SOPA PIPA, People! The Bright Side of the Dark Side

On the morning of January 18, 2012, America woke up to a digital reenactment of Real Life as experienced by humans at the 

turn of the century. We were shook. We called and emailed and berated our elected representatives. Surprisingly—given the recent string of questionable legislation passed well within earshot of public clamor—they listened.

With a few synchronized lines of code, the Internet killed a bill. We looked over and were all, like, “Whoa! Thanks, nerds! Long live Free Speech!” Normally we don’t expect this sort of white-knighting from the guys who will one day bring us the Skynet T-800 Series, Model 101. For all the whining over freedoms and undue powers of regulation you might wonder where the Internet was on New Year’s Eve #NDAA. No. Though heroic it may seem, the group of companies that participated in the Blackout of ‘O Twelve did not step in to save Us. Exactly the opposite. 

Yes, SoPi (Stop Online Piracy and Protect Intellectual Property Acts, respectively) would have greatly limited our rights to Freely Express ourselves using clips from The Lion King, or lip-synching that Whitney Houston song from The Bodyguard, but, often, so does Thinking Twice. The sort of Free Speech that’s at risk if SoPi were passed would be more subtle. Say instead of posting “Hakuna Matata” to communicate joy to your friends, you just wanted to watch the movie. Incongruently, you do not want to pay for it. Luckily there’s, in the words of SOPA, a ‘Foreign Infringing Website’ (FIW) that is hosting an illegal copy of the Acadamy Award winning film owned by Walt Disney Pictures. If Disney found out about the FIW, under the powers granted by SOPA’s passage, they could file a claim to have that site’s domain name blocked within the United States. Further, any site linking to the Infringer, or anybody accepting payment from them, or their server if the FIW refuses to comply. Basically anybody associated with the illegal distribution of the Disney property. So in all likelihood we private citizens would see little repercussions to our immediate freedoms. The theoretical consequences presented by the Internet this week would only come to pass if they chose to close shop instead of paying the possibly excessive costs of thoroughly policing the content that users and incidental affiliates chose to upload. That’s just the beginning. In the most extreme of hypothetical scenarios, the government would effectively have the ability to shut down access from within the United States to any website whose content could be construed as in violation of Infringement. 

I am wholeheartedly against the passage of either SoPi bill. But we should get some things straight. The reason why we’ve just witnessed history has to do with two things:

(1)People actually called their elected representatives and used democracy to solve a problem. 

(2)The Content Distributors (i.e. The Internet) proved that they are much more appreciated by the Content Consumers (i.e. Us) than the Content Producers(i.e. @MPAA, @RIAA, @Metallica). That’s what’s up. 

Every year the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) publishes a report on the Five Technologies to Watch. Even though it’s already 2012, I’m sure CEA is smugly patting their backs this week. Within the five trends predicted to be of particular relevance during 2011 lingered The Future of Video Distribution and Consumption. 

Since the beginning of time, elite Producers have been floating content on invisible waves that would reach us in our homes on our TVs and radios. When cable came around the networks didn’t bat an eye. After all, cable in the early days was a wasteland of unwatchable movies, uncomfortably boring softcore, and just a ton of infomercials. Remember when Comedy Central would just…end? Substitute that for under_construction.gifs, uncomfortably slow-loading porn, and just about anything anybody could think to sell; and you’ve got the early web. Cable won. So will the Internet.

People do not want to pay extra for what is apparently free using a service that they already pay for. But it’s not free, right? The studios still pay hundreds of millions of dollars to produce content, the record companies front an inordinate amount of cash to produce artists that may (and often do) totally flop. With SoPi these Content Producers would have had an effective way of policing the unauthorized use of their intellectual property. Anybody who owns anything will agree: it would suck if people just walked up and used your stuff all the time and you were helpless to stop them. That’s real, and SoPi was set to be the long awaited solution to a problem that Consumers don’t seem to give a shit about. That is, where their media content comes from. 

