Imitation & Flattery

I’ve been lucky enough to own this domain name for a number of years, and populate it with loads of content along the way. For a while, I ran a dedicated Tumblr sideblog of the same name which I have since merged into this site. More recently, I founded Digital Cortex Ltd., a formal means of handling a clutch of consultation projects. And now, this site is the front-end to my hosting business, offering virtual private server space to a few happy clients, as well as a playground for a few of the other little projects I’m working on.

Meanwhile, plenty of other people / groups / products have laid their claim to the Digital Cortex name, and I wanted to provide a quick review of them here, just for fun, but also to signpost should anyone have got lost in the ether.

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Chris Chan on Twitter

https://twitter.com/digitalcortex

A dude who’s only tweeted four times, not much else to say…
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Question Authority on YouTube

http://www.youtube.com/digitalcortex

A highly politicised channel featuring clips from documentaries and news broadcasts. It’s seemingly anti-corporate  / anti-government / anti-war. Whoever runs the channel quotes:

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. (Abraham Lincoln)

Makes it all the more charming that one of his playlists is called Why I Love the 80’s, doesn’t it?
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Doc on Instagram

http://instagram.com/digitalcortex

I guess this is a tattooed guy who I assume wears glasses, eats pasta, and likes beer. He describes himself as “PhD -Piled Higher Deeper enuff said 😉
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Digital Cortex – The Movie

http://www.digital-cortex.com

A chap called Serhan Meewisse, a storyteller from the Netherlands, is making a film. He posted the below trailer to his YouTube channel:

About the film (autotranslated from Dutch):

Digital Cortex is a fiction story about Matt, who has just graduated from the film academy. Matt, the speed of the eternal accelerating system not keep after his studies. He gets his unattainable vision into depression and have thoughts about suicide. In desperation get Matt to his friend Andrew. Andrew may be the only solution for him.

A device that he can continue. system

Digital cortex makes the flow of information along the human visual cortex digital. Thoughts and fantasies are visual and are immediately visible on screen. Matt’s life is gaining momentum. Success is his second name. Because Matt is continuously working to become reality and fantasy begin to merge. Together his fantasy reality Matt is getting delusions and hallucinations. He stands for choice, back to his unhappy existence or lose himself in his imagination.

Sounds kind of cool – wonder if I’ll get an invite to the screening!
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Digital Cortex on LinkedIn

http://www.linkedin.com/company/digital-cortex

The leading social media marketing and customer experience agency. We help Business understand the power of having a marketing and communication presence through the Social medium.

Hmm… Not sure if they realise, but their web address redirects back here. Further googling suggests they might not be doing too well.
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Digital Cortex on SlideShare

http://www.slideshare.net/theopriestley/digital-cortex

A bit more info on what the above company does:


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Digital Cortex on SoundCloud

https://soundcloud.com/digital-cortex

Three guys named KyRow, Nebtune & Aaronson, who make Drum & Bass that sounds like this:

I recommend you also check out ‘Skull Fucker’, ‘nothing like a bowl of frosties’ and their remix of ‘Lana Del Rey – Born To Die’. They are also on Facebook and YouTube. Good shit, lads.
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DIGITALCORTEX.COM

Not active, but the WHOIS record indicates Brian Winn, a Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media and Director of the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab at Michigan State University. We emailed a couple of years ago, and he provided some interesting backstory about the domain:

In terms of releasing digitalcortex.com, I am not interested at this point. I actually had a consulting company called Digital Cortex back in the late 90s and digitalcortex.com was the domain name for the company. Interestingly enough another company wanted the domain name and bought it for a substantial amount of money. Enough that we changed our company name and got a new domain name. Well, the story goes that a year or two later, that company went belly up in the .com crash and I bought the domain name back. I am not holding out for a big sale in the future (though I would not oppose it). I just have a sentimental connection with the domain … and I am thinking of using the name again for a new company.

