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OH YES THEY DID: Super Villain Koch Brothers Are Secret Investors in Mega-Successful ‘Wonder Woman’ Movie

Steven Mnuchin brought in the right-wing power brokers, as well as Bill Gates, to help fund such Hollywood projects as ‘Dunkirk’ and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming ‘Ready Player One.’

Tatiana Siegel reports: Though they might be the most reviled figures among Hollywood’s liberal crowd, the Koch brothers have been a silent investor in Warner Bros.‘ slate of movies for four years.

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Sources say Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch — who are worth a combined $96.2 billion and wield enormous power in political circles as major backers of right-wing politicians — took a significant stake valued at tens of millions of dollars in RatPac-Dune Entertainment. Now-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin brought the brothers in as investors as part of a $450 million deal struck in 2013 — a move that was never disclosed because RatPac-Dune is a private company.

Though Mnuchin is no longer involved with the slate financing facility, having recently put his stake into a blind trust in order to avoid a conflict of interest, the Koch brothers continue to be stakeholders in such films as Wonder Woman, Dunkirk and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Ready Player One.

A RatPac spokesperson didn’t respond to a request. A spokesperson for Koch Industries says, “Charles Koch, David Koch and Koch Industries do not have any involvement with this investment.”

The brothers aren’t the only unlikely billionaires who have sunk money into the Warner Bros. deal. Sources say Mnuchin also brought in Bill Gates for an amount similar to the Koch brothers’. Read the rest of this entry »

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2016 ‘Year Zero’ of Virtual Reality Revolution, Filmmakers say

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The first wave of virtual reality cinemas, heralding what their creators claim will be an entertainment revolution, rolls out across the world this month.

“Film as we know it will be dead in the next five to 10 years.”  

— founder of the world’s first VR cinema in Amsterdam.

The first screening room in France opened Wednesday and several others are promised for Beijing, Shanghai and Los Angeles in the next few weeks.

Like the early days of cinema, virtual reality — or VR — is still something of a novelty sideshow.

But not for long, its supporters claim.

“Film as we know it will be dead in the next five to 10 years,” said the founder of the world’s first VR cinema in Amsterdam.

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“The VR revolution is already happening. 2016 is year zero of this revolution.”

— Jip Samhoud

“It’s a whole different way of telling the story. I think it is really what we are moving towards in the entertainment world,” Jip Samhoud said.

Elisha Karmitz, who is behind the MK2 screening room in Paris, insisted “that the VR revolution is already happening.

“2016 is year zero of this revolution,” he added.

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In a glass cube inside an MK2 cinema near France’s national library, viewers can choose between HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift headsets, or they can go for “full body immersive” simulators.

For €12 ($13) you can feel what it is like to fly like a bird for 20 minutes through a forest of New York skyscrapers in the film “Birdly.”

Lying flat on your stomach suspended from the ceiling, you change direction with electronic “wings” placed on your arms, and speed up by flapping them faster.

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MK2, which has signed a deal with the acclaimed Chinese film director Jia Zhangke to produce more content, predicts that with the cost of producing VR film falling, its time is coming fast.

Keen not to be left behind, Hollywood is also investing in the technology, with a few minutes of the new “Assassin’s Creed” film already available in VR. There is also a “Star Wars”-inspired game in which the viewer becomes an X-wing fighter pilot like Luke Skywalker. Read the rest of this entry »


How VR Has the Power To Make You Care

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Thanksgiving Weekend Primatologist Browser Tabocalpyse

Across The Line‘ is the latest example of VR attempting to evoke empathy.

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Alice Bonasio

Alice Bonasio writes: There’s an iconic scene in Blade Runner where Harrison Ford’s character Deckard meets the replicant Rachel for the first time, but he doesn’t know she’s not human. He then uses a test called Voight-Kampff  to determine whether or not she’s a real person. The test consists of a series of questions designed to elicit emotion. The idea – which is beautifully challenged later on in the film – is that machines are incapable of such empathetic responses.

