Live action replays and analysis moves from the sports field to the battlefield

Paul Raven @ 04-06-2010

The Harris Corporation supplies instant replay systems to big-brand sports teams, but they may just have cracked a whole new market… one with a budget that (inexplicably) never seems to shrink. The Pentagon has decided that the ability to collect, replay and analyse battlefield video feeds will make it easier to score touchdowns instil shock and awe liberate oil people from oppressive regimes, and they’re working with Harris Corp toward that end:

The system, called Full-Motion Video Asset Management Engine (FAME) uses metadata tags to encode important details — time, date, camera location — into each video frame. In a football game, those tags would help broadcasters pick the best clip to re-air and explain a play. In a war-zone, they’d help analysts watch video in a richer, easier-to-grasp context. And additional tags could link a video clip to photographs, cellphone calls, databases or documents.

Makes a certain amount of sense, but I suspect there’ll be a point where a greater volume of incoming data will become counterproductive, and your multiscreen generals will be so caught up looking at the trees that they forget there’s a forest… which would be business as usual, I suppose, just with more cool toys for the folk behind the front line.

And hey, here’s a potential monetization stream: edit together and sanitise the daily rushes, offer ’em as live streams to warporn fans… or sell the material and outsource the marketing to someone with more experience, like ESPN. Man, this thing’s really got legs – anyone wanna form a collective to buy up Harris Corp shares?


Posthumous cover-versions by famous musicians?

Paul Raven @ 05-03-2010

Dovetailing neatly with that piece about the Emily Howell program that composes pieces in the style of famous composers as well as its own, here’s another software company who are trying to develop software that will analyse a musician’s playing style from their recorded putput, and then reproduce other songs in the style in which they might have played them.

Or, to put it another way: they want to let you hear how Jimi Hendrix would have jammed out any national anthem you care to name. They’re not quite there yet, though:

As things stand now, Zenph’s technology looks at actual old recordings to find out how a performer played a certain song, and is not capable of figuring out how a musician would play a new part. “We hope — but we can’t demonstrate today — that after we’ve done several re-performances of a given artist, we will understand enough about that individual’s musical style to be able to suggest how that style might manifest itself in the performance of a work that the artist never actually performed,” said Frey, clarifying that today Zenph’s software only reproduces performances, it doesn’t create them.

That faint hint of white noise you can hear? That’s the sound of thousands of copyright lawyers rubbing their hands together in anticipation.


Redefining friendship: Facebook, MMORPGs and Dragon Age Origins

Jonathan McCalmont @ 06-01-2010

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont

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The Antiques Roadshow” – For an entire generation of people who grew up [in the UK – Ed.] in the 1980s, those three little words herald a wave of unease and bitterness.  Like a Renaissance magus, they conjure forth memories of Sunday evenings dominated by the looming return of school and the perversity of one’s parents’ taste in television.  You see, younglings… prior to the internet, cable TV and the explosion of cheap consumer electronics, most young British people were trapped not only in a four channel world, but in a world where only one TV channel was ever really accessible to them : the one that their parents wanted to watch.  Continue reading “Redefining friendship: Facebook, MMORPGs and Dragon Age Origins”


What are you thinking about?

Paul Raven @ 30-10-2009

deep in thoughtIt’s a simple question, and one we ask each other all the time… but it comes with a whole lot of psychological baggage, not least that of the barrier between the thoughts you choose to communicate and those you choose to keep confined to your own cerebrum. So here’s the trigger for your next Phildickian moment of existential paranoia – brain scanning procedures developed by scientists in the specialist neurological field of “neural decoding”show promise of eventually being able to analyse what you’re thinking about:

Last week at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago, Jack Gallant, a leading “neural decoder” at the University of California, Berkeley, presented one of the field’s most impressive results yet. He and colleague Shinji Nishimoto showed that they could create a crude reproduction of a movie clip that someone was watching just by viewing their brain activity. Others at the same meeting claimed that such neural decoding could be used to read memories and future plans – and even to diagnose eating disorders.

Go read the whole article; neural decoding has the smell of a technology that’s about to get much bigger very quickly, especially when the military types hear about it and start throwing money in its general direction. And take note of the fact that although the success rates for algorithms guessing the correct connections between thoughts and subjects are pretty low at this point, they’re still above raw chance… and way above what most “professional psychics” can muster.  [image by mararie]


The Google PageRank algorithm and extinction analysis

Paul Raven @ 07-09-2009

cod fishMost of us are familiar with the concept of the ecosystem – the idea that all living things are interconnected with (and interdependent on) one another and the environment they live in. Can you think of something beyond nature that behaves like an ecosystem?

If you answered “the internet”, then give yourself a cookie –  you had the same thought as a gang of biologists and ecologists who’ve just published a paper examining ways to use a computational algorithm – much like the one used by Google for calculating the search engine ranking of webpages – to determine which endangered species are most at risk, and which are most crucial to the survival of others.

In simple terms, PageRank rates the importance of websites and ranks them in a list compared to other websites. Sites with a higher ranking are those that are linked to more often by other sites and therefore have a greater number of connections.

Adapting this approach to ordering the web of connections within an ecosystem allows species to be ranked in importance by virtue of how many other species are linked to them.

One example of species that depend on each other are the overfished Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and other smaller animals that descend from it in the North Atlantic food chain. Because the predator has been depleted, species including smaller pelagic fish and northern snow crabs have boomed and are themselves depleting populations of phytoplankton and zooplankton.

It’s an innovative and useful tool, though other researchers are keen to underline its shortcomings:

Fraser Torpy, microbial ecologist and statistician from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, said the study is “very useful adjunct to our ability to determine what makes a species important in terms of its position in its ecological community”.

However, he cautions that the method may only work for simple food webs. “Whilst [this is] an innovative and genuinely useful novel technique for endangered species assessment, it must be remembered that the true complexity of real ecosystems cannot be overestimated.”

With the caveat that I’m no ecologist (nor, for that matter, a search algorithm expert), it occurs to me that as limited a method of modelling ecosystems this algorithm may be, its demonstrated ability to scale to the vast numbers of the web’s uncounted pages means it probably has the potential to outperform any other analytical method currently available. And as extinction rates increase in response to climate change and human intervention, maintaining the ecosystem that supports our own civilisation demands every tool we can get our hands on, regardless of how far short from perfect they might fall. [image by Hello, I am Bruce]

To what degree will computational algorithms be able to assist our understanding of natural systems? Where will their usefulness end… or will we eventually be able to reduce every system to equations, no matter how complex, once we have the necessary processing and memory resources available?


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