It’s a cliché, but I have wondered why we use flat images to depict our multifaceted environments and experiences. Over the past few months, I also noticed companies ranging from Facebook to Google (YouTube) and Twitter continuously rolling out multimedia features related to 360-degree imagery. So, when MIT Technology Review brainstormed ideas for its annual list of breakthrough technologies, I nominated 360-degree cameras—specifically, consumer-grade cameras priced less than $500 that take 360-degree photos and video with minimal fuss.

Manufacturers started launching these cameras in 2012, but early models seemed experimental and attracted few buyers. Approximately 150,000 360-degree cameras sold worldwide in 2015, followed by 600,000 in 2016, according to the market research firm Futuresource Consulting. This year, the devices appear poised for a mass-market breakthrough, thanks to support from major technology companies, better hardware and software, and greater consumer awareness. Global sales are projected to rise to 1.5 million units in 2017 and increase to 4 million by 2020.

I tried out five 360-degree camera models for the article—the Allie camera, Kodak PIXPRO SP360 4K, 360fly 4K, Ricoh Theta S, and Samsung Gear 360. While interviewing the camera makers, I learned a number of surprising facts, such as the similarity between smartphone components and 360-degree camera parts. I incorporated some of those details into the story, which you can read here, along with the rest of the 2017 “10 Breakthrough Technologies” list.

Even though the article is finished, I intend to keep refining my 360-degree video skills. I’m excited to see the next generation of consumer-level 360-degree cameras, such as Kodak’s PIXPRO Orbit 360 4K, which will be more capable and easier to use than previous models. And now that Facebook, YouTube—and soon, Twitter—support 360-degree images (including, in some cases, live-streamed video) I think it’s an important medium for anyone who tells stories, especially journalists.

[Image via.]

I haven’t written a profile in a long time, but I recently came across a person who I knew would make a fascinating profile subject: Douglas Trumbull. Trumbull is a filmmaker though is probably better known for his visual effects work on iconic, futuristic, sci-fi movies, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and The Andromeda Strain. (His website describes him as a “visual effects and immersive media pioneer.”)

More interesting, to me, is his invention of film formats and projection technologies to create immersive cinematic experiences. Trumbull pairs high-frame rates and huge theater screens to make movies look far more realistic and thus draw audiences deeper into the action and stories. He has also developed a special movie theater where he can show his movies and amplify their immersive effects. He calls the movie process Magi — a play on the word “magic” — and the theater “Magi Pod”.

Last month, I visited the theater and watched Trumbull’s demo movies. The experience was difficult to express in words, but I tried to describe it in this article, which was just published on MIT Technology Review’s website and will appear in the November/December 2016 issue. One way to think of the Magi movie + Pod theater is as a real-life version of a Star Trek holodeck. It’s a comparison Trumbull likes to make himself and I found it apt, given his work on the first Star Trek movie.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Trumbull’s work is that he does it by himself (with the help of a small crew) since he lives in the Berkshires, in Western Massachusetts, and isn’t affiliated with any Hollywood studios. He’s been on this mission since the 1970s, when he first experimented with high-frame rates using celluloid film, and he keeps going because he believes audiences will prefer the Magi way of showing/watching movies, once they experience it. Bringing Magi to the masses requires investors, so it might never happen, but Trumbull’s trying his utmost to commercialize it.

I don’t have a particular interest in cinematic technology, besides loving movies, but I found Trumbull — and his quest to bring a sense of magic back to theaters — truly compelling.

I’ve covered the smartphone industry long enough to know that when someone touts a new phone capability as the next must-have feature, they’re most likely wrong. Yet I recently wrote a story that proclaims Google’s Tango technology as just that.

What is Tango? And what’s so great about it?

Tango is tough to describe pithily. In my article, which you can read online here and in MIT Technology Review’s September/October 2016 issue, I call it a location-sensing system — one that combines special sensors with an accelerometer, gyroscope, and regular camera to enable mobile devices to detect exactly where they are in physical space. Tango also involves software — basically, a bunch of algorithms that gather and crunch data from all these components. So, it’s a hardware and software system/platform that enables phones and tablets to perceive their location in a manner that’s more similar to the way we (humans) do.

Tango has been in the works at Google for nearly four years and will be available to consumers (in the form of a Lenovo smartphone) this winter.

