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Snobal Midweek

Where reason went

What we’re thinking

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Most likely you only need to look at various points in your own life when you progressed on a pathway despite the warnings maybe from friends your parents(!) or even yourself to agree with this.

Marc Andreessen, cofounder and general partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz this week explores this very topic in the context of the health crisis we all find outselves in.

Granted the blog post is written looking through the lens of the US economy and how it is addressing (or you could say failing to successfully address) the current health crisis.

As Andreessen says “every Western institution was not prepared for the coronavirus pandemic” despite numerous warnings an event like this was going to happen – one day.

The WHO as you probably read in the papers this week, agree.

Programmed to ignore warnings?

Part of the problem of why we as human’s are pretty crappy at listening to warnings as Andreessen sees it is a “lack of imagination” or a “failure to build”.

We have top-end universities, yes, but with the capacity to teach only a microscopic percentage of the 4 million new 18 year olds in the U.S. each year, or the 120 million new 18 year olds in the world each year. Why not educate every 18 year old? Isn’t that the most important thing we can possibly do? 

But it got us asking why do people and the social bodies we gather under – political parties, organisations etc – ignore warnings?

Are we actually programmed as humans to ignore warnings? To ignore the facts?

Apparently – according to some cognitive behaviour and psychology studies – we are.

Cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber in their book “The Enigma of Reason,”  argued that our reasoning is really good at justifying beliefs we already believe in and making arguments to convince others. We become pretty bad at truth-seeking or if we do go looking for the truth we do it with a bias looking for truth that confirms what we already believe.

Ouch.

What’s this got to do with digital transformation?

Take digital transformation in organisations.

Despite years of numerous reports, webinars, conferences and calls for organisations across all industries to digitally transform or risk being “left behind”, the urgency and pace needed often does not seems to be there.

Many business leaders have stuggled with how to identify and iterate innovative technologies within siloed businesses units and then take the bold action needed to scale these initatives.

As this 2018 report by SAP highlighted the poor state of digital transformation efforts around the world has continued:

84% of companies regard digital transformation as crucial, yet just 3% have actually finished any company-wide effort.

The warnings about needing to digitally transform have been there for many sectors it’s just that these warnings didn’t appear to have an urgency to them or indeed were heeded.

Until now.

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Urgency compels action

COVID-19 has up-ended all our lives and work in some way and even has changed the way many of us work.

We all know it’s causing a massive need to shift business models, organizational workflows and service models for so many businesses.

And then over night it seems articles like thisthis and this pop up all articulating that the pace of digtial transformation has cranked up. Apparently it’s become a ‘need to’, not a ‘nice to’.

“If the pace of the pre-coronavirus world was already fast, the luxury of time now seems to have disappeared completely…businesses that once mapped digital strategy in one- to three-year phases must now scale their initiatives in a matter of days or weeks.”  – ZDNet.

Marc Andreessen ends with a call to action to all businesses regardless of what we do.

Our forefathers and foremothers built roads and trains, farms and factories, then the computer, the microchip, the smartphone, and uncounted thousands of other things that we now take for granted, that are all around us, that define our lives and provide for our well-being. There is only one way to honor their legacy and to create the future we want for our own children and grandchildren, and that’s to build.

It is a time to build. But this time maybe we can all build better.

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What we’re reading & listening to

Below are just some of the articles and podcasts that have caught our attention over the last week.

How Tech Can Build

[Podcast] The World Ahead: Viral acceleration | Economist Radio

Google’s Thomas Kurian on COVID-19, customers in crisis and the big cloud fight

Why Are People Ignoring Expert Warnings?—Psychological Reactance

Digital strategy in a time of crisis

[Podcast] Philip E. Tetlock on Forecasting and Foraging as a Fox (Ep. 93)

SenseGlove is working on a “low-cost” force-feedback glove for VR

The GitLab Remote Playbook

Zapiers guide to remote working

How 5G and edge computing can enhance virtual reality

[Podcast] The Sunday Read : Closing the restaurant that was my life for 20yrs

Thanks for reading.

