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Blog: gene-becker

Gene Talks AR Experience Design to AR Design Students

Chris Cameron June 20, 2011

This summer Layar is sponsoring the first ever college course on augmented reality design in the United States.



The sessions will be held at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, and will be administered by none other than legendary Sci-Fi author, futurist and AR guru Bruce Sterling. The class will meet for thirteen weekly 5-hour sessions, and will be co-taught by ACCD professor Guillaume Wolf.



Students will mainly be involved in building augmented reality projects for their design portfolios. “I’m going to encourage them to aim a little ahead of the state-of-the-art in today’s AR,” says Bruce Sterling. “In other words, while they familiarize themselves with what is out in the practice today, they need to design for hardware and software capacities 18 to 24 months in the future.”



The class will cover a wide gamut of AR related topics, including:

  • AR in theory and practice.

  • AR trendspotting.

  • AR outside the handset.

  • AR as an app, add-on or control interface for other services.

  • AR in the art world.

  • AR in the city.

  • AR in the Futurist Quadrant.



The class got underway last month, and Layar’s Maarten Lens-FitzGerald and Gene Becker were on hand to help kick things off. We’ll have some more to share with you as the summer progresses, but to for starters, have a look at Gene’s opening talk on the importance of user experience and interaction design in augmented reality!



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Regarding “Strong AR” and “Weak AR”

Gene Becker May 25, 2011

Layar’s AR Strategist Gene Becker penned this blog after attending Augmented Reality Event 2011 in Santa Clara, California, last week.



At the end of his otherwise lovely keynote at ARE2011, Microsoft’s Blaise Aguera y Arcas proposes a distinction between “strong AR” and “weak AR”. Aguera’s obviously a very talented technologist, but in my opinion he’s done the AR industry a disservice by framing his argument in a narrow, divisive way:

“I’ll leave you with just one or two more thoughts. One is that, consider, there’s been a lot of so called augmented reality on mobile devices over the…past couple of years, but most of it really sucks. And most of it is what I would call weak augmented reality, meaning it’s based on the compass and the GPS and some vague sense of how stuff out there in the world might relate to your device, based on those rather crude sensors. Strong AR is when you, when some little gremlin is actually looking through the viewfinder at what you’re seeing, and it’s saying ah yeah that’s, this is that, that’s that and that’s the other and everything is stable and visual, that’s strong AR. Of course the technical requirements are so much greater than just using the compass and the GPS, but the potential is so much greater as well.”

Aguera’s choice of words invokes the old cognitive / computer science argument about “strong AI” and “weak AI” which was first posed by John Searle in the early heyday of 1980’s artificial intelligence research [Searle 1980: Minds, Brains and Programs (pdf)]. However, Searle’s formulation was a philosophical statement intended to tease out the distinction between an artificially intelligent system simulating a mind, or actually having a mind. Searle’s interest had nothing to do with how impressive the algorithms were, or how much computational power was required to produce AI. Instead, he was focused on the question of whether a computational system could ever achieve consciousness and true understanding, and Searle believed the concept of strong AI was fundamentally misguided.



In contrast, Aguera’s framing is fueled by technical machismo. He uses strong and weak in the common schoolyard sense, and calls out “so-called augmented reality” that is “vague”, “crude”, and “sucks” in comparison to AR that is based on (gremlins, presumably shorthand for) sophisticated machine vision algorithms backed with terabytes of image data and banks of servers in the cloud. “Strong AR is on the way”, he says, with the unspoken promise that it will save the day from the weak AR we’ve had to endure until now.



OK, I get it. Smart technology people are competitive, they have egos, and they like to toss out some red meat now and then to keep the corporate execs salivating and the funding rolling in. Been there, done that, understand completely. And honestly, I love to see good technical work happen, as it obviously is happening in Blaise’s group (check out minute 17:20 in the video to hear the entire ARE crowd gasp at his demo).



But here’s where I think this kind of thinking goes off the rails. The most impressive technical solution does not equate to the best user experience; locative precision does not equal emotional resonance; smoothly blended desktop flythroughs are not the same as a compelling human experience. I don’t care if your system has centimeter-level camera pose estimation or a 20 meter uncertainty zone; if you’re doing AR from a technology-centered agenda instead of a human-centered motivation, you’re doing it wrong.



Bruce Sterling said it well at ARE2010: “You are the world’s first pure play experience designers.” We are creating experiences for people in the real world, in their real lives, in a time when reality itself is sprouting a new, digital dimension, and we really should try to get it right. That’s a huge opportunity and a humbling responsibility, and personally I’d love to see the creative energies of every person in our industry focused on enabling great human experiences, rather than posturing about who has stronger algorithms and more significant digits. And if you really want to have an argument, let’s make it about “human AR” vs. “machine AR”. I think Searle might like that.

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Layar’s Gene Becker at ARE 2011

Chris Cameron May 18, 2011

Last summer, Augmented Reality Event 2010 brought together companies, luminaries and members of the media to talk about the state of the industry and the vision for its future. One year later, the industry is continuing to grow and ARE 2011 is back for the second annual conference in Santa Clara, California.



The event kicked off this week and Layar is there to take part in the action! On Tuesday, Layar’s own Gene Becker took the stage to discuss the Layar platform and with the audience at the Santa Clara Convention Center, and we’ve got the whole thing on video for your viewing pleasure.



Couldn’t make it to California for ARE? Not to worry, we’ll have a couple videos coming your way featuring the Layar team at ARE. Below is the video of Gene’s presentation.





