Virtual, augmented or mixed: the new realities

News and commentaries, Technology

viewmaster234231

Many, many years ago, I somehow managed to borrow a View-Master and saw for the first time, stereoscopic images of some tourist attractions (I can’t even remember which ones). What I remember is how my heart skipped a beat and I felt an unnamed longing – probably wanderlust. A few weeks ago, I felt a very similar reaction when I saw another video from Magic Leap. This time the longing is more defined. After decades of being promised the wonders of virtual reality and mixed reality, I have a longing to see this technology bear its full potential.

Needless to say, I have been thinking of virtual reality as one of the most exciting consumer technologies since I first heard of Magic Leap. But, outside of my little bubble, I am taken aback by how little people know about it or even how unexcited some people can be about it. So, in thinking of ways to approach this post about VR/AR/MR, I want to answer the question of: What is it and where are we at with VR? This is the first in a series of posts that will attempt to answer those questions.

What is virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality?
You and I are not alone in being confused with the terminologies. I most often use virtual reality as a blanket term or if I’m being generous, use augmented reality when I think of mixed reality. There are several articles on this, including Wikipedia ones. I will share the definitions that makes the most sense to me.

Virtual reality or virtual realities (VR), also known as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, is a computer technology that replicates an environment, real or imagined, and simulates a user’s physical presence and environment in a way that allows the user to interact with it. (Wikipedia)

In today’s parlance, VR refers to an experience afforded by a head-mounted display, filling your vision with a real or imagined environment. It also includes 3-D audio for surround-sound and controllers that let you interact with this virtual world.

Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. (Wikipedia)

AR augments or inlays digital information on top of the real world. This is probably not as exciting as space travel with VR, but AR is very useful for hands-free work.

Mixed reality (MR), sometimes referred to as hybrid realityis the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. (Wikipedia)

MR is simply that, a mix of VR and AR. Just like AR, you can still see the real world but you will also be able to see an interactive virtual object. In MR, when you walk around this virtual object and get close to it, it will project just like a real object would.

On the next post, I will talk about the devices that go into these categories. Stay tuned!

Virtual reality adoption and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

The very first iPhone was released in June 2007. 74 days later, iPhone sales reached 1 million units and 100 million units in 3 years. To date, 700 million iPhone devices have been sold. If we’re to look at smartphones in general (iOS, Android, etc.) the US has 70% smartphone penetration and IDC forecasted a worldwide smartphone shipment of 1.4 billion units for 2015.

It’s safe to say that in less than a decade, we have reached the late majority (maybe even approaching the laggards) of the smartphone adoption.

The question is, will we have a similar (or longer) trajectory for VR devices? I was asked this question the other day: how long do I think VR adoption will take? Within 5 years? 10 years?

My answer initially was: certainly NOT within 5 years but maybe within 10 years. But now, actually looking at data on smartphone sales, I’m now leaning towards the 5-year timeline.

What’s different now for VR devices?

  • When the iPhone was first launched, internet connectivity was not as ubiquitous as it is today. Load times for anything – within the browser or the app – were excruciatingly slow that you end up with a glorified feature phone really. Compare that to today and you have networks competing to be your data download/upload facilitator – just look at T-Mobile’s efforts.
  • There’s already a very healthy and thriving app ecosystem which means building apps for VR would be a natural extension for developers. Remember when “Ant Smasher” was the coolest game on your iPhone? I do. Last weekend, I got a chance to finally try Google Cardboard and played Deep Space Battle with it. I’m not a gamer but I can totally see myself spending a lot of time on the Rift. I also “walked around” Hong Kong via Google’s Street View. Apps like these are just bound to improve and the state of where they’re at right now is already impressive.

wp-1458930447417.png

  • In general we are more open to new devices. I live in Boca Raton, FL, a place for retirees. You’d be surprised at how many of these guys are rocking the Apple Watch. To say that people – from millenials to baby boomers – are comfortable with strapping devices on themselves is an understatement. You can argue that VR needs to come up with a more compelling reason than gaming. How about we use VR to view adorable videos of grandkids from 5000 miles away as if they’re right there in our living room? That’s a compelling reason right there.

