Category Archives: Technology

Deloitte Digital and Robert DeLong at SXSW 2016

Deloitte Digital

Interactive music with Deloitte Digital and performance by Robert DeLong

 

Deloitte ” provides industry-leading audit, consulting, tax, and advisory services to many of the world’s most admired brands,” according to their website.

This year they are at SXSW doing slightly-weird, attention-seeking ,things like all the other cool companies here.  In 2014, they were set up just outside the trade show, with 3D printers printing scanned busts of their employees. They also printed tiny little turrets of absurd detail. It was successful at getting attention.

This year, Deloitte has kicked it up a notch. They rented out the Palm Door, a popular venue on dirty 6th, and made it a technology party. They have brought the ARC, an interactive musical experience. Guests walk into the bar, cross the room, and enter a wondrous alcove of musical interaction.

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The official haircut of SXSW

The ARC is a musical composition in perpetual flux at the whim and will of its admiring audience. It’s a mysterious form, a round table embedded with tactile, kinetic, shapes.  It is the main light in this room. There is a sphere that rotates and other objects that light up when they are touched. Interaction with the objects changes the rhythm and sounds that are playing in the room.

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Oddly addictive activity

The audience becomes the composer as they start to figure out which button does what. It becomes collaborative as people ask each other what they have learned so far. They discuss patterns and strategy. They gaze intently at each other, faces lit with the glow of a musical table.

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The lights draw us in like moths

The ARC uses an algorithm to make a song that will evolve and change on its own. The audience also influences this algorithm, as they are joyfully discovering at this particular moment. They look up and smile as they discover the meanings of their movements. They are at the center of this music and they are all too aware of it.

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Collaborative sounds

Deloitte is also bringing musical performance to their venue. One particularly-apt choice was the inclusion of electronic artist, Robert DeLong. His electronic, EDM-influenced, tunes explore themes of humanity and consumerism in a technological age. These upbeat, danceable, tunes  accompanied by lights and visual experiences, are well-suited for this environment.

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Robert DeLong

DeLong’s work uses innovative, interactive, technology, in a concept that could relate to the ARC. He’s known to use Wii remotes that adjust elements of his sound as he performs on stage. It’s electronic tools meeting organic performance.

Deloitte’s event succeeded in highlighting the interaction between humans and the technology they use. People played with cool toys and they made sounds. It was interactive. It was SXSW Interactive.

 

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Mr. Robot at SXSW 2016

A SXSW carnival in downtown Austin from television series Mr. Robot

 

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The carnival is fun, the sociopolitical comedy is serious, the T-shirts are free

 

The Ferris Wheel looms in the heart of downtown Austin. The festive glow of a parking-lot carnival adds a unique ambiance to the crowded streets.  A grinning mask looms over it all with a sign that says “Mr. Robot.”

Mr. Robot is a television show. It’s about a mentally unstable man who looks behind the curtain of society to see that corporations control us all. He fights the power with technology, hacking skills, and the help of other people that may or may not exist.  The important thing is the continued revelation that corporations are corrupted and all powerful must be defied. The show made its world premiere at SXSW 2015

SXSW is a crazy mess of corporate showmanship. A beautiful collision of capitalism and performance art (brought to you by our modern Medici’s according to several of last year’s SXSW panels.) Things that sound like silly exaggerated jokes take place in the streets of this moderate metro area.

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This is usually just a parking lot

In this particular case, there is a carnival. The network has constructed a grand carnival to promote this television show. It’s a grand spectacle. Today, it is open to the public. Later the gates will be closed to all those not in possession of badges.

It’s a “Coney Island Carnival Experience.” This is a reference to the “Fun Society” arcade that was central to the plot of season one. The arcade was a hub where the hackers gather to make and implement their strategies of setting the world to right.

Before the advent of the Atari and home gaming systems, places like arcades could allow tech enthusiasts the opportunity to play with the sort games they didn’t own. Anybody with a quarter could walk to the cutting edge of gaming in these techno-social gathering places. Setting the “F Society” revolution at such a gathering place seems like a very logical choice. Setting this carnival/arcade experience at SXSW and making it open to the public is an equally appropriate decision.

Later in the season, the hackers throw an “End of the World Party” so the general public can come in and cover their fingerprints. On Saturday, March 12, the SXSW “Mr. Robot” carnival is having its own party. From 7-9, the gates close to the general public, and this event will transform into an “End of the World” party, complete with pseudo-homemade posters taped to buildings.

