[EAS] INNOVATION, 2 November 2005

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Thu Nov 3 00:59:04 EST 2005

I've excerpted from INNOVATION before, but there 
are several particularly interesting items in 
this issue, so here is the whole thing. (This is 
a subscription newsletter with a free six-week 
trial, note the details at the end.)

Particularly fascinating, in a sort of 
disorienting way, is the "Virtual Worlds" item. 
Half a lifetime (30+ years) ago, when I first 
read the Swiss writer Friedrich Duerrenmatt 
(1921-1990), I was fascinated by the way he 
captures the reader with his uniquely deft 
transformation of reality. The ease with which 
virtual settings "grab" people seems much more 
powerful, though it perhaps happens mostly to 
people with less of a grip on reality in the 
first place. The implications for literature, 
theatre and film are disquieting.  --PJK

>INNOVATION, 2 November 2005
>Innovation Weekly reports on trends, strategies, and innovations in
>business and technology, and is sponsored in part by Norwich University
><http://www.norwich.edu>, Animatrix Inc. <http://www.animatrix.com>, and
>our loyal individual and institutional subscribers. The editors are John
>Gehl and Suzanne Douglas, editors at newsscan.com.
>         New Gadgets Hark Back to Simpler Times
>         Virtual Worlds -- The New Workspace?
>         Wi-Fi Gets Smarter
>         Experience Counts
>         The N.I.C.E. Approach to Nasty People
>         More Effective Brainstorming
>         Innovation After 60
>         Multilingual Translation Technology
>         Specialized Search Seeks a Niche
>         New Approach Toward Mind Control Technology
>         The Inside Story on Robotic Surgery
>        Norwich University
>        Animatrix Inc.
>  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>TRENDS
>       Over the past few years, gadget makers have toiled ceaselessly to add
>functionality to cell phones, PDAs and digital cameras, and consumers have
>finally hit the wall on all these superfluous add-ons. British Telecom
>futurist-in-residence Ian Pearson says look for a return to simplicity as
>people focus on buying a device for one particular purpose: "We've done 20
>years of adding functionality, and 99% of that functionality isn't needed.
>There will be an enormous market over the next several years for really
>simple stuff." Still, says Pearson, 2006 is likely to be a good year for
>gadget sellers. "We see the convergence of a whole stack of IT trends,"
>including better screens and improved location technology that can mesh
>with communications functions, such as mapping programs that show us
>whether any of our friends is close by, or a mobile reference modeled on
>Wikipedia that can tell us if the restaurant in the next block is any good.
>Pearson says despite what he's calling the "2006 IT explosion," he's not
>buying anything yet. "One of the big reasons I don't buy things is because
>as a futurist I see what they're going to do in the next few years."
>(Wired.com 25 Oct 2005)
>       The line between virtual world and real-life economies is becoming
>increasingly blurred, with game players offering big bucks for "loot" such
>as virtual gold, magic powers and other items. The buyers are usually
>gaming enthusiasts pressed for time who don't want to devote the hours it
>takes to amass virtual wealth. "If I want to visit a new place in a virtual
>world, it's hard with a job," says one. "But if I have $20, I can buy
>powers and explore. It's becoming a significant trade." Many of the sellers
>are players in China and other parts of Asia, who can pull in about $3 to
>$4 an hour mining these virtual economies. "For foreign laborers, this can
>be a reasonable wage," says Indiana University professor Edward Castronova,
>who notes that the big money isn't made by the Asian gamers, but by the
>facilitators of the sales who take a cut of the loot. But beyond those
>transactions, gamers have found another way to turn their passion into
>greenbacks. While playing Second Life, Australian gamer Nathan Keir created
>Tringo -- a cross between bingo and Tetris -- that he sold to other Second
>Life players for $5,000. He later sold the worldwide licensing rights to
>Tringo for a low-five-figure sum. Keir's story is a harbinger of things to
>come, says Cory Ondrejka, VP of Second Life maker Linden Lab. "Our game is
>based on what you own. It's land speculation, reselling land, being a
>landlord and creating goods and services. It's not much different than the
>real thing. We're just scratching the surface." Meanwhile, Castronova
>predicts virtual worlds will become evermore commercial as transaction
>volume increases. "Companies will have to begin paying attention. Playing
>these games can totally change hierarchical structures. What do you tell
>your CEO when the guy in the mailroom who is a level 89 wizard just ordered
>a vice president to surrender his parking spot and he actually did it?"
>(Knowledge at Wharton 19 Oct - 1 Nov 2005)
>       Wi-Fi use is rapidly growing in popularity, with the number of global
>users expected to top 271 million by 2008, according to Pyramid Research.
>But with success comes the potential of headache of overloaded networks,
>causing slow service and long delays. To avoid that scenario,
>communications engineers are developing "smart" Wi-Fi equipment capable of
>dealing with the issues of congestion, the changing radio environment and
>security concerns. Smart Wi-Fi uses load balancing technology to relieve
>network congestion by distributing users among various APs (access points)
>more uniformly so no single AP gets swamped and slows down the whole
>network. Another new smart Wi-Fi feature is automatic cell control, which
>allows cell sizes to expand and contract to adjust for changing radio
>conditions and compensate for holes in coverage due to malfunctioning APs.