This post first appeared on Snobal Midweek.

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Social distancing
Snobal Midweek

Reframing thinking on”social distancing”and possible implications for business

Why do we use the term “social distancing” in response to COVID-19 when the more accurate term might be “physical distancing”? Physical social distancing does not mean virtual social distancing so why do we act like both terms are the same? And what might some implications be to business if it changed how it responds to physical social distancing?

Economic and Social Cost

We know physical “social distancing” comes at a “significant economic cost” as outlined by Kalipso Chalkidou of Imperial College London but maybe in the long term it doesn’t have to and maybe it is time we started to change how we view the issue.

Social distancing also has a significant health cost.

An analysis of scientific literature by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a research psychologist at Brigham Young University in 2015 found that the quality and quantity of individuals’ social relationships is linked not only to mental health but to morbidity and mortality. Chronic social isolation increases the risk of mortality by 29%.

Image source: www.scottliddell.net


Social distancing

Social distancing is conveyed as potentially limiting the spread of COVID-19 and thereby potentially saving your life and the life of your loved ones and those in the broader community.

Social distancing practices are changes in behaviour that can help stop the spread of infections. These often include curtailing [physical] social contact, work and schooling among seemingly healthy individuals, with a view to delaying transmission and reducing the size of an outbreak.
– Coronavirus: What is social distancing and how do you do it? New Scientist


Physical “Social distancing” with COVID-19 is here to stay, writes Gideon Lichfield of MIT Technology Review and with it a whole host of changes to how we operate as humans.

Lichfield view of a life with physical “social distancing” is a disconcerting one. One that involves intrusive surveillance by flights, public transport and venues all for the public good as well as the massive economic damage to businesses and institutions that have relied to date on physical social interaction.

In the short term, this will be hugely damaging to businesses that rely on people coming together in large numbers: restaurants, cafes, bars, nightclubs, gyms, hotels, theaters, cinemas, art galleries, shopping malls, craft fairs, museums, musicians and other performers, sporting venues (and sports teams), conference venues (and conference producers), cruise lines, airlines, public transportation, private schools, day-care centers. By using the term “social distancing” to mean “physical distancing” perhaps we risk increasing confusion, social isolation and loneliness among people not to mention creating a landscape ripe for economic hardship for institutions and businesses that rely at the moment on social ‘physical interaction’ for eg art galleries, live venues, conferences and expos, shopping centres, retail outlets and museums.

But the reality is even when physically distanced people still socially interact.

They do this through the use of social media (connect with friends), live steaming (yoga and gym classes for example), and instant message platforms like Slack and Google Chat (collaborate and chat with colleagues).

So with that in mind maybe its time even from an economic point of view that we started to change how we frame the issue.

The physical is not the virtual

In education for example, there already exists online services that enable online learning and live streaming for replication of the class room experience. The impetus is now there with COVID-19 to accelerate adoption of these technologies among schools and universities. Yes, children may have to miss physical face to face classes with their teacher and classmates but that does not mean they need to miss virtual face to face classes.

In terms of art galleries and museums, there are technology solutions already out there that enable cultural institions not to mention conferences and expos to deliver rich, immersive and interactive virtual reality experiences to clients and customers.

So if the virtual solutions are there why haven’t these businesses virtualised their offerings en masse to date? Partly it has been due to technology development and adoption. It is only recently that VR hardware development has enabled wireless all in one headsets. But largely it has been due to drivers.

Galleries and museums, shopping centres, tourist operators, conferences and expos haven’t felt an immediate pressure to create rich, immersive and interactive experiences which can be delivered virtually and that still enable virtual social interaction.

Delivering VR experiences of their collection and gallety has often been more a “nice to” than a “need to”.

Five years ago in writing about the applications of VR across ecommerce and cultural institutions we observed:

The Smithsonian Institution — the world’s largest museum and research complex which has 19 museums and galleries has apparently 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in its collection with an estimated 2 percent on display at any one time. 

Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia holds 16 million items in “high-quality storage facilities”. The British Museum is reported to have 99 per cent of its collection in storage. 99 percent.

Imagine if these museums made all their collections available through building online virtual museums? A museum would be able to exponentially grow its audience share and offer to a global audience 24/7 364 days of the year access to all their collections currently in storage. Not to mention providing these museums with a channel for additional revenue generation through purchase of products from the virtual museum.

The world has changed a lot since 2015 and with it the need for many businesses to look to how they translate their unique offerings and value propositions to virtual offerings.

The technology solutions are there. All that is needed is taking that first step.

This post first appeared on Snobal Midweek.

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Snobal Midweek

Our response on COVID-19 (coronavirus)

We are currently with the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic in unprecedented waters.

Our response

At Snobal to ensure our response to COVID-19 is based on fact and science we have developed a tiered Response Action Plan and a COVID-19 policy.

These documents are about promoting the health and safety of our team members, our clients and partners, our families and the broader community in which we live and doing our bit to slow the spread of the virus across the broader community.

Some of the measures we have introduced include:

  • For now, we will not meet face to face with known  people arriving from anywhere overseas in the last 14 days or those who have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 14 days or those who are experiencing any of the known symptoms.
  • We have ceased all business travel overseas at this time and are encouraging as per the Australian Government website and the Singapore Government, Snobal team members to reconsider all personal related travel at this time as there maybe a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 overseas and the health care systems in some countries are possibly already under strain and may not be as well-equipped as Australia to support foreigners.
  • Our workspace has instigated a reception visitor health self declaration form.
  • We are encouraging the practicing of enhanced hygiene and promoting a no handshake etiquette.
  • We are declining all work conferences and events at this time.
  • We are committed to transparency and openess with our team, clients and partners.
  • As of Mon 16/03 all Snobal team members are working as a distributed team.
A computer illustration of coronavirus particles. Source: ConsumerReports.org

Our thinking

Virtual is our business

We are aware that for many businesses for eg those working in tourism, manufacturing and hospitality having their team members work from home (or distributed) is often not feasible.

At Snobal virtual is our core business. It is in our DNA. For close to six years we have built our company from the ground up with the vision of enabling business to leverage newer technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality (XR) and spatial computing to communicate and understand complex built environments, information and processes. As such the current health crisis means little disruption in how we work and how we deliver our platform and XR products to our clients.

For our client facing team, we are like all businesses taking the advice of local health authorities such as the Australian and Singapore Government websites and the WHO and following our response level plan and policy as outlined above.

Facing a virtual reality

For most organisations across all industries the case for accelerating the use of technology for businesses is now even clearer. For those organisations that might have been slow to adapt technologies the future is now certain. Facing up to a ‘virtual reality’ or way of operating is key to business continuity.

As outlined in this executive briefing from McKinsey & Co in China while consumer retail demand is down, it has not disappeared. People still need to purchase things only now they are dramatically shifting their behaviour to online shopping including for food delivery. As the executive briefing outlines it’s not like once these consumers behaviours and preferences are embedded that consumers will go back to pre-coronavirus ways of operating.

Finally….

It is a challenging time for all with a lot of global uncertainty. For those needing additional assistance to manage any mental health issues that may be arising the BeyondBlue website has some excellent resources. And for those businesses grappling with developing their COVID-19 policy and response action plan, there are some excellent resources and information out there including the Coinbase Planning and Response to COVID-19 . If you know of any other great resources please comment below as it may assist others developing their policies and plans.

And if you have any questions, queries or would like more information on any of the above please let us know.

Keep safe folks where ever you are.

Team Snobal

This article originally appeared on Snobal Midweek our weekly newsletter.