All the time we hear people talk about the economics of the Internet as though it were a cash blackhole: “Nobody knows how to make money on the Internet.” No way. According to MagnaGlobal, a division of IPG Mediabrands, updated Global Advertising Forecast report for 2011, Internet advertising revenues increased 16.9% last year to reach $78.5 billion. Online video shot up 58.5% to $4.7 billion in revenue. Those aren’t staggering numbers if we consider the mountains of cash that entertainment suppliers have historically raked in. But there are no manufacturing or shipping costs to weigh, no huge ad campaigns for individual titles. Hulu doesn’t have to post billboards about what shows they’re offering. We’re already there looking for one we want to watch tonight.

We’re moving towards a point where Consumers have direct contact with active Distributors (as opposed to a movie theater or a TV station where the content is preselected). On the one hand, this takes money and power away from traditional Producers like those represented by the MPAA and RIAA. On the other hand, it offers the possibility for actual Producers, like the artists and entertainment creators of media content, to find cash success based on what the Consumer (i.e. You and Me) actually want. We’re not quite there yet, but cross your fingers because this Producer/Consumer relationship would be ideal. If we work to make it happen.

As I said, it wasn’t the actions of the Internet that made legislators spin maximum distance from the suddenly repulsive SoPi bills. It was Us. We called in. We wrote emails. We made this happen. The next step is to articulate what kind of media content we want to consume in the future. Don’t worry. You don’t have to call your local representative every time you need a new movie to watch. It’s as easy as going directly to the artist. 

Don’t wait for media content to be placed upon us by the entertainment industry. Instead go directly to the creative people who are, in the end, what we love about the content. Nobody says I can’t wait for the next Warner Bros film. We’re excited to see the Christopher and Jonathan Nolan hook up with Bale, Gordon-Levitt, Hathaway and Freeman et al. Showing off the work they put into creating an awesome new Batman movie. 

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Rockethub represent the most direct way in which Consumers and Producers can interact to create pre-market Consumer approved content. But on the larger scale—where we’d more likely see something like a Nolan/Bale movie spring from—as more revenue moves from Meat Space entertainment firms to their Cyber counterparts, it’s inevitable that the Internet will begin producing more original content. At the same time these are the firms who—instead of relying on post-market gross to guess at what Consumers enjoy—are analyzing Consumer trends in real-time by tracking what we share and discuss through social networks. In this way the content produced will reflect exactly the feedback we provide. In the end we’re left with a perfect harmony between Producer and Consumer via Distributor. 

For all the evils that SoPi represents, and the limitations on freedom that we should aggressively fight against by blocking their passage, they might be a godsend yet. The sudden uproar against their potential affects has highlighted a huge problem within the media environment that would have necessitated such ridiculous bills. The only purpose they would serve would be to halt progress by forcing us to receive content the same old way; and paying the same old people to give it to us. 

Look.  If you want a future that’s made for you, then speak up and make SoPi it’s history.

[Extended Version of Article Written for, and Posted On, NYPRESS.com]

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The Possible of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol Vol.2

In my last post looked at what was up with HUD Contact Lenses and Electroadhesive ‘Spiderman’ Gloves featured in Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Today we’re going to see the Magnetic Levitation Suit used by The Hurt Locker star, Jeremy Renner, and the real star of M:I-GP, the BMW i8 concept car.

Item 3: The Mag-Lev Suit.

During a particularly suspenseful scene Jeremy Renner is rigged up in a chain mail Magnetic Levitation Suit that he then uses to save the world. By floating.

To be totally honest there’s nothing exceptionally mind blowing about a Magnetic Levitation suit except how little real world purpose it would serve. I mean, most of the applications I

BMW i8 Concept. Featured in M:I-GP

could think of for this suit/lev-bot combo would be easily achieved with actual things. I’m going to go so far as to say that the only instance I can think of where I would really need to have this suit would be the exact situation in which it was used in the movie. But, whatever. Is it possible?