Another way to think of Tango is as an indoor version of GPS. Tango has the ability to help users navigate places where GPS signals don’t reach, such as deep inside museums, shopping malls, and subway stations. Tango devices can also display augmented reality images in a very realistic way, which makes it an ideal technology for immersive games, as well as interactive educational and shopping apps. The American Museum of Natural History has already developed an app using Tango that allows users to view digital/virtual, life-size versions of dinosaurs and learn key facts about them. Similarly, the retailers Lowe’s and Wayfair have Tango-enabled shopping apps that let you place digital/virtual, life-size pieces of furniture in your home to see how they would look and fit.

Perhaps the most useful Tango app is a Google-made one that turns Tango devices into virtual tape measures. Users can measure objects in 1D, 2D, and 3D just by pointing the sensors in their Tango phones at the objects’ corners. The app draws virtual lines that connect the points and then automatically calculates the distances between them.

There’s a lot more I could say about Tango, but the gist is that it enables a broad range of apps that span both practical and entertaining uses. And these apps have capabilities that have never been possible before. That’s why I think Tango is the next must-have smartphone feature. (For a lot more on Tango, please read my story!)

Earlier this year, I attended a healthcare conference at MIT’s business school. At the end of a panel discussion about data analysis in drug discovery and development, an audience member stood up and asked whether the companies represented on the panel were analyzing genomic data for a wide range of ethnicities and subpopulations. The experts on the panel readily confessed that they weren’t since most genomic data currently comes from people of European descent. But the panelists also said that healthcare and pharmaceutical companies should look at all ethnicities, that doing so was “necessary for good science,” and that there were a few initiatives that were trying to sequence more subpopulations, at least in Asia.

I rarely write about biomedicine, but that brief exchange planted a seed. And when it came time to brainstorm stories for a Business Reports package about precision medicine, I proposed an article about startups that are collecting genomic data in Asia. That story was just published; you can read it online here and in MIT Technology Review’s September/October 2016 issue.

My article looks primarily at two organizations: Global Gene Corp. (GGC) and GenomeAsia 100K. GGC is the creation of two physicians and two business executives, all of who have personal ties to India. The company’s goal is to bring precision medicine to India and says that doing so requires collecting genomic data because there is little information available. GGC estimates that just 0.2% of global genomic data comes from India — and that countries outside the U.S., Europe, and Japan collectively comprise less than 1% of global genomic data.

For GGC, this omission is both a business and a medical opportunity. The company has been active in India for several years, but spent most of that time building up a biobank of DNA samples and forging partnerships. So, it’s not yet clear whether GGC will be able to significantly affect health outcomes in India, but the potential market is large enough that other startups are likely to follow its lead.

GenomeAsia has a slightly different aim: to sequence the genomes of 100,000 people in South, North and East Asia and create reference genomes representing all major Asian ethnic groups. The nonprofit project, which is based in Singapore, is just getting started and is slated for completion around 2020.

If GGC succeeds in India, it plans to expand into East Asia, especially China, and the Middle East. Whether you view this movement from a business or a healthcare angle, it is worth watching.

Creating a list of the world’s 50 smartest companies is a ton of work. I know because MIT Technology Review just published its latest version of such a list (called the TR50) and I researched and wrote a good chunk of it. You can read the list here, online, and in the July/August issue of TR.

The online list is particularly worth checking out since we expanded it this year to include far more information, including summary explanations about the companies, their valuations, and when they were founded. A lot of magazine “best of” lists fail to show why their winners are, well, winners. We wanted to illustrate not only why we selected these companies, but also what they do, in case readers had never heard of them.

Before we could write those 50 blurbs, we had to solicit nominations from people around the world, vet the suggestions with our own research, winnow down the options, and rank the companies. We also had to keep tweaking the list. When significant news broke about the nominees — which happened quite frequently — we dropped companies and added new ones, or rearranged their places on the list.

TR‘s July/August issue is crammed with business stories beyond the TR50. In fact, the list serves as a platform for an entire package of stories, including profiles of several large, established companies (Bosch, Intel, Microsoft, and Toyota) and articles that introduce new, innovative upstarts (23andme, 24M, and Didi Chuxing.)

I wrote the 24M story, which you can read here. 24M is a startup that makes batteries — specifically, a new type of lithium-ion battery that is designed to be cheaper, faster, and easier to make than conventional Li-ion batteries. I learned quite a bit about batteries while working on the article. (An interview with Lux Research’s Chris Robinson was especially educational — thanks, Chris!) I also read up on the electric vehicle and stationary energy storage industries because 24M hopes to sell into those markets when it introduces its first commercial battery in early 2018. And since the 24M article was photo-centric (featuring 10 photos in its layout) I even attended the story’s photo shoot (which was fascinating to observe).

The 24M article involved a lot of labor, as did the TR50 list. But it’s all worth it to highlight the world’s smartest companies.