Empathy, in other words, is what makes us human.

With an emerging consensus that the immersive nature of VR is particularly effective in triggering those empathetic responses, we’re seeing artists throughout the creative industries exploring new possibilities for storytelling – with a purpose. Chris Milk’s UN-Commissioned Clouds Over Sidra showed the plight of refugees through the eyes of a 12-year old Syrian girl, while the National Theatre’s Immersive Storytelling Studio production HOME/AAMIR transported viewers to the infamous Calais ‘Jungle’ camp.

VR can even make people feel more empathetic toward more abstract things like the environment, as was recently shown with the Crystal Reef project – showcased this year at the Tribeca Film Festival by researchers from the Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) at Stanford. The simulation, where you watched the devastating effects of ocean acidification caused by man, served to connect people to the consequences of their own actions in a much more tangible way.

[Read the full story here, at uploadvr.com]

Journalist and Filmmaker Nonny de la Peña – Co-Founder of the Emblematic Group and affectionately known as the “Godmother of VR” – has long explored the power of Virtual Reality experiences to break through viewer apathy. Her pioneering work often transports viewers into uncomfortable situations – such as a line for food handouts outside a shelter in LA, where you see a man collapsing from hunger next to you – and makes them re-think their outlook on often controversial issues.

The latest of those projects is Across The Line, an experience which tells the story of a young woman going to an abortion clinic. I viewed it recently at London’s Raindance Film Festival – where it was selected for this year’s VR showcase Arcade – and spoke to la Peña and their partners at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) to find out more about how the project developed and what the reaction to it has been like so far. Read the rest of this entry »


Illusion: Porn Makers Want Sexual Fantasies to Become Virtual Realities

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Are you ready for your VR Kanojo? 

 reports: In June, hundreds of people thronged a small virtual reality event in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, forcing the organizer to cancel it halfway through.

“In the future, some say we might see people giving up on real-life relationships in favor of virtual romance — a possibility that could emerge as the technology becomes more immersive, which is likely to raise a moral question.”

What drew such a big crowd so quickly?

A VR-based porn demonstration.

“It was unexpected,” said Kento Yoshida, head of the group that organized the event. “But it proved that many people have expectations for VR adult content.”

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Industry insiders claim that adult VR content may be the key to spreading the technology to the general public, just as it did with videotapes and the internet.

[Read the full story here, at The Japan Times]

They said VR’s potential is huge because it could eventually lead to virtual sex, either with a digital character or a real person in a different location. The technology can also be used to fulfill one’s secret fantasies more easily.

“There’s a certain degree of adverse reaction to adult content. I’m concerned that it might damage the image of VR.”

While admitting that the erotic possibilities made possible by VR will provoke critics of adult content, they said it will still be meaningful to have a new option for sex.

Yoshida, who is also president of Tokyo-based adult video maker VRG, said most people remain unaware of VR’s potential, which is why he held the Akihabara event.

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“Illusion plans to release a game called ‘VR Kanojo’ — ‘VR Girlfriend’ —  that lets players virtually enter an imaginary girlfriend’s room to have sex. The producers say they are focused on making players feel the girlfriend is really there.”

“At that time, people didn’t really know what VR was … so I thought that adult content would be the most catchy topic to use to get people more familiarized with VR,” he said.

The technology opens up a whole new horizon for people with sexual fantasies, he said.

For instance, if people harbor a desire for abnormal or illicit sex, fulfilling that desire may be difficult or risky in real life, to say the least. But VR can make it all possible, Yoshida said.

“VR headsets allow people to effectively jump into whatever they see, so this kind of immersive experience could lead to virtual sex with digital characters or other people.”

It can also help others who are too shy to express their feelings or start a relationship.

“VR is the best way to satisfy their sexual needs,” he said.

