Chris Milk: How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine

One of the methods that I use to keep up-to-date with technology is to listen to all sorts of podcasts and then to look into some of the people that they highlight.

Today I was listening to a TED Radio Hour episode where they highlighted the work of Chris Milk and his use of Virtual Reality as a way of deepening the connections between people.

The films are beautiful and moving, even without a VR headset:

Do we have a truth problem?

What is truth?

It’s a question that philosophers have debated over for millennia. Such philosophical debates are well beyond the remit of what I would normally talk about on this blog and I’m not going to change that with this post.

I only raise the question because I think we are increasingly struggling with understanding what is true.

Recently someone told me a story as if it were fact and then proceeded to tell me that it had to be true because they checked on Google! Is Google a keeper of truth?

The BBC recently highlighted a set of false rumours that were circulating around the Internet regarding the Nepal earthquakes.

Dramatic footage and images have emerged from Nepal, showing the devastation caused by the most deadly earthquake in the country in 81 years. But amid the authentic pictures are fake footage and viral hoaxes.

One of the biggest: On Facebook and YouTube, various versions of a video were erroneously described as closed-circuit television footage from a Kathmandu hotel. They show an earthquake causing violent waves in a swimming pool. The video was picked up by internationalmedia – including one of the BBC’s main news bulletins – and has been viewed more than 5m times. However it’s not from Nepal – it appears to have been be taken during an earthquake in Mexico, in April 2010.

Someone went through the effort of scrubbing the date stamp from the video to make it more believable! Even the BBC wasn’t sure about truth?

I don’t think a month goes by without someone sending me an email, tweet or Facebook post about some scare story that I need to respond to. Not one of them has been true?

In a world where information is replicated, sent, favourited, retweeted and recreated by billions of taping fingers and thousands of robots, how do we recognise the tellers of truth? In that same world how do we use the indexers of information to validate truth?

Google isn’t trying to be a truth teller – it’s just answering the questions you ask it from the index of information that it has.

How was a  parents told about the Game of 72 to know that is was completely fake?

We’ve had systems of trust for generations that have relied upon personal relationships and having proven track record. Most people know someone who they can rely on to tell the truth, likewise most of us know someone who’s words aren’t worth the breath that created them.

Once we started writing we began to place our trust in those doing the writing.  When it came to news, the journalist became our teller of truth.

Then came the radio and the television and the journalist retained their position.

The position of the journalist is under massive pressure though. The pressure to report ever more rapidly means that they have less time to validate a story. The ownership of news organisations creates problems when the owners want to portray a particular viewpoint. Revenue reduction for newspapers means that fewer journalists are covering more news.

We are becoming increasingly sceptical about the truth-telling of journalist.

That’s just one sphere of truth – the news.

How many times have you read about a new scientific study only to be told a month later that another one contradicts it.

The following diagram shows the diversity of outcomes from studies on foods and cancer:

How do you tell the truth from that? Should I drink tea or avoid it?

We are become increasingly sceptical about the truth-telling of scientist.

If we have a problem with journalists and scientists how do we decide who is trustworthy? Who are our tellers of truth?

I think we need a new set of skills to help us, or perhaps it’s just the same old skills but used in a new way. We need to learn how to do our own investigating. We need to learn to wait for stories to mature and for the truth to become clear. We need to become questioners.

"The Rise of Dynamic Teams" – Alan Lepofsky and Bryan Goode

Continuing my review of some of the sessions from Microsoft Ignite 2015 the title The Rise of Dynamic Teams caught my attention.

When I saw that the presenters were Alan Lepofsky and Bryan Goode it was definitely going to be one to watch.

This session has an overarching question raised by Alan:

Could you be more effective at work?

Well of course I can.

All I had to do is to think back to the last time I was frustrated at work and there clearly presented was an opportunity to be more effective.

Promised Productivity

Alan also highlight that we’ve been promised improved productivity for decades now, but in his opinion not really been delivered it.

My personal opinion is that we have improved our productivity, but mostly by doing the same things quicker, rather than working in different way. A good example of this is email where we send far more messages far quicker, but definitely less effectively.

