Japan Blog Study Tour

Ambient systems and voices

IMG_3383 Today we went to Ginza to test a new system. Ginza is a region in Tokyo with all kinds of fancy stores (read: expensive) with all the big names next to each other, from Chanel to Louis Vuiton. We started out in the underground passage next to the A3 exit where the experiment would begin. Everyone got a PDA with some ridiculous name and a wristband with an RFID reader inside of it. Next, you put on the headphones and the system would guide you to the surface. It immediately went wrong: we walk a lot faster than Japanese people so we ended up in situations like: "Pass left of the termi…" – "Go straight by…" – "Walk up the stairs on the…" – "Turn around and go back to the crossing with the red booth on your right, this time walk up the stairs on the left". Great…

IMG_3386 Once we got topside, the device went into some tourist mode and started yapping away at all the good sites and history surrounding us. So after 15 seconds we killed the program and called the navigation back up on the screen. Also, we saw that the cohesion of the group fell apart the second we put on the device – so much for being ambient technology… Roel decided he wanted to find a toilet and set it personal TomTom to find one. I decided I wanted coffee and so I asked mine to get me to a coffee shop.

After 10 minutes walking and running out of the experiment area twice ("Please turn around and re-enter the experiment area") me and Luuk finally arrived at the place we wanted to go – except for the fact that it was closed for another half hour… The second attempt led us to the other end of Ginza to a chocolate store. However, this time we found out that they didn’t sell coffee at all and the hot chocolate they did sell costs 1700 yen… That’s over 11 euros for one hot cocoa folks… We then ignored the navigator and went for the coffee shop at the crossing we saw at the moment we reached the surface. On our way there, we encountered two of our group mates. One had a navigator that kept crashing and then ignored the users input and kept sending him back to the starting point. The other was looking for a toilet and instead of finding the nearest one, it kept suggesting toilets on the other side of Tokyo so he asked a station guard and within 2 minutes found one on his own. Experiment failed. Miserably.

IMG_3408 After Ginza we went to AGI. They are known for their emotion detection based on voice which they applied in a game for the Nintendo DS called Kokuro Scan. After we had some lunch at the Olive Bar (not cheap but everything is fresh so it was pretty nice, also the waitress was pretty) we went up to the twenty-ish floor where we saw SGI logo’s. After a minute we finally figured out what we were looking at: we were at one of the Silicon Graphics offices! Apparently AGI was part of SGI. To be precise: AGI is a one man corporation which is part of SGI now. The fact that its a one man corporation is not surprising as the big chief himself is a bald Japanese guy who does every type of martial arts in his own time (a smart detail to remember if you ever pick a fight with him – lol).

IMG_3465 After some pretty cool demo’s we concluded that the software (which ran the algorithm on a computer with full readouts) also works fine on Dutch and Spanish speech, much to the surprise and delight of the creator I might add. Also the wall in the conference chamber changes colors based on the emotions the computer in the corner of the room detects in the speech coming from the conference table. One last piece of cool technology was the conference room itself: you could talk in Japanese to it to ask it to kill the lights, close the blinds and turn on the beamers. Very handy: no screwing around with remotes or anything. By the time we left, we didn’t have time left for the professors to give a presentation of the university but by the looks of the SGI and AGI people, our enthusiasm and questions had left such a good impression that they didn’t mind at all.

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