>Second-generation Wi-Fi also assesses the radio environment periodically
>and dynamically reassigns channels accordingly to boost performance.
>Finally, the new Wi-Fi will include Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), a
>stronger security and authentication feature, putting to rest the fears
>over eavesdropping that plague current networks. (Scientific American 26
>Sep 2005)
>        The hottest new gift-giving idea in today's entertainment economy is
>the "experience card" -- a personalized plastic card that can be redeemed
>for an experience of the recipient's choice, depending on the prepaid value
>of the card. Examples offered by Portuguese firm A Vida E Bela include a
>professional photography session (be a top model for a day) to flying
>fighter jets over Moscow (the top gun fantasy). A Vida E Bela reports the
>cards have become so popular, it's expanding to Spain and Brazil in 2006
>and will launch its own TV show in Portugal. In the U.S., Chicago-based
>Signature Days is copying the A Vida E Bela model, offering experiences
>such as trapeze lessons or hypnosis sessions. Meanwhile, Experience Wish,
>in California, caters just to women with gifts such as a Marc Jacobs
>knitted sweater or a day of flower arranging with top floral designer
>Rebecca Cole. Prices range from $420 for a "Petite Wish" to $10,000 for the
>"Ultimate Wish." (Springwise Nov 2005)
>  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>STRATEGIES
>       Who among us hasn't yearned for guidance in dealing with difficult
>coworkers, bosses or subordinates? Attorneys Ronald M. Shapiro and Mark A.
>Jankowski address that challenge in their new book, "Bullies, Tyrants and
>Impossible People: How to Beat Them Without Joining Them." They advocate
>the N.I.C.E. approach -- Neutralize emotions, Identify type, Control the
>encounter, and Explore options. For instance, when under attack, stay
>focused on the issue at hand -- take a deep breath, ask a question, take a
>sip of water to break the negative momentum. Ease tension by relaxing your
>shoulders and smiling. Jankowski says he uses a "finger-on-the-lip" when
>provoked: "To anyone else, it just looks like I'm thinking -- which I am. I
>am thinking about not saying anything stupid or inflammatory." Suppress
>your "flight" instinct with positive mantras such as, "I can handle this
 I'm ready." And if it seems like you've reached an impasse,
>don't give up -- sometimes it helps to offer an option that would be
>attractive to your adversary. "Difficult people are often people trying to
>gain or maintain control of a circumstance. The more they fear losing
>control, the more entrenched they may become in their positions." By
>introducing ideas that make them feel as if they have the freedom to select
>and retain control, you're actually putting yourself back in the driver's
>seat. (HBS Working Knowledge 24 Oct 2005 and USA Today/Shapiro Negotiations)
>       Thomas Kelley of design firm IDEO has a lot of experience in
>fostering effective brainstorming. He suggests allocating a specific space
>for innovation, well-stocked with sketch boards, maps, pictures and other
>stimulating visuals, as well as an abundance of post-it notes, prototyping
>kids, markers, story-board frames, etc. Practice the Zen principle of
>"beginner's mind" and leave your preconceptions at the door. "Don't judge,
>empathize." Seek out epiphanies through "vuja de" -- the sense of seeing
>something for the first time, even if it's commonplace. Cross-pollinate:
>hire people with diverse backgrounds or even nationalities, create lots of
>opportunities for impromptu meetings among disparate groups, host a weekly
>speaker series to get creative juices perking, seek out diverse projects
>that stretch the firm's capabilities. When it comes to brainstorming,
>sharpen your focus on one specific customer need or process and go for
>quantity -- encourage wild ideas and pie-in-the-sky thinking. Number your
>ideas -- a hundred ideas per hour is usually a sign of a good, fluid
>brainstorm. Use props -- write and draw your concepts with the markers and
>giant post-its stuck to every surface. Get physical -- let that enthusiasm
>bubble over into impromptu prototyping using foam core, duct tape, glue
>guns and other model-building tools. Stretch first -- sometimes it helps to
>ask attendees to do a little homework the night before or play a word game
>to clear the mind before getting down to business. (Business Week 24 Oct 2005)
>       As the boomer generation grows older, its dominance in the U.S.
>science and engineering workforce means the average age in that field will
>likely rise as well, according to the National Science Board's Science and
>Engineering Indicators: 2002. What will this mean for innovation? "Will
>workers in their 50s and 60s continue to make valuable contributions?" asks
>Edward Tenner, an expert on technology and culture. Tenner points out that
>even though young people are responsible for most basic innovations, many
>prominent scientists continue to make significant discoveries well into
>their later years. He cites Thomas Edison, who developed the disc
>phonograph while in his late 60s and Swiss engineer Christian Menn, who
>completed the revolutionary cable-stayed Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston
>at 75. "What is the secret of such men and women? Partly, it is that they
>do not expect the flashes of mathematical insight that may indeed be the
>prerogative of the plastic youthful brain, but instead forge new syntheses
>aided by experience." As Tenner notes, creative talent has no expiration
>date. (Technology Review Oct 2005)
>  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>INNOVATIONS
>       Speech translation technology is making great strides, says Alex
>Waibel, computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University and
>Germany's Karlsruhe University. One application, called Lecture
>Translation, translates speech on the fly and without the restrictions on
>topics that many speech programs currently require. Another prototype uses
>directional speakers to beam translations of the same speech in multiple
>languages to specific listeners. "It's like having a simultaneous
>translator right next to you, but without disturbing the person next to
>you," says Waibel. And for readers, there are Translation Glasses that
>transcribe oral streams into subtitles that appear on a tiny LCD screen.
