Monday, December 9, 2013

Technology, what's to come?

What is your view on technology and how fast it is growing? If you take a look at your surroundings, you’re bound to see a piece of technology. From a digital clock to a high-functioning laptop, technology is very much involved in our everyday lives. How far has technology advanced though and will it continue to improve? I say that we have only seen a glimpse of what technology can really do.
                When the first computer came out decades ago it took up an entire room and had the functions of a modern day dollar store battery. When the first mobile phone came out years ago, it was the size of brick, but after just a few years we now have phones that are almost paper-thin. Yes, the list of how much technology has changed and improved is a long one indeed, and the great thing about it all is that it keeps breaking the boundaries. Even when you think something has reached the best it can be whether it’s the newest operating system or the graphic qualities that a video game can provide, technology will always overtake their previous designs, given an adequate amount of time.
                With the way technology has progressed, it has become a crutch for us without us even realizing it. Many individuals would find it hard to do daily activities if they were stripped of their current technology. An architect who only specialized in designing buildings via a computer program might find their work stagnant if the program was taken from them and they were told to finish a building design using a pencil and paper, what would have taken an hour to complete might now take day to finish. We are not dependent on technology though, it helps further us. We’ve been able to explore areas that had been in the dark for years (top of mountains, underwater depths, space). We’re constantly making smarter technology as well such as the google self-driving car that will take us securely from point A to point B.

                Before you know it, technology that is shown in hit tv shows and movie will become a reality. A fully-functioning Millennium Falcon from “Star Wars” could be built in a few years; technology such as teleportation is currently being studied in Japan who knows what the technological will be like in a few years. One thing that will remain consistent is the easy to use user interface. No matter how much technology advance, it would be pointless if a regular consumer is unable to use it. Technology is meant to evolve around us, no point in making a high-processing computer if the regular everyday user is unable to work around it. The day technology stops growing is when we ourselves are unable to keep up with it, which will never happen.

Video Games: An extra life

Video games, they’ve been around for a short time, but they have grown exponentially from small beginnings to become a prominent force in marketing and entertainment industries. You may be a hard core fan of video games, might consider yourself just a casual player, or you might not even play video games at all, no matter who you are, you realize that they exist and have gain a lot of popularity in the world. No longer are videos game just a “guy’s only” market, video games have been crafted to appeal to audience of various ages and gender. I honestly believe that anyone can enjoy a video game as long as they find one that fits their interests which shouldn’t be hard with all the genres of games there are: shooting, fighting, action, adventure, puzzles, racing and role-playing the list goes on and on.
                While many look towards video games as a source of entertainment, there is one concept that many tend to overlook and that is the amount human interaction that is on a game’s user interface that allows the game to be displayed and show action. Simple commands in a video such as “press “A” to jump and “move the analog stick” to move your character may not seem like much, but the player is essentially giving life to what once was a motionless object. By playing a video game, you essential take on the role of a character where you are in control of their actions and they are prompted they should  do to make the story progress by inputted button commands that you, the player, have chosen. You control the character, you are responsible for if they live or die in the game, how far they get in the story, and how far their skills can be improved.

                I’m not attempting to say that you basically end up nurturing characters in a video game, what I mean to say is that you become them. I love “The Legend of Zelda” video games series, you become a young male who is unaware of their astonishing destiny which involves a lot of self-growth, adventuring, facing one’s fear, solving mysteries, and overall becoming stronger after countless trials in order to bring peace and defeat maleficent forces. When I play as the hero from the Zelda series, I like to disconnect myself from reality and attempt to see thing through his life in the video game because that is where all my attention is focused, it starts to feel as though I’m living a separate life from the one I’m used to now of going to school and trying not to go broke. In no way am I trying to say that I view video games as a way to escape the harsh trials that life throws on your path, what I mean to say is that video games offer the players an “extra life”. An “extra life”, a life where if only for a few hours a day, you can forget about you current life and live a life that would only appear in your dreams. You can be a pirate, ninja, assassin, hero, villain, soldier, doctor, lawyer, explorer and so much more in a video game. Video games and technology are shaping themselves in a way where it allows the user an opportunity to see and live a life that would not normally be presented to them while still maintaining a hold of what their current reality is, life is great, but lives in video games aren’t half-bad either!

