Grand 2012 Offers Glimpse Into the Future

Sitting in the back of the huge Sheraton hotel conference rooms a couple of weeks ago, one not completely familiar with the complexities of computer programming and gaming dynamics may have found oneself to be a slight fish out of water. Design intuition, analytics, panopticon, polygonization of implicit surfaces, information appliances, haptic notification systems, procedural modeling and more acronyms than one could count could fool you into thinking you had stepped into a parallel universe.

But, in fact, you simply stepped into the future.

GRAND NCE, or Graphics, Animation and New Media/Design, is a mostly academic network of technology, computing, gaming, design and social studies experts who seek to promote excellence and collaboration amongst diverging disciplines and research projects. In a nutshell, they’re a group of people researching in different fields related to technology and trying to work together to form well-rounded and unique research about the way we currently relate to technology, the ways in which it can be improved and the forms it will likely take in the future.

This year, 34 groups from across Canada met up to discuss their research, with many fellow researchers meeting in person for the very first time despite months of working on projects together from a distance. Here are some of the highlights from the stock-full two-and-a-half day conference.

TECH AND SOCIETY

Kicking things off with her presentation on young Canadians and their relationship to the online world was Valerie Steeves, director of the Technology and Human Rights Project at the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre. She addressed the evolution in mindsets and concerns about the internet and different technologies; presenting data from her research that suggested that between the years 2000 and 2011, an important shift in parental perspectives had taken place; switching from enthusiasm, to irritation, to fear of the internet.

On the flip side, her work showed that children and teenagers were increasingly aware of the risks associated to the internet. And as a result of increased parental monitoring, kids had gone from perceiving the internet as an anonymous escape to seeing it a space where parents and filters were to be dodged and tricked.

Many other projects worked on understanding the ways in which our modern minds and bodies relate to technology. A particularly interesting Mash Up session (which brought together two teams from diverging disciplines) by NEUROGAM, presented on Thursday, featured research on the effects of video game structures and technologies on children with a myriad of neurological disorders. Using bio-feedback technology and games requiring varied levels of physical activities, the group has come up with some impressive results.

One of their projects included applying a customized filter to any given game; say a cover of overlaying red veins for a game featuring the Hulk. That same filter was receptive to the player’s neurological and physical feedback and picked up on a few key signals.

Therefore, when the player was anxious, angry or having difficulty controlling his emotions and biofeedback, his game was slightly impeded by an increasingly opaque layer of red veins. Conversely, the layer was minimal if not absent once the player regained control of his emotional state.

Gaming structures also proved effective in addressing physically-restraining disabilities such as cerebral palsy. Using ‘exergames’ that rewarded minimal movement instead of quick movement, researchers noted significant increases in adolescent mobility and an important rise in drive and motivation to be physically active.

Tentative research was also presented on the effects of virtual reality technologies and musical vibrations on pain, strain and ability. In Friday’s second Mash Up, the conversation turned to VR technology enabling states of meditative relaxation.

The panellists also explored patterns in which chronic pain sufferers respond to different musical stimulus (noteworthy, they found sufferers to be particularly sensitive to higher pitch sounds) and the ways in which social media and music could be harnessed to lessen the pain and anxiety related to a myriad of disabilities. As one of the panellist pointed out, with Canadian vets receiving four times more training in pain management than regular doctors, such research was well-needed and past overdue.