It’s time to stop thinking that VR/augmented reality belongs in the far-off future. It simply is another interface for today. One that developers and content creators are gearing up for. It’s an interface that networks and hardware are capable of supporting. Most importantly, it’s an interface that we are more than ready to embrace.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail.

In tech:

  1. Apple-FBI battle is over but Silicon Valley is preparing for the privacy war
  2. Hacker sells data stolen from Verizon’s enterprise customers
  3. Snapchat reportedly paid $100 million for a startup that makes an emoji look eerily like you
  4. China moves to contend in chip making
  5. Paul Allen Gives $100 Million to Enable ‘Bioscience’ Research

In retail:

  1. Alibaba hits 3 trillion yuan transaction milestone
  2. Amazon will sell more PlayStation VR bundles starting tomorrow
  3. No big surprises in Nike, Inc.’s latest strong quarter
  4. American Apparel offering on-demand delivery via Postmates partnership
  5. Pebble to lay off 25% of workforce

Note: This post was partly inspired by this article: Gene Munster thinks virtual reality will be the ultimate iPhone killer.

Procrastination and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

I read somewhere before that a good blog is like a good meal: it’s a good balance of appetizers, a main course, and desert. With the weekly roundups, I’ve been serving mostly appetizers. The last main course that I served was a post explaining the historical significance of SpaceX Falcon 9’s vertical takeoff and landing. And the last desert was my 2015 holiday gift guide. As I mentioned, writing the weekly roundups has been a way for me to get back to blogging in general – no big goals as of yet but let’s just get back to building up habits.

Recently, I watched a TED talk by Wait but Why’s Tim Urban.

Despite the fact that we all end up being okay meeting deadlines despite procrastinating, it’s the long-term procrastination, the one without deadlines, that become a source of unhappiness. I share this because in a way, I have been procrastinating on a lot of posts here. Such as, a post on virtual reality which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. I’ve always wanted to explain password management (as suggested by a friend who’s getting increasingly frustrated with them). I have a draft on why I am an Android convert. Of course, there’s a ton of other things that I’ve been procrastinating on but let’s start with this fairly doable list. And I thought that if I mention it here and by announcing it, perhaps I can rouse my Panic Monster to kick my Instant Gratification Monkey out of the way.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail

In tech:

  1. Alphabet: Boston dynamics: Google puts Boston Dynamics up for sale in robotics retreat; Google just scored a huge win against Amazon by landing Apple as a customer (in a deal valued around $400M)
  2. Blast off for Europe Russia Mars mission
  3. Autonomous cars: Baidu will soon test its self-driving cars in the US; A Month After Google’s Car Hit a Bus, Google Filed a Patent for Robot Cars to Detect Buses
  4. Nokia returns to hardware with $60,000 virtual reality camera
  5. Kickstarter buys crowd-funded music community Drip

In retail:

  1. Amazon Is Trying to Patent Paying With a Selfie
  2. Alibaba is working to bring virtual reality into its e-commerce services
  3. Urban Outfitters going bigger with Anthropologie
  4. Nike just unveiled the first real power-lacing sneaker, the HyperAdapt 1.0
  5. Zalando aims for $11B in sales by seeking technology edge

FBI vs. Apple escalates and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

It is getting ugly between US prosecutors and Apple.

[T]he FBI cannot itself modify the software on Farook’s iPhone without access to the source code and Apple’s private electronic signature. The government did not seek to compel Apple to turn those over because it believed such a request would be less palatable to Apple. If Apple would prefer that course, however, that may provide an alternative that requires less labor by Apple programmers.