Framing the problem

Many of us can recognise the issue of information overload. We use many different systems and are fed information all the time.

Alan frames a different problem which I also recognise – input overload. This is the problem we experience when we think about creating something and can’t decided what it is we are creating or where we are putting it – Which tool should I use? Where did I post it?

The point is that we now have a multitude of choices of tools so we don’t necessarily need more tools, but we do need to tools to be simpler and to collaborate together.

Best of Breed v Integrated Suites

Alan reflects on two distinct approaches to collaborative tooling – one which focusses on the best of breed capabilities and one which takes a suite of collaborative capabilities.

These are illustrated below:

Best of Breed Collaboration Tools

Suites Collaboration Tools

The key to the suites approach is the content of the centre combined with the ability to integrate third-party capability and have data portability.

I’m not sure I would put everything in the centre that Alan does but I wholly agree with the principal. One of the significant challenges with a suite approach is that by choosing a suite you risk creating a lock-in situation. This lock-in isn’t necessarily one of data lock-in, what’s more likely is capability lock-in.

Intelligent Collaboration

Alan explains what he means by Intelligent Collaboration:

“This is poised to be the coolest shift we’ve had in collaboration tools we’ve had in 20 years”

“The ability for us to start doing really cool things based on intelligence is really going to dramatically change the way we work”

In the Microsoft approach this intelligence will initially be focussed on the individual, but will then extend to teams and organisations.

The systems that we have today have a very limited view of context and what view they do have they tend not to use with any intelligence. Take the simple example of email build-up during a holiday period. You can set up an out-of-office response, but wouldn’t it be great if something more intelligent happened.

If we take that simple example and add onto it all of the sensors that will soon be reporting on our well-being and location. You can then imagine getting a response from your bosses intelligent assistant asking you to attend a meeting on her behalf because her flight back from holiday has been placed into quarantine due to an outbreak of a virus for which she is show the initial symptoms.

Adding to the context will enable many more intelligent interaction.

Imagine a digital assistant system that made decisions based on – location, time, time-zone, emotional state, physical state and many more.

The Rise of the Dynamic Team

This is the point in the session where Bryan Goode adds the Microsoft perspective. He does this by focussing on:

Modern Collaboration

The perspective defined by Bryan is that teams will continue to utilise many different tools and will be increasingly mobile.

Microsoft are also investing heavily in meeting experiences, something that is in desperate need of improvement for all of us.

Intelligent Fabric

In order to enable modern collaboration Bryan talks through the Microsoft view of the need for an Intelligent Fabric.

Two examples of this fabric being built are Office 365 Groups and Office Graph.

Office 365 Groups provide a unified capability across the Office 365 tools for the creation of teams. A group created in one of the Office 365 tools will be visible in all of the other tools – Sites, OneDrive, Yammer, Exchange. Doing this makes a group a fabric entity rather than being locked into any particular tool.

Office Graph brings together all of the signalling information from the Office 365 tools and any other integrated tools. It’s role is to bring together the meta-data from different interactions and activities.

Personalised Insight

An Intelligent Fabric is one thing, but creating value from it is the important part.

In the presentation Bryan demonstrates Office Delve which utilises the signalling from Office Graph to create personal insights.

The personal insights currently focus on the individual, but they are being extended to provide insights for groups and organisations.

“Teamwork is becoming a first-class entity across our products”

Bryan Goode

I’m not going to explain the demonstrations other than to say that they are worth watching, as is the rest of the presentation.

Conclusions

Productivity and collaboration are going to be a defining features of future organisations as can be seen from the posts that I wrote on the Productive Workplace.

Microsoft is in a position to generate a lot of innovation and disruption by building on top of the Office 365 ecosystem. Groups, Graph and Delve are just the start of that. Having released themselves from the shackles of delivery by Enterprise IT organisation they can potential move at a pace that places them ahead of the pack.

More…

The presentation and video for this session is here.

