from the positive-reinforcement,-