A GLIMPSE into the Digital Future at USC

Tuesday, the University of Southern California (USC), a leader in digital research and a TriplePoint client, hosted GLIMPSE, a technology showcase featuring rarely-seen research presentations and demonstrations from departments across the university. We were fortunate enough to attend GLIMPSE and came away with the realization that the proverbial future filled with holographic projections, mind-reading computers and the like isn’t as far off as previously believed.

The day kicked off with a series of presentations by various researchers and professors at USC, and then concluded with a hands-on demonstration experience, where attendees could interact with the technology discussed in the demonstrations. Randy Hall, vice president of research at USC, opened the day with his remarks on the university’s role as a leading research institution in digital technology. Among the university’s many achievements, we learned that it led the way in enabling online video archival and delivery, and currently holds a number of patents that are leveraged by companies like YouTube.

The first presentation was by Stephen Smith, executive director of USC’s Shoah Foundation’s New Dimensions in Testimony, a collaborative project with USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT). As Stephen explained, New Dimensions in Testimony captures stories from Holocaust survivors by combining new interview content with advanced filming, digital archive, natural language processing, and display technologies that will allow students to engage in dialogue with virtual survivors — preserved forever in video and holographic form — for years to come.

Next, Paul Debevec, associate director of graphics research at ICT presented on his work on the Light Stage system he developed, which renders digital faces using specialized camera and lighting techniques that perfectly reproduce an actor’s appearance and movements digitally. This technology was used in films such as Avatar. He also spoke on ICT’s work on holographic video conferencing. Though early in development, ICT has a working prototype of this technology that enables users to interact with a holographic talking-head. As camera processing and technology continues to improve, miniaturize, and cost less, Debevec expects this technology to become more widely utilized in five years.

Then, professor of computer science and electrical engineering Cyrus Shahabi of the Integrated Media Systems Center presented on geo-crowdsourcing, showing off an app he developed using big data from traffic loop sensors that surpasses even Google maps in its accuracy in determining the fastest routes during rush hour traffic — no easy feat in Los Angeles. After a lunch break, Richard Lemarchand, Elizabeth Swensen, Sean Bouchard, Jeff Watson, and Peter Brinton of the School of Cinematic Arts presented their work on serious games from the Game Innovation Lab, showing how such games are changing human behavior. The Game Innovation Lab is part of USC Games, ranked by the Princeton Review and GamePro Media as the number one game design program in North America in 2012.

Jonathan Taplin of the Annenberg Innovation Lab presented next on a Twitter analysis project called Sentimeter, which allows computers  to read and interpret huge chunks of data from Twitter in real time. Taplin showed how he and his team collected data from Twitter responses during highly rated TV programs such as the presidential debates, and showed how this project provides more accurate measurement of television ratings as well as other metrics important to marketers and advertisers.

The last presentation was  by surprise guest Professor Alex McDowell of the School of Cinematic Arts, who discussed the role design plays in the creative process. Focused largely on building futuristic worlds, McDowell showcased examples of his process in films like Minority Report and Upside Down (coming soon). He also discussed how creative design can transform fiction into reality, noting that the virtual computer depicted in Minority Report (you know, the one they control touch-free by moving their hands?) has actually been created — and it works.

Attendees were then taken to engage with demonstrations of the technologies discussed in the presentations. Guests interacted with a digital Holocaust survivor, captured in video format, by asking questions about his experience. Guests could also check out the ICT’s innovations for military personnel and military veterans. The first was virtual reality exposure therapy called Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan, developed by associate director for medical virtual reality Skip Rizzo. The virtual simulation of Iraq and Afghanistan was developed to help military veterans deal with post-traumatic stress in a clinical environment. ELITE, or Emergent Leader Immersive Training Environment, was also showcased, which incorporates a virtual human, classroom response technology and a real-time data tracking tool to help engage military personnel in role-play situations in counseling and management.

Other technologies demoed included games developed by students within USC Games, including titles “Core Overload” and “Scrapyard.” Attendees could also check out Project Holodeck, a virtual reality platform that brings a 360-degree full-body virtual reality experience onto a consumer platform, so when players engage in the video game, it appears as though they’re actually in the game itself. Finally, guests could explore  iOS virtual reality apps, which utilize a snap-on immersive viewer which, when looked through, makes the world around the viewer appear as though it’s on the surface of Mars.

GLIMPSE’s presentations and demonstrations showed off the university’s top-notch research, and left attendees incredibly impressed with the advances occurring in digital technology that many weren’t even aware of. However, the point of GLIMPSE wasn’t merely to showcase cool, cutting-edge technology developed by USC (although the event certainly achieved that). Technologies at the event, such as the Shoah Foundation’s preservation of Holocaust memories or ICT’s work to help members of the military personnel and veterans, weren’t just developed for advancement’s sake. GLIMPSE went beyond being a simple tech showcase by providing a look into a digital future where technology will be an integral part of bettering the world around us by not only enhancing the present, but by shaping the future and preserving the past.

Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.

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About Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.