Computers, the unappreciated art palette

Art is commonly associated with paintings, sculptures, music and performance crafted by human hands. I’ll be the first to admit that then when I first thought of art that I would not associate it with computers. When one thinks of computers they think of technology, analytical solutions, expressionless and raw data. Yet, I quickly came to realize how wrong that perception is, the computer can serve as a wonderful art palette for expressing oneself and their creativity. Computers have actually assisted in the progression of art and greatly expanded its range of expression.
                In today’s current age, digital media is ever expanding and along with its expansion so is the idea of digital art continuing to grow. Using computers, many artists have been able to craft digital artwork. What’s great about a computer is that it can help create things to add to your art by helping you craft specific colors that you desire that would be difficult to mix correctly in real life, and if you do a mistake on digital art, you are easily able to undo the error with the touch of a button and leave continue on with your work unaffected. Using a computer, the artist is able to quickly publish their digital artwork to the general public, whoever has Internet connection would be able to see the artwork, the Internet essentially becomes the world’s largest art museum. Of course, computers are not just limited to digital artwork; they possess many more tools to express artistic freedom. Using the latest music technology, it is possible to draft up music on computers, no longer is one restricted to playing a physical instrument, with a few keystrokes a computer becomes any musical instrument that you desire. Even using of the simplest functions that computers have, the typing function, is able to bring art to life. Poets and storytellers use computers to type out their literary works, proofread them, and publish them on websites where works of literature are promoted and praised.

                Deviantart, Fanfiction and Soundcloud are some the leading websites in which various art forms are displayed prominently. Digitizing artwork is something that is slowly gaining popularity. In Barnes and Nobles, they advertise towards their customers to purchase electronic copies instead of paperback novels by selling the electronic version at a lower price. You may also buy digital copies of published artwork to have on your computer. I personally prefer digital copies of art; it provides a better sense of security. Your favorite book, cd or even drawing may get damaged, but a digital copy remains safe and intact, safely stored online. With the progression of technology, we may one day wake up to world where art is displaced and preserved in a digital format while physical copies are only maintained if one wants to reminisce at antiques and admire a format of what was once used so prominently around the world. 

Robots are becoming a coexistent species

Robots, they come in all shapes and sizes and can be seen in many parts of our daily lives. Many view robots as mechanical proxies guided by computer programs or circuitry and heed no attention to them. To many, robots are such regular occurrence that one does not bother to acknowledge their existence, or just accept them as a staple to life that help events to flow naturally. Robots can be considered a tool that helps simplify a multitude of tasks, but from a different point of view they can be considered a man-made species that coexists with humans.
                Robots have been seen doing menial tasks such packaging assignments where the robots take a material from a conveyor belt; place it into a box for loading or unloading purpose and continuing this cycle for any new material that happens to appear on the conveyor belt. Robots are so much more important to society than being mere packaging assistants, they help humans continue to function and in return we help them function. There robots that have built-in security functions and help keep us safe from unexpected harm, there those that are designed to help gather resources essential for living and robots that have the responsibility of taking care of us. In Japan, there are robot caregivers that specialize in caring for the elderly with tasks such as lifting them from their bed to a wheelchair, just one of many human interactive activities that are being entrusted to a robot. In exchange for all the assistance that robots provide for us, we in return make sure to maintain them (e.g. clean them, make sure their hardware is up-to-date, provide it with a source of power to maintain its life).
                Robots appear everywhere in our lives, they appear with tasks assigned to them meant to help us, and sometimes they appear without people even desiring them to be there. Robots have been introduced to provide social interactions with us, they have been known to sing, dance and respond to our actions. Some robots have also been given humanoid appearances so as to help break down the boundary the sets man and machine apart. There are conflicting view as to whether we have been allowed robots to have too much of an impact on our lives. Movies have portrayed robots as reaching the point where they have the ability to process thought and make decisions on their own whiles still assisting humans and living with us in harmony; some movies have shown that if robots are given too much power, that they will eventually overtake us, and that they will hold dominance over us.