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[ALSO SEE – For Japan’s ‘stranded singles’, virtual love beats the real thing]

VR headsets allow people to effectively jump into whatever they see, so this kind of immersive experience could lead to virtual sex with digital characters or other people, Yoshida said.

But achieving high-quality virtual sex means conquering several technological barriers, including the lack of physical sensation, he said.

Other Japanese firms are already cashing in on the trend. Read the rest of this entry »


China’s Internet Boom

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Online experimentation doesn’t have to be limited to tech companies.

Edward Jung It’s tempting to portray the rapid growth of the Chinese Internet as just one more example of China’s efforts to catch up with the West: Alibaba is the eBay of China, Baidu is the Google of China, Didi is the Uber of China, and so on. But China is actually conducting some fascinating experiments with the Internet (see “The Best and Worst Internet Experience in the World“). You just need to look outside the tech sector to notice them.

The most significant innovation is happening not among Chinese Internet companies but in the country’s so-called “real” economy. Corporations in old-school sectors like construction, agriculture, transportation, and banking are pursuing new business models based on big data, social media, and the Internet of things.

These are some of the largest firms of their kind in the world, yet many are young enough to be helmed by their original owner/founders. They’re like ­Rockefeller, Ford, or Carnegie with access to smartphones.

So it’s China’s largest residential-­property developer—not a tech company—that is pioneering the integration of Internet-based technology and services into fully wired communities. Vanke wants to create urban hubs that supply residents with gardens, safe food, travel, entertainment, and medical and educational services, all enabled by the Internet. Read the rest of this entry »


Virtual Reality Gets Real 

It’s been around for decades, but virtual reality has been anything but real for most people. That’s about to change as a slew of new virtual-reality technologies get set to tempt your walletSome of them are even available in time for this year’s holidays.

[See the VIDEO here]

This is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science. I’m Larry Greenemeier. Got a minute? Virtual reality started off as a way for scientists to visualize their research. Ken Perlin, a computer science professor and pioneer in the field of virtual reality, explains:

[Ken Perlin:] The first people who seriously developed virtual reality were Ivan Sutherland and his student Bob Sproull back in 1968. They built a very large device, which they nicknamed the “Sword of Damocles” because it was a very large contraption that hung over your head and carried the headset with it as it moved around on a giant boom arm.”

The latest generation of VR technology is a little different. Some new consumer headsets, including Samsung’s Gear VR and even Google’s very basic Cardboard visor rely on your smartphone.

New gadgets expected to launch in 2016 will be a bit more sophisticated.

[Perlin:] “The major commercial releases of virtual reality that will appear in the first half of 2016 track your head, and they track your two hands.

[Perlin:] “In order to have a full social experience with other people of being in a world together, you also need to know where your feet are. Once you know your head and your hands and your feet, then you can build a computer graphic representation of everybody.”

This version promises to address a major problem the technology faced in the past.

[Perlin:] “Motion sickness was a problem when the delay between my head movement and the graphics that I saw exceeded a certain threshold, generally about a 10th of a second. Modern technologies that make use of these inertial trackers in the headsets have pretty much gotten rid of that.”

Virtual reality will first invade our homes offices and classroomsthrough games and educational tools. But Perlin thinks the technology will become much more than that over time. Read the rest of this entry »


Virtual Reality System to Fly in Space Brings Non-Astronauts Aboard ISS

The ISS Floating Tour, in addition to being an amazing experience for high-end devices such as the upcoming retail Oculus Rift and PlayStation headsets, also will be viewable on high-resolution smartphones and tablets.

The ISS Floating Tour, in addition to being an amazing experience for high-end devices such as the upcoming retail Oculus Rift and PlayStation headsets, also will be viewable on high-resolution smartphones and tablets.

For the first time ever, a virtual reality recording system will be flown in space. The project, announced by Deep Space Industries (DSI), will use a spherical video capture system to create a virtual reality float-through tour of the International Space Station‘s science lab.