Best of luck with it all, Brian.
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Digital Cortex in the US Trademark Records

COMPUTER SOFTWARE, WHETHER EMBEDDED IN ANOTHER PRODUCT OR ON A STAND-ALONE BASIS, WHICH ALLOWS THE USER OR ANOTHER COMPUTER SOFTWARE PROGRAM TO CAPTURE ANY DIGITAL CONTENT, AND TO USE, MANIPULATE, PROCESS, AND ROUTE THAT CONTENT, INCLUDING ORIGINAL ATTRIBUTES, TO AND FROM ANY COMPUTER SOFTWARE APPLICATION

The registrant was AnySoft, a tech company based in Newton, MA. From what I can dig up, their software ‘Digital Cortex 2.0′ was an approach to solving system and application interopability’ acting as a sort of software layer between various networked machines. More info here. Possibly the same guys who bought the domain from Brian Winn? Anyway, the trademark was cancelled a couple of years ago. A shame, too, because they also had this super snazzy logo:

Digital Cortex Anysoft Logo
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A few more:

Digital Cortex on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/alamocityit

Providing IT Solutions for local non-profits and healthcare businesses.

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Digital Cortex Media

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/mark-fenger/11/43a/485

Digital Cortex is a small animation studio specializing in educational videos. We just completed work on ‘Echo’ a computer animated accent reduction tutor, prior to that we created a series of videos to accompany medical textbooks.

Sounds pretty cool, but couldn’t uncover any of their work.
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Digital Cortex by Dactilar

http://www.beatport.com/track/digital-cortex-original-mix/4307073

A deep house track, with a couple of good remixes. I really like this one.
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Digital Cortex on ‘Wandering Stan’ Blog

http://wanderingstan.com/2006-11-16/we_need_a_digital_cortex

A mini series of interesting blog posts by Stan James, starting with this.
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Digital Cortex dot IT

http://digitalcortex.it

Hi, I’m Matt Hileman, chief do-it-all at Digital Cortex […] Contact us any time with issues regarding any aspect of IT, networking, wireless, software installs and/or upgrades, PC’s, servers, storage, disaster recovery, backups and more…

Seems like there’s lots more going on behind the scenes.
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Digital Cortex dot CA

http://blog.digitalcortex.ca

This blog has up to date information on Network Security.

Last updated, Wednesday, November 3, 2010…
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Digital Cortex dot DE

http://digitalcortex.de

Another dead IT site.
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Cortex Professional Digital 4-in-1 Titanium Curling Iron

http://amzn.to/10V87la

You’d be surprised how much of my traffic comes from searches for this product!
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Cortex Digital

http://cortexdigital.com

A complete mystery…
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And that’s all I could find! Hopefully, I can remain the top site for the keyword, but if not the crown is bound to go to one of the above contenders. My money is on the trio of drum+bass producers – those search bots seem to love ’em!

The Skinner Box

In B. F. Skinner’s famous experiment in operant conditioning, a lab rat is placed inside a container and rewarded with a food pellet on completion of a task, triggered by an external stimulus such as a light, a sound or a shock. The pattern of reward becomes increasingly inconsistent, following a ‘schedule of reinforcement’ controlled by the experimenter.

Skinner Box (Operant Conditioning Chamber)

From Wikipedia:

Skinner’s operant chamber allowed him to explore the rate of response as a dependent variable, as well as develop his theory of schedules of reinforcement. If the event increased the number of responses it is said to strengthen its responding and if it decreased the number of responses it weakens the responding.

In short: a Skinner Box allows one to observe habits being formed, through control of the conditions surrounding a subject and their reward.

The lessons learned span far beyond Psychology: Education; Behavioural Economics; Interpersonal Communication and even Video Gaming have each benefit from an understanding of operant conditioning, so it is no surprise to see advertisers capitalising on our easily pliable behaviours.

