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How augmented reality will make street art come to life

A moving mural by street artist Eduardo Kobra is one of the first fruits of a revolution about to take the art world by storm.

Eduardo Kobra's ARt Salvador Dali mural in Miami, Florida. (Photo: Mussa)

Amid vagabonding taco trucks and art galleries, in Miami’s sunny art district, Wynwood, there are blocks and blocks of mural-embossed buildings. It’s a neighborhood with fantastic imagery only limited to an artist’s imagination. It’s also a community that is using technology in an unprecedented way to engage smartphone-distracted passersby.

Indeed, it’s here, among walls that have borne murals of Yoda wielding a “Stop Wars” sign and an elephant with a swaying bouquet of tentacle-like trunks, that a curious new spray-painted mural has been beguiling locals and visitors alike for months. If Miami creatives are right, then this particular work, by street artist Eduardo Kobra, is one of the first fruits of a revolution about to take the art world by storm.

A panel from Eduardo Kobra's 80-meter mural '
Give peace a Chance' (2015) in Miami, Florida. (Credit: Eduardo Kobra)

Fittingly, one of the subjects of the massive mural, emblazoned on the exterior of a restaurant named R House, is Salvador Dali. With a surprised gaze, the surrealist looks on with a rainbow-checkered pattern across his face. The mural already looks bold and vibrant, much like the other works across the neighborhood. It’s not like every other mural, though. When an in-the-know passerby points their smartphone to the work the image becomes animated via augmented reality.

On the phone’s screen, the colorful blocks begin to be swept away, as though by the wind, revealing a black-and-white checkered underlayer. It’s in this grayscale scene that a butterfly with ultraviolet wings flits and rests on Dali’s cheek, sending his eyes into rolling excitement. To the naked eye, the mural is static, immutable, but with AR the image is placed within a dynamic scene.

South Florida-based artists, such as Luis Valle, who has spraypainted murals across Miami, say this particular intersection of technology and art is thrilling. Valle believes AR will help creatives better connect their work with onlookers because of its ability to make art more evocative.  

“The technology is brand new and only the beginning. What we can do with it is only limited to what we can think up,” Valle tells Big Think. “It definitely does enliven the art experience. Everyone has a smartphone these days and with AR you can add many added elements to an art piece. You can add sound, motion and 3D elements to the experience, which affects more of your senses.”

Dubbed 'ARt', pieces where augmented reality and art converge aren’t just bringing passersby together in wide-eyed clusters, they’re also bringing artists closer to their tech-savvy counterparts. For instance, when Valle decided to make new business cards, he collaborated with the AR team that brought Kobra’s mural into motion, Mussa. The result? Cards and promotional posters that, when viewed on the company’s app, conjure up one of Valle’s characters, El Shamansito—a skull-faced demigod, of sorts.

“So far my experience has been with my logo and character, El Shamansito,” Valle says. “With this, I worked with the AR team as far as telling them what I would like to see happen with my character as it comes out of my logo. We talked about motion and sound, as well as effects. Then there was the actual modeling part. I had to work with them by showing 2D samples of the character so that the 3D graphics team could turn the character into a 3D model with animation around. There were a few modifications and adjustments but we got to a place where we felt pleased with the results.”

Augmented reality at Museu de Mataró, an example of how AR can enhance the museum experience. (Wikimedia Commons)

As the collaboration process becomes increasingly streamlined, ARt may begin to pop up, en masse, in other cities across the United States—and the world. Not just in New York galleries and trendy events such as Art Basel, but just like Pokémon gave people the motivation to traverse their hometowns, and discover new spots, ARt is expected to give people an initiative to discover what dynamic visuals the street art in their neighborhoods may be quietly hiding.

“The technology is poised to become an integral aspect of how we interact with our environment, and allows us to connect individuals with their communities through AR experiences created around public art,” says Leon Posada, who co-founded Mussa two years ago with his friend Ignacio Montes. “The technology has the potential to turn individuals from passive observers to active participants.”

However, there are still some criticisms of the emerging technology’s liaison with art. Shoshana Resnikoff, curator of Miami Beach’s Wolfsonian-FIU Museum, believes augmented reality’s success in the art world depends on whether the experiences arouse people’s interest in the world around them.

“I’m definitely intrigued by the potential of AR to reach people who are otherwise engaged in their phones, but it’s also important to remember that one of the most valuable aspects of art is its ability to pull us away from our daily distractions and get us looking and thinking differently about the world around us,” Resnikoff tells Big Think. “Experiencing the art itself through the phone may or may not impact that—it’s all about how it’s implemented.”

This said, Resnikoff foresees a future in which fine ARt—as opposed to visual gimmicks—will be a supplement to in-depth art interpretation rather than a replacement of it. “When applied thoughtfully, AR can provide valuable context to art and objects in a gallery environment or a public space, helping visitors to understand art experientially, not just through a static viewing experience,” she says.

So long as the augmented reality component remains thoughtful, centered on expanding a work’s experience, then ARt may literally change how we view and experience art. The ultimate goal? Getting people excited about checking out museums, galleries, and their neighborhood streets. “Now that artists are integrating new technologies like AR and VR into their work,” says Posada, “the sky is the limit as to how far we can go as an art community.”

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Human brains remember certain words more easily than others

A study of the manner in which memory works turns up a surprising thing.

Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have found that some basic words appear to be more memorable than others.
  • Some faces are also easier to commit to memory.
  • Scientists suggest that these words serve as semantic bridges when the brain is searching for a memory.

Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.

The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

An odd find

Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.

"Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."

Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.

The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."

Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.

"We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."

Why understanding memory matters

person holding missing piece from human head puzzle

Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

"Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.

If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."

Party chat

Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock

Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.

Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."

spinning 3D model of a brain

Temporal lobes

Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia

At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.

Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.

In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.

Seek, find

Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."

He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

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