                No matter how one may feel about robots, one cannot deny that they are essential for the world to maintain itself and continue to advance. Mankind has created robots to help break pass human limitations and help us achieve things that we could never do on our own. It is because we have made robots so integral in our lives that we can consider them a coexistent species. Without robots, humans would stay stagnant and without humans, robots cannot continue to advance and grow. Humans and robots share a healthy relationship of one constantly improving and maintain the other towards a progressive future.

Has Google made us forgetful?

The world is in the Information Age, we are able to access information on a plethora of subjects using the Internet. We are always connected to the Internet via computers, tablets and of course smartphones. Various information is available in the palm of our hands whether you can’t recall when the Battle of Bunker Hill took place or what the name of Lady Gaga’s last album was.  Yet, some may say that this easy access to information has made us all a bit forgetful, I’m referring to the Google effect, a phenomenon described by Betsy Sparrow. The Google effect states that people have a tendency to forget information that can be found online by using Internet search engines such as Google.
            We spend so much time on computers and smartphones that information is always accessible to us. It appears to be a trend that people will choose to forget or at least not retain information on things that can easily look up using a search engine. It’s almost as if we end reducing the memory capacity that our brains can process because we can connect to our “external hard drive” known as the Internet to look up any information that we choose not to store in the memory space of the brain. You can ask any engineer student if they truly remember the equation set for any subject and they’ll most likely reply no. For most engineering exams, professors allow their students to bring a cheat sheet with them filled with any information they find relevant from the course (e.g. equations, facts, examples) that can be applied to the exam at hand because students are not expected to remember all that information.
            In the research that Betsy Sparrow conducted she came across various results. In one of Sparrow’s studies she asked participants various trivia questions and by using key words relating to search engines came to realize that participants instantly thought of the use of search engines when it came to searching for information to answer trivia questions. In another of Sparrow’s studies, Sparrow tested giving her subjects some trivial information and told them that they would be saved into one of five generic “folder”. The subjects were able to recall the names of the folders with great ease and what Sparrow learned was that her subjects were able to remember where to find information even if they couldn’t remember details of the information itself.

            Based on Sparrow’s research it feels as though our society as whole has gotten accustomed to realizing where information can be found instead of what the information exactly is. We’re slowly progressing to the point where it’s better to have an understanding of an idea or a method of thinking instead of relying on just pure memorization. By solely memorizing something we end up retaining nothing. We’re at the stage where it’s better to have an understanding of information so that when we’re able to look it up on the Internet we can apply our basic understanding of the information with the facts provided to reach a more remarkable viewpoint that wasn’t viewable before. 

Digital Idols

It’s hard to go anywhere without hearing about the latest pop culture news. Today’s society has the tendency of spreading the news and occurrences of popular celebrities such as the act of  Justin Bieber spitting on his fans or the news of Miley Cyrus doing obscene dance moves on stage. We tend to admire celebrities for their amazing talents involving their skills of singing, dancing and acting because these are all skills that we can witness firsthand and applaud. We applaud their hard work and dedication to have reached the status of fame they currently hold and how well they have sharpened their skills. Yet, currently technology has advance to the point where we can almost replicate celebrities’ talents and social status via digital means. Digital Idol, Hatsune Miku, is a fine example of how technology can produce celebrities through digital means.
Hatsune Miku is a female humanoid persona that is used to market a singing synthesizer app developed by Crypton Future Media that was released in 2007. Crypton’s app allowed for its user to create lyrics of their own preference and then have the Hatsune Miku app give the lyrics life by performing them. Hatsune Miku started gaining popularity for its amazing app capabilities and soon went viral after popular video-streaming websites such as YouTube and Nico Nico Douga spread her character image through numerous videos portraying her and songs created using her sound bank. Users quickly began creating their own customized songs for Miku to sing, by 2011 it has been confirmed that over 100,000 unique songs have been created for Miku to perform.
What makes Hatsune Miku app so popular is not only the capability to bring any song to life, but also the fact that it has a face that can be attached to it. Hatsune Miku is portrayed as a 16 year old girl with long turquois pigtails who sings and dances to your lyrics. Her performances and image spread the internet through fan-made depicted art and uniquely created songs. She has risen to celebrity status through her merchandise including artwork, cds, clothes, and toys. What makes her so interesting to users is that since Miku has risen to celebrity status, giving her a user-created song to perform is the equivalent of giving Beyonce a song to perform.

