Category Archives: future

Randomness #520F

Whew! The Japanese Film Festival‘s over.

If you missed this year’s movies and the Q&A sessions with director Ichikawa Jun and actress Yoshiyuki Kazuko (who seriously looks like she’s 50 and not 70+), Stefan has taken very detailed notes.

Q&A with Ichikawa Jun

Q&A with Yoshiyuki Kazuko 

I may not always agree with his opinions or like his writing, but I genuinely admire his diligence. The man’s a true movie fan.

So what if this rumour that Google might be developing a virtual world isn’t true? Bet the folks up on Mountain View are working on something similar anyway.

More interestingly, judging from the slate of apps that Google already has — especially Google Earth and Google Maps — maybe their virtual world will do what none have so far: integrate both the real and virtual — bring us closer to augmented reality.

But with one company controlling almost all this tech… that’s scary. Some possible glimpses into a Google-dominated future from Bruce Sterling and Cory Doctorow

This is not a painting of Ophelia — it is a picture of Elizabeth Siddal dying of hypothermia.

Vocaloid 2; Value from Efficiency; User-Generated Content distribution

I’m still impressed with the abilities of the Vocaloid 2 software (found via Boing Boing). Put in a melody and lyrics, and the software generates singing.

It sounds pretty good. Try this sample:

The opera sequence from Final Fantasy 6 — one of the most touching sequences from the best RPG I’ve ever played.

Watching this brought back good memories of the experience playing the game, and that’s partly what makes Vocaloid memorable for me.

The singing isn’t perfect — one comment remarked that the singer sounded like she’d a cold — but this is a technological factor. As coding gets better, so will the voices. But it may not matter — most people are willing to accept less-than-ideal quality media in certain contexts, compression codecs affect sound quality, and when you’re listening to music in a subway train, bus or car you can’t tell anyway.

The value of Vocaloid lies in how it flows with the trend for more user-generated content. It fits in nicely with existing distribution chains for user-generated content. Make a song with Vocaloid, overlay on a video file and upload to YouTube.

(Does it still make sense to call UGC a “trend”? Isn’t it already here and a part of our lived experiences?)

I’m also struck by how YouTube has become a music player although it began as a video-sharing site. This serendipitous use has been driven by the sheer ease of use and easy availability via laptops and widespread broadband.

Compare this with how people rarely used CD-based gaming consoles like the Playstation to play music. Clearly it was silly to turn on the player and a TV set to play music when it was much more efficient to use a CD player. Even a Discman with speakers plugged in was a preferable alternative.

So functionality is nice, but if it’s not efficient relative to current alternatives the functionality won’t add much value to the user.

Although Vocaloid is aimed at otaku, there must be similar groups that would buy such software.

Let’s consider characteristics of the otaku audience — predominantly teenagers, tech-savvy, relatively affluent and of course, a little obsessive.

Hmm… has anyone tried packaging Vocaloid for Christian rock fans?

Merging virtual and real with handphones

I once saw a HP ad where a boy, armed with a handheld console with a camera, runs around a city playing a game on the handheld. The locations in the game correspond to the boy’s current real-world location, but with obstacles and challenges. So an innocent looking alley in the real world turns into a deathtrap in the game world, with a virtual boulder coming down towards you (like in Raiders of the Lost Ark)

I love the idea of blurring the lines between the real and the virtual, and I thought then: “why do you need a separate device? Almost everyone already carries a camera handphone these days.”

Wish some Singaporeans followed up on this idea before the Scots did.

“It’s about using a camera phone as a magic wand,” said Dr Mark Wright of the Division of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh who came up with the idea.

At the heart of Spellbinder, as the project is known, is a database of all the places that participants have added data to. People query it by taking a snap of a location with their phone then using multimedia text messages to send it to Spellbinder.

Dr Wright said powerful image-matching algorithms are used to analyse the image that can deal with snaps of the same place being taken under different lighting conditions or orientations.

Once Spellbinder has worked out the location of an image it consults the database and sends back an image with the extras added to it. (read full article)

(from Networked Performance)

Aren’t games realities too?

Creating a shared experience of a possible future, by using new media tools with mass participation – videos, phone calls and audio, images, and blogs and other writing – in an alternate reality game.

Each contribution helps the game arrive at a larger truth. No team of experts knows better than a given individual what effect an oil shock would have upon that individual’s life, or what action he or she will take to cope. Personal reactions to our simulated oil shock, placed in context with many other points of view, will help us all realize what’s at stake in our oil-fired culture.

Take a look at World Without Oil :: Document Your Life In The New Reality

(From Boing Boing, which also attributes World Without Oil to the astounding
Jane McGonigal.

I still get excited when I recall I Love Bees, where McGonigal was lead designer. What really appeals to me are the interactive, collaborative storytelling, and how the distinctions between fact & fiction, virtual & real dissolve as the participants/characters perform actions.)