The video is also embedded below:

https://channel9.msdn.com/Events/Ignite/2015/BRK1106/player

Thought Experiment: Glasses Tracker

Yesterday I was doing a job which required me to go up into a loft. Before I could get into the loft I needed to get to the cupboard where the loft hatch was, this meant opening up a number of locked doors. Once inside the cupboard I need to move a number of tables out then open the loft hatch and secure the ladder. It was only then I could go up into the loft space and get on with my work.

Having completed my work I did the same set of things in reverse: descend ladder, replace loft hatch, replace tables and lock doors.

A short while later I was sat at a desk having finished off the rest of the job. It was then that I picked up my keys and looked for my glasses. I expected the glasses to be on the desk, but they weren’t. Where were they? Then it occurred to me – “I wonder if I’ve left them in the loft”. Sure enough, after going through the process again, the loft is exactly where my eye-wear was.

Some years ago I left a set of glasses at Manchester airport on my way out on a business trip. On my return I visited the lost-property office to see if some kind person had handed them in. The friendly man behind the counter asked me the date on which I’d left my glasses he the took out a draw from a cabinet which was at least two metres by one metre.  The tray was full of hundreds of pairs of glasses and represented only a few days of misplaced eye-wear, some of which were very bizarre.  My spectacles weren’t there.

This got me thinking, in this world of shrinking electronics and the Internet of Things, why don’t we have GPS traceable glasses. There are clearly some styles of glasses with very little room for anything, but some of the designs have probably got ample space to store the required gadgetry?  Perhaps it’s enough to have them Bluetooth traceable, but GPS tracking would be better. Bluetooth might have resolved my loft problem, but I think it would have been less likely to have resolved my airport problem. Wouldn’t that be a great differentiator for the glasses manufacturers?

Some people have already thought about something similar:

  • Glasses TrackR – This seems to do a lot of what I want but it’s still a bit big. I like the 2-way ringer function to, which enables you to find your phone from your glasses. The limitation of 100 feet is going to be a common problem though.
  • LOOK – This is a Bluetooth variant that is more stylish, but it’s still an extra something attached to your glasses. Using Bluetooth gives it a 50 feet range which would be OK, but it’s still not GPS.

Both of these are currently concepts looking for funding, perhaps I should invest?

The challenge as always, is going to be power. You can pretty much guarantee that the time when you need this function will be the time when the batteries have dies. It’s also power that limits the range of the device, anyone who has GPS enabled on their phone knows what a power drain it can be.

So we’ve still got a way to go before this can become a reality, but it’s tantalizingly close.

Concept video for the LOOK:

BYOD and Personal Knowledge Management

Not so long ago people would go to work at a set time and work exclusively on equipment and applications provided by the employer. At the end of the day they would go home and do whatever they wanted to do using their stuff. But now the line between work and life is now a complete jumble for many.

Wintry Walk on Fare Snape Fell(I am going to refer to work-and-life in this post as if they are two distinct things as a way of contrasting the challenge, but that whole concept is also going through significant disruption which I may cover at a later date)

Personal knowledge management used to be similarly straightforward with work stuff in one place, life stuff in another place. Take diaries as an example, I used to run a home diary and a work diary. If truth be known, Sue used to run my home diary and I would focus all of my energy on the work diary. This situation was only complicated when either the work requirements or the life requirements would break into one of the other’s area. School plays during the day would require a special entry in my work diary to make sure I was there. Likewise overnight business trips would need a special entry in the life diary.

This situation was never ideal, but worked quite well with few issues. One of the huge advantages of this situation was the people at my employer could see my availability and schedule meetings with me because my availability was visible to all.

In a BYOD world it would be, just about, acceptable to make both my diaries available on all my devices, but that’s not really resolving the challenge or addressing the changing culture. Running multiple diaries has never been ideal and leads to all sorts of issues when things clash.

The real requirement is for me to see a single diary, I don’t mind whether it’s made up of a number of diaries, but I need to see it as one. That diary needs to be embedded into my mobile experience so that I can use all of the functions of my mobile device. Portions of my availability need to be visible to different interested groups. I need to be able to set parameters on my availability for those groups because I don’t want a completely blended lifestyle where I’m available to everyone 24 by 7. I want event information from one group (project team) to be available to another group (family) so that sensible decisions can be made. In other words I want a completely blended diary experience which has been personalised to my requirements and way of working.

