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Humanising Intelligent Personal Assistants

At the recent 2016 TEDxPetalingStreet event, a white monolith stood at the foyer outside the main hall. On top of it rested a futuristic-looking white block with rounded edges, somewhat reminiscent of the character EVE from Wall-E, with a glass pyramid sitting inside its black interior. Within the pyramid, a holographic display of an interactive game, called FlapDash, floated effortlessly.


The simple game could be played by four players, with each controlling one bird character via a smartphone connected to the block. The aim was to collect the relic in the centre of the platform while trying to knock the other birds off the edge. Accompanied by its Angry Bird-like characters and chirping sound, the game was a hit with the audience.

Meet Megan, the name of this product. The brainchild of a Malaysian-based tech company called Pixel, it was created to showcase what they aim to achieve – an innovation in holographic display. Speaking to Warren How, the Executive Chairman of Pixel, he noted that Megan and the FlapDash game could be customisable according to clients; in the case of this TEDx event, the relic was the alphabet “X”. Megan is, in fact, more than just a holographic display for games – equipped with a microphone, it could connect to the internet and receive voice commands, similar to Intelligent Personal Assistants (IPA) like the Google Assistant and Amazon Echo. What makes Megan different was its capability to display a holographic character to humanise the technology.

How proceeded to show me a video from his iPad, where a 3D, cartoonised version of Albert Einstein was displayed within the pyramid in Megan. A user tried asking simple questions, like “Hey Albert, what is two plus two?” and the scientist would give an answer with an animation. If the user tried to scold Albert, the latter would be shown frowning and throwing a mild tantrum. How thought that humanising A.I. would break down the barriers for people who are still sceptical about interacting with technology. Holographic display, the team believes, is key to providing a “living body” for graphical UI and smart systems like IPA. Megan is just one of their initial product to showcase how holographic displays can be integrated with other electronic and smart products.


Moving forward, the company hopes to create products for the consumer market and bring holographic displays into the mainstream market. How wanted to explore the possibilities of life-size holograms and other applications where this technology is possible. As for Megan, it will keep people engrossed in knocking each other’s bird avatar off edges while the team at Pixel works on their next breakthrough.


Creating Unique Graphics Effortlessly Using the HP Mosaic Technology

Customisation is an increasingly essential selling point for today’s generation of consumers. This is evident in the continued demand for the variety of phone cases as customers sought to individualise their possessions in order to stand out from the crowd.

At the recent 2016 TEDxPetalingStreet event, audience members received event booklets and bottled waters with similar but actually unique patterns on the cover and sleeves respectively. As a result, each booklet and bottled water is one of its kind. In the past, this would be a labouring task for designers and printers, but in this event it was made possible due to HP’s innovative solution.


HP Mosaic uses controlled hyper-variability to produce a huge number of unique, reproducible graphic design for various applications. Compatible with the industry standards of Adobe Creative Suite, HP Mosaic works as a plug in to conveniently generate variations of a design using a base pattern, called a seed design. The software works by cropping, rotating and scaling from the seed design to create virtually unlimited variations, enabling a unique pattern for each single unit of application, such as name cards, paper bags or booklets.

Market Development Manager of HP South East Asia, Melvin Lew said that this is a value-added service by HP for their customers. Generating variables used to be time and cost consuming, but HP Mosaic offered a much more accessible option and solution. Besides offering customisation at no additional cost, orders using HP Mosaic is also not limited by minimum order quantity, making it a much greener alternative. In fact, ink is recycled in the digital printing process for HP Mosaic, which would result in little wastage.

The unique covers of the booklets represent each audience’s distinctive stories and motivation. By bringing home a gift that is special, it is hoped that this would serve as a reminder for everyone to make their own mark in their lives and not merely be a follower.


Dasein Interactive Installations


The theme for this year’s TEDxPetalingStreet was Momentum; in Mandarin, however, it was a smart homophonic pun. The graphical depiction of the two words, 敢动(gan3 dong4), literally means dare to move – but it shared the exact pronunciation as 感动(gan3 dong4), which refers to the state of being emotionally moving or touching. With this in mind, Dasein Academy of Art, the Creative Partner of this event, challenged their students to come out with two installations pertaining to movement and motion to complement the theme.

The first installation involved a bicycle, which was secured down to the ground like an exercise bike in gyms. A large white screen was placed in front of the bike about 5 meters ahead, with a projector set up behind it. The bicycle was fitted with a device to detect the spinning motions of its wheel, and it would send signals through a wire to the projector. When someone rides the bicycle, the motion graphics of the TEDx event would start to play – slowing down the pedaling would stop the animation. This would encourage participants to keep pedaling to complete playing one loop of the motion graphics.


According to the students who worked on this project, the installation represented the transition and conversion from a traditional method of travelling – cycling, to the movement of motion graphics played on screen, a feature that has proliferated our lives in this digital era. The project sought to allow audiences to experience creating virtual motion by utilizing their body – muscles, heart and lung – which has been responsible for our movements on earth all these years.


