Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Synthevolution! Synthespians evolve beyond Avatar ... Darwin puzzled.

As Jim Cameron's Avatar becomes the largest grossing in film history ... surpassing even his film Titanics massive box office return, the interest and focus on the art of "Synthespians" is intensifying. The possibilities of recreating movie icons of the past and creating remarkably realistic synthetic performers are compelling ... and not without risk of altering our ideas of "live" performers for better or for worse.

Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak coined the term "Synthespians" in a 1988 experiment "Nestor Sextone for President" ... and synthetic thespians have been their passion since working on Tron and other early 3D films. As any 3D artist understands, emulating "realistic" human expressions and movements are difficult to achieve.

Camerons dedication to quality has resulted in a marvelous tapestry of artificial reality that is genuinely "immersive". As "augmented reality" visual tools become commonplace in public, dealing with Synthespians in retail settings or malls will likely become less and less discernably artificial. Faceless ATMs and retail kiosks will take on personality ... that will be personalized and will evolve for you as your preferences change. Your mobile phone habits will let these personas know who and where you are (if you allow it) ... and let them "serve you better". Potentially tricky stuff for automatons to do well without a lot of human intervention regarding "user experience".

I'm not sure I want to see a Humphery Bogart "surrogate" in a contemporary film except for cameos or such and Cameron agrees about leaving long gone movie stars alone. Popwatch discusses Camerons thoughts on keeping living stars like Clint and Cruise rejuvenated. The options are real ... and Jeff Kleiser's work for Disney on Surrogates showed a "youth-enized" Bruce Willis (a good thing considering how beat up his screen persona looked!).  

Since the technology exists, liberties will certainly be taken and mistakes made ... but qualitative standards will surely follow amidst complaints. Testing the limits is how we define new visual crafts ... and the artists role is to challenge conventions. Since "Synthespians" are here to stay, we might as well make them welcome ... and like with own my kids, I'll keep an eye on their behavior!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Google's China dilemma ... Act 2

Google is re-examining it's course in China on after discovering cyber attacks had been made on Gmail accounts of known political dissenters. Google states that it's system was not breached, but that phishing scams or malware were used to attempt to hack email of 2 political activists. Other corporate sites in China were also attacked and it is clear that government operatives were involved. Google is sharing it's tracking data openly and publicly stating it's concerns moving forward.

The experiment with self-censorship in China has been tricky water for "open information" internet search giant Google. It will prove crucial for Google to take a clear & firm stance on such systematic invasions of privacy or it risks more censorship quicksand worldwide as political winds blow. It will bear watching how Beijing reacts to being rebuked by a corporate entity. With China's need to be at peace with global economic forces (perhaps more than political ones), we will see how the oil and water relationship between politics and personal rights in China resolves itself. More drama to come, I'm very sure ...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Google's "Near me now" brings search Home ... to your local business

With "Near Me Now", Google has completed a powerful loop that should prove a major consumer tool ... and a major opportunity for small businesses in America. Currently for iPhone and Android, the system uses the users phone GPS tracking to match up local businesses that have what you want. Beyond coffeeshops and restaurants,  retailers, theatres and event promoters can create a new dynamic with search that is right in the sweet spot of interested passersby.

Keep in mind this can effectively leveraged by regional business associations, retail malls, business parks or sponsored by distributors to point to local outlets. I've been working with GPS enabled wireless visual intelligence for a number of years and have seen how enabling field force users with the right information on a real-time basis makes a decisive difference. We can only use the information we have ... and "Near Me Now" opens up some very interesting horizons to businesses that sense how to connect with their customers. This is one to watch ...