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Come Out to LAYAR DAY L.A. May 20th

Chris Cameron May 10, 2011

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, we’ve got a special event coming up that we hope you’ll join us for!



On Friday May 20th, we will be hosting LAYAR DAY L.A. - a full day of hacking space and time with augmented reality. Join us as we seek inspiration from visionary thinkers and from street-level artists, and help us make some cool AR!



Meet the Layar team at 10:45am at the Geffen Contemporary for an informal visit to the Art in the Streets exhibition of street art. MOCA opens at 11am and admission is $10 at the door.



From 1:30-3:00pm, we move to the Arts Center College of Design where artist Sander Veenhof and Layar’s Gene Becker will lead a hands-on workshop for artists, designers and enthusiasts who want to learn to make augmented reality experiences on the Layar platform. We’ll use street art, public AR art exhibitions and historical layers as examples of hacking space and time.



Following the workshop, join us from 3:00-6:00pm for an afternoon with some of the most visionary and creative minds in augmented reality. We have an incredible lineup of speakers including noted author Bruce Sterling, Layar co-founder Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, Scott Fisher of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and Dutch artist Sander Veenhof.

The LAYAR DAY L.A. workshop and symposium is hosted by Art Center College of Design, and will be held in the Faculty Dining Room at ACCD’s Hillside Campus, 1700 Lida St., Pasadena, CA. The informal tour of Art in the Streets will meet at 10:45am at the Geffen Contemporary.



Space is limited so visit this page to reserve your place at either the workshop or symposium.

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Hacking Space and Time

Gene Becker April 19, 2011

In my recent Ignite talk Hijacking the Here and Now: Adventures in Augmented Reality, I showed examples of how creative people are using AR in ways that modify our perceptions about time and space. Now, Ignite talks are only 5 minutes long and I think this is a big idea that’s worth a deeper look. So here’s my claim: I assert that one of the most natural and important uses of AR as a creative medium is hacking space and time to explore and make sense of the emerging physical+digital world.



When you look at who the true AR enthusiasts are, who is doing the cutting edge creative work in AR today, it’s artists, activists and digital humanities geeks. Their projects explore and challenge the ideas of ownership and exclusivity of physical space, and the flowing irreversibility of time. They are starting to see AR as the emergence of a new construction of reality, where the physical and digital are no longer distinct but instead are irreversibly blended. Artist Sander Veenhof is attracted to the “infinite dimensions” of AR. Stanford Knight Fellow Adriano Farano sees AR ushering in an era of “multi-layer journalism”. Archivist Rick Prelinger says “History should be like air,” immersive, omnipresent and free. And in their recent paper Augmented Reality and the Museum Experience, Schavemaker et al write:

In the 21st century the media are going ambient. TV, as Anna McCarthy pointed out in Ambient Television (2001), started this great escape from domesticity via the manifold urban screens and the endless flat screens in shops and public transportation. Currently the Internet is going through a similar phase as GPS technology and our mobile devices offer via the digital highway a move from the purely virtual domain to the ‘real’ world. We can collect our data everywhere we desire, and thus at any given moment transform the world around us into a sort of media hybrid, or ‘augmented reality’. [emphasis mine]

When the team behind PhillyHistory.org augments the city of Philadelphia with nearly 90,000 historical photographs in AR, they are actively modifying our experience of the city’s space and connecting us to moments in time long past. With its ambitious scope and scale, this seems a particularly apt example of transforming the world into a media hybrid.



In their AR piece US/Iraq War Memorial (pictured below), artists Mark Skwarek and John Craig Freeman transpose the locative datascape of casualties in the Iraq War from Wikileaks onto the northeastern United States, with the location of Baghdad mapped onto the coordinates of Washington DC. In addition to spatial hackery evocative of Situationist psychogeographic play, this work makes a strong political statement about control of information, nationalist perspectives and the cultural abstraction of war.



us-iraq-maps



Now let’s talk about this word, ‘hacking’. Actually, you’ll note that I used the term ‘hijacking’ as well, so let’s include that too. My intent is to evoke the tension of multiple meanings: Hacking in the sense of gaining deep understanding and mastery of a system in order to modify and improve it, and as a visible demonstration of a high degree of proficiency. Also, hacking in the sense of making unauthorized intrusions into a system, including both white hat and black hat variations. I use ‘hijacking’ in the sense of a mock takeover, like the Black Eyed Peas playfully hijacking the myspace.com website for publicity purposes, but also hijacking as an antagonistic, possibly malign, and potentially unlawful attack. In the physical+digital augmented world, I expect we will see a wide variety of hacking and hijacking behaviors, with both positive and negative effects. For example, in Skwarek’s piece with Joseph Hocking, the leak in your hometown, the corporate logo of BP becomes the trigger for an animated re-creation of the iconic broken pipe at the Macondo wellhead, spewing AR oil into your location. It is possible to see this as an inspired spatial hack and a biting social commentary, but I have no doubt BP executives would consider it a hijacking of their brand in the worst way.



In his book Smart Things, ubicomp experience designer Mike Kuniavsky asks us to think of digital media about physical entities as ‘information shadows’; I believe the work of these AR pioneers points us toward a future where digital information is not a subordinate ‘shadow’ of the physical, but rather a first-class element of our experience of the world. Even at this early stage in the development of the underlying technology, AR is a consequential medium of expression that is being used to tell meaningful stories, make critical statements, and explore the new dimensionality of a blended physical+digital world. Something important is happening here, and hacking space and time through AR is how we’re going to understand and make sense of it.

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