Life as in Solaria’s Asimov planet is not far away

Have you read  the Robots Series from Isaac Asimov?  This article by G. Ananthakrishnan reminded me of Solaria, the planet where its inhabitants had no contact with each other, too afraid of getting contaminated by microbes.  They visited each other through sophisticated holographic viewing systems instead .  Read about next product of Microsoft Research, being created by 850 PhDs mainly in the field of machine learning, called “Avatar Kinect”, and tell me what do you think about it.  Will our future reserve us also a strong phobia towards actual contact?

Kinect can see and hear

Kinect, which was launched on November 4 last year, has sold 10 million units and entered the Guinness Book as the fastest selling consumer electronics device in history, bar none. It features instant streaming of high definition 1080p content, reads body and facial gestures, and responds to voice commands. Adding to the existing feature set, “Avatar Kinect” will allow X Box Live users to chat and interact online socially in their ‘avatar’ (a faithful and live animation character of themselves) starting in the first half of 2011. This forms part of Microsoft’s approach to more closely integrate socialisation features into its products.

The Kinect console uses cutting-edge technology to read the movements of the person in front of it, even to the point of reproducing smiles, frowns and raised eyebrows and other facial expressions. So how does it do this?

The gadget uses its own light source to illuminate the room, whether it is pitch dark or brightly illuminated, to ‘understand’ the surroundings. Alex Kipman, the Director of Incubation, says this technology enables one of the ‘eyes’ of the Kinect to see the room, as a monochrome view. “Things that are super close to the sensor are white, super far away are black, we file both of those numbers away and focus on the infinite shades of grey in between. For each shade of grey it maps a real-world coordinate, the distance, eyeball, a point. A colour eye, as in a phone or camcorder allows us to capture the user’s memories, and enable video conferencing. It also recognises when you are walking towards the sensor,” Mr. Kipman says.

The ‘ears’ of the device sit underneath the sensor, and they are essentially four microphones in an asymmetrical configuration. This acoustic chamber is a first, a system created with a non push-to-talk feature. The environment is always-on and listening. So, in the living room when people are having fun creating a lot of ambient sounds, the sensor is still able to differentiate the speech of different individuals through robust voice recognition.

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