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Category Archives: Presence in the News

News stories explicitly or implicitly related to presence from a wide variety of sources

News presence: CNN brings its networks to Magic Leap’s augmented reality

[CNN has launched an app that makes its content available for users of the Magic Leap One augmented reality headset, as reported in this story from Next Reality; see the original version for 2 animated gifs and a 0:40 minute video (also available via YouTube). Two short excerpts from other coverage, providing additional information and cautionary notes, follow below. –Matthew]

CNN Brings Its News Networks to Magic Leap One

By Tommy Palladino
February 28, 2019

News junkies who own the Magic Leap One received some good news on Thursday, as CNN has published an app for the headset to display the network’s news coverage in augmented reality.

Available immediately, the CNN app carries live news, on-demand programming, and digital exclusives from CNN, CNNi, and HLN via the Screens feature of Magic Leap’s Lumin OS.

Users can anchor the virtual screens anywhere in their environment and scale them to any size and interact with data layers to learn more about the subject matter presented in the news story.

In a blog post, Magic Leap also promises that CNN will bring more features to the app soon that will further leverage the device’s spatial computing capabilities and expand the boundaries of storytelling. Perhaps a volumetric version of Wolf Blitzer is on the way to our living rooms? Read more on News presence: CNN brings its networks to Magic Leap’s augmented reality…

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Presence as realism: These people, cats, Airbnb rentals, and anime characters do not exist

[Check out some of the new websites linked in this CNN story to see how AI is making it increasingly difficult to separate fake from real. See the original story for a 1:37 minute video and a second image, and see coverage in SecurityIntelligence for a warning about how this technology poses a serious threat to biometric security. –Matthew]

These people do not exist. Why websites are churning out fake images of people (and cats)

By Rachel Metz
February 28, 2019

San Francisco (CNN Business) – The young girl on the computer screen is adorable, with rosy cheeks, blue-gray eyes, wispy red toddler hair and lips just hinting at a smile.

But she doesn’t exist in real life. She’s a face generated on a website — aptly titled thispersondoesnotexist — by artificial intelligence. If you reload the page, she’ll be replaced by another face that’s equally compelling but just as unreal.

Launched earlier this month by software engineer Phillip Wang as a personal project, the site makes use of a recently-released AI system developed by researchers at computer chip maker Nvidia. Called StyleGAN, the AI is adept at coming up with some of the most realistic-looking faces of nonexistent people that machines have produced thus far.

Thispersondoesnotexist is one of several websites that have popped up in recent weeks using StyleGAN to churn out images of people, cats, anime characters and vacation homes that look increasingly close to reality, and in some cases are indiscernible by the average viewer. These sites show how easy it’s becoming for people to create fake images that look plausibly real — for better or worse. Read more on Presence as realism: These people, cats, Airbnb rentals, and anime characters do not exist…

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Nuance’s Project Pathfinder uses AI to build smarter virtual assistants

[Creating virtual assistants that can evoke effective medium-as-social-actor presence currently requires a lot of  manual work by ‘conversational designers,’ but a new system will help automate the process, as described in this ZDNet story. See the original version for a second image and a 1:03 minute video. –Matthew]

Nuance’s Project Pathfinder uses AI to build smarter virtual assistants

Companies with large amounts of live chat and call centre transcripts should be able to replace laborious conversation-design processes with Nuance’s upcoming automated tool.

By Charles McLellan for Product Central
February 6, 2019

Conversational AI specialist Nuance has announced a new project called Pathfinder, which aims to take much of the manual drudgery out of building dialogue models for virtual assistants (VAs). The new data- and AI-driven system combines chat log transcripts with advanced Natural Language Understanding (NLU) technology to boost the ‘conversational intelligence’ of VAs, resulting in more efficient two-way interactions with customers.

There are three main components of conversational AI, Paul Tepper, principal product manager of AI and machine learning at Nuance, told ZDNet: to understand user requests and generate intents and concepts; to deliver answers, both simple and complex; and to enable complex two-way dialogues.

Today, there’s plenty of machine learning and AI involved in the understanding part, but “when you move to answering the question, it starts to fade away a little bit,” Tepper said. “For simple FAQs, there’s AI involved there, but when you get into more complex answers — maybe you need to dip into a database or talk to an API — you need a lot more people. The next level is dialogue, where a person says something and maybe it’s incomplete, or maybe it involves a long business process to complete. The way those kind of tasks are accomplished today in virtual assistants is via specialists — we call them ‘conversational designers’, who often have a background in sociolinguistics.”

