The world’s largest film industry—that’d be India’s—is largely barren of the superhero and spaceship films that dominate Hollywood. What, exactly, accounts for the difference?
Hollywood’s had a long love affair with sci-fi and fantasy, but the romance has never been stronger than it is today. A quick glance into bookstores, television lineups, and upcoming films shows that the futuristic and fantastical is everywhere in American pop culture. In fact, of Hollywood’s top earners since 1980, a mere eight have not featured wizardry, space or time travel, or apocalyptic destruction caused by aliens/zombies/Robert Downey Jr.’s acerbic wit. Now, with Man of Steel, it appears we will at last have an effective reboot of the most important superhero story of them all.
These tales of mystical worlds and improbable technological power appeal universally, right? Maybe not. Bollywood, not Hollywood, is the largest movie industry in the world. But only a handful its top hits of the last four decades have dealt with science fiction themes, and even fewer are fantasy or horror. American films in those genres make much of their profits abroad, but they tend to underperform in front of Indian audiences.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t folk tales with magic and mythology in India. There are. That makes their absence in Bollywood and their overabundance in Hollywood all the more remarkable. Whereas Bollywood takes quotidian family dramas and imbues them with spectacular tales of love and wealth found-lost-regained amidst the pageantry of choreographed dance pieces, Hollywood goes to the supernatural and futurism. It’s a sign that longing for mystery is universal, but the taste for science fiction and fantasy is cultural.
See on www.theatlantic.com
Synthetic biology moves us from reading to writing DNA, allowing us to design biological systems from scratch for any number of applications. Its capabilities are becoming clearer, its first products and processes emerging. Synthetic biology’s reach already extends from reducing our dependence on oil to transforming how we develop medicines and food crops. It is being heralded as the next big thing; whether it fulfils that expectation remains to be seen. It will require collaboration and multi-disciplinary approaches to development, application and regulation. Interesting times ahead!
See on www.innovationmanagement.se
Google, in partnership with NASA and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), has launched an initiative to investigate how quantum computing might lead to breakthroughs in machine learning, a branch of AI that focuses on construction and study of systems that learn from data..
The new lab will use the D-Wave Two quantum computer.A recent study (see “Which is faster: conventional or quantum computer?“) confirmed the D-Wave One quantum computer was much faster than conventional machines at specific problems.
The machine will be installed at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Facility at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.
“We hope it helps researchers construct more efficient and more accurate models for everything from speech recognition, to web search, to protein folding,” said Hartmut Neven, Google director of engineering.
“Machine learning is highly difficult. It’s what mathematicians call an ‘NP-hard’ problem,” he said. “Classical computers aren’t well suited to these types of creative problems. Solving such problems can be imagined as trying to find the lowest point on a surface covered in hills and valleys.
“Classical computing might use what’s called a ‘gradient descent’: start at a random spot on the surface, look around for a lower spot to walk down to, and repeat until you can’t walk downhill anymore. But all too often that gets you stuck in a “local minimum” — a valley that isn’t the very lowest point on the surface.
“That’s where quantum computing comes in. It lets you cheat a little, giving you some chance to ‘tunnel’ through a ridge to see if there’s a lower valley hidden beyond it. This gives you a much better shot at finding the true lowest point — the optimal solution.”
Google has already developed some quantum machine-learning algorithms, Neven said. “One produces very compact, efficient recognizers — very useful when you’re short on power, as on a mobile device. Another can handle highly polluted training data, where a high percentage of the examples are mislabeled, as they often are in the real world. And we’ve learned some useful principles: e.g., you get the best results not with pure quantum computing, but by mixing quantum and classical computing.”
See on www.kurzweilai.net
IN “SKYFALL”, the latest James Bond movie, 007 is given a gun that only he can fire. It works by recognising his palm print, rendering it impotent when it falls into a baddy’s hands. Like many of Q’s more fanciful inventions, the fiction is easier to conjure up than the fact. But there is a real-life biometric system that would have served Bond just as well: cardiac-rhythm recognition.
Anyone who has watched a medical drama can picture an electrocardiogram (ECG)—the five peaks and troughs, known as a PQRST pattern (see picture), that map each heartbeat. The shape of this pattern is affected by such things as the heart’s size, its shape and its position in the body. Cardiologists have known since 1964 that everyone’s heartbeat is thus unique, and researchers around the world have been trying to turn that knowledge into a viable biometric system. Until now, they have had little success. One group may, though, have cracked it.
Foteini Agrafioti of the University of Toronto and her colleagues have patented a system which constantly measures a person’s PQRST pattern, confirms this corresponds with the registered user’s pattern, and can thus verify to various devices that the user is who he says he is. Through a company called Bionym, which they have founded, they will unveil it to the world in June.
See on www.economist.com
When people create and modify their virtual reality avatars, the hardships faced by their alter egos can influence how they perceive virtual environments, according to researchers presenting their findings at 2013 Annual Conference on Human Factors…
When people create and modify their virtual reality avatars, the hardships faced by their alter egos can influence how they perceive virtual environments, according to researchers.
A group of students who saw that a backpack was attached to an avatar that they had created overestimated the heights of virtual hills, just as people in real life tend to overestimate heights and distances while carrying extra weight, according to Sangseok You, a doctoral student in the school of information, University of Michigan.
“You exert more of your agency through an avatar when you design it yourself,” said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, Penn State, who worked with You. “Your identity mixes in with the identity of that avatar and, as a result, your visual perception of the virtual environment is colored by the physical resources of your avatar.”
Researchers assigned random avatars to one group of participants, but allowed another group to customize their avatars. In each of these two groups, half of the participants saw that their avatar had a backpack, while the other half had avatars without backpacks, according to You.
When placed in a virtual environment with three hills of different heights and angles of incline, participants who customized their avatars perceived those hills as higher and steeper than participants who were assigned avatars by the researchers, Sundar said. They also overestimated the amount of calories it would take to hike up the hill if their custom avatar had a backpack.
“If your avatar is carrying a backpack, you feel like you are going to have trouble climbing that hill, but this only happens when you customize the avatar,” said Sundar.
See on news.psu.edu
Haworth and Obscura Digital’s digital whiteboard can hold 160 acres of virtual space-
Apple (AAPL) has rolled out smaller models of its iPad. Jeff Reuschel is thinking bigger. The global design director for office-furniture maker Haworth, in partnership with interactive display company Obscura Digital, has created a touchscreen that covers a conference-room wall. Like a supersize version of CNN’s (TWX) Magic Wall, Bluescape displays a unified image across 15 linked 55-inch flat-screen monitors, each equipped with 32 specialized sensors to read users’ hand movements. Unlike whiteboards or flip charts, it won’t require much erasing or page turning: When zoomed out as far as possible, the digital board’s virtual space totals 160 acres. Using Bluescape, corporate and university clients can store often scattershot brainstorming sessions in perpetuity. Co-workers or classmates can add digital sticky notes, either with a digital pen on the wall itself or by uploading documents from other devices, from which they can also browse the virtual space. “There are fewer and fewer people working in cubicles,” says Reuschel. “The old-fashioned vertical surfaces are going away.”
See on www.businessweek.com