Augmented Cognition with Google Glass


From my recent IEEE Spectrum article:

Moving into the speculative, what’s the near-future potential of wearable point-of-view computers? Future versions of Glass will enable a wide range of augmented cognition applications—combining the natural strengths of the human brain, the massive computational power of the cloud, cheap storage, and developments in machine learning.

For example, once we deal with the (admittedly nontrivial) privacy constraints around continuously recording video with Glass, hardware iterations with improved battery life could record everything you see and hear and upload it to the cloud, where machine-learning algorithms would sift through the data, extract salient features, and generate transcripts, thus making your audiovisual memory searchable.

Imagine being able to search through and summarize every conversation you ever had, or extract meaningful statistics about your life from aggregated visual, aural, and location data.

Ultimately, given enough time, those digital memory constructs will evolve into what can be loosely described as our external brains in the cloud—imagine a semiautonomous process that knows enough about you to act on your behalf in a limited fashion.

Even though there are significant challenges ahead for the creation of such external brains, it’s hard to imagine a future in which this doesn’t happen, once you consider that the required technological foundations are either already in place or are expected to become available in the immediate future.

To wrap up with an anecdote: A couple of days ago I was stopped by a stranger who asked me, “What can you see through Google Glass?” To which I replied, only partly tongue in cheek, “I can see the future.

You can read the full article here.

Do-It-Yourself Virtual Reality

DIY Virtual Reality Headset by a member of the MTBS3D community

Excerpts from my recent interview with Vice:

Beyond the Rift: How the Oculus Kick-Started a New DIY Virtual Reality Movement

On his website, Rod Furlan describes himself as an artificial intelligence researcher, a quantitative analyst, and an alumnus of the Singularity University. He also makes things: personal augmentation devices, artificial intelligences, and virtual reality kits. The last is arguably what Furlan is best known for: In 2012, Furlan began building his own version of the Oculus Rift. By doing so, he helped catalyze the DIY virtual reality movement.

“DIY VR is here to stay, now that we have all the parts we need available at acceptable cost.” Furlan enthuses. “We can also expect DIY projects to outspec commercial products because independent makers are not bound to market cycles. For example, the team at MTBS3D is already working on a DIY design with a 2,048 by 1,536 resolution, which is a gigantic improvement in per-eye resolution vs. the Rift.”

“We are living in very interesting times. The tools of creation are becoming more accessible at an incredible pace,” Furlan says. “We are going to start seeing more and more amateur makers building incredible devices.”

Read the full article and the DIY VR building guide


The Machines Are Getting Better. But So Are You.

The Huffington Post

I was just mentioned on a great article by the Huffington Post:

Google Glass’s design “lets Glass record its wearer’s conversations and surroundings and store those recordings in the cloud; respond to voice commands, finger taps, and swipes on an earpiece that doubles as a touch pad; and automatically take pictures every 10 seconds,”explains IEEE Spectrum’s Elise Ackerman. A concept video for the device released by Google showed a man using the glasses to video chat with his girlfriend, respond to messages, get directions and learn about people and places he can’t immediately see.

Artificial intelligence researcher Rod Furlan speculates data gathered by Glass could “eventually be able to search my external visual memory to find my misplaced car keys.” Facial recognition could one day help you avoid the awkwardness of forgetting names, and object recognition could alert you to calorie counts of the sugary snack you’re about to eat.

Google Glass promises to be not only a communication device for answering emails or sharing photos, but a kind of personal assistant and second mind.

The goal, according to Google Glass project head Babak Parviz, is to someday ”make [accessing information] so fast that you don’t feel like you have a question, then have to go seek knowledge and analyze it, but that it’s so fast you feel like you know it … We want to be able to empower people to access information very quickly and feel knowledgeable about certain topics.”

In a 2004 interview, Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page asked the world to “imagine your brain being augmented by Google.” Nine years later, we no longer have to imagine that. This feeling that Google Glass can enhance the wearer’s mind isn’t PR spin, but something to which users of the device can attest.

Furlan, who created a homemade pair of Google Glass-like specs that could stream emails, Twitter posts and more to a lens over his eye, told IEEE Spectrum that though he initially suffered from information overload, he now feels “impoverished” when he takes off the device. Evernote CEO Phil Libin predicts, based on his own experience with Google’s glasses, that in three years’ time, gazing upon a world without the additional information offered by a Google Glass device will seem “barbaric.”

Bianca Bosker, Executive Tech Editor, The Huffington Post

Build Your Own Google Glass

IEEE Spectrum Portrait

Excerpt from my recent IEEE Spectrum article:

A wearable computer that displays information and records video


Last April, Google announced Project Glass. Its goal is to build a wearable computer that records your perspective of the world and unobtrusively delivers information to you through a head-up display. With Glass, not only might I share fleeting moments with the people I love, I’d eventually be able to search my external visual memory to find my misplaced car keys. Sadly, there is no release date yet. A developer edition is planned for early this year at the disagreeable price of US $1500, for what is probably going to be an unfinished product. The final version isn’t due until 2014 at the earliest.

But if Google is able to start developing such a device, it means that the components are now available and anyone should be able to follow suit. So I decided to do just that, even though I knew the final product wouldn’t be as sleek as Google’s and the software wouldn’t be as polished.

Most of the components required for a Glass-type system are very similar to what you can already find in a smartphone—processor, accelerometers, camera, network interfaces. The real challenge is to pack all those elements into a wearable system that can present images close to the eye.