Feeding into the exciting growth of VR systems created by Oculus Rift, Sony, and Samsung, this project, initiated by DSI, is a cooperative effort with Thrillbox, and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), managers of the ISS U.S.

National Laboratory. This innovative partnership will allow, for the first time, anyone with a VR headset to have a fully immersive astronaut experience aboard the International Space Station. Additionally, CASIS will use the spherical video to familiarize potential researchers with the scientific facilities on the ISS National Lab.

“The space station is packed with equipment, literally in every direction. Gear is built into the walls, embedded in the floor, and tucked into the ceiling,” said

David Gump, DSI Vice-Chair. “The spherical video captured during a float through will enable people to look everywhere, as they would if they were up in the station themselves.”

Deep Space Industries began the project as an early step in developing VR systems to be used for exploring and mining asteroids, and brought in Thrillbox to focus on distributing the captured images to the greatest number of people.

The partnership between Thrillbox and DSI provides the right combination of expertise in space operations and virtual reality, creating a successful project that provides value for CASIS and offers a unique experience to consumers.

The ISS Floating Tour, in addition to being an amazing experience for high-end devices such as the upcoming retail Oculus Rift and PlayStation headsets, also will be viewable on high-resolution smartphones and tablets.

“As excitement about spherical video spreads to more people, Thrillbox is providing a universal player for web sites and personal computers that delivers a sophisticated way to handle this new format,” said Benjamin Durham, CEO of Thrillbox. “The partnership with DSI will allow us to distribute this unique space experience to consumers around the world.”

A video capture rig with multiple cameras covering a spherical field of view will provide a “you-are-there” experience never before available. In addition to entertaining consumers, this detailed video will be used by CASIS for educating potential researchers and potentially by NASA for familiarizing future ISS crews with the ever-changing internal arrangement of the station’s gear and supplies. Read the rest of this entry »


New Research Explores How to Stop Virtual Reality from Making You Want to Puke

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Rachel Metz writes: I’m sitting in Gordon Wetzstein’s lab at Stanford University with a hacked-together prototype of a head-mounted display strapped to my face, using a wireless Xbox controller to manipulate a series of 3-D models: a lion, a chessboard filled with chess pieces, an espresso machine, and so on.

“…the technology has improved immensely in the last couple years, there are still plenty of crucial issues to be sorted out—among them that feeling of motion sickness that some people like myself have when experiencing virtual reality, which arises from what’s known as vergence-accommodation conflict.”

The images are fairly simple, run-of-the-mill models—the kind that anyone could download from the Internet. What is interesting, though, is what happens as I stare at the models, turning them with the controller so I can inspect them from different angles: I can focus on the different parts of the images at different depths as I would when gazing at something in real life, so when I look at, say, the chess pieces up close, those in the background look fuzzy, and vice versa when I focus on the pieces in the distance. And I don’t feel nauseous or dizzy like I sometimes do when I’m playing around with virtual reality, especially when looking at objects that are close to my face.

“In real life, when you’re looking at something—a flower, for instance—your eyes move and the lens in each eye adjusts to bring whatever’s in front of you into focus. With stereoscopic 3-D, a technology commonly used by companies making virtual reality headsets, things gets trickier.”

Virtual reality is on the verge of commercial availability, with consumer-geared headsets like the Oculus Rift poised for release next year (see “Oculus Shows Its First Consumer Headset, Circular Hand Controls”). Yet while the technology has improved immensely in the last couple years, there are still plenty of crucial issues to be sorted out—among them that feeling of motion sickness that some people like myself have when experiencing virtual reality, which arises from what’s known as vergence-accommodation conflict.

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This conflict is what Wetzstein, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, and other researchers at Stanford are trying to solve with the headset I tried on, which they call a light field stereoscope—essentially, a device that uses a stack of two LEDs to show each eye a “light field” that makes virtual images look more natural than they typically do.