In the latest reply from the US Department of Justice to Apple’s formal motion to vacate the original order, the prosecutors are basically saying that the other option is to demand access to the source code and Apple’s private electronic signature. In DoJ’s perspective, asking Apple to unlock the San Bernardino iPhone by creating a new iOS is the lesser of two evils.

In the same filing, the DoJ has also called out Apple’s stance as “false” and “corrosive.”

Apple’s rhetoric is not only false, but also corrosive of the very institutions that are best able to safeguard our liberty and our rights: the courts, the Fourth Amendment, long-standing precedent and venerable laws, and the democratically elected branches of government

For most people, it’s probably quite confusing as to why Apple is digging its heels in. What we have to remember, more than the pros/cons of each side, is that Apple at the very core is fighting a precedent. According to Apple (emphasis is mine):

Law enforcement agents around the country have already said they have hundreds of iPhones they want Apple to unlock if the FBI wins this case… Again, we strongly believe the only way to guarantee that such a powerful tool isn’t abused and doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is to never create it.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Malicious hacks: How a hacker’s typo helped stop a billion dollar bank heist; First OS X ransomware detected in the wild, will maliciously encrypt hard drives on infected Macs
  2. Researchers created a flexible ‘skin’ that could give robots a sense of touch
  3. Alphabet: AI scores landmark victory, defeating legendary Go player in historic match; Google’s Robots Are Learning How To Pick Things Up
  4. FBI vs. Apple: Justice Department: Apple obligated to assist FBI; Security Pros React To Apple VP Federighi’s Op-Ed On Dispute With FBI
  5. General Motors acquires self-driving car startup Cruise Automation, reportedly for $1B+

In retail:

  1. Amazon to lease 20 Boeing aircraft for cargo delivery
  2. Yoox Net-a-Porter turns to IBM to propel its luxury e-commerce experience
  3. Urban Outfitters jumps after merchandise sales boost profit
  4. Zara parent Inditex slows store expansion as online sales grow
  5. Avametric raises $10.5M to further develop its virtual fitting room tech

Virtual reality and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

If someone gave you a perfect simulation of today’s world to play in and told you that it’s all fake with no actual consequences—with the only rules being that you can’t break the law or harm anyone, and you still have to make sure to support your and your family’s basic needs—what would you do? (Tim Urban, Wait but Why)

The context of the quote above is more about how we can push ourselves to pursue a more fulfilling life that may be out of our comfort zone. But, I also think of the above in relation to virtual reality and the idea of an “experience machine.” If a life with no actual consequences is available to us, would we plug in? And if we do plug in, are we going to map out a life of only pleasure or will we include experiences like volunteering in desolate areas?

Later this month is the long-awaited release of the Oculus Rift. Other companies are set to follow: HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and who knows – Apple, Google and the ever secretive Magic Leap. Of course, we already have Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Cardboard. But with Oculus Rift, we very well might be at the tipping point for tech companies to enter the VR hardware market. With competition comes innovation and better VR content.

There is no question in my mind that VR or augmented reality devices will improve to a point where they become as common as smartphones and the content becomes as compelling as social media, movies, games (pick your poison as it is), and even real life. Are we in danger of eschewing real life for a type of Second Life or Grand Theft Auto in VR? Will we favor Neal Stephenson’s imagined Metaverse in his novel Snowcrash over our real lives?

…I had a nagging sense that many users were neglecting their offline lives and relationships to be there. The company’s own data revealed the majority of its most active users spend an average of 6-plus hours daily within Second Life. Another study suggested people derived more happiness within that world than from the real one. (Wired)

We already are opiated in some way with our TV shows, Instagram moments, alcohol, Tinder, pain killers – the list could go on. And in each of this instance, we make the choice on the degree of the escapism involved. Of course, the fact that virtual reality can potentially recreate the life that we live right now with more of anything that we desire is definitely a concern. The same people who have no qualms spending a majority of their waking lives immersed in escapist activities will also be the ones to prefer VR to real life. Just like how we evolved with the internet, I think we will find a myriad of uses for VR beyond escaping the life that we have. Just like Tim Berners-Lee’s bemusement at one of the uses of the world wide web he invented, I’m sure Rift’s inventor Palmer Luckey will also be surprised at how people end up using VR.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 2.10.36 PM

So instead of going the fire and brimstone route, how about we all get excited about the possibilities of VR?

