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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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Zdenek Kalal, a PhD at the University of Surrey, has developed an impressive real-time system which looks within a live camera feed for an identified object or person, then watches and learns to track that object as it rotates, moves or disappears, reappears. He demonstrates a prototype of the system in the video shown to the right.

The project won him the ICT Pioneer award and has attracted a great deal of attention from press and industry alike, as this could enable a plethora of image-tracking applications, from security systems to video stablization and control systems for the handicapped.

What is remarkable about the system is that it needs no special training (for example learning what a face is), you can simply identify an object on screen and the system will learn to track it. It looks like the stuff of science-fiction, but it’s very real. Read more on his project page.

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The non-profit grassroots organization ahumanright.org recently launched a bold new campaign to help to bring Internet access to some of the 5 billion people who aren’t online. They hope to raise sufficient funds to buy the abandoned TerreStar-1 satellite and offer free Internet access to citizens of impoverished nations, funded by renting usage of the satellite to other communications companies.

If it succeeds, it could become a lot harder for governments to shut down the Internet in their countries during civil unrest, as the satellite coverage would span international boundaries and the organization would be managed with a human right to information at its core.

If you have a spare $1m lying around you can make a donation at http://www.buythissatellite.org/. Read more at TIME or watch the TEDx talk.

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Leon Walker could face up to 5 years in prison for reading his wife's e-mail, despite uncovering her affair.

In Michigan, a man has been charged with a felony after reading his wife’s email without permission. If convicted, this could set the precedent that anyone reading a family member’s private mail would be committing a crime.

In some cases this might seem reasonable, but could it mark the beginning of a slippery slope? What about parents who have legitimate reasons to monitor their childrens’ internet usage – could they soon be deemed criminals?

Read the full story at the Detroit Free Press.

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Memories in the Facebook Age

Richard Rushfield has spent the last few years writing the memoirs of his college years in the mid-1980s. As it happens, just as he needed to find more material to expand on the fragments he remembered, Facebook exploded, and suddenly his past was alive again, all those people he remembered could be consulted and could contribute to the memoir. But soon, the book and the discussions of it on Facebook re-ignited old feuds and the past he was trying to memorialize was alive and kicking again.

Facebook encourages us to hold on to our past, and in a way, it lives on there for ever. As Richard writes:

No memoirist can write without making every effort to doublecheck one’s own past. But when the past becomes a moving target, how is one to nail it down?

Read the full article at The Daily Beast.

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File-sharing in the great outdoors

A "Dead Drop" in New York City

Inspired by geocaching and a desire to get technology out into the physical world, media artist Aram Bartholl has spawned a new Internet phenomenon. “Dead drops” are USB sticks cemented into walls of public buildings, with their locations plotted online at deaddrops.com, the site which invites you to “un-cloud your files in cement”. Together the drops form “an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space”.

The idea is that anyone can upload or download files by plugging their laptop into the wall. The project has sparked a great deal of controversy with some describing the drops as “electronic glory holes”, but as Bartholl says “It’s very much about the thrill and the idea of what could be on there.”

Read an interview with Aram Bartholl at .net.

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39 years after it began, Internet-based electronic mail has finally been granted the same recognition as other forms of communication, meaning that it cannot be intercepted by authorities without a warrant. It’s nice to see some privacy rights being given back in a time when much of our privacy is being eroded in the name of fighting terrorism. The interesting question now is whether this will affect Project Echelon and its routine monitoring of e-mail traffic. It will also be interesting to see if it serves as a precedent for other countries.

Read more at Geekosystem.

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Swedish design company TAT just launched this video imagining the future of screen technology. There’s some great ideas in there like stretchable screens, see through monitors and being able to physical drag media between devices:

The ideas were the result of the OpenInnovation competition – read more at the site.

At first it seems quite useful, putting information onto surfaces like desks and mirrors. But if you take that to to the extreme you end up with something like the world shown in this second concept video, which uses augmented reality to put information everywhere. To me, it looks like something of a nightmare. What do you think?

(This video was created for an architecture project by Keiichi Matsuda. Read more here.)

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Girl with Medical Tracker (c) Gizmodo

Dutch researchers have demonstrated a new type of network – not LAN or WAN, but BAN, the Body Area Network. What this means is that sensors in your body (for example electrocardiogram sensors monitoring your heart, or EEGs monitoring your brain) can now communicate via radiowaves to a wearable computer hung round the neck. This computer can send you a text message if readings stray from the norm. Your body will text you when it needs medical attention!

Read more at New Scientist. Image courtesy of Gizmodo

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The PlaneFinder Augmented Reality app identifies planes in the sky

If an aircraft enthusiast monitors position broadcasts from passing flights and records the identifiers and positions of those planes, is it a threat to security? Most would say no, the information is already being broadcast. What about if he publishes that information on a website? Well, now it’s easier for anyone to use that information – but it’s the same information.

Now, an app, PlaneFinder, has been released for the Android and iPhone which  makes that same information even more usable – you can now point your phone at the sky and get a live readout of the flight number, speed, destination and route of that otherwise unknown dot in the sky – a pretty powerful tool for plane-spotters and the public.

US authorities including the Federal Aviation Authority and the Department of Homeland Security are concerned that this could be used by terrorists and are investigating the matter. The Daily Mail and other tabloids are concocting horror stories of how the app could be used to target surface-to-air missiles. There are reports that “security experts” have deemed the app “an aid to terrorists”.

Clearly, there is some fear-mongering here, as with any story that can be linked to terrorists – but the pattern is one that is repeating more and more. Using new technology, people are harvesting publicly accessible data, making it usable in new ways, in new situations – and shifting the balance of power from the establishment to the individual. And the establishment doesn’t like that. Should tools that offer such access be banned, as the tabloids suggest? Or would that just deny the public access to a useful tool – and make little difference to the determined wrong-doer?

Read more at ndtv or on Slashdot.

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