[Read the full text here, at MIT Technology Review]

Sample images show what it looks like to use the light field stereoscope to focus on parts of a 3-D scene that appear to be at different depths.

Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] The Future of Remote Work Is Telerobotics

Students at The University of Pennsylvania have created DORA, a robot that both mimics the movements of and sends visual information to a virtual reality headset. Their goal is to give users the experience of actually inhabiting the robot’s body, even if it’s halfway around the world. WSJ‘s Christopher Mims reports.

 


Many in Japan are Building Homes with Wacky Architecture They May Never Be Able to Resell

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Japan’s Creative, Ephemeral Homes

Lucy Alexander writes: Would you buy a house that you knew would lose its value as years passed? That you would never be able to sell? That you might have to pay to demolish?

In Japan, this is the willing choice of many houseowners. In Western countries, a home is typically an investment that most people expect to one day sell at a profit. In Japan, a house is a consumer good that rapidly depreciates in value, like a car. Because Japanese house hunters prize new construction, they will pay a premium for land, but build their own home on it.

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“People have greater creative license to express their own taste because they don’t need to consider resale value. There is a deep-set ephemeral attitude to housing here.”

— Alastair Townsend, co-founder of Bakoko, a Tokyo architectural practice

This model has one happy side-effect: a flourishing of some of the world’s most wonderfully bizarre architecture. You can live in a nest of tangled staircases designed to represent the Internet (named S-House), or inside plastic walls shaped like a Gothic arch (called Lucky Drops)—and only be concerned that it pleases you.

“People have greater creative license to express their own taste because they don’t need to consider resale value,” said Alastair Townsend, co-founder of Bakoko, a Tokyo architectural practice. “There is a deep-set ephemeral attitude to housing here.”

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Japan’s Ministry of Finance defines the “service life” of a wooden house (92% of all detached homes) as being 22 years, though many homeowners stretch their stay.

Architecture in Japan is big business, with 24 architects for every 10,000 people, compared with 3.4 in the U.S., says the International Union of Architects. And Japanese often show extreme deference to experts such as architects. “Sometimes the clients don’t feel empowered to question an architect’s design,” said Mr. Townsend.

One of Mr. Townsend’s clients, Chiyomi Okamoto, 53, worked closely with the firm on her home’s details. She wanted a house that felt comfortable to her and to her Australia-born husband, Joe Gayton, 58, an exports manager for the Victorian Government Business Office in Tokyo. Read the rest of this entry »


MIT Technology Review: Some Companies See Virtual and Augmented Reality as a Way to Make Money from a New Type of Ad

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(Read the full story / Illustration by Bendik Kaltenborn)

MIT Technology Review


Apple Granted Patent for Virtual Reality Headset

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TIME

Apple may be experimenting in the virtual reality space. The company has been granted a patent for a head-mounted virtual reality device that would use the iPhone screen as the display. Apple first applied for the patent back in 2008, meaning VR has been on the company’s mind for a while.

The functionality of the product in the Apple patent seems to have the most in common with the Samsung Gear VR, a headset Samsung developed in conjunction with Oculus that uses the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 phablet as a display. These devices are a bit more complex than Google’s current solution, which slots a smartphone into a headset made out of cardboard.

Apple’s patent also calls for a separate remote control that would be able to manipulate the headset in some way.

Virtual reality isn’t the only new mode of interaction Apple is exploring. The tech giant had a…

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Oculus Launches Story Studio to Promote Virtual Reality Filmmaking

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VIDEO: Ray Kurzweil – Immortality by 2045

‘In additional to radical life extension we’re going to have radical life expansion.

‘We’re going to have million of virtual environments to explore that we’re going to literally expand our brains – right now we only have 300 million patterns organised in a grand hierarchy that we create ourselves.

‘But we could make that 300 billion or 300 trillion. The last time we expanded it with the frontal cortex we created language and art and science. Just think of the qualitative leaps we can’t even imagine today when we expand our near cortex again.’

Read more: Daily Mail