The event is very well-attended. There are games to play, masks to wear, and silk screened shirts. The masks mimic a mask shown in the TV show, a figure that represents their hacker revolution. It bears a strong resemblance to the Monopoly man, presumably intentional.

People carry the masks for a while and take some selfies. Then they get bored and toss them away.

The line for T Shirts is very long. Rumors say it’s been taking hours.  People politely stand in this very long line so that they can get one of these limited edition “F Society” shirts. There are other designs as well, but the “F Society” message seems to resonate.

Any event that is open to the public in this area usually draws a decent handful of homeless residents willing to stand in line for whatever is free and always in the know about what happens in their backyard.   As a result, homeless people of Austin now have “F Society” shirts made possible through corporations and viewers like you.

The “Mr. Robot” Ferris Wheel, with its grinning emblem, looms over us all. It’s 100 feet tall and can be seen from blocks away. After the sun sets, this sparkling wheel will lend a particularly eerie light to some of the foggier nights this SXSW.   It’s beautiful and strange.

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The carnival at night

 

 

 

 

 

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Nolan Bushnell

 

I look for coffee and find Nolan Bushnell, inventor of Atari

 

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Nolan Bushnell and Guy Kawasaki

It’s that time of day. I am at SXSW and I need coffee. Wandering at large in the upper floors of the convention center,  I see a lounge, one of the corporate sponsored hangout rooms where people sit, recharge their phones, send work emails, and nap. These places sometimes have coffee.

I smell coffee and I hear the puffing whir of a cappuccino machine. Good enough, going in.

This is the Comcast Social Media Lounge, brought to you by Comcast. It’s supposed to have tech influencers giving speeches as well. In fact, there’s one here now.

At the door there are some friendly people scanning badges, they apologize but they are out of books. Apparently Nolan Bushnell is here, and everybody wanted to pick up a copy of his latest work. He invented Atari and is regarded as an integral part of the tech revolution by some people.  Right now, he is being interviewed on a small stage.

The interviewer is author and speaker, Guy Kawasaki. Kawasaki is very enthusiastic about this interview. The tone of his questioning and the excitement of his interjections are reminiscent of a young person at a comic con who is meeting their favorite graphic artist.

Bushnell maintains a cool distance. He’s leaned back in his chair, hands clasped, legs crossed at the ankle. He doesn’t need to be here, it’s all a choice. He’s done this sort of thing a million times.

Questioning starts with the ancient history of a time before home computers.  They go back to discuss Bushnell’s association with fellow tech innovator, Steve Jobs. Apparently Bushnell was the only person to actually employ Jobs, a fact he seems to take some pride in. Bushnell speaks highly of the innovative usefulness of Jobs.

They delve into the gossip of their company culture. Kawasaki asks about the Grass Valley culture ” what was it like “were you guys just sitting around in beanbag chairs smoking marijuana all day.” Bushnell responded  “yeah, we had a research facility in Grass Valley and everybody said, oh yeah, Grass Valley, they must be doing a lot of doobies but actually those in my marketing department, almost none of them smoked.” The crowded laughs because the someone said doobie.

Then Kawasaki gets into the history of Atari in particular. Bushnell explains how it all started at an amusement park where he was head of the games department and he ” knew the economics of coin operated games.”

Later, he happened to end up in “the university of Utah video lab, the only place hooking up video screens to big computers .” He describes it as ” magic time magic place, total serendipity” and explains his realization that “if I could make this cheap people would play it.”

He started the company with just “$250 each my partner and I, and we could not raise capital from anybody, so we had to grow the company to about 40 million dollars until anybody would pay attention to us.” He expands that they “never had any money,” so they had to generate their funding “the old fashioned way.”

Kawasaki asks a specific, but common question about Atari, “Can you explain what “Atari” the word means? ”

Bushnell explains that it started with a game called “Go,” “an Asian game played by Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and it’s black and white stones on a 19 by 19 black and white matrix” He describes it as “The best game in the world, it balances your left and your right hemispheres there’s and art to it there’s a logic to it.

In the game, if you are about to engulf your opponent it’s an Atari. And so you say “Atari! It’s like check in chess and I thought, that’s a pretty aggressive name to name a company. So a lot of people thought it was a Japanese company because it was a Japanese game. But it was an American company with a Japanese name.

