Stuff Internet-savvy People Like: Pranav Mistry

There's a limit to the amount of adulation I can tolerate for raw ideas. Sure, wearable computers are the future; sure, querying the Cloud is Tomorrow's way of just asking someone if that brand of garlic bread tastes good; sure, information that you are now forced to get from slow Facebook stalking can come right from a few discreet thumb-presses, and you can impress that girl with a amazingly coincidental set of interests. ZOMG! She just can't imagine there's someone else in the world who has  cats with the same names!

All that granted. But the collective shagging on "the genius behind the innovative SixthSense application", Pranav Mistry, is nauseating. It is just a concept, an idea, like a million other ideas! The video that Pattie Maes showed in the TED Talk is, in my opinion, a reasonably well made funding-agency demo. Nearly everyone I know in grad school who is working on hands-on research has made a video like that. You get a funky piece of technology that is extremely common among some circles, but is surprisingly rare in general. In this case, it's a matchbox-size projector and a gesture recognition system. 90% of the people who see one in action are hypnotized just by the fact that something is being projected out of that small box, but every lab has tens of them lying around. Next, hook it up to a nice GUI, in this case a simple Cocoa-based one. Choose a sequence of examples that are of interest to the target agency - in this case, shopping. Hard code an application to follow a certain procedure to demonstrate a concept - in this case, look up something on the web and project it. And voila, instant internet recognition!

The demo comfortably sits inside the continuum ranging from completely hardcoded demos (everything is scripted) to completely open demos (like if instead of showing a video, a member of the audience was asked to come up, wear it, and do something in realtime). It's much more closer to the hardcoded demos - sure, the realtime web downloading is real, the projection is real, the keypad identification is real, even the gesture identification is real (he claims that it took 50,000 lines of code to get gestures+the computer vision part working - that seems about right for code written from ground up, but no way in hell is this new or even innovative [*]). But the entire thing together is scripted! A few typical scenarios are chosen, and a sequence of events of using those technologies is orchestrated. Getting a few parts of the demo to work would certainly have been challenging, and it does take several weeks to even get a simple computer vision code working for a perfectly defined object if we just vary the lighting and the angles. But it is impossible for that to be considered a completely general product!

The slashdot summary, on a story that says he graciously decided to use open source after having "put paid to the canard that open source and innovation are incompatible" reads:
Mistry’s decision has meaning beyond Sixth Sense. The desire of inventors is always to get their work into the market as quickly as possible. Usually this means waiting for it to be turned into a useful, profitable invention. Mistry is bypassing this by going straight to open source. (Italics mine)

Honestly, I think people are far too consumed in imagining elaborate visions of future technology and heralding the next victory for open source to really look hard and notice that this is just a slick frickin' demo! 
 
I've seen far too many demos and done enough of them myself to believe this is a real, open demo. If indeed it is a completely open demo and anybody today is free to try out the product if they wanted to, then I'm completely wrong and Pranav Mistry has achieved something that I believe is impossible  (in a 2nd law sense) with the time and resources available as a grad student.

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[*] - Here's a product review of a $130 projected keyboard.
And a product demo of gesture recognition with video, on a mobile phone.

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Reactions to this post, mainly from critiquing myself and some from others, have included 'Cynic!', 'Overly spiteful critical old crone!' , 'Pessimist!', 'Indian crab!', 'Unbeliever!', 'What have you got against the poor guy?', 'You're just jealous!', 'You try doing something like that!', 'What have you achieved?', 'You're going against public opinion just to seem cool', 'Inverted watermelon!' (Red outside, Green inside (Anger, jealousy)),  and I quite amusedly actually agree. I don't know what's possessing me to get so irritated at this.
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