Scaling Spaces for Global Problem Solving
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Oblong CEO John Underkoffler posited a few bits of heresy in the unveiling of new Mezzanine system technology at the San Francisco offices of Gensler, the world’s leading global architecture firm.
Underkoffler began his short talk caroming off Gensler’s renown for organizing human workflows in architectural spaces, making clear that Mezzanine is a direct manifestation of that philosophy.
“As I say in the video,” Underkoffler commented, “we are not going to solve the global scale problems of the 21st century unless we ratchet up our ability to collaborate.
The digital devices we carry around with us are anti-collaboration devices. Not to disparage them—they are amazing, they are our second brains—but as soon as your attention is on your phone, you’re not in the room anymore. We're convinced that the future of professional work is going to reside at least as much in systems like Mezzanine that enable collaborative human behavior as it does in devices that are wormholes for your cognition and attention.
“And you can tell me whether this and everything else I say in the video is malarkey or whether we’re really getting somewhere based on experiencing a Mezzanine system.”
Working with Watson
The goal of each Watson Experience Center—located in New York, San Francisco, and Cambridge—is to demystify AI and challenge visitor’s expectations through more tangible demonstrations of Watson technology. Visitors are guided through a series of narratives and data interfaces, each grounded in IBM’s current capabilities in machine learning and AI. These sit alongside a host of Mezzanine rooms where participants further collaborate to build solutions together.
The process for creating each experience begins with dynamic, collaborative research. Subject matter experts take members of the design and engineering teams through real-world scenarios—disaster response, financial crimes investigation, oil and gas management, product research, world news analysis—where we identify and test applicable data sets. From there, we move our ideas quickly to scale.
Accessibility to the immersive pixel canvas for everyone involved is key to the process. Designers must be able to see their ideas outside of the confines of 15″ laptops and prescriptive software. Utilizing tools tuned for rapid iteration at scale, our capable team of designers, data artists, and engineers work side-by-side to envision and define each experience. The result is more than a polished marketing narrative; it's an active interface that allows the exploration of data with accurate demonstrations of Watson’s capabilities—one that customers can see themselves in.
Under the Hood
Underlying the digital canvas is a robust spatial operating environment, g‑speak, which allows our team to position real data in a true spatial context. Every data point within the system, and even the UI itself, is defined in real world coordinates (measured in millimeters, not pixels). Gestures, directional pointing, and proximity to screens help us create interfaces that more closely understand user intent and more effectively humanize the UI.
This award-nominated collaboration with IBM is prototyped and developed at scale at Oblong’s headquarters in Los Angeles as well as IBM’s Immersive AI Lab in Austin. While these spaces are typically invite-only, IBM is increasingly open to sharing the content and the unique design ideas that drive its success with the public. This November, during Austin Design Week, IBM will host a tour of their Watson Immersive AI Lab, including live demonstrations of the work and a Q&A session with leaders from the creative team.
Can't make it to Austin? Contact our Solutions team for a glimpse of our vision of the future at our headquarters in the Arts District in Los Angeles.