“Who are the people in charge of climate-change issues at large companies?” “What time frames are they looking at?” These questions, posed by Technology Review’s top editor, were the spark for my latest story, which appears in the upcoming (July/August 2016) issue of TR and can be found online here.

The article–part of a broader TR Business Report about climate change–charts the evolution of the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) role. CSOs formulate their companies’ climate-change policies and strategies and help implement/execute them. CSOs are not new–corporations started appointing them in 2004–but the job has new momentum in the wake of last year’s Paris climate talks. Post-COP21 there is more climate change-related work to do (in terms of reporting on carbon emissions, water usage, etc.); more public attention focused on it; and greater motivation for companies to be proactive in this area.

While CSOs, in general, appear to be enjoying greater authority compared to years past, a number still seem to focus primarily on philanthropy, community affairs, marketing, and corporate communications tasks. In my reporting, I sought out the CSOs who were doing more than this–the ones who were actually leading ambitious climate change-reduction agendas and had the ear of their CEOs.

That’s one odd thing about CSOs; though their title implies they are C-suite executives, their rank within their corporate hierarchies is typically more like that of a vice president.

My reporting led me to the CSOs of Ikea, Keurig Green Mountain, Nike, and PG&E, all of whom seemed to fit the newly empowered CSO paradigm. Ikea’s CSO is particularly impressive. He has a Ph.D. in environmental physics, formerly co-founded and ran an environmental NGO, and is the driving force behind the retailer’s aggressive plans to produce as much energy as it consumes, via renewable sources, and to buy its most important raw materials, including cotton and wood, from sources certified by nonprofits as “more sustainable”. What’s more, he is a bona fide member of Ikea’s nine-person top-executive team, along with the company’s CEO and CFO.

As someone who admires activists, I found it heartening that some huge multinational companies, including Ikea and Nike, have essentially hired activists as their CSOs. The world needs aggressive, inspired leaders pushing companies to reduce their carbon footprint and these executives are showing how to do this from the inside.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is part of daily life for anyone who consults Siri, Google Now, or Cortana on a regular basis. These AI assistants are smart, but generalists by design. That made me curious: Are there any AI-powered assistants that are geared for business use? What is the equivalent of Siri for business?

I recently investigated this question on assignment for MIT Technology Review. Turns out, there are quite a few AI assistants that target business users and businesses that sell to business users. Ultimately, I identified six startups (Clara Labs, DigitalGenius, Howdy, Kasisto, Meekan, x.ai) that are using machine learning, neural networks, and natural language processing to help business users do everything from scheduling meetings to paying their bills by voice. I asked each of the startups what type of AI they use and how they apply it and wrote this story.

This article is the first one I’ve done for TR, which is my new(ish) employer. The story is part of TR’s Business Report section, which documents how new technologies are affecting industry and changing how people work. (My job involves writing and editing these reports.)

Each Business Report has a theme; this report focused on AI. There are 13 stories total and you can download a PDF of the entire report here, for free.

I’m currently working on stories for the next Business Report. TR is released bimonthly, so I’ll be able to post about those stories in approximately two months.

 

 

I’ve been a New York-based reporter since I graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2004. I later worked in Asia, but only for a few months at a time. New York City not only offered close proximity to my family in Connecticut, it also had Central Park, awesome events and cheap yet tasty Korean food, among other assets.

When opportunities to go elsewhere (mostly San Francisco) arose, I considered them, but always ended up thinking, “Why leave New York?”

Well, this year I’m finally leaving the New York area — to take a job that excites me more than living in/near New York does. In February, I’m joining MIT Technology Review as an editor, specifically as an editor of the magazine’s Business Reports section.

If you’re unfamiliar with Business Reports, it’s the part of MIT Technology Review that documents how new technologies are affecting industry, transforming companies, disrupting markets and changing how people work. It appears in the magazine as a nine-page section, has its own tab at the top of MIT Technology Review’s website and populates much of the site’s business news vertical.

Within the past six months, Business Reports has published articles about:

  • Data privacy in edtech;
  • The burgeoning Chinese VC market;
  • Kenya’s efforts to build a “Silicon Savannah”;
  • And how companies are using habit-forming technology to hook consumers.

As well as Q&A’s with luminaries such as Reid Hoffman and Sebastian Thrun.

The aim of Business Reports is to help executives stay ahead of the technologies that matter most to their businesses. It’s an ambitious mission and an important and fascinating area of focus (in my opinion).

Like MIT, MIT Technology Review is located in Cambridge, Mass. So, for me 2016 isn’t just a new year; it also means a new job and a new city/state. I am delighted about the changes. And I hope you’ll check out Business Reports if you haven’t already.