One such experimenter, a brand of flavoured rice cake, posed the research question “how far will you go for Fantastic Delites” – their conditions, a large scale Skinner Box and the baying masses of an Australian shopping mall.

The results are equal parts twisted, fascinating and funny:

The evidence suggests human subjects will endure an embarrassingly strict schedule of reinforcement, especially in a public scenario.

At last year’s TEDxObserver Cory Doctorow gave a talk comparing the machinations of Facebook to operant conditioning of a more dangerous kind… and I can’t help but feel he has a point.

We will go pretty far for free rice cakes – but would we go further knowing we were in a Skinner Box?

A New Kind of Business Card

Question: How do you share that great idea of yours while keeping your intellectual property secure? Answer: You use a non-disclosure agreement.

Beer: tool of the trade

But NDAs are way too formal for the modern entrepreneur, who is more likely to meet a potential partner or investor at a conference, in a coffee shop, or over a beer than arrange to meet at the lawyers.

In an informal situation, the most common business exchange is probably handing someone your business card. I’ve been thinking about this, so in the spirit of sharing ideas, here’s what I’ve come up with:

What if your business card could unlock new conversations?

On the understanding that a signed non-disclosure agreement allows for a far smoother flow of communication in the exchange of business ideas, my business card design offers the ability to turn a casual conversation into a pitch scenario, but without the formality.

Take a look at this mockup I created for MOO Cards, who sadly weren’t interested in the exclusive ownership rights!

Click the image to see in fullscreen

My design is a perforated piece of card designed to be ripped in half:

  • One half lists the usual business card details
  • One half has space for a signature against the statement:
    “I hereby agree to treat your idea as confidential in a bond of trust”
    (or whatever)

Each party keeps one half of the card in this interactive business exchange. Not legally airtight, of course, but still an innovative means of quickly forming trust with a potential partner.

So then, anyone out there want to help turn this design into a reality?

Digital Switchover Leaving Earth Invisible To Aliens

If you’ve seen this video of Earth’s place in the Universe, you’ll have already seen the distance our first radio broadcasts have travelled. You’ll also have seen the huge amount of satellites buzzing around the planet, surrounding us with digital noise.

The founder of the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), Dr Frank Drake, says that the chances of alien life discovering our planet are diminishing, in the wake of the digital revolution. Apparently, phasing out analogue transmissions from television, radio and radar is making our planet electronically invisible from outer space.

While old style signals used to spread out millions of miles into outer space, even reaching some distant stars, digital transmissions are much weaker and therefore are less easy to detect by extra-terrestrial life forms.

The earth used to be surrounded by a 50 light year wide shell of radiation, with old-style television transmissions generating around one million watts, but with satellites aiming much of their transmissions towards Earth now virtually no radiation is escaping into outer space.

Drake explained:

“Now the actual amount of radiation escaping is about two watts, not much more than you get from a cell phone. If this continues into the future, very soon our world will become undetectable.”

Dr Drake said he remained convinced that intelligent life does exist somewhere in the universe but suggested it was likely to be much more advanced than here on earth. What an irony it is, that in our efforts to improve our own communication networks we may already have cut ourselves off from the rest of the Universe.

Introduction

Augmented Reality (AR) is a theme of computer research which deals with a combination of real world and computer generated data. AR is just one version of a Mixed Reality (MR) technology, where digital and real elements are mixed to create meaning. In essence AR is any live image that has an overlay of information that augments the meaning of these images.