Conversational designers work out the business rules and processes, and then design dialogues — basically building a graph or flowchart. “This is a very human process,” Tepper said, “it involves a lot of meetings — weeks and weeks of meetings, talking to subject-matter experts across the contact centre. Companies can end up with hundreds, even thousands, of pages of these documents describing their different flows.”

With Project Pathfinder, Nuance is aiming to automate this time-consuming, manual and error-prone process. “The end goal, maybe several years down the line, is you dump data in and you get a dialogue system out”, said Tepper. Read more on Nuance’s Project Pathfinder uses AI to build smarter virtual assistants…

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Live action View-Master movie in the works

[According to The Hollywood Reporter, a classic presence-evoking technology is set to be the basis of a new live action film (!).  –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: Fisher-Price via Getty Images]

View-Master Movie In the Works at MGM and Mattel Films (Exclusive)

The deal signifies the latest toy marked for development as part of Mattel’s new push into screen entertainment.

February 27, 2019
By Borys Kit

MGM and Mattel are partnering up to develop a live-action feature film based on the toy entertainment company’s classic View-Master toy line.

Mattel Films, the feature arm launched late last year by the El Segundo-based toymaker, and MGM will co-produce the film. Robbie Brenner, Mattel’s head of film, and Cassidy Lange, MGM’s co-president of production, will oversee development.

No writer or filmmaker is attached.

View-Master, a stereoscopic eye device, launched at 1939 New York World’s Fair, bringing 3D images of tourist attractions to the masses. It exploded in popularity in the 1950s and became a childhood staple when a licensing deal with Disney was struck. Deals for other movies and television shows soon followed. Mattel acquired the brand, which by then had expanded into audio and projection, in 1997, due to its merger with Tyco. Modern View-Masters now involve smartphone tech as well as VR.

“Since the 1940s, View-Master has inspired wonder and joy in children of all ages, creating huge opportunities for storytelling,” said Brenner in a statement. “MGM Pictures has tremendous expertise and a proven track record in capturing audiences’ imagination through film, and we’re proud to be partnering with them to bring another Mattel franchise to theaters. This marks another important milestone as we transform Mattel into an IP-driven, high-performing toy company.”

Stated Jonathan Glickman, MGM’s motion picture group president: “View-Master was the first device that allowed families all over the world to escape their reality and take them places they never thought they could go. We couldn’t be more excited to partner with Mattel to create a family adventure integrating the old school turn and click stereotypic device with the modern world of virtual reality.” Read more on Live action View-Master movie in the works…

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Virtual staging to sell homes is on the rise, raising ethical questions

[Instead of “staging” an empty home with actual furnishings to make it more appealing to potential buyers, why not just alter photos of the empty spaces to create the illusion of a furnished home? The Houston Chronicle reports that the trend is on the rise, but also raising interesting ethical issues regarding its potential for deception. See the original story for five more images. If it’s not already widespread, I assume the next evolution of virtual staging will involve interactive photo-realistic versions of the staged spaces experienced via VR and AR. –Matthew]

[Image: Emily Walling, a TK Images virtual stager and client relations manager, explains how she makes decisions to successfully use digital techniques to virtually furnish a property, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Houston. CREDIT: Marie D. De Jesús, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer.]

Picture yourself here: Virtual staging on the rise

R.A. Schuetz
February 22, 2019

Emily Walling eyed an empty West Houston home that was soon to hit the market.

Then, with the click of a mouse, she dropped a table and six wooden chairs into the dining room. Another click, and up popped a China cabinet, its shelves lined with martini glasses and dishware. Later, she could edit the cabinet so it appeared to be stained the same color as the table.

Virtual staging — the practice of populating images of real homes with digital furnishings — is on the rise. The number of Houston-area listings on Redfin disclosing that the house had been virtually staged rose to nearly 200 last year from just one in 2013. And at TK Images, the real estate photography company where Walling works as a photo editor, demand for virtual staging services more than doubled between 2017 and 2018, with the company processing more than 700 photographs of empty rooms last year.

The result can be astonishingly realistic and achieved at a fraction of the cost and time associated with a traditional stager. While traditional staging companies charge homeowners $500 to $600 per month per room, according to the National Association of Realtors, virtual staging companies such as TK Images charge $65 a photo. Gone is the need for sellers or agents to schedule times to let movers bring in temporary furniture; gone is the need for stagers to keep warehouses filled with couches, lamps and artwork.

Demand is so high at TK Images that the company employs three people who start their day prepping photos at 2 a.m., uploading them to the photo management system and adding notes such as “client wants car next door cropped out,” so its seven photo editors can go straight to work when they arrive at 9 a.m.

