How holograms, deepfakes, and AR are raising the dead


Considering his final frontier, 90-year-old Star Trek star William Shatner recently decided to boldly go into an Los Angeles studio and turn himself into a ghost.

Shatner spent five days recording a StoryFile, a type of interactive video created by a company also called StoryFile. Portions of the recording, which were captured by 3D cameras, will be “tagged” using StoryFile’s proprietary system. Later, Shatner’s ghost will be beamed to his family members, to fans via the internet, and possibly to museums and entertainment venues. People will be able to ask Shatner’s ghost questions. StoryFile’s system will “play” the answers, creating the illusion that William Shatner lives, even long after he passes on.

Welcome to the new spiritualism.

A hundred years ago, the idle rich of Europe and America indulged a fascination with the great beyond. A quasi-religious movement called Spiritualism, which began in the 1830s and rose in popularity during times of great trauma, such as during the U.S.’s Civil War. The movement peaked in the years between 1918 and the early 1920s, when Spiritualist ideas spilled over into mainstream popular culture.

The rich and famous went nuts for conjuring the dead 100 years ago. And now, they’re at it again.

One reason Oaxaca is so covid-safe is that the restaurants don't have roofs

The old and charming part of Oaxaca where we live right now has a lucky feature, and it's one of the reasons we chose to shelter in place here during the pandemic: Most of the restaurants either have no roof, or, if they do, place the dining on top of the roof. You can go out to dinner to most of the restaurants, and you're still outside. 

Another reason is that nearly everyone wears masks. And there's plenty of space, so everyone can keep their distance. 

Update: I'm still stuck in Oaxaca

Now that we're eligible for vaccines, we're trying to fly to the US for a few days from Oaxaca (the place where we've been sheltering in place) to get our first vaccine shot. 

We had a flight booked for last Tuesday, and got a Covid test for that flight (these are the tests where they shove a long Q-tip through each nostril all the way to the back of your nasal cavity), but when it was time to go to the airport we realized that we had left our passports at our previous residence. 

We re-booked the flight, got a second Covid test, and then realized that we had booked a flight that cost $800 more than it should have. 

So we booked another, cheaper flight for today, got a third Covid test. 

When we went to the airport this morning at 6am, protesters were blocking the airport, not letting anyone in or out. (Our taxi driver says they're students paid by a local politician trying to drum up controversy and support through protests.) We went back to our apartment. 

Then, our flight was rescheduled. We took another taxi to the airport. And it was still blocked. The airline rescheduled our flight for later. 

So later, we took a third taxi back to the airport, and found that it was still blocked. American Airlines didn't update the flight information until 10 minutes after boarding time started, so we spent 45 minutes standing in the hot sun at the entrance to the airport (where I took these photos).

We talked to the protesters, and they made it clear they had no intention of leaving anytime soon. 

Now we're trying to book a flight for next week. We'll need to take a 4th Covid test. 

Each Covid test costs $100. Each round-trip to the airport costs $25. This is getting expensive. 

(We're lucky that we have an apartment to go to. Otherwise we'd been standing outside the airport like hundreds of other travelers right now.)

Now you can chat with Einstein

A company called UneeQ has created an artificial intelligence (AI) digital version of Albert Einstein. The company's "conversational and experiential" AI enables what the company calls a "meaningful experience with one of history's greatest minds." The software faithfully re-creates Einstein's personality, according to the company. 

Einstein's voice was created by Aflorithmic. His face was created by Goodbye Kansas Studios. And his knowledge comes from WolframAlpha.

Is virtual Albert Einstein believable? It's all relative. 

It's time to get over your block block

People are funny about blocking others on social media.

Both blockers and the blocked act like blocking is at least a rude affront and at worst an act of aggression.

People who block are sometimes accused of being intellectual cowards who can't stand disagreement.

The act of blocking is seen by some as how filter bubbles are created, resulting in a delusional social experience where everyone agrees.

I'm here to tell you that blocking is none of these things.

It helps to embrace my "cocktail party" metaphor for social media. Just like a cocktail party, we use social sites like Twitter or Facebook in order to enjoy the company of others, have stimulating conversations, cultivate relationships among people we want to know better and to learn new things.

Every user's account, in this metaphor, is their home, to which they can invite to their party anyone they choose for any reason they choose.

Anyone invited is free to accept the invitation, or decline it, and for any reason they choose.

The act of blocking someone is akin to choosing to not invite them to your party.

Reticence to block is precisely what makes Twitter uncivil. If you're inviting everyone to your party, including the serial disruptors, jerks and sociopaths, then you shouldn't blame Twitter -- you're the one who invited those people by not blocking them. 

Twitter has 330 million active monthly users. You will never interact with 99.9% of them. Blocking is merely an opportunity to exert a little control over some of the people you will never in the future interact with. It’s the other side of the following coin. Blocking is good. Blocking is right. Blocking improves Twitter. Blocking turns Twitter into a perfect cocktail party. 

So stop complaining about Twitter. And start blocking like it’s a bodily function.

How spending on the Internet of Things saves you money

The IoT revolution comes with many benefits. Chief among these is how inexpensive IoT devices can be. But reaping the benefits of IoT requires that those devices also be small and energy efficient, enabling a great many of them to be deployed. Some of them must also be efficiently battery-powered, which means minimizing on-board processing capabilities.

Many IoT devices are small, inexpensive and good at one or a small number of tasks, including the collection of sensor or location data. They should also be good at offloading that data for further processing. And that's where the power of MEC and 5G come in for the future of IoT.

IoT devices can generate tons of data. Two of the benefits of IoT devices are low power consumption and low cost. By enabling low-latency processing of this data at the edge instead of on the devices or in the cloud, IoT solutions can remain flexible, and the devices themselves can:

  • Remain inexpensive.

  • Operate with minimal maintenance.

  • Use smaller, cheaper and long-lasting batteries.

Ultimately, all that means the whole operation can be made more cost-effective. Here’s everything you need to know.