Digital graphics are commonly put to work in the entertainment industry, and ‘mixing realities’ is a common motif for many of today’s media forms. There are varying degrees to which The Real and The Virtual can be combined. This is illustrated in my Mixed Reality Scale:

mixed-reality-scale
My Mixed Reality Scale, a simplified version of Milgram & Kishino’s (1994) Virtuality Continuum

This is a simplified version of Milgram and Kishino’s (1994) Virtuality Continuum; simplified, because their research is purely scientific, without an explicit interest in media theory or effects, therefore not wholly applicable to my analysis. At the far left of my Mixed Reality Scale lies The Real, or physical, every-day experiential reality. For the longest time we lived solely in this realm. Then, technological innovation gave rise to the cinema, and then television. These media are located one step removed from The Real, a step closer to The Virtual, and can be considered a window on another world. This world is visually similar to our own, a fact exploited by its author to narrate believable, somewhat immersive stories. If willing, the viewer is somewhat ‘removed’ from their grounding here in physical reality, allowing them to participate in the construction of a sculpted, yet static existence. The viewer can only observe this contained reality, and cannot interact with it, a function of the viewing apparatus.

Later advancements in screen media technologies allowed the superimposition of graphical information over moving images. These were the beginnings of AR, whereby most of what is seen is real with some digital elements supplementing the image. Indeed, this simple form of AR is still in wide use today, notably in cases where extra information is required to make sense of a subject. In the case of certain televised sports, for example, a clock and a scoreboard overlay a live football match, which provides additional information that is useful to the viewer. Television viewers are already accustomed to using information that is displayed in this way:

Simple Augmented Reality, televised football matches augment meaning with digital graphics
Simple Augmented Reality, televised football matches augment meaning with digital graphics

More recently, computing and graphical power gave designers the tools to build wholly virtual environments. The Virtual is a graphical representation of raw data, and the furthest removed from physical reality on my Mixed Reality Scale. Here lies the domain of Virtual Reality (VR), a technology that uses no real elements except for the user’s human senses. The user is submersed in a seemingly separate reality, where visual, acoustic and sometimes haptic feedback serve to transpose them into this artificial, yet highly immersive space. Notice the shift from viewer to user: this is a function of the interactivity offered by digital space. VR was the forerunner to current AR research, and remains an active realm of academic study.

Computer graphics also enhanced the possibilities offered by television and cinema, forging a new point on the Mixed Reality Scale. I refer to the Augmented Virtuality (AV) approach, which uses mainly digital graphics with some real elements superimposed. For example, a newsreader reporting from a virtual studio environment is one common application. I position AV one step closer towards The Virtual to reflect the ratio of real to virtual elements:

An Augmented Virtuality, the ITV newscasters sit at a real table in a virtual studio
An Augmented Virtuality, the ITV newscasters sit at a real table in a virtual studio

There is an expansive realm between AV and VR technologies, media which offer the user wholly virtual constructions that hold potential for immersion and interactivity. I refer to the media of video games and desktop computers. Here the user manipulates visually depicted information for a purpose. These media are diametrically opposed to their counterpart on my scale, the cinema and television, because they are windows this time into a virtual world, actively encouraging (rather than denying) user interactivity to perform their function. Though operating in virtuality, the user remains grounded in The Real due to apparatus constraints.

Now, further technological advancements allow the fusion of real and virtual elements in ways not previously possible. Having traversed our way from The Real to The Virtual, we have now begun to make our way back. We are making a return to Augmented Reality, taking with us the knowledge to manipulate wholly virtual 3D objects and the computing power to integrate digital information into live, real world imagery. AR is deservedly close to The Real on my scale, because it requires physicality to function. This exciting new medium has the potential to change the way we perceive our world, forging a closer integration between our two binary worlds. It is this potential as an exciting and entirely new medium that has driven me to carry out the following work.

To begin, I address the science behind AR and its current applications. Next, I exploit an industry connection to inform a discussion of AR’s development as an entertainment medium. Then, I construct a methodology for analysis from previous academic thought on emergent technologies, whilst addressing the problems of doing so. I use this methodology to locate AR in its wider technologic, academic, social and economic context. This discussion opens ground for a deeper analysis of AR’s potential socio-cultural impact, which makes use of theories of media and communication and spatial enquiry. I conclude with a final critique that holds implications for the further analysis of Mixed Reality technology.