Our white Land Rover comes to a stop a few metres in front of the checkpoint, and a man approaches the window. He asks us what we are doing in the area, and we inform him that we’ve just had a meeting with the mayor of the town. To this he responds: “The mayor is a war criminal. You have to talk to Tony.” As we drive slowly away, we can hear him mutter: “There is no need for the UN here, we provide security.”
The lights come on in the training room, and the action on the screen is paused. “How do you think that went?” our instructor asks.
Military applications have long been at the vanguard of virtual reality (VR) technology, though the civilian commercial market is quickly catching up. While the prospect of fighting the enemy on a destroyer at sea or in a megacity skyscraper has consistently excited militaries and gamers alike, the use of VR to train soldiers in softer skills has flown under the radar.
But its importance shouldn’t be understated. These proficiencies are in serious demand today, as international military forces play an increasingly prominent role in crisis response and peace support operations the world over.
Whether deployed under the aegis of the UN, NATO, the EU or some other organisation, these forces are now routinely placed under civilian leadership in the field. They also have to be adept at interacting with their international civilian counterparts, as well as local populations in conflict zones.
Faced with the imperative to adapt to this new reality, the Swedish Armed Forces have taken a particularly innovative approach.
The “mixed reality” session I attended began in SWEDINT’s VR exercise room, where trainees embarked on a joint assessment mission in a fictional conflict zone. As part of the exercise, the UN vehicle travelled to the headquarters of a local NGO named HELP.
After the team encountered the representative for the NGO virtually, they were guided to a separate training room where a live actor awaited them. As someone who researches humanitarian-military relations in international missions (which I’ve discussed here and here), I was especially curious to see how the trainees engage with this local NGO.
In the simulated meeting, a UN civilian was put in charge of speaking for the mission. He joked to the NGO representative while pointing to his military colleagues: “I am with the civilian UN, so we can work together … but I know you are allergic to the uniforms beside me.” The NGO representative replied that she must indeed keep her independence, and that in her view the entire UN is actually “a military of sorts”. To reassure her, the UN civilian told her that next time, he would come to the meeting without the military and police.
This attracted the ire of one of his Finnish colleagues, who interjected: “Don’t apologise for the military, we are part of the team!” A Swedish soldier added: “If we continue to put up the boundaries between us, we are never going to function together.”
Similarly, the virtual checkpoint encounter exposed how different people can experience the same situation very differently. After the UN vehicle had driven away, the instructor asked us how many armed men were at the checkpoint.
As a civilian, I realised I hadn’t even tried to count the men – and it seemed none of my civilian counterparts had either. The military participants, though, made fairly accurate guesses; a policeman got it right, with seven.
As these two brief vignettes attest, these sorts of exercises might not resolve tensions or dispel stereotypes so much as bring them to light. Given the seriousness of the situations in which civilians and military forces find themselves, this is a vital priority.
As one of the course leaders explained to me, VR training is at its best when it holds up a mirror. It reveals to different actors how they are perceived, and alerts them to discrepancies between the way they see themselves and the impressions they make on others. This an opportunity to navigate, if not transcend, fraught territory together.
Apple CEO confirms new Mac mini in fan email
It’s been three years since Mac mini got an update. It’s easy to assume three years without an update means the product is dead, and the company has moved on. But with Apple products, you never really know for sure — looking at you Mac Pro.
One Apple fan could no longer deal with the uncertainty, so he took matters into his own hands and emailed CEO Tim Cook to ask him directly.
The email, published at MacRumors, read:
I love the Mac Mini but it’s been over 3 years now without an update.
Are we going to see anything in the pipeline anytime soon?
Miraculously, Cook responded with an email of his own. Cook confirmed the Mac mini was indeed part of Apple’s future plans, although he declined to share any further details. Cook’s email, also published at MacRumors, said:
I’m glad you love the Mac mini. We love it too. Our customers have found so many creative and interesting uses for Mac mini. While it is not time to share any details, we do plan for Mac mini to be an important part of our product line going forward.
Cook’s response mirrored that of marketing chief Phil Schiller, who made similar comments about the Mac Mini after the Mac Pro was teased earlier this year. “The Mac mini is an important product in our lineup and we weren’t bringing it up because it’s more of a mix of consumer with some pro use,” he said.
Or, to anyone that speaks Apple: we’re working on something else right now, check back later.
Adobe tease data visualization storytelling with no coding required
Over 12,000 people are attending the annual Adobe Max creativity conference at the Venetian in Las Vegas. If you scratch beneath the surface of announcements such as the cloud-centric redesign of Lightroom washed down with appearances from actor/director Jon Favreau and Mark Ronson, there is substance as well as style.