The past and future of hedgehogs and foxes

Tetlock (see earlier post) spurred me to track down a copy of Isaiah Berlin’s Russian Thinkers so I could zap a copy of “The Fox and The Hedgehog”.

The bulk of the essay examines Tolstoy’s particular philosophy of history, explains why it is self-contradictory and shows how that peculiar dilemma plays out in War and Peace. The definitions of the fox and the hedgehog are dealt with swiftly in the first page.

Berlin asserts that Tolstoy (at least while he was writing War and Peace) saw history as a fox, but wanted desperately to have a hedgehog’s explanation for history. Before postmodernism caught on, Tolstoy allegedly recognised that historians’ accounts of history were severely lacking because they privileged political interpretations of events and attributed success and failure to the actions of “great men” — politicians, generals etc — or to abstract ideas like “power” and zeitgeist. He saw that history, constructed out of the actions of all individuals, was unfathomably diverse. Berlin observes that the best parts of War and Peace consist of Tolstoy’s depictions of his individual characters. However, this did not stop Tolstoy from seeking some kind of unifying concept that would explain all of history, mostly by tearing down all the other grand pseudo-scientific theories of history e.g. historical dialectism.

Somewhat romantically in my opinion, Berlin sees this as some kind of deep inner struggle for truth. But Tolstoy never managed to articulate a coherent positive theory of his own it seems. Perhaps there isn’t one. The closest you might get is when:

something is perceived; there is a vision, or at least a glimpse, a moment of revelation which in some sense explains and reconciles, a theodicy, a justification of what exists and happens, as well as its elucidation.


What made the hedgehog/fox concept last? I thought the essay was almost a century old, but I was mistaken. Berlin wrote “The Hedgehog and the Fox” only recently in 1953. So is it just the momentum of academics and management gurus? Or is there something innately universal or timeless about that concept?

To what extent is the longevity of an idea tied to its media? Ideas need media (video formats, image files, books etc) to propagate. If ideas are viruses, media are the vectors. How do you preserve ideas?

Libraries and museums, though culturally significant now, don’t seem to work well in the very long term. For example, they’re susceptible to fire and, by virtue of the fact that they are in cities, vulnerable to sacking and destruction (e.g. the fabled Library of Alexandria, the National Museum of Iraq in more recent times). That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have them. These institutions inspire new works, new expressions of ideas. But that still leaves us with the problem of how to store cultural artifacts.

Most preservation appears to be serendipitous, like how you can only see footage of old Singapore in commercial work: Saint Jack (see earlier post), Ring of Fury, SBC drama serials etc. There was no deliberate decision to preserve. In a similar vein, I recall researchers discussing how porn distribution might hold important lessons for preserving digital art. Not so surprising when you consider that large numbers of items that that we now consider “historically significant” were uncovered from rubbish dumps like those at Oxyrhynchus. Makes you wonder what archaeologists hundreds of years from now will conclude from our cultural detritus.

TED – videos of ideas and lectures online

TED (Technology.Entertainment.Design), a well-known ideas conference, has made videos of its 2007 talks available online and downloadable into your media device of choice. Sponsored by BMW, high profile and polished, which somehow makes me wonder how much of the content is hollow posturing and how much is actually worth listening to. Wish I had time to find out.


Philip Tetlock: Foxes and Hedgehogs

Tetlock also found that specialists are not significantly more reliable than non-specialists in guessing what is going to happen in the region they study. Knowing a little might make someone a more reliable forecaster, but Tetlock found that knowing a lot can actually make a person less reliable. “We reach the point of diminishing marginal predictive returns for knowledge disconcertingly quickly,” he reports. “In this age of academic hyperspecialization, there is no reason for supposing that contributors to top journals — distinguished political scientists, area study specialists, economists, and so on — are any better than journalists or attentive readers of the New York Times in ‘reading’ emerging situations.” And the more famous the forecaster the more overblown the forecasts. “Experts in demand,” Tetlock says, “were more overconfident than their colleagues who eked out existences far from the limelight.”

From a review of his book in The New Yorker.

He gave a presentation to the Long Now Foundation earlier this year. There’s a summary, but there’re still interesting points that weren’t included. Consider listening to the mp3 recording.

Tetlock is referencing Isaiah Berlin’s essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox“. A friend once mentioned this to me some time ago in a conversation about HR practices and talent attraction. That conversation sort of dissipated (as casual banter is wont to do) a little after we concluded that although our employers might say they wanted foxes, they were really rewarding hedgehogs.

Speaking of HR, Mr Wang’s post on how the civil service allegedly evaluates performance and potential has been attracting lots of attention. If you ignore the flaming, there’re some good contributions and anecdotes in the comments section.