AT&T Innovations Showcase Offers Glimpse of a Mobile Future

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2013-04-04 Print this article Print

It was easy to imagine people taking to Visual Search—a sort of visual Shazam. Walking by an interesting building and wondering about its history? Snap a photo and Visual Search will fill you in. Or someday it will. For now, it's working from a database of information, but ideally someday it will be connected to the Internet. Currently, though, it can do things like help people to sort through hundreds of photos, whether by detecting faces or locations.

It was harder to imagine consumers taking, en masse, to Good Times, a headset that records brainwaves and, understanding when a wearer is deep in a thought, automatically redirect any incoming calls. A very high-tech "do not disturb" machine, if you will.

And then somewhere between the two, in the perhaps more-evolved world of five years from now, one can see how an innovation called Ambient Communication might gain popularity. Workers are increasingly remote and far-flung, which reduces opportunities for collaboration or the kind of water-cooler talk that can lead to innovations—as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently reminded the world.

Ambient Communication consists of a screen—it could be a very big screen, set up in an area where workers congregate, or simply one's desktop display—as well as a browser and a Webcam. On the screen, colleagues in other locations vaguely pulse or float around. If you see something interesting going on somewhere, you could expand that bubble and join in.

There's also an option to set up keywords in the system. If the program, which is constantly listening but not recording, hears your keyword more than twice, say, it can let you know, so that you don't miss an impromptu conversation that's relevant to your work.

If the idea of having a camera on you all day seems weird, you can choose to show a more pixelated version of yourself, which would still make clear enough whether you're on the phone or free to talk.

One of the researchers on the project explained that she's been trying it out with a $20 camera and a monitor someone was going to throw away. She's also using the pixelated option.

"I don't want people to see that, you know," she shrugged, "I make weird faces while I work."

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.



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