Hatsune Miku started off a computer image, but after reaching her celebrity status a lot more work was put into expanding her persona. Through the use of projectors and curved glass, Crypton has brought Miku to life and created a 3D holographic image of her to appear in front of thousands of audience members. The 3D hologram of Hatsune Miku has performed lived concerts to huge crowds of fans, and yes these fans actually paid money to go see a 3D computer image perform songs that have been synthesized via computer applications just as they would pay money to see any other type of performer in concert. Fans around the world dress up as Hatsune Miku, outright support her and fall in love with her. While a few years ago, the idea of people admiring a digital persona would be seen as bizarre, with the way technology has grown to this date, the idea is not to obscure.  

Friday, December 6, 2013

How to Fight Patent Trolls

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Innovation Act, a bill that will purportedly fight patent trolls.  Patent trolls are companies that own patents, but do nothing with them, other than attempt to collect licensing fees from other companies which infringe their patents.  For instance, a company might buy a smaller company that has many patents to sue other infringing companies for money.  Their intent is not to use the patents to provide a service or manufacture products, but to simply "troll" the other companies for money.  The Innovation Act attempts to help rectify some of the problems faced when fighting patent trolls.  An article written by the EEF explains it quite well and breaks down the specific ways the act is fighting patent trolls.

Patent trolls often sue without intending to win, but rather have the defendant settle.  Currently, a patent suit can be brought about without any specification of the patent being infringed upon or the technologies that use them.  This leaves the defendant guessing about the case and they often decide to settle instead.  The Innovation Act will require that reasonable information concerning the infringement will be given in the suit.  The legal cost of fighting one of these lawsuits is extremely high, so smaller companies who cannot afford the cost of the suit will settle, even if they will probably win.  The act will rectify this by shifting the cost of the suit to the loser.  There is also the cost of getting the information required by the plaintiff for the case.  The cost for the defendant can be extremely high, while it is very low for the troll.  The act will push back this discovery until after the court has initially reviewed the case and also limit the demanded documents to only the most relevant, pushing the cost of any additional discovery to the plaintiff.  Patent trolls like to transfer their patents to shell companies, they own, to make their claims.  The lack of information regarding the ownership of patents can give the trolls an advantage.  The act will provide transparency by forcing the plaintiffs to release information regarding the ownership of the patents and also force the involvement of companies which have a "direct financial interest" in the case.  Trolls won't be able to hide behind their shell companies so easily anymore.  Patent trolls also target companies which simply use the services or products which they did not develop, but do infringe.  The act will pause the case against that company until the company which manufactured or supplied the infringing product or service settles the case with the troll.

I was surprised to see how malicious companies are with their patents and relieved that there is finally something being done.  The Innovation Act has yet to be passed in the Senate, so the changes are not set in stone, but we can only hope that it will provide some level of protection against patent trolls.  Large companies are using their vast resources to basically extort money from smaller companies due to high litigation fees and weak laws.  These are not competitors fighting for business, but rather predators bleeding small business using technologies they have no intention of using.  Patent trolls need to be fought because they slow the progress of technology to line their own pockets.