As the 3DS, PS Vita, and smartphones have shown us, augmented reality is a rather interesting prospect, casting aside the dull veil of reality and peppering our visual field with software-added loveliness. Google Glasses has sought to advance this trend, proposing wearable hardware that, integrated with Google Voice, provides features found in the Android OS - amongst which is photo/video, text messaging, and navigation. Now, it seems that Valve wishes to join the fold, as its new project does indeed look to be wearable computing.
Read more (much more indeed) after the jump!
The revelation comes from a blog post by Michael Abrash, who works in R&D at Valve. The post covers his professional history, from working with Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington at Microsoft, to his reluctance to become a co-founder of Valve, and his eventual decision (after much encouragement from Newell & Co.) to join the company. It's a wonderful read, but for those more interested in what kind of future-tech awaits our intrepid little species, Abrash paints a rather interesting portrait of the new age of computing - forgetting for a moment the dystopian future in which we all find ourselves addicted to anti-rejection drugs, ala Human Revolution. As Abrash puts it:
By "wearable computing" I mean mobile computing where both computer-generated graphics and the real world are seamlessly overlaid in your view; there is no separate display that you hold in your hands (think Terminator vision). The underlying trend as we've gone from desktops through laptops and notebooks to tablets is one of having computing available in more places, more of the time. The logical endpoint is computing everywhere, all the time - that is, wearable computing - and I have no doubt that 20 years from now that will be standard, probably through glasses or contacts, but for all I know through some kind of more direct neural connection. And I'm pretty confident that platform shift will happen a lot sooner than 20 years - almost certainly within 10, but quite likely as little as 3-5, because the key areas - input, processing/power/size, and output - that need to evolve to enable wearable computing are shaping up nicely, although there's a lot still to be figured out.
While "Terminator Vision" still seems like something born from the moist womb of science fiction, technology is slowly making headway toward its realization - the aforementioned Google Glasses comes to mind. As for the finer details of this "overlay" - those of us who have seen the Terminator films enough times
don't judge me remember "Aahnold" being given information about any object within his field of vision - baby steps have been made with "Google Goggles." For those unfamiliar with the app, the idea is that one's cell phone camera integrates with the software, allowing it to recognize the central object in a photograph, subsequently identifying it and doing a relevant search. As for text, Google Goggles aims to allow one simply photograph a section of foreign text, and through Google Translate, allow for the text to be "read" by the program, subsequently translating it into one's native tongue. While the program is by no means perfect - to be honest, i've never really gotten it to work - it is something that is out on the frontier. On the text front, TurboTax already has "SnapTax," which allows one to simply photograph a W-2, and have the data automatically imported to one's online tax return. So while undoubtedly years off, such things are slowly proving themselves to be feasible.
Aside from being newsworthy, the blog entry gives a most fascinating window into the inner workings of Valve (or not), depending on one's level of cynicism - healthy or otherwise. According to Abrash, Valve operates on something akin to the anarchist model. From his entry:
The idea that a 10-person company of 20-somethings in Mesquite, Texas, could get its software on more computers than the largest software company in the world told him that something fundamental had changed about the nature of productivity. When he looked into the history of the organization, he found that hierarchical management had been invented for military purposes, where it was perfectly suited to getting 1,000 men to march over a hill to get shot at. When the Industrial Revolution came along, hierarchical management was again a good fit, since the objective was to treat each person as a component, doing exactly the same thing over and over.
Rather than having a distinct pecking order, in which an employee answers to his or her superior, who in turn answers to his or her own superior, Valve takes a more democratic approach. While wages are stratified, they are the result not of managerial prerogative, but peer consensus. The more valuable a member is to the team, the higher the financial reward. Moreover, employees to not have a "set" position within the company: "That everyone on a project team is an individual contributor, doing coding, artwork, level design, music, and so on, including the leads; there is no such thing as a pure management or architect or designer role." Project leads do exist, "but they're chosen by informal consensus," and devoid of the prestige and higher pay grade than those below them. From Abrash's analysis, the Valve model's strength is that this less hierarchical, command-oriented power structure allows it to be dynamic: employees are to decide for themselves how best to contribute - choosing that which benefits the whole, rather than a filling a static job position - and are answerable not to "management," but to their peers. As such, the workforce decides for itself what projects should be pursued or abandoned, thus increasing efficiency - those best acquainted with a project being most suited to assess its prospective value - by giving employees the freedom to adapt to changing circumstances.
What do you think, gamers? Is this the future of technology, or just another gimmick? Is Gabe Newell a sort of "fellow comrade," or is he in fact a first-rate tyrant: sitting upon his throne of money and chewing on a turkey leg, while banging his scepter and demanding "more woman!" like some kind of mad baron? Sound off in the comments section below!