Absolutely. Magnetic Levitation has been around for a long time. We often use it effectively (#ShanghaiMagLev) to lift objects many thousands of times heavier than Jeremy Renner. There are some issues that one would come up against though. Like if you’ve ever held two magnets of opposing polarities close enough to where they repel you’ll understand why stability would be a problem. Then if the lev-bot were using electromagnetic levitation like we’d see with superconductors, the device would have to be cooled to extreme degrees to stop overheating. No spoilers, but anybody who saw the movie will get why—unless the bot was strapped with some incredible super-coolant—there’s no possible way that could’ve been a superconducting magnet. There have been recent experiments by NASA, looking to simulate anti-gravity, where scientists created a magnetic field strong enough to levitate the water molecules within the body of a living mouse. Whoa. RIP NASA. What morons thought it was a good idea to quit on Outer Space? It’s only, like, 99.99999…. percent of everything. OOF! I need to calm down.

So! While it’s theoretically possible that a suit like this could be created, it’s unlikely that anybody’s going to take the time to think up solutions for the above problems anytime soon. Mostly because, like I said, why would you need an extremely limited levitation suit?

Item 4: The Car.

There’s plenty of information out about the BMW i8, scheduled for release TK, so I’ll just breeze through the basic specs:

The car can run on electric only for 22 miles. Able to recharge in two hours from a domestic power source, it gets an unheard of 87mpg, and still satisfies the Wild Child in all of us with a 0 to 60 of just four seconds. Whatever! What I’m really stoked on here is the Windshield Display technology. Now, in the movie we saw a full gesture controlled 3D environment, but for a few obvious reasons (#hugedistraction #askingforit #recklessmajority) that won’t be a option on the consumer models anytime soon.

What we can look forward to is a still very impressive full color 3D Heads Up Display that provides basic information to drivers without the need to take your eyes off the road. Like with the technology for transparent displays mentioned in my last post, HUD in cars has been around for a bit now. But as we’ll see the future of this is still wide open.

At CES 2012 (Consumer Electronics Show) this week, Audi presented their take on it with three-panel gesture controlled setup that boasts just really stunningly clear graphics.

Also showing some promising in-vehicle displays were GM and Mercedes-Benz, but still, none of these will be anything close to what we saw in M:I-GP.

The real obstacle here is distractibility. The tech we’re talking about is good to go as far as components are concerned:

1.Transparent displays are going to be what’s up as this “the-winner-is-thinner” computing trend comes to a head. (Samsung was doing a little bragging at CES with their Transparent LCD Smart Window #AwesomeScience). How much thinner can you get than a window?

2.Gesture control isn’t perfect yet. But with the technology introduced by the Microsoft Kinect game system, which will be built-in to new TVs (Samsung again), there’s no reason why they couldn’t slap it into a car.

3.GPS navigation systems are old news in cars. Here they just need to make an eight inch leap from the dash to the windshield. No biggie. If only the driver could keep their eyes on the road.

But if it’s all the driver’s fault for being so easily distractible, then what’s keeping us passengers from having some fun? According to Toyota: Nothing! The Toyota Window To The World concept turns the backseat windows into actual transparent touchscreen display. 

 Using cameras and sensors mounted onto the car’s exterior Toyota is able to provide an interactive experience while on the road. Passengers will be able to use multitouch and graphics technology to doodle on the glass, zoom in to specific portions of the world beyond, and even point at real pieces of the landscape which the window/computer will then translate as text in the local language wherever you’re driving. I.E. you pass a house in Mexico and get a little ‘casa’ floating across the display. Actually cool! I predict this is going to forever change parental road annoyances from “Are we there yet?” to “Do we have to get out of the car? Don’t wanna!”

While the Future of Stuff can never come too soon, we can safely say that splattered bugs on your windshield are about to get a whole lot more annoying in just the next few years!

 

[Unedited Version of Article Written For, and Posted On, NYPRESS.COM]

The Possible of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol Vol. 1

Movies like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol are fun, certainly. But for those of us stoked on living in The Future, they also provide a great public service. If companies don’t think they can sell it, they won’t front the money for R&D, and we can’t get awesome stuff to play with. So when we see Tom Cruise and friends using cool gadgets to save the world, it serves to whet our appetites (and loosen our wallets) for the Future of Stuff.