>Finally, there's the Muscle Translator, which uses electrodes attached to a
>person's facial muscles to capture the electrical signals generated when a
>person is mouthing words. The signals are then translated into speech.
>Conceivably, for people who have lost vocal capability, the electrodes
>could be replaced with wireless chips implanted in the cheeks. These new
>developments are possible, says Waibel, because in the past few years
>researchers have switched their efforts from trying to make a computer
>"learn" a language to a statistical analysis approach. "It doesn't go
>through a deep understanding of the meaning of a sentence. It maps one word
>to another. Increases in computer speed and power and databases have made
>this a winning approach
 We essentially gave up trying to do the full
>semantics of this thing," says Waibel. (CNet News.com 27 Oct 2005)
>       In the rapidly expanding search engine market, specialized search is
>one way that startup companies can hope to differentiate themselves from
>search giants Yahoo and Google. Convera Corp. is hoping its Excalibur
>technology and a multibillion-page index will attract companies and federal
>agencies that want to brand their Web site's search engine with their own
>name. Search marketer iProspect sees more opportunity in "vertical search"
>that focuses on locating data in narrow industry sectors, rather than the
>"horizontal" approach taken by the big commercial search engines. One
>example is IT.com, a search engine designed for business users looking to
>buy or research a range of technology products. "I'm very bullish on
>vertical search," says iProspect CEO Fredrick Marckini. "The only way
>someone will get a piece of Google's market share is to develop a robust
>vertical search engine." (Washington Post 25 Oct 2005)
>       A research consortium led by Oxford University is hoping to develop
>new brain-computer interface (BCI) technology based on asynchronous systems
>that would enable gradual, precise control of external mechanisms, as
>opposed to the simpler on/off mode of existing BCI systems that enable a
>person to control a cursor or robotic device simply by thinking about it.
>Users typically are outfitted with non-invasive electrodes attached to the
>head that measure micro-voltage from the brain's neurons. The signals are
>analyzed through complex algorithms and translated into movement. Oxford
>professor Stephen Roberts says the new system would use only one electrode
>and his team is working on new algorithms sophisticated enough to enable
>graduated, proportional control of movement. "It is reasonably simple to
>use an interface to turn something on or off with a binary control switch.
>That is well-proven technology," says Roberts. "But to control a robot arm,
>that binary control isn't good enough. You need to be able to control the
>movement and speed." Existing BCI systems display a cue on a computer
>screen and the user is asked to think left, right, up or down. Roberts'
>asynchronous system would wait passively until the user thinks of a
>movement and then analyze what movement is intended. It won't be easy,
>warns Roberts. "Normally what you get is a cacophony of noise in the brain
>of all the neurons firing at once. The aim is to pick up these tiny signals
>as cleanly as possible without any interference from beneath a mains hum,
>which is a thousand times bigger than the signals you are trying to get
>at." Although the immediate beneficiaries of such a system would be the
>severely disabled, Roberts also sees eventual applications in the gaming
>and entertainment industries, and says it could even be used to control
>vehicles. (The Engineer 14 Oct 2005)
>       We've read about remotely control robotic arms that can perform
>surgery from a distance, but a team of engineers and doctors from the
>University of Nebraska have devised a set of surgical devices designed to
>be inserted into the patient's abdomen via a tiny incision (a "keyhole"
>cut) and then manipulated once inside. "This is just the start of things to
>come," says team member and surgeon Dmitry Oleynikov. "At some point the
>surgeon's hands won't need to be in the body at all." Keyhole surgery has
>become popular because it causes less trauma and heals more quickly, but
>Oleynikov points out that the small incisions can constrain the reach of
>instruments and obscure the surgeon's view of the operating site.
>Self-contained robots that enter the body completely are much more
>versatile, he argues. The devices still need approval from the Food and
>Drug Administration before coming into widespread use, but the research
>team is hopeful that clinical trials can begin within a year. In the
>meantime, NASA astronauts are planning to test them out in an underwater
>lab off the coast of Florida to practice a simulated appendectomy guided by
>surgeons back on shore. (Nature 27 Oct 2005)
>  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>SPONSORS
>Norwich University
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>--Mike Buglewicz, Student
>Animatrix Inc.
>Founded in 1984 by CEO and principal designer Marney Morris, Animatrix has
>created interactive projects that have defined major strategic shifts for
>clients like AT&T, The Limited, Clinique, Domino's Pizza, Perot Systems,
>and the Walt Disney Company. Animatrix projects include intranets, web
>sites, interfaces and stand-alone applications. Visit Animatrix at
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