The event is not just about new applications or adding shiny features to existing products. MAX Sneaks offers attendees an opportunity to preview future technology that may or may not make it into products. These proof of concepts provide a glimpse of the vision for the creativity cloud of the future.
I spoke with Bernard Kerr, Senior Experience Designer at Adobe before he hit the MAX Sneaks stage for a preview of how Project Lincoln is going to make it easier to bring data to life. But first, I needed to understand the problems with the current way of doing things.
Kerr advised that data can be incredibly powerful, but if no one can understand it, the reports are meaningless. In a visual digital world, a nasty looking Excel chart is no longer going to cut it. The New York Times is an excellent example of how using data visualization and infographics to not only capture readers attention but enables them to digest information instantly.
The use of data to create captivating artistic displays is rising to the top of wish lists to make information more palatable to the boardroom. However, the process can be quite cumbersome. A data analyst will collect and analyze data but in most cases will have to turn to graphic designers or data communication experts.
Starting from scratch can be a lengthy process and changing data when a brief gets lost in translation is guaranteed to make matters even more complicated. Adobe promotes themselves as a tool making company that enables people to tell stories in exciting and interesting ways, but how are they going to simplify data visualization?
The unveiling of Project Lincoln at Adobe Max reveals a unique approach and concept straight from its design lab. An antidote to rigid templates, Kerr demonstrated how easy it was to create a 14 visually appealing charts in only four minutes using data from a spreadsheet.
Lincoln is a new approach to making visualizations that give designers the creative freedom to make beautiful charts, visualizations, and info-graphics without the need to code. This revolutionary approach empowers designers with a new set of data-driven drawing tools that can dramatically change the design velocity at which designers can make these sorts of graphics.
Early indications suggest that project Lincoln could quickly become a designer’s best friend. The ability to bind data into pallets and graphics is something that we have not seen before. But, Adobe’s mission to crush the lengthy timescales, simplify complex data and quickly present in a visually appealing format is a mouthwatering prospect.
Buzzwords such as big data, AI, and machine learning continue to dominate the digital landscape. But humans need explanatory data visualizations to both tell and understand any corporate vision.
There was clearly a buzz at the possibilities that Project Lincoln could bring to the creative cloud in the near future. The big question on everybody’s lips, was when is it coming out? However, it’s easy to get carried away with a live demo at an Adobe Conference.
The MAX Sneaks sessions are an excellent opportunity to get engineers out of the lab and onto the stage to showcase what they’ve been working on. Project Lincoln is currently a proof of concept with exciting potential, but creatives will have to wait and see what happens next.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author’s own and not necessarily shared by TNW.
Russo Brothers May Be Done With the MCU After Avengers 4
Anthony and Joe Russo may be done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Avengers 4. The Russos were primarily known for directing and producing episodes of comedy shows until they made the jump to blockbuster filmmaking with Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014, providing audiences with one of the shared universe’s most critically-acclaimed installments. They returned to the silver screen two years later with Captain America: Civil War but not before agreeing to helm the next two Avengers movies for Marvel Studios.
The Russos signed on to direct Avengers: Infinity War and the currently-untitled Avengers 4 – which was originally billed as being the second-half of a two-part story – in 2015, but they may not have realized the sheer scope of the endeavor they would be embarking on when they initially boarded the project. Now, two years later and one Avengers film down, the Russos are knee-deep in filming the final chapter in the MCU’s first saga (culminating 10 years and 22 movies worth of storytelling), and it seems like they don’t plan on sticking around when the next saga begins.
Related: Avengers 4 Brings Whole New MCU
Josh Brolin, who plays the supervillain Thanos in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4, has been busy promoting his latest film, Only The Brave, but he’s obviously been inundated with questions about his upcoming comic book movies. In an interview with Collider, the actor seemed to indicate that the Russos plan on departing the franchise after Avengers 4.
“…Also, I think that they’re in a position very openly and raw-ly where they’re like, ‘We would never do this again. This is a one-time deal. To put this many successful actors together is such a pain in the ass, but it’s been worth it. We’re doing two movies. One back to back, and this is it for us. Then we’ll go off in another direction,’ but this is a very, very, very ambitious project that I think is going to pay off in a big way.”
Although there have been plenty of movies over the years that have been carried by ensemble casts, the fact of the matter is, nothing comes close to the sheer size of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4. As previously mentioned, the movies take 10 years worth of storytelling that began with Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008 and bring it all to a head with an ultimate showdown between Earth’s mightiest heroes and the Mad Titan Thanos and his Black Order.
Avengers: Infinity War wrapped production earlier this year, and the Russos are currently in production on Avengers 4. Considering just how many people are involved with both movies, it’s understandable for the Russos to want to take a break from making comic book movies and maybe take a well-deserved vacation when it’s all said and done.
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