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. FBI vs. Apple: Twitter, Airbnb, eBay, Kickstarter, LinkedIn and Square File Brief Supporting AppleWhat’s Next for Apple as Its Battle With the FBI Plays Out in Washington?
  2. Alphabet: Verily Is Building A Google For Medical Information; Google’s computers paint like Van Gogh, and the art sells for thousands
  3. Uber’s International Business Is Deep in the Red
  4. Space: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returns to Earth: What a year in space does to a person’s body; Hubble breaks cosmic record, captures most distant galaxy
  5. Yahoo exploring sale of $1 billion-$3 billion in ‘non-core assets’: CFO

In retail:

  1. Luxxotica pares profit guidance, pours cold water on tie-up talk
  2. Adidas plans to open 3,000 new stores in China
  3. Target ramps up spending on logistics to win your shopping dollars
  4. Kate Spade aces holiday quarter with same-store sales beat
  5. Gap core sales fell 2% in February

https://www.redditstatic.com/comment-embed.js

FBI vs. Apple: a summary and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

On Tuesday, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook published a customer letter in response to a court order. A federal judge is ordering the company to provide technical assistance to the FBI to help unlock an iPhone 5c from one of the gunmen from the San Bernardino, CA  attack. Apple is resisting this order and has been given until February 26 to respond formally in court.

What does the FBI want Apple to do?

Just to clear things up, Apple is not being asked to decrypt the iPhone 5c. The court order is also specific in stating that this concerns only this particular iPhone 5c, called “subject device”. In fact, it also clearly states that the “hack” will happen within Apple to ensure that the software created will stay within Apple.

Here’s the request, verbatim via the court order:

  • [Apple] it will bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been enabled;
  • it will enable the FBI to submit passcodes to the subject device for testing electronically via the physical device port, bluetooth, WiFi or other protocol available on the subject device;
  • it will ensure that when the FBI submits passcodes to the subject device, software running on the device will not purposely introduce any additional delay between passcode attempts beyond what is incurred by Apple hardware.

Is it technically possible for Apple to comply?

Again, let’s be clear that the order is not for Apple to decrypt data in this particular iPhone. The order is to allow the FBI to use brute force to “guess” the PIN/passcode in order to gain access into the phone. In this case, it is technically possible. Here’s a great post on how this can be done.

Why is Apple resisting?

Apple argues that once created for this one phone, there is no absolute certainty that the same technique will not reused for other iPhones.

In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable. (Tim Cook)

The important word here is “precedence”. If Apple complies or if the FBI wins the court order, it creates a dangerous precedence where compelling tech companies to create access to otherwise inaccessible data will be as simple as having a court order.

So what now?

Apple has until February 26 to formally respond in court. Law experts think that Apple will argue that the court places “unreasonable burden” on Apple. The order states:

To the extent that Apple believes that compliance with this Order would be unreasonably burdensome, it may take an application to this court for relief within five business days of the receipt of this order.

For more in depth view of the laws involved:

Here’s a few more links regarding this:

This issue has yet to play itself out. But as privacy concerns war with curbing acts of terror, it would be interesting to see how public discussions such as this will affect the nomination of the next Supreme Court justice after the unexpected death of Justice Scalia this week. Even more interesting is with the Senate’s plan to block any nomination from Obama until the next President, will this case reach a court of 8 instead of 9?

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail.