In my next posts we’re going to take a look at a few of the cooler technologies featured in M:I GP to see how close they are to you:

Item 1: The Contact Lenses.

Seems that since he left the island, Sawyer has ditched his makeshift glasses for a sweet set of contacts. Those Heads Up Display (HUD) Lenses were the coolest, and, besides the sweet car

Sawyer Looking Well

(see my next post), they win the prize for most obviously marketable gizmo. Transparent displays are nothing new. But how realistic is sticking that sucker on your eye? The quick of it is: Not very. But we’re on our way.

Researchers at the University of Washington recently completed a successful test of a contact lens LED display. Granted, the thing could only manage a single pixel and the pictures of it sitting on anesthetized rabbit eyes are a super bummer, but hey: Science! The point of this test was to prove that the technology is possible. It is. Now these guys will start figuring out how to implement multiple pixels and, hopefully, fix the whole “extended use could lead to lactate build-up and corneal swelling” issue.

For now, if you’re okay with not having a computer screen snug up against your peepers, here are a couple of gadgets that might do the trick:

According to a press release from the Recon Instruments team, astronauts out on spacewalks use paper checklists on their arms. Seriously? Paper? What a let down, astronauts. Thankfully, Recon invented this fancy non-paper Micro Optics Display and NASA says they’re gonna give it a whirl. For us planetbound humans, Recon sells these things in special goggles for skiers. The display shows the wearer graphical ski related data like speed, altitude, air time, and location (just in case you get a little too high up the slope). Also, with smartphone connectivity you can get calls/texts, hook up to GPS, and control your music playlist telepathically [not factual].

In a much more sinister, Big Brotherly, instance: Brazilian police are testing glasses that will allow them to capture the biometrics of 400 faces per second. The data is cross-referenced against a central computer storing some 13 million faces. If there’s a match the glasses will highlight the perp in Robocop Red for further crime-stopping. That’s just the most interesting feature. The glasses enable their wearer to identify a suspect up to 12 miles away! What? They hope to use these for quick response crowd control during the 2014 Olympics. You won’t find these at Best Buy, but what kind of sketchy shit are you up to anyway? Be cool.

Item 2: The Gloves:

One of the most exciting scenes in the movie was when Tom Cruise was Spidermanning all over the Burj Khalifa. Apparently he was actually doing that. Tom Cruise was actually jumping

Tom Cruise: The Highest Man in the World

around the 123rd story of the tallest building on Planet Earth. Of course, while in the movie he was using these neat gloves, the actor was in fact hooked into all sorts of wires, harnesses, and safety machines. But if you were, say, an actual person without the aid of special effects, would those gloves work?

Lo! There are real immediate technologies that would make these gloves totally possible, soonish. For now the focus has been on building wall-climbing robots that use something called electroadhesion, a technology made possible by SRI International. Other notable SRI projects include the computer mouse, HDTV, the Internet, and, most recently, Siri.

Now look. I’m not going to pretend that I understand how this thing works. If video presentations are to be believed, the science behind this may work only when mumbled at in slow, heavily accented, monotone. The basic principle is the same as when you rub a balloon on your head and stick it to a wall. But here the balloon is a robot, and your hair-static is “a plurality of electroadhesive gripping surfaces, each having electrode(s) and each configured to be placed against respective surface regions of a foreign object.”

In August 2011, SRI received a patent for their electroadhesive system. It’s very dull and jargony and stuffed to the brim with exceptionally boring ways that this Awesome Science could be used in the real world. Typically that’s what’s up with patents. Where it gets interesting—after eight pages of “the electroadhesive gripping system of claim [1-]28 wherein said first and second…gripping system…end effector…” yadda yadda—is claim 32 (of 33), “wherein said electroadhesive end effector resembles a human hand.” Bam!

According to the text, this “end effector” (i.e. Glove) would be used to help people with arthritis lift heavy bags. Actually! But, come on, if old people are lifting bags with battery operated gloves, then you know that Special Ops dudes are scaling the walls of evil somewhere.

To be continued….

 

[Unedited Version of Article Written For, and Posted On, NYPRESS.COM]