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Snobal Midweek

Australia’s infrastructure innovation imperative

Australia is in the midst of a population boom with its population projected to grow to 40.6 million in 2050. So reports McKinsey & Co in a recently published report on infrastructure in Australia outlining how Australia’s infrastructure sector needs to “innovate across six dimensions”.

the strengths that have propelled Australia to a leadership position in infrastructure planning, design, and delivery will not be sufficient to underpin its future success.

Our key takeaways from the paper on where innovation is needed?

Value through design

Urgent need to make the design phase faster and more collaborative. Key ways to do this outlines the report includes applying agile methodologies and increasing the use of technology solutions.

Technology as avenue to enhance productivity

There are several tools that stand-out for enhancing productivity and “are poised to make transformational changes to project delivery” describes the report.

First up – ‘digital twin as-built’ [p38].

At Snobal we call our digital twin products XR Twins (virtual reality and augmented reality or XR).

Similar to as outlined in the paper an XR Twin uses 3-D models generated by reality-capture technologies such as LiDAR point cloud to create an exact digital replica of a project’s physical environment, thereby enabling:

  • a single source of truth and reduced decision making cycle by ensuring everyone involved in the build is making decisions on the same data’; [XR review]
  • improved “safety by reducing physical presence on site”; [XR learn]
  • enhanced design collaboration with stakeholders and end users [XR review and XR engage].
  • enhanced understanding on built environment asset performance and maintenance for enhanced asset efficiency and sustainability. [XR manage].

You can read the full report here. [Subscription required for free download].

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Snobal Midweek

Keen on pioneering VR and AR art development?

Career pivot: Now is an incredibly exiting time to be a 3D artist who maybe feeling the itch for a career change. Why? It’s all got to do with virtual reality and augmented reality (XR). Many games artist might have originally decided to enter the field because they had the talent, passion and desire to tell stories and entertain in visually innovative and engaging ways. Perhaps their first work was in video games. Or maybe it was in mobile games as they grew in popularity.

Art pioneers: A burgeoning area is now emerging that requires 3D art and design skills. This new area is creating exciting career pathways and opportunities not available before to games artists. It’s also creating opportunities for those with an appetite and with a vision for being ‘pioneers’ in their field. That new field?

Virtual reality and augmented reality (XR) art.

The future of work and living: But we’re not talking about XR art as applied to games or entertainment. Of course there are increasing exciting career opportunities opening here (think Beat Saber). We’re talking about using XR art and design skills into creating amazing immersive AI assisted experiences that will help government decision makers and infrastructure developers design, communicate and understand where we live and work better and faster ensuring that what we build is sustainable and responds better to the needs and requirements of all citizens who live there.

So, if you’re a games artist who is a problem solver, is talented at your craft and keen to hear more about joining this exciting journey we’d love to hear from you. More info here.

More reading on the future of the built environment:

++ Cities of the Future
++ What happens next
++Future of cities

[Image source: Still from Bladerunner].

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Snobal Midweek

The World Is (Not) Male: How gender bias is impacting built environment design

Invisible Women by award-winning campaigner, broadcaster and writer Caroline Criado Perez, which exposes the gender data bias, has just taken out the Royal Society Science Book Prize. She is the fifth woman to win the science prize in five years reports The Guardian.

In the book Criado Perez draws on a range of case studies, stories and new research across government policy, medical research, technology, workplaces, urban planning and the media exposing the biased data and blind spots that excludes women:

Our world is largely built for and by men, in a system that can ignore half the population.


Gender data sexism in the built environment

Take snow clearing. Criado Perez explores how clearing major road arteries as a matter of priority over pavements has privileged men.

Criado Perez’s looked at a small town called Karlskoga in Sweden where the local council did a gender analysis of all their policies.

Women do 75 per cent of the world’s care work and do lots of short interconnected trips (‘trip chaining’ i.e dropping kids at school, picking up groceries, visiting older relatives etc ) as well as tending to use public transport and to walk. Meanwhile men tend to travel in a more simplified way (to and from work).