In tech:

  1. Space: China uprooting thousands to build telescope searching for aliens; Virgin Galactic will unveil its new SpaceShipTwo today; Google this: Israeli scientists eye $20M moon race prize
  2. A $7 smartphone is about to change the game in India
  3. Google Translate now supports 103 languages, covering 99% of Internet users
  4. Uber losing $1 billion a year to compete in China
  5. IBM buys Truven Health for $2.6B

In retail:

  1. Wal-Mart, reporting slower e-commerce growth, makes plans to expand number of products available online
  2. China Lunar New Year holiday retail sales up 11.2% year-on-year
  3. Deliveries: Amazon taking on Uber with its on-demand delivery service; Google launches fresh-grocery deliveries
  4. Kering lifted by euro and Gucci sales
  5. Nordstrom tumbles as holiday sales miss analysts’ estimates

Gravitational waves, Einstein and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries, Technology

So, you do you want to hear two black holes colliding? Take a listen (audio from the New York Times):

Imagine coming up with a theory that upends 200 year-old accepted laws of physics because something about it just doesn’t make sense to you. Imagine not having any kind of instrumentation to even experiment the equations that you come up with and in fact, would take a hundred years for you to be proven right. Imagine coming up with an equation so elegant as this:

E = mc2

That was Einstein. But imagine also, the minds that came up with LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and the willpower of some who pushed for building it amidst all the budgetary constraints and the skepticism? Yesterday’s announcement of the first direct detection of gravitational waves is not just about proving Einstein’s prediction on the existence of ripples in space-time set off by violent and cataclysmic events in the universe. More than anything, I find it very human in the beauty and perseverance of the people who made this happen. So, yesterday should not be rejoiced by the scientific community alone but by all of us because, see what we can be capable of? By the way, nice Googly, insider scientific joke there:

Gravitational waves? We're relatively excited.

A photo posted by Google (@google) on

If you need a refresher on Einstein’s theory of general relativity, there’s a great infographic here. Or if you’re like me, I get a refresher during an afternoon car ride with my husband, which is pretty cool too.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail (just in case space-time is not your thing):

  1. Google: In boost to self-driving cars, U.S. tells Google computers can qualify as drivers; Google reportedly building a completely stand-alone virtual reality headset
  2. IRS says identity thieves nabbed 100,000 income tax e-file PINs
  3. Medicine: 23andMe and Women’s Health Startup Celmatix Combine Forces To Research Genes Affecting Infertility; Robotic system can lead to faster medicine development
  4. Visa takes 9.99% stake in Square
  5. Zenefits CEO steps down over compliance issues

In retail:

  1. Amazon launched a free sommelier service to help customers buy wine; Yes, you can rely on Amazon’s new game engine during the zombie apocalypse
  2. Marc Jacobs will price 70% of its handbags under $500
  3. Yoox Net-a-Porter beats forecast with 2015 pro-forma sales of 1.7bn euros
  4. Adidas sees higher profit after 2015 earnings beat estimates
  5. L’Oreal sales beat estimates on accelerating luxury growth

Augmented reality and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

Magic Leap, the secretive startup based in Dania, FL (👋 there, short drive away!) is in the news again for another massive round of investment of $793.5m led by Alibaba. Virtual/augmented/mixed reality in general is set to be at the forefront this year as Facebook-acquired Oculus Rift finally releases its $600 gear. HTC and Sony will also be releasing their respective VR headsets.

What makes Magic Leap very special is not only the money it has raised – an impressive $1.4B with no product yet – but also its technology. Existing VR tricks the eyes by showing a different image of the same object to each eye (stereoscopic 3D). Magic Leap meanwhile shines light directly into the retina, blending with the light received from the real world. This tricks the brain which makes actual and projected objects indistinguishable. Imagine talking to your parents in your living room, except they live 5000 miles away. Not a lot of people have seen this technology firsthand but those that have tend to be super excited about it.

Needless to say, I am watching this closely. In the meantime, I’ll be anxiously waiting for the Rift and will be trying out a watered down VR for interior design from Modsy because online furniture buying still has a few hurdles.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail.