I could just opt out and run a single personal diary with no visibility to others but that would not be very helpful to people who want to schedule time with me. I used to have a boss who did that and it was impossible to schedule anything with him, particularly as the only diary that he regarded as truth was the paper one in his hands at all times.

Another alternative is to run two diaries and to copy everything from one to another. The natural choice for doing this would be to make the life diary the master and to copy everything from the work diary into it, but that just leads to another challenge, what to do about data privacy. Would my employer really want my family to have access to a report with sensitive financial information in it? A diary entry isn’t just about the scheduling information; it’s also about all of the associated content.

My purpose in this discussion is to use diary information as an example of the complications of running any form of personal knowledge management system in a world where work technology and life technology are the same, and where the separation between them is a complete jumble. The same challenges apply to to-do lists, note taking, reading lists, document stores, and all manner of personal knowledge management techniques.

These challenges are multiplied when we want others to collaborate with us in our personal knowledge management system.

We are going to see many ways of resolving these challenges that break the current paradigms and move us to a far more personal way of working. Doodle is an example of a different way of thinking about team scheduling that works across personal diaries. There are many people thinking about the to-do list and note taking most of which are being delivered as cloud services built to interact with personal applications. This continued shift to personal is going to significantly change the way that individuals and teams interact, collaborate and do work. As always the technology shift is the smaller part of a much larger cultural shift.

As a person I’m the one who is enabled and approved for access to all sorts of data. In the future I am expecting to be able to have a personal life assistant which is going to need access to all of my sources of data to enact upon them, but that’s another challenge requiring another paradigm shift.

A Virtual Desktop Analogy – Rooms and Properties

One of the techniques that I like to use when discussing technology with customers and colleagues is analogy. I find that it helps to break through the barriers of technology terminology and acronyms. It creates a picture in people’s heads that they can relate to.

Granddad wonders what a virtual desktop is?I’ve recently really enjoyed reading the analogy for Virtual Desktops put forward by Andreas Groth on IBM’s Thoughts on the Cloud Blog:

The virtual desktop arena is particularly mired in terminology and acronyms. For starters, what is a desktop anyway? Is it the top of this desk I’m sitting at? Is it the device that’s sitting on top of the desk? Is it the layout of the things on the screens that I am looking at? Well, of course, it’s all three of them depending on the context, even though the device that I’m currently using is a laptop. What does virtual really mean anyway? So when we start talking about shared virtual desktops, persistent virtual desktops, dedicated virtual desktops, local virtual desktops, pooled virtual desktops, etc. it just adds to the confusion. Virtual applications anyone?

Andreas’ analogy uses different residency types (hotels, private residence, etc.) as a parallel for the different virtual desktop types.

  • The hotel is analogous to the basic pooled virtual desktop approach. It has all of the basic capabilities you require. It’s the same every time you go into it because it’s serviced. You’re allowed to take some of your own stuff in, but you have to take it with you when you go.
  • The private residence is analogous to the dedicated virtual desktop approach. It’s yours, you can do what you like inside it. If you break it then you’ll have to fix it yourself, or hire someone in to do a professional repair. You may check into a hotel room while it’s being fixed, but it won’t be home.

He then extends this parallel to look at the different perspectives that people have about the residency – the occupier sees things differently to the property manager.

A really good analogy isn’t there to provide all of the answers, it’s there to help you get a different insight, and this one does.

It provides the insight about why people don’t really like the hotel approach (pooled virtual desktops). They generally have no technical reason, or even a functional reason for disliking it, it’s just that the desktop experience has become personal to them and you can’t really personalise a hotel room. Likewise, some people will, given the choice, always live in a hotel, because they like the way it’s serviced.

Another insight is the difference in costs and charging models. You generally pay for a hotel on a per-night basis, but you take out a longer term relationship for a private residence. Perhaps we are doing ourselves is disservice by viewing them as the same in the virtual desktop world.

I suppose that in this analogy a local virtual desktop on a  laptop is a gypsy caravan. It’s where you live, you can do what you like to it, and you carry it around with you. What do you think?