The company uses software that has an extensive library of furniture options — from couches and rugs to televisions and lighting — that may feel familiar to anyone who has played the life simulation video game The Sims.

“Which is why I like it,” Walling said. “The possibilities are endless.” Read more on Virtual staging to sell homes is on the rise, raising ethical questions…

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Cornell study probes effect of virtual reality on learning

[Our colleague Andrea Stevenson Won is one of the authors of a new study on the potential roles of VR in learning, as described in this story from the Cornell Chronicle (where the original version includes an additional picture). –Matthew]

[Image: Jack Madden, doctoral candidate in the field of astronomy, watches as Andrea Stevenson Won, assistant professor of communication and director of the Virtual Embodiment Lab, uses a virtual reality simulator.]

Study probes effect of virtual reality on learning

By Linda B. Glaser
February 5, 2019

Picture yourself in a virtual reality simulator, atop the spinning Earth, the moon and all its phases just beyond, the stars surrounding you in glorious 3D. In this simulation, you have no body; there’s nothing between you and the universe but light saber-like controls shining in front of you – and a set of quiz questions.

The simulation, “Learning Moon Phases in Virtual Reality,” is part of a multi-phase research study to determine whether the compelling, immersive nature of virtual reality (VR) provides a better learning outcome than conventional hands-on activities. The study – which found no significant difference among hands-on, computer simulation or VR learning – is one of the first to look at the impacts of VR on learning.

“We’ve seen a lot of technology fads in education,” said senior author Natasha Holmes, the Ann S. Bowers Assistant Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, in physics. “And while technology can be very powerful in the classroom, as a discipline-based education researcher, it’s my job to do the controlled studies with real students to understand how, when and why these tools impact students.”

“It’s important to understand how the novelty of the technology affects how people use it,” said co-author Andrea Stevenson Won, assistant professor of communication and director of the Virtual Embodiment Lab. “Can the enthusiasm people feel for VR be turned into learning gains?” Read more on Cornell study probes effect of virtual reality on learning…

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Evolving presence tech: The HoloLens 2 and beyond

[CNET has comprehensive coverage of Microsoft’s new Hololens 2 and where it fits in the evolution of technology that creates mixed reality presence illusions; the overview story below includes links to the other coverage along with 3 extended videos and several more images. –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: James Martin/CNET]

HoloLens 2 announced for $3,500, available to preorder now, ships later this year

Here’s everything you need to know about Microsoft’s next-generation mixed reality headsets.

By Ian Sherr, Scott Stein
February 25, 2019

Comfort, better visuals, easier to use with your hands. That’s the takeaway from HoloLens 2, Microsoft’s follow-up to the Space Age goggles it announced four years ago. The technology behind the $3,500 HoloLens 2 device, which Microsoft calls “mixed reality,” overlays computer images on the real world. Imagine arrows directing you down the street as you walk, or repair instructions floating over a machine as you fix it. That’s MR’s promise, Microsoft says.

The company was the pioneer in augmented reality worlds when the tech giant debuted its first headset, in 2015, charging companies $5,000 apiece for the gadget. Since then rival devices, such as the $2,295 Magic Leap, have come on the scene.

At prices like that, MR headsets are far more expensive than the competing VR technology currently on the market. Facebook’s Oculus Rift, for example, is $349, HTC’s Vive is $499 and Sony’s PlayStation VR is $299. You have to buy a computer or PlayStation 4 console to power these VR devices, but even then their prices are at least half what Microsoft or Magic Leap are asking.

That hasn’t deterred Microsoft from designing an improved headset as part of its push into the now far busier AR universe. The company says HoloLens still isn’t ready for you and me to use at home though. Instead, Microsoft is focused on companies and the military (though that’s stirred dissent in the Redmond ranks.)

Aside from that caveat, Microsoft has made some welcome improvements to the device, which goes on preorder Sunday and will be shipping later this year.

“Computing is embedded in our world, in every place in every way,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said while unveiling the device at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. “Computing is in everything from connected cars to connected refrigerators, smart surgical tools, and even smart coffee machines.”

He said the result is that the approach to how companies like Microsoft approach the technology they make. “It’s no longer about being device first, it’s about putting the human first, and it includes all the devices in their lives.”

“We don’t have to just imagine it,” he added. “This future is here.”

CNET traveled to Redmond, Washington, to see that future he was talking about abd talk with Microsoft executives and designers, including Technical Fellow Alex Kipman, about HoloLens 2.