In tech:

  1. Alphabet: Alphabet Surpasses Apple as the World’s Most Valuable Company; Google’s self-driving cars drive three million miles a day, without leaving the lab; Here’s How Much Google Has Spent on Robot Cars, Internet Balloons, Its Anti-Aging Lab and So On
  2. Microsoft Plumbs Ocean’s Depths to Test Underwater Data Center
  3. Airbnb pays Paris €1.2m in tourist taxes
  4. Russian cosmonauts ready for ISS spacewalk
  5. LinkedIn acquires recruiting startup Connectifier

In retail:

  1. GrubHub Revenue Soars 36.3% in Q4 Earnings
  2. PVH spends $172m on Tommy Hilfiger’s Chinese partner
  3. Online fashion retailer Nasty Gal cuts 10% of staff
  4. Ralph Lauren’s stock stumbles after missing sales expectations, cutting outlook
  5. American Apparel losses widen amid bankruptcy process

Google’s Deep Mind masters the game of Go and the weekly roundup in tech and retail

News and commentaries

Just to punctuate my love for all things Google (or Alphabet, it will take awhile before I get used to that), Nature magazine just published a paper describing Alphabet-owned artificial intelligence company Deep Mind’s* system which used deep learning to beat the top player in the game of Go. Beating a human in the 2,500 year-old game of Go has long been considered an important milestone in artificial intelligence.

Unlike other strategy games such as chess and checkers, Go has never been beaten by a computer – until now. We all know the famous match between Deep Blue and Kasparov in 1996. Less well known (at least to me anyway) is Chinook, which mapped every possible move in Checkers – 500 billion moves in all – making sure that it can never be beaten by a human.

The game of Go however cannot be beaten by brute force alone. There is simply not enough computing power that exists that can map out every possible move.

In chess, at any given turn, there are an average 35 possible moves. With Go—in which two players compete with polished stones on 19-by-19 grid—there are 250. And each of those 250 has another 250, and so on. As Hassabis points out, there are more possible positions on a Go board than atoms in the universe. (Wired)

The very best human players also rely on intuition, looking at the board and just “knowing” that it “looks” good.

“It’s something subconscious, that you train through years and years of playing. I’ll see a move and be sure it’s the right one, but won’t be able to tell you exactly how I know. I just see it.” (Redmond in Wired)

And that’s sort of what Deep Mind did. They trained the system to learn the game by looking at 30 million Go moves from expert players. And in order to beat those expert players, they then matched the system against itself, coming up with even more winning moves.

So anyway, exciting times to be had. And maybe scary too. Because even if it’s a baby step for AI, who’s to say that the progress from here on out will be limited to baby steps? For more on AI in general, here’s a lengthy, but wonderful read on it, from my favorite blog: The AI revolution: The Road to Superintelligence. And if you want to understand more on deep learning, here’s a great read (haven’t finished it but as a “poet” and non-hacker, I find it very readable): Neural Networks and Deep Learning.

Here are this week’s most relevant news in tech and retail:

In tech:

  1. Scientists make a ‘true’ neural network using brain-like chips
  2. Apple Reports Slowing Growth in iPhone Sales
  3. Walgreens won’t use “unsafe” Theranos lab for tests
  4. SpaceX: Nickelodeon is sponsoring a team in Elon Musk’s Hyperloop competition; SpaceX unfurls its astronaut parachutes for the first time
  5. Oracle’s finally killing its terrible Java browser plugin

In retail:

  1. Amazon: Amazon stock plunging after earnings but analysts predict 27% gain; Your impulse buys are costing Amazon a fortuneAmazon to delivery companies: Yes, we’re building our own service but don’t worry
  2. Under Armour shares jump 17%
  3. Coach: Upbeat 2Q earnings but revenues disappoint
  4. Uber partners with Nordstrom, Google, T-Mobile, SAP for UberRush package delivery service
  5. Chanel CEO Maureen Chiquet leaving company

*Acquired by Google in 2014 and is now part of Alphabet