Seadragon, Photosynth… Earth shatters again

It seems like I’m stumbling across a paradigm-shifting visual tool every couple of weeks now.  This latest one is full of what Lovecraft would call “Mindblasting Terror”.  Watch this disturbing video in its entirety (well, you can skip the BMW ad at the end).
It’s based on Seadragon and Photosynth, two products now controlled by Microsoft’s Live Labs (what a surprisingly savvy move by Microsoft to set this up!).  As seems to be typical with these things, I had idly wondered when this kind of “computers re-creating space from human photos” would happen a few months ago, but it’s still so alarming.  This is the kind of leap forward that makes me just want to run in circles screaming for the few minutes’ relevance left to me as a designer and human being.

Technological breakthroughs that directly affect vision are, for me, the clearest markers yet of how drastically we are all changing.  How can designers, especially architects, hope to keep up with a population whose visual/perceptive intelligence is changing so quickly?  I still think we need architecture in the Photosynth-powered metaverse to come, but how will we argue for it, and how will we design it?  On a practical level: where do I get the time to understand these worlds and design for them before the shockwave of technology moves past and it all becomes irrelevant once more?  That’s the core question for any designer today who wants to engage with the small part of the population inhabiting the technological front-line.  Of course there are a lot of reasons not to even bother trying to do that, but I suppose I am foolish enough to believe that these people will be the ones determining the long-term fate of the planet.

2 comments to Seadragon, Photosynth… Earth shatters again

  • George

    (Quoting an email from Jeff Dee about this post):

    “…jaw-dropping. Seadragon is so long overdue it’s ridiculous, but now that it’s Microsoft we’ll have to wait to get it bundled to the next RAM hog they shove down our throats.

    “Photosynth – I’m honestly not quite sure where your anxiety is coming from on this one. Seems as though it requires an existing object to work – and the world is already so full of meta-objects, simu-objects, trans-objects, etc, that one more category of them can’t change things too much. I might even argue that the loosening of perspective might actually re-engage users with the field of sensory experience and THEN we just might be able to start challenging them in the ‘real’ world. Of course, they just had to add that co-citational data tagging bit, which might detract from the former, but it’s still amazing.”

  • George

    I think the “co-citational data tagging bit” is really the key of this. Photosynth will form an amalgamation of some kind of all photographs, and link this geo-spatially, as well as narratively (to some degree), by taking advantage of the intelligence baked into all the tagging we’ve been doing. This algorithm is a big step towards computers being able to ‘see’ what we see, which really turns the human-computer interface around in some way.

    But I suppose I agree that this won’t necessarily change human vision all that much. It does give us a way to revisit or share experiences with a combination of precision (tagging, highlighting, geo-location, etc.) and visceral thrill (the magic of perspective and panorama) that home movies and flickr don’t currently provide.

    But look, the intensity of the visual experience this promises is such that it will come to dominate games and entertainment in general. What is thrilling is that it is also so open to the deeper granularity of reality that it will tend to provoke an obsessive eye for detail. Also, of course, it involves so much data that it will be possible to hide entire worlds in it. Literally a world could come from zooming on the right grain of sand…

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