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USC offers glimpses of the future

by Carl Marziali
USC students try out Project Holodeck, an immersive 360-degree virtual reality program during “GLIMPSE” A Digital Technology Showcase.” (Photo/Gus Ruelas)
USC students try out Project Holodeck, an immersive 360-degree virtual reality program during “GLIMPSE” A Digital Technology Showcase.” (Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Technology media and industry experts received a peek at the future and more at “GLIMPSE: A Digital Technology Showcase,” an exclusive event held on Jan. 29 at USC.

The daylong series of presentations and demonstrations from USC leaders in digital technology featured timely research from across the university, much of it never presented to a general audience. The showcase attracted wide interest from local, national and international media, including the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press and Voice of America, among many others.

The event also exemplified the university’s might in cross-disciplinary research, as Vice President of Research Randolph Hall had noted before the event: “USC’s strength in digital technology includes the collaboration between the arts and engineering, and technology and storytelling, that makes possible a conversation with the avatar of a real witness to history, the recreation of digital actors indistinguishable from their human counterparts and the development of interactive adventures whose impact on behavior earns them the title of serious games.” (Hall’s opening remarks at the showcase follow below.)

In the first presentation of the showcase, which was hosted by the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation: The Institute for Visual History and Education, demonstrated “New Dimensions in Testimony,” a collaborative project with the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), to capture stories from Holocaust survivors by combining new interview content with advanced filming, voice-recognition processing and display technologies that will allow students to engage in dialogue with virtual survivors for years to come.

Paul Debevec, associate director for graphics research at ICT and winner of a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award for his work in rendering digital faces, presented his work on ICT’s latest innovations, including the Light Stage capture system, which uses specialized algorithms to digitally reproduce an actor’s appearance and movements. Debevec also showed early stage work on holographic video conferencing.

Cyrus Shahabi of the Integrated Media Systems Center at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering described the growing field of geo-crowdsourcing, including an invention close to market that beats Google and Yahoo directions in giving drivers the fastest possible route through traffic in real time.

Researchers from SCA presented work on serious games from the Game Innovation Lab, showing how such games are changing human behavior. The Game Innovation Lab falls under the umbrella of USC Games, ranked by the Princeton Review and GamePro Media as the No. 1 game design program in North America in 2012.

Jonathan Taplin of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism discussed Sentimeter, a Twitter sentiment analysis project that allows computers to read and interpret huge chunks of data from Twitter in real time. This approach promises to provide more accurate measurement of television ratings, as well as other metrics important to marketers and advertisers.

Introduced as a closing presenter by SCA Dean Elizabeth M. Daley, noted production designer and new faculty member Alex McDowell described his world-building innovation in pioneering films, such as Minority Report and the upcoming Upside Down, and explained how this approach can drive narrative and invention in film and other industries. McDowell is establishing a media lab at SCA to apply his method widely and already has funding from Intel and other corporate clients.

The day also included live demonstrations of technologies discussed during the event, as well as additional projects under development at USC.

In his welcoming remarks, Hall reminded the audience of the university’s long history as a leader in digital technology.

“We are a university with 38,000 students, including more international students than any other university in America, and, with 21,000 students, one of the nation’s largest graduate programs,” he said. “We are the private largest employer in LA, with a presence that includes our Health Sciences Campus, the Information Sciences Institute, ICT and the Wrigley Institute, all in addition to our University Park Campus, where you are today.

“Digital media and technology is something special for USC,” Hall continued. “Our president, Max Nikias, established the Integrated Media Systems Center at USC in the 1990s because he saw how computer graphics, video imagery and sound would affect how we are entertained, how we learn and how we conduct business. Today no university matches USC’s range of talent in creating the technology and content surrounding digital media, as well as studying how these influence society.”

According to Hall, GLIMPSE will demonstrate USC’s leadership in building the digital future, where innovation arises from the:

• largest computer science research program among all universities in the United States. This is where the Internet domain system was created, and where USC is developing real-time computer graphics, virtual humans, immersion and language translation technology.

• School of Cinematic Arts, where the THX sound system was developed and USC is creating interactive media, scientific animations and computer generated imagery

• USC Annenberg School of Communication, which studies how people are using social media, gaming and other digitized content in work, entertainment, politics and business.

“But digital media pervades this entire university, utilized in health communication, scientific simulation and K-12 education,” Hall explained. “And it is also changing how we conduct research, as reflected in our Creativity and Collaboration in the Academy initiative, our Digital USC website, and our changing policies to enable and reward digital scholarship.”

For more information on USC’s digital presence and initiatives, visit research.usc.edu

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