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Sensory Fiction: Read Your Books and Feel Them Too

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Felix // Vimeo

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, good citizens attend the feelies—movies that allow them to feel the warmth of a bear rug or the flutter of a kiss. While it might seem as if this can only exist in the fictional world of 2540, researchers at MIT’s Media Lab have created technology that might bring this sci-fi closer to reality: Felix Heibeck, Alexis Hope, and Julie Legault developed what they call "Sensory Fiction," a vest that hooks up to an e-reader and helps readers feel what the characters in a book experience.

The vest includes networked sensors and actuators, which change the reader’s mood and environment to match the book. Sensory Fiction has 150 programmable LEDs to change lighting, sound to create ambient noise, a heating device to influence body temperature, sensors to create vibrations to quicken or slow heart rate, and a compression system to restrict the chest. These work in concert to influence the reader’s feelings. When a character becomes frightened, for example, the vest increases the heart rate and restricts the chest so the reader experiences the feeling of fear, too.

They tested their technology with The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Tiptree.

SENSORY FICTION from Felix on Vimeo.

On the Sensory Fiction website, the researchers write, “Traditionally, fiction creates and induces emotions and empathy through words and images. By using a combination of networked sensors and actuators, the Sensory Fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader’s imagination. These tools can be wielded to create an immersive storytelling experience tailored to the reader.”

They also admit that while they’re excited that the prototype works, they have no plans to mass produce Sensory Fiction. They think of it merely as a way to spark debate.

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AI Algorithm Tells You the Ingredients in Your Meal Based on a Picture
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Your food photography habit could soon be good for more than just updating your Instagram. As Gizmodo reports, a new AI algorithm is trained to analyze food photos and match them with a list of ingredients and recipes.

The tool was developed by researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). To build it, they compiled information from sites like All Recipes and Food.com into a database dubbed Recipe1M, according to their paper. With more than a million annotated recipes at its disposal, a neural network then sifted through each one, learning about which ingredients are associated with which types of images along the way.

The result is Pic2Recipe, an algorithm that can deduce key details about a food item just by looking at its picture. Show it a picture of a cookie, for example, and it will tell you it likely contains sugar, butter, eggs, and flour. It will also recommend recipes for something similar pulled from the Recipe1M database.

Pic2Recipe is still a work in progress. While it has had success with simple recipes, more complicated items—like smoothies or sushi rolls, for example—seem to confuse the system. Overall, it suggests recipes with an accuracy rate of about 65 percent.

Researchers see their creation being used as a recipe search engine or as a tool for situations where nutritional information is lacking. “If you know what ingredients went into a dish but not the amount, you can take a photo, enter the ingredients, and run the model to find a similar recipe with known quantities, and then use that information to approximate your own meal,” lead author Nick Hynes told MIT News.

Before taking the project any further, the team plans to present its work at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Conference in Honolulu later this month.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Dungeons & Dragons Gets a Digital Makeover
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Since the 1970s, players have been constructing elaborate campaigns in Dungeons & Dragons using nothing but paper, pencils, rule books, and 20-sided dice. That simple formula has made D&D the quintessential role-playing game, but the game's publisher thinks it can be improved with a few 21st-century updates. As The Verge reports, Wizards of the Coast is launching a digital toolset meant to enhance the gaming experience.

The tool, called D&D Beyond, isn’t meant to be a replacement for face-to-face gameplay. Rather, it’s designed to save players time and energy that could be better spent developing characters or battling orcs. The resource includes a fifth-edition rule book users can search by keyword. At the start of a new campaign, they can build monsters and characters within the program. And players don’t need to worry about forgetting to bring their notes to a quest—D&D Beyond keeps track of information like items and spells in one convenient location.

"D&D Beyond speaks to the way gamers are able to blend digital tools with the fun of storytelling around the table with your friends,” Nathan Stewart, senior director of Dungeons & Dragons, said in a statement when the concept was first announced. "These tools represent a way forward for D&D.”

This isn’t the first attempt to bring D&D into the digital age; videogames inspired by the fictional world have been produced since the 1980s. Unlike those titles, though, D&D Beyond will still highlight the imagination-fueled role-playing aspect of the game when it launches August 15.

[h/t The Verge]

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