Bushnell also expands on the relevance of the arcade to innovative tech culture.  He explains that “historically it was the training ground, this bridge between what’s going on in the lab and what’s being done at home, because when things start out they are expensive, they’re not robust, and you can do them in the arcade.”

This perspective paints arcades as the kind of place that could bridge the gaps in available technology to the general public. An arcade was the kind of place where, for a quarter, anybody can reach the cutting edge of gaming tech.  Nolan Bushnell described how “arcades kind of lost their way when home technology seemed in terms of graphics to exceed what was found in arcades.”

Bushnell speaks of a future full of “sensors and processes and very cheap Raspberry Pis running HDMI, I mean magical stuff.” These things could be used to recreate arcades of the future and  restore “the arcade ” as a place of cultural relevancy.

Meanwhile, another event at SXSW also touched on that theme. The Mr. Robot television show chose to set their characters, techno-anarchist revolution at a former arcade. They gathered to learn and expand what was possibly in the (former) cultural hub.  This concept of the arcade as a cultural center could be of further relevance to the future.

Bushnell has other things to say about the future. He is currently discontent with the education system. He says “I feel like our schools are doing a horrible job. We’ve got too much school and not enough education.” His ideal vision with more “project-oriented” work in order to “up the ante for engagement, keeping curiosity and passion alive.”

He speaks critically of the idea that college is the only way. He explains that he thinks “we’ve reinvented indentured servitude, because of student debt. College is way too expensive. I mean the cost of college per hour is horrible.”  Taking it a little further, he references the “old joke ‘if you have a problem with pigeons on campus give them tenure and they’ll quit showing up.'”

His ideal world involves “eliminating noise”. Things like the “liberal arts” can be done more efficiently. He says ” we need to know how to write, we need to know how to fix sentences, that stuff. But that stuff, if mediated by software, you can do it in a day and a half, 15 or 20 minutes.”  From this perspective eliminating noise can lead to a better, more efficient, world.

The cappuccino machine is very loud. Throughout the discussion various people walk up and ask for one. At one point, the interviewer snaps cheerfully” Do you have to make cappuccino? It’s Nolan Bushnell you can always make cappuccino later.”

I am polite enough to wait till the presentation is over. However, it seems the cappuccino machine closed with the conclusion of the presentations. Apparently you can’t make cappuccino later.  But you can go get a picture and an autograph from Nolan Bushnell. Many people do. He is an icon to them.

 

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He wears practical shoes

 

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The Virtual Soldier

 

In this digital day and age, records are kept of everything. Shelves and shelves of pictures may be consolidated into a tiny  thumb drive. There are so many things that can be saved in an intangible form to be accessed at convenience. Now, experts at the University of Nevada are looking into taking this to a whole other level. They are in discussion with the US military and working on making “virtual soldiers.”

Many things happen when people are sent off to a war. Some of these things change them in ways that cannot be repaired. With the help of new technology, doctors and scientists might now have the means to better repair what has been altered.

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3D image from MRI scan: http://www.ablesw.com/3d-doctor/images.html

Some of this proposed technology is already being  used in “3D dissection tables.” X-rays, ultrasounds and MRI’s are used to scan a body and the resulting scan may be used and interacted with on these tables. Experts are suggesting that this technology can be used to create personal replicas for the purpose of documentation. If the scanned human is injured the documentation provides a “saved point” to compare with the now-damaged individual.

These 3D virtual copies might be especially useful to people sent into dangerous areas where they face a risk of mutilation and severe bodily harm. Virtual copies could be made of soldiers before they are sent into the battlefield. The virtual copies of soldiers could serve as useful templates for surgeons. If a bone were broken, the 3D copy could serve as a consulting tool in the repair.

Thanks to new innovations in 3D printable materials, the scans could provide an even more direct solution. Porous titanium prints of bones can be inserted into a body and new bone grows to fill the gaps. This technology could create very precise versions that provide the best possible restoration of the original form.

Presumably, this technology could also apply in the making of prosthetic limbs. No more approximate guesses, these scans could provide data that would allow for an exact replica of the damaged form. 3D printing could make the 3D image into a custom prosthesis made to order for the individual.

Overall, these virtual scans of soldiers would be an innovative way to take advantage of data storage and scanning technology. When all the king’s horses and men aren’t enough, they can round up the x-rays, ultrasounds, MRI’s and 3D printers. Combined with scanned data, 3D printing technology could create life altering solutions to medical problems.

 

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