What Karlskoga council found was that their snow clearing policy was prioritising road clearing over pavement clearing. The council was doing this because women’s trip chaining wasn’t factored in as it wasn’t considered ‘work’. But when the council put a value on the unpaid work women did in terms of GDP it was found to rank the same as travel for ‘paid work’.

So Karlskoga council switched its policy. And found it saved them money.

“…they found that their accident and emergency costs fell dramatically, because pedestrians were dominating the numbers of people who were being admitted for having fallen and injured themselves in icy conditions and women were dominating the pedestrians.”

With the rapid pace of technology development artificial intelligence is going to have an increasing impact on our lives. It has the potential to readdress this gender balance but not if we continue to feed it biased data.

As Criado Perez argues the intervention and participation of women in AI, software development and technology development is critical to readdress the imbalance. This combined with collecting sex and gender dis-aggregation data is vital to ensure the default design is not defaulted to male.

Speaking of AI and technology development in the built environment did you know that Snobal is currently hiring for roles across its product development team? If you’re a software engineer or XR Artist with a passion for transforming how we design and build our cities we would love to hear from you!

More info on Gender Data Bias:
Invisible Women. 99% Invisible, 23 July 2019

+Book Review – Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Perez. Customer Think, 9 Sept 2019

+Humans are making biased algorithms that entrench discrimination — without even trying. ABC, 7 Sept 2019

+Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez – a world designed for men. The Guardian. 28 Feb 2019

+Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men – a review. The Conversation, 23 Mar 2019

+The Pitfalls of Data’s Gender Gap. Scientific American. 1 Apr 2019

+Statistical gender bias. European Institute for Gender Equality

+From Alexa to Siri and the GDPR: The Gendering of Virtual Personal Assistants and the Role of EU Data Protection Law. King’s College London Dickson Poon School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series. Dec 2018

+Too Human: The more “lifelike” simulations are, the less effective they risk becoming. Real Life Mag. 20 May 2019

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Snobal Midweek

Plan B? Helping combat climate change with AI

Starting today until the 27th thousands of students and workers across Australia and 150 other countries will part in the global School Strike for Climate inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg.

The strike is about demanding an end to the age of fossil fuels and ensuring our political leaders take real and urgent action.

There is a ticking clock to all this as we know.

The science is undeniable.

But what is also starting to become clearer is the impact technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) can play in combating climate change through more efficient building design, maintenance and monitoring not to mention using data to achieve energy efficiency.

A recently published paper called “Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning” has brought researchers together from a host of research bodies including Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Colorado, Boulder, Universite de Montreal , MIT, Stanford University, Deep Mind, Microsoft, Google and ETH Zurich.

The paper aims to provide an overview of where machine learning (ML – a branch of AI ) can be applied with high impact in the fight against climate change.

Our key takeaways reading the paper?

  1. Enhanced understanding of data: Many areas of transportation lack data, and decision-makers often plan transport infrastructure and policy based on uncertain information. ML can provide information about mobility patterns thereby improving operational efficiency of transport methods that emit significant CO2.
  2. Alternative to meetings: Leveraging newer more immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) we could potentially replace passenger trips with virtual meetings and help reduce transport per se.
  3. Designing for efficiency: ML can be applied to create more efficient vehicle engines, improved aerodynamics and reducing a vehicle’s weight or tire resistance. through failure detection or material design. [This same thinking can also be applied to built asset design ensuring the design of more sustainable buildings.].
  4. Optimising buildings: Applying technologies to reduce both the cost of build of and greenhouse gas emissions . [Snobal’s XR review springs to mind here which was created with the vision of reducing rework in the construction of complex built environments].

But our key takeaway is collaboration. And all of us taking responsibility to change our behaviour. As the paper highlights:

“…technology alone is not enough – technologies that would reduce climate change have been available for years, but have largely not been adopted at scale by society. While we hope that ML will be useful in reducing the costs associated with climate action, humanity also must decide to act…”

Read:. There is no plan B.

