AR, AI, Ay Yi Yi: NYC Media Lab 2017 Takeaways

Sara Harvey
3 min readSep 30, 2017


Waiting for the killer app

I was a journalist, so my heart and intellect is more in content creation than product development. As far as getting media out there, I work for non-profits and artists, so I want to try everything that comes out of the pipe, but to maximize what we can afford beyond all expectations.

So, my biggest takeaway from NYC Media Lab 2017 September 28 at The New School was a broader understanding of why augmented reality (AR) is so freaking hot. It engages more senses to enhance media, and should eventually let us use media hands-free. I knew it! I knew the natural advancement would be a levitating, invisible map, or a game, or a copy of the Goblet of Fire.

The AR among us, like Snapchat selfie filters and Pokémon Go, augment the reality of our physical, real world environment, our face and location. That’s what’s augmented. The vision, though, is to free AR from the phone, and house it in something potentially wearable (and liked, unlike Google Glass). AR should shake up consumer convenience, and myriad other sectors.

Cardiologists leave a sterile environment now to work with existing programs that overlay a 3D image of a heart over 2D scans enhanced by radioactive substances. Columbia University’s vasAR team presented a 3D heart model that virtually suspends in front of a surgeon as he or she guides instruments through valves during a minimally invasive surgery.

A dentist toggling his attention between a screen and a patient’s mouth would appreciate this technology, said Jeannette M. Wing, Avanessians Director of the Data Science Institute and Professor of Computer Science, Columbia University.

But back to how AR may or may not affect the general public— Google Glass never caught on, noted Amy Webb, Founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute, an adjunct professor at NYU Stern School of Business and author. She moderated the speculative Media 2020 panel.

It doesn’t change the fact that everyone already, to some degree, uses Google Glass’s functionality, said John Borthwick, Founder and CEO, betaworks. New York is a city of walkers, all reading their phones.

“The technology will improve,” Jeannette Wing said. “What will be the killer app? For sure, the medical profession is looking for it.” Then, we make the app disappear, said Francis Shanahan, Senior Vice President of Technology at Audible. The industry is advancing to interact with technology through voice (Alexa and Echo), swipes and other methods beyond QWERTY.

(Respectfully) Ellen Ullman battles the pink robots

Digital is how we access information and, therefore, how we make decisions. It’s “moving into our environment,” for god’s sake, free from its screen form to enter our human dimension in some eventual, irresistible mode. We’re immersing into technology, and it’s immersing into us.

So, a conversation on ethics is understandable. What’s an unreasonable limit on free speech and enterprise, and what’s responsible? Facebook is singularly influential and may be cordoning two billion monthly users into opinion silos, but it’s also just a platform. Right? Except, it “thinks.”

Artificial intelligence learns from experience apart from a human engineer, said Ellen Ullman, who has programmed since the 1970s, and authored Life in Code. She delivered the NYC Media Lab keynote conversation with author and podcast host Manoush Zomorodi. The machines are biased, limited because they draw on information from the past.

Humanity needs to give more guidance to software engineers creating algorithms. Engineers should provide more guidance to the machines.

“Think about the human impact of the things you’re making,” Manoush Zomorodi said.

The goal should be a more discerning consumer, said Francis Shanahan, SVP, Technology at Audible later during Media 2020. “I wouldn’t expect a person to be burdened with the entire responsibility,” Jeannette Wing said. “On both ends (engineering and consuming) there are human beings.”

Photo: South Park. Second photo: from the NYC Media Lab presentation of “Calling Thunder,” immersive media gathered around Manhattan’s natural history using 360 soundscapes and illustration. “Interactive mobile and WebVR experiences coming soon,” promises the website,




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