay by unclestabby from http://www.flickr.com/photos/unclestabby/2706034988/

As we move online, the definition of a community changes. Our neighbors aren’t just those people physically near us, but those we hang out with. This flexible definition of a community has serious repercussions for law and social morals: when we find kindred spirits online, we start thinking that everyone is just like us. At the same time, different communities hold us to different standards, and now that those communities leak into one another we need to apply context to our judgement.

In the 1970s bestseller The Joy Of Sex, we learn about a man who could only be aroused in a bathtub full of spaghetti. Back then, he probably led a lonely, normal life — albeit one in which he bought a lot of pasta and had a higher water bill than his neighbors. It’s unlikely that he had friends who shared his particular turn-on. Read more »

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Bitnorth 2010: The Human 2.0 Weekend

In late August, CAMMAC (a music camp north of Montreal) hosted the third annual Bitnorth conference. This year the theme was Human 2.0. Attendees presented a 5 minute “short bit” on a topic of their choice, which inspired many lively debates. Slides and recordings will be online soon but in the meantime, here are some of the interesting Human 2.0 ideas and questions that emerged over the course of the weekend: Read more »

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Is photography a human right?

Today we photograph more than ever before – and thanks to the negligible cost, we film situations that would never have been captured before. But police and other authority figures do not want to be recorded, and all over the world a battle is playing out between officials pushing current laws to extremes to prevent such recordings, and citizens who fight back with equal vigour to protect their freedom to photograph.

Should photography be criminalized and recording devices banished from any situation where that recording might be used for ill? Or should we assert our right to capture anything we experience as a fundamental right?

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Who owns your voice online?

Gagged on Flickr by Sebastiano Pitruzzello

When I call you, I don’t care who your service provider is. When I send a letter, I don’t care who delivers it to the door. But with online communication, it’s not so simple. If I want to “friend” you, I can only do so if we both use Facebook. If I want to share a thought publicly, you’re unlikely to see it unless you’re on Twitter, too. Twitter, Facebook, MSN and Skype are new forms of communication that did not exist before the Internet – but unlike their old world equivalents, they’re controlled by corporations and the messages you send with them are restricted in audience and reach.

Much of the media attention on Twitter and Facebook is on the products and the companies behind them, but we would do well to stop thinking in those terms, like we did with email, and start thinking more about the means of communication that they provide.

It’s only when we take a step back and think about the digital communications revolution in these terms, that the picture becomes evident. It’s not a pretty one. Almost every form of digital communication is dominated by one company, and locked in to members of that service (See table below). We are in a poor state for a free, open exchange of ideas.

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