You can read the full research report here.

You might also like:

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Snobal partners
Snobal Midweek

Want to push the frontiers of science & technology? Think small.

Punching well above our weight in terms of pushing the boundaries of virtual reality and augmented reality as applied to engineering and construction is what we do well at Snobal.

It’s what we’ve always done well.

It is literally baked into our DNA. Working in an incredibly agile way, always iteratively and collaboratively with clients and with a focus on cross collaboration across disciplines and ideas. It has enabled Snobal to produce as the article says “…markedly more disruptive work than large ones[teams]”. 

But in the world of science and technology it can mean small teams can be underestimated.

Looking at more than 65 million scientific papers, patents, and software projects from the past six decades James Evans, a sociologist at the Staša Milojević who studies the history of science, we can see some reasons why. Evans found that

small teams are far more likely to introduce fresh, disruptive ideas that take science and technology in radically new directions…small teams fuel the future, generating ideas that, if they succeed, will be the source of big-team development.

Evans isn’t alone in this finding.

As reported in this The Atlantic article Indiana University Bloomington researcher Staša Milojević analyzed the titles of 20 million scientific papers and found a similar pattern.

So why are small teams more disruptive?

It’s a question that does not have a clear cut answer.

But the key learning’s we take from the article is that firstly big does not always mean better – especially when you’re talking about groundbreaking ideas and innovation in technology and science.

And secondly, that necessity ( for e.g restricted resources and time?) can sometimes truly be the mother of bold inventions.

Read the full article here on why small teams fuel innovation.

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Snobal Midweek

Top rule when choosing a virtual reality headset for engineering & construction

At Snobal there is one question that we always get asked by clients in engineering, construction and infrastructure development.

In fact it might just be the biggest early client question asked by all enterprise clients at this moment in time.

The question?

What headset will we use?

[Of course this question is closely followed by a lot of other questions. Where do we get the headsets? Are they all tethered? Is enterprise support offered? What other hardware do we need etc etc.]

But back to the question. What headset will we use?

Our answer is nearly always the same.

It depends.

It depends on what are you using the VR environment or application for?

Is it for design collaboration and testing?

Maybe its for high consequence training and you need for workers to be able to self-serve the training experience themselves.

Or perhaps you are wanting to use VR for stakeholder or public engagement?

And of course what is your budget does rank as important with some enterprise-only headsets for eg Varjo costing $5995USD plus a yearly service fee of $995 and requiring a powerful PC and graphics card.

Regardless of what business application you are currently addressing using VR, the number one rule to remember is to work with your VR/AR technology development partner on their recommendation for the best VR headset solution for your business.

Your VR/AR technology development partner should take into account your VR application and what it needs to run effectively, your budget, business requirements, enterprise support needs, any requirement for desktop versus standalone, scale-ability requirements of the virtual environment across diverse geographical locations, geographical availability of headsets and any potential ‘hidden’ hardware costs ensuring you get a VR hardware solution that is the best fit for your business.

For those still curious

T
he best business VR headset 2019: top virtual reality for enterprise use

The 5 Best VR Headsets in This Reality

[Image courtesy: James DeColling]

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Snobal Midweek

VR+AR=?

Today we’re taking all things XR. The origins of the term ‘XR’ to be precise.

You’ve heard of the term ‘XR” right? It seems to have risen in popularity the last year. Mid last year to be precise. But what does the term mean and stand for?

Maybe you thought ‘XR’ is shorthand for ‘extended reality’ (i.e a term meaning both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)).

Turns out the term ‘XR” was apparently not created asa shorthand for ‘extended reality’. Instead it can be better described as a ‘unifying’ term. A ‘placeholder’ bringing both VR and AR together:

Want to know more on the origins of the term ‘XR? Listen to this interview of Nick Whiting, Technical Director, XR at Epic Games via Silicon Valley Nick Whiting .io explaining how the term came about and why it was felt the term was needed.

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