Game technology inspires creativity

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Reminding us of the intrinsic need for play, ETH Zurich researchers in game technology collaborate with Disney Research Zurich to provide novel digital technologies to enhance traditional experiences in a new realm called, "augmented creativity".

Imagine an app that enables the "inner child" in all of us to create real-time adaptations of portraits – changing the size of the subject's eyes, altering the hairstyle, reshaping the nose or mouth, and, with just the tap of a finger, transforming the texture and color of a painting. Prof. Bob Sumner, who heads up ETH Zurich's Game Technology Center (GTC), finds that "some of the most satisfying endeavors in life happen when you think about putting children first."

Fun is the future
When physical interaction with the environment is such an important part of the human experience, we have to ask, "As passive consumers of digital content, are we losing touch with reality?" ETH Zurich researchers, in collaboration with Disney Research, envision a magical world in which augmented reality enhances creative play in a novel concept they refer to as augmented creativity. "We are living in an interesting time," says Sumner. "Like the development of the smartphone, I believe augmented creativity is the next era." Rather than passively consuming digital content, Sumner conceptualizes augmented reality as a vehicle for providing a magical overlay to enhance creative play. For Sumner, the potential for gaming extends far beyond entertainment: "Fun is the future," he says.

The brain on play
Studies on reinforcement and learning identify how our neurons work together to make decisions – revealing that physiological sensation, kinesthetic adaptation, and risk calculation light up the brain at play as the neurotransmitter dopamine signals pathways that reward behavior. Stéphane Magnenat confirms, "Humans have an intrinsic curiosity for learning." Magnenat, a senior researcher who works with Bob Sumner and Fabio Zünd, explores algorithms to build games that optimize learning in a magical state of flow or focused concentration – much like the magic we experience when listening to inspiring music or engrossed in playing a video game.

The magic of algorithms
Zünd revealed that the GTC's research team has developed two unique technologies to enable an augmented-reality coloring book. The first was a texture transfer process that allows coloring enthusiasts to see a full 3D view of their characters and alter the view with new colors and textures in real time. The team also created a deformable surface-tracking algorithm that accommodates the curvature of a page bound within a book. Great potential exists for this algorithm to impact further applications in the visual computing field, but the GTC team is pushing the boundaries even further delving into auditory senses that allow children to explore the world of music.

Will life and learning be all fun and games in the future? Sumner says, "…since the advent of computers we have created digital tools that seem like magic compared to what was possible only 15 years ago." Perhaps, the question should be, "Will technology still seem magical in the future?" Let’s hope so.

Original full-length version of this article was published in the Diplomatic Courier magazine

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Fri Jun 23 06:57:35 CEST 2017
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