The second installation, named “I Will”, involved the combination of five moving elements to form a motion graphic. Five participants were required to play this game, each responsible for a single action: using a swing stepper; hitting two large buttons as quickly as possible; waving into a webcam; blowing into a microphone; and finally spinning a disk. An animation was projected onto the wall, which would correspond with the five movements by gradually forming different parts of a whole graphic. Hence, to complete the picture, participants would have to work with each other. This interactive game encouraged strangers to come together, and temporarily form a spirit of camaraderie in the process.


Through these two installations, participants were hoped to experience a dichotomy of experience in the form of literal movement and digital motion. The installations brought people from all walks of life to share a light moment with each other, and in the spirit of TEDx talks, spread new ideas on how we define momentum.

Endless Smile

Photographer Jayz Yong is on a mission to turn smiles into positive energy.

Founder of his studio Picture Creation, Yong realised last year that Malaysia, due to certain events and circumstances, was imbued in a state of negativity. He began to question how he could – using his skills as a photographer – contribute in generating positive energy back to the community.


With this in mind, Yong kick started a project called Endless Smile. He started by travelling to smaller towns in Eastern Malaysia with his team, setting up a simple photo booth, and offered to take a smiling picture of anyone interested. The photos would then be printed on the spot on and gifted to the person free of charge. Yong believes that what his project offered was a different experience compared to a photo shoot conducted in a studio or via the ubiquitous selfie. Endless Smile’s intrinsic motivation lies in the team’s genuine pursuit of a simple, honest smile – even though the team may be strangers to the subjects, it created a moment of joy to both parties when they see the developed photos.


Why would he do it for free? Yong thinks that making people pay for their photographs defeats the project’s purpose, as it would commercialise his cause. In order to sustain, he utilised a pay-forward method – he encouraged those who received photos to donate RM10 (USD2.37) to sponsor the next person, so that the latter could benefit from this project as well. The sponsoring person would write a simple, uplifting message on the bottom of a blank piece of photo paper which Yong and his team would use for future printings, and passed on to a random receiving person. As a result, a small yet sincere connection could be established between strangers via the photos – Yong hopes that this would inspire and touch more people to sponsor, and keep the project going.


At the recent TEDxPetalingStreet event, Yong was invited as a speaker to talk about his project, but he also set up his booth at the foyer and invited audience members to participate. Amidst the busy crowd during breaks, Yong and his team worked efficiently to coordinate, shoot and print for as many audiences as they could. The photos, printed on A4 size, were captured by Yong using his trademark gold anamorphic lens, giving the image a panoramic format with a dreamy depth-of-field. Yong hopes that Endless Smile would enable us to be touched by someone’s gesture, and channel that feeling into positive action; thus keeping the momentum and the smiles going.


The Application of AI in Advertisements

We are not short of advertisements in our lives. In our hyper-consumerist society, advertisements have evolved alongside our purchasing habits, forming part and parcel of our visual culture.

One digital billboard stood unassumingly at the venue of the recent TEDxPetalingStreet event. Its large, portrait screen displayed advertisements of all sorts, luring audience members to stop in their path. However, it had a trick up its sleeve: upon detecting someone facing the billboard, a camera activated and scanned for faces. The billboard then proceeded to calculate and estimate the person’s age, gender, apparent “happiness” and “attractiveness” scale, even proposing a matching celebrity doppelganger. Needless to say, the billboard attracted a large crowd to it, with groups of friends laughing at the results of each other’s quantified biological traits.


The billboard is a project by Dr Chan Chee Seng, a lecturer and researcher in artificial intelligence at the University of Malaya, in collaboration with two of his PhD students. Dr Chan, who is also a speaker at this TEDx event, explained that the idea was to implement their research in a commercial application. At the core of this billboard is a facial recognition software which would analyse facial features to identify the viewer; it would then be able to display targeted advertisements catered for that person. For example, if the software managed to detect a person wearing glasses, the next advertisement would most likely be from RayBan.

Dr Chan elaborated on how this technological application would be useful in advertising, as it would be able to compile a statistics of actual viewers with key information, such as age and gender. This would give advertisers more accurate data, helping them to produce effective advertisements for their targeted demographics. Additionally, automated facial recognition could also be applied in the transaction process as a more secure and convenient replacement for debit cards. Other possible applications include using faces to enter guarded premises, and even as a way to quickly identify wanted fugitives or criminals.

Nevertheless, being an automated system that scans faces without asking for permission, would this kind of application raise any ethical issues about interfering with privacy? Pertaining to this, Dr Chan explained that the team had thought through this, which was why none of the photos taken would be saved. He added that technology itself is harmless but it is the underlying nature of some people that would use AI in undesired means.


As for the perceived “attractiveness” and “happiness” estimation, Dr Chan said that while it began as a joke, they did create a benchmark using photos of celebrities and Miss Universes to generate the numbers. Of course, while beauty and happiness is subjective, the main objective is merely for entertainment purposes – to get people to try and have a laugh. After all, who wouldn’t want to know which celebrity we look like?


TEDxPetalingStreet HQ