You can read the full article here

Coverage around the web:
Forbes – “Google Glass Project In Flux”
MIT Technology Review - “The Latest on Google Glass”
Huffington Post - “Yes, The Machines Are Getting Better. But So Are You”
Live Science - “Total Recall Offers Killer App for Google Glasses”
US News - “Google Glass Unlikely to Be Game Changer in 2013″
ExtremeTech - “ Google Glass ready to roll out to developers, but why not save $1,500 and build your own?”
Geekosystem - “Can’t Wait for Google Glass? Don’t. Build Your Own”
Lifehacker - “Build Your Own Google Glass-Style Wearable Computer”
The Verge - “One man’s journey through augmented reality with a self-built version of Project Glass”
SlashGear - “DIY Google Glass puts iOS in front of your eyes”
9to5Google – “Don’t have $1,500? Just build your own Google Glass”

The Future of Wearable Computers

Google Glass

Here are the highlights of my IEEE Spectrum interview on Google Glass and the future of wearable computers:

That’s right: Google says that Glass will make you feel smarter. “We’re talking about a device that sees every thing you see and hears everything you hear,” says Rod Furlan, an artificial intelligence researcher and angel investor. “From the starting line what you are gaining is total recall.”

Regarding privacy:

Others view the hand-wringing over privacy as passé. “We will soon be living in a hypervisible society, and there is nothing we can do to stop it,” argues Furlan, the artificial intelligence researcher. “It’s not about fighting the future; it’s about learning to live with it.”

He can’t wait to try the real Glass. Furlan believes Google’s expertise in data and in machine learning will lead to all kinds of applications that enhance people’s everyday experience. Yes, he says, you’ll have to give up some privacy, but the trade-off will be worth it. “In the end, I believe technology gives more than it takes,” Furlan says.

On my experience wearing my DIY version of Glass:

Furlan was so eager to see what a future with Glass might look like that last summer he built his own prototype from off-the-shelf parts [see “Build Your Own Google” to learn how he did it.]. It streams e-mail, Twitter updates, text messages, and the status of his servers to a monocular microdisplay. At first, he says, the flood of information felt overwhelming, but now when he takes off the gadget, he feels “impoverished.”

You can read the full article here.

Will Artificial Intelligence be America’s Next Big Thing?

Self Driving Car

Excerpts from my interview with the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies:

“In economic terms, automation in general should be seen as a leveraging factor that amplifies the output of workers,” says Rod Furlan, an AI researcher and machine-learning expert based in Vancouver.

“Thanks to the availability of legal software, one lawyer can do today work that required a team of assistants 10 years ago. Ten years from now, an individual lawyer may be able to service as many cases as a small firm does today, all thanks to AI advancements. Going forward, we can expect to do less boring work and have more time for truly intellectual tasks which are less likely to be automated in the near term.”

Furlan says that as more businesses embrace aggressive automation opportunities through AI and advanced robotics, we’re likely to see more companies that, like Google, have an astronomical revenue-per-employee ratio. He adds that he’s still “bullish” on AI and is confident that businesses and individuals will be able to adapt to the new era of increased worker capability.

Read the full article.

My National Geographic Interview On Human Augmentation

National Geographic, Human 2.0

“Right now it’s easy to distinguish between a human being and a machine. However this line will become increasingly blurry in the future. [20 years from now] You will start by getting visual and auditory implants, then you are going to have your midlife crisis, and instead of going out and buying a sports car, you will instead buy a sports heart to boost your athletic performance.

The transition will happen little by little as you opt-in for more enhancements. Then one day you will wake up and realize that you’re more artificial than natural.

Eventually we will not be able to draw a crisp line between human beings and machines. We will reshape ourselves and by changing our bodies we will change the way we relate to the world.

This is just evolution – artificial evolution.

On that note, here is a terrific TED talk by Aimee Mullins – “How my legs give me superpowers”:

Welcome to the Man-Machine University

I was just featured on an article published by the Estado de Sao Paulo, one of Brazil’s largest newspapers:

Welcome to the Man-Machine University

(Translated by Amazon Mechanical Turk)

He taught himself to write computer programs when he was 9 years old. At 10, he devoured books in English on the subject, using a dictionary to translate it word by word. At age 15, he founded his first company, an online bulletin board system which was precursor service of the Internet. At 22, then a director of a large technology company, he left everything behind to live abroad and “conquer the world.”

The curriculum of Rod Furlan, 30, impressed the directors of one of the boldest educational institutions in the world, Singularity University (SU) in California.

Starting with the name, inspired by the book The Singularity is Near by futurist and founder of SU, Dr. Ray Kurzweil, nothing is conventional in the institution, which is also known as the “Google University” because the Internet giant is one of the founders and supporters of the institution, located within the NASA Ames Research Center in the Silicon Valley.

“We seek enterprising people, willing to face great challenges,” says the executive director of SU, Salim Ismail, who was in Sao Paulo this month to establish a partnership with the Faculty of Information Technology (Fiap). After the program, students must submit a proposal that to positively impact on the lives of at least 1 billion people in the following decade.

Participating in this dream team university is not easy. The applicant must be an expert in matters such as networks and computer systems, biotechnology and nanotechnology, medicine and neuroscience, robotics and artificial intelligence, public policy, law or finance.  Last year 1,200 candidates competed for 40 seats, this year 1600 to compete with 80 available.

“It was the best time of my life,” said Furlan. According to the Brazilian student, he alternated days of talks with senior officials from companies like Google itself with yoga classes and site visits. And at night, the participants met at the NASA lodge to discuss for hours all that they had learnt about the future. “SU is also known as Sleepless University, because students do not sleep,” jokes Ismail.