This may seem unlikely given the fact that I am — uh — an adult, but patbingsu is my favorite food. Yes, a shaved ice dessert is my No. 1 thing to eat. It’s delicious, it’s fun and it makes me happy. When I lived in Seoul, I would trek to Techno Mart, a huge, gadget-selling mall, just to eat patbingsu. Why Techno Mart? Well, it boasted a pretty impressive food court that had several patbingsu vendors. And the patbingsu that these vendors sold was enormous. Seriously, this was patbingsu as big as your head, yet very reasonably priced. I recall it cost somewhere around 7,000 won, which was about $6 at the time.

Techno Mart still exists, but was completely renovated years ago. I’ve visited since and — as far as I can tell — it no longer houses these cheap patbingsu vendors. Sad. Fortunately, I now know how to make patbingsu myself.


This recipe also marks the end of my Korean Food Project, which was a personal challenge/commitment to cook one Korean dish per week for a year. (I kicked the project off in January and am finishing it now, in December.) Since patbingsu is my favorite food, I thought it a fitting close for my project. You can see all the dishes I cooked over the year on this page.


Patbingsu (Red Bean Shaved Ice) — 팥빙수

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 c. shaved ice
  • 2 c. red bean paste*
  • 8 Tbsp. sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 tsp. cooked rice powder (misugaru)**

NOTE: This recipe is for a relatively simple and classic patbingsu. You can add many more ingredients if you like. Common patbingsu toppings include diced kiwi and strawberries; sweet rice cakes (tteok); green tea ice cream; and sugary cereal, such as Cap’n Crunch.

*You can buy red bean paste ready-made, in a can, at Asian grocery stores. I chose to cook mine from scratch using this recipe from the Korean food blog Aeri’s Kitchen. (See photos above for a picture of my homemade red bean paste.) If you make your red bean topping yourself, you need to do it well ahead of time, so it has time to cool off. Otherwise, it will melt the patbingsu’s shaved ice.

**Misugaru is often called ten-grain powder. Its ingredients vary, but typically include barley, black beans, corn, rice, sesame seeds and soybeans. Since misugaru contains gluten, I didn’t use it in my patbingsu, but it is surprisingly tasty and Koreans regard it as a health food. You can buy it at Korean food stores or on Amazon.com for $13.50 for a large bag.

As a gluten-free alternative to misugaru, I used a ready-made, powdered mix of black beans, walnuts and Job’s Tears tea in my patbingsu. (See photo above. Job’s Tears is a type of plant that produces a barley-like grain that, unlike barley, is gluten free.) You can buy similar Korean teas — such as this one made with black rice powder, black soybean powder and soybean powder or this one made with walnuts, almonds and Job’s Tears tea — on Amazon.com for $18 for a large bag or $10 for 15 small packets, respectively.


Steps

  • Place 1½ c. of the shaved ice into each of the four bowls, shaping it into a mound.
  • Add ½ c. of the red bean, 2 Tbsp. of the sweetened condensed milk and 1 tsp. of the rice powder on top of the shaved ice.
  • Serve immediately.

Sujeonggwa is a fruit tea (flavored by persimmons and jujubes) that Koreans drink for dessert. It’s considered something of a fancy occasion drink in Korea, perhaps because it needs to be simmered for an hour. So while I won’t be making it for regular family meals, I will take the time to brew it for special events. The cinnamon sticks make it a particularly nice accompaniment to winter holiday meals.


Sujeonggwa (Persimmon Tea) — 수정과

Ingredients

  • 2 4-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 1½-inch fresh ginger root
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 4 jujubes (dried red dates)*
  • 6 c. water
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar or more to taste
  • 12 pine nuts (optional)
  • 4 dried persimmons**

*You can buy jujubes at Asian grocery stores or on Amazon.com for $14 for 1 lb.

**You can buy 1 lb. bags of dried persimmons on Nuts.com for $11 or on Amazon.com for $16.


Steps

  • Soak persimmons in water for 30 minutes, then drain.
  • Peel and thinly slice ginger root.
  • Put cinnamon sticks, ginger, peppercorns, jujubes and water into a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
  • Cover, lower heat and simmer for 1 hour.
  • Add sugar to taste and stir until dissolved.
  • Pour the mixture through a sieve into a bowl and add the persimmons.
  • Allow mixture to cool, then refrigerate until chilled.
  • When serving, divide the liquid between 4 bowls or glasses and add some pine nuts (if using) for garnish.

[From Foods of Korea]