In HoloLens 2 isn’t meant for you. But HoloLens 3 might be, we look at where HoloLens fits in the world, and why some techies think mixed reality technology will upend the way we use computers.

“The goal is these things transform humans,” said Alex Kipman, Microsoft’s technical fellow who leads the HoloLens project. He describes it as giving people superpowers. “This is a concept that’s been in our dreams.”

In HoloLens 2: Practical Magic, we share what it’s like to use HoloLens 2, its key features and where Microsoft is going next in AR … and why it’s aiming at businesses, and not the average person yet. Take a dive into what we experienced.

We also got to check out Microsoft’s lab devoted to building products that comfortably work for 95 percent of people, regardless of their height or size. This is where Microsoft made the HoloLens 2 fit more comfortably than its predecessor.

In HoloLens 2: why it’s really all about the cloud, ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley explains Microsoft’s newest apps and services.

Here’s what you need to know about what Microsoft is announcing in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress 2019. Read more on Evolving presence tech: The HoloLens 2 and beyond…

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Viral presence: ‘Pretending to fly’ challenge takes off

[Here’s an amusing story from the Daily Mail about a viral DIY presence challenge; the original version includes more examples and a 0:54 minute video, and another 0:58 minute video is available on YouTube. –Matthew]

Read more on Viral presence: ‘Pretending to fly’ challenge takes off…

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GIBLIB: First VR app and accredited degree program based on virtual live and recorded operating room experiences

[GIBLIB is advancing the use of presence experiences for surgical education. The company‘s press release below announcing the first VR app for live OR experiences is followed by a Cedars-Sinai story about the medical center’s first accredited continuing medical education course filmed in VR. See Medgadget for an interview with the company’s CEO. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Medgadget]

GIBLIB Launches First VR App for Live Operating Room Experiences through the Oculus Store

Emulates Real Surgeries For Medical Students and Practicing Physicians To Learn the Latest Surgical Techniques in 360-degree Virtual Reality

On January 29, 2018 – GIBLIB, the streaming media platform offering the largest library of on-demand medical lectures and surgical videos in 4K and 360-degree virtual reality, today announced the launch of the first VR app for an immersive operating room experience to enhance surgical education. Through the app, GIBLIB provides medical students and practicing physicians the most immersive and accessible operating room (OR) experience anywhere, at anytime.

The app supports GIBLIB’s direct-to-consumer offering, which requires consumers only have a subscription to the Company’s streaming media service and an Oculus Go headset or Oculus Rift System. GIBLIB exclusively partners with leading academic medical centers, Cedars-Sinai and Stanford Children’s Hospital, to provide engaging and informative content from the best surgeons and physicians in the world, which is now accessible through the VR app that connects to the Oculus Store.

Surgical education is largely determined by OR access in order to learn new and updated procedural techniques from top experts. This helps surgeons continuously provide the best patient care available. Access to ORs with leaders in every specialty is highly limited, involves lengthy scheduling, and requires significant out-of-pocket travel expenses. The GIBLIB VR app is the first technology solution to perfectly emulate a complete OR environment with 360-degree VR content of both filmed and live stream surgeries, which allows medical students and practicing physicians to access the content at any time. Read more on GIBLIB: First VR app and accredited degree program based on virtual live and recorded operating room experiences…

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Spherical display brings virtual collaboration closer to reality

[A new fish tank virtual reality (FTVR) display provides spatial and social presence for multiple users; most press coverage draws on this press release from the University of British Columbia (via EurekAlert!), which includes a 0:37 minute video. Follow the links at the end below for more information. –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: Clare Kiernan, UBC. Source: UBC on Flickr]

Spherical display brings virtual collaboration closer to reality

‘Crystal ball’ supports two or more players working in VR

University of British Columbia
Public release: 19 February 2019

Virtual reality can often make a user feel isolated from the world, with only computer-generated characters for company. But researchers at the University of British Columbia and University of Saskatchewan think they may have found a way to encourage a more sociable virtual reality.

The researchers have developed a ball-shaped VR display that supports up to two users at a time, using advanced calibration and graphics rendering techniques that produce a complete, distortion-free 3D image even when viewed from multiple angles.

Most spherical VR displays in the market are capable of showing a correct image only from a single viewpoint, said lead researcher Sidney Fels, an electrical and computer engineering professor at UBC.

“When you look at our globe, the 3D illusion is rich and correct from any angle,” explained Fels. “This allows two users to use the display to do some sort of collaborative task or enjoy a multiplayer game, while being in the same space. It’s one of the very first spherical VR systems with this capability.” Read more on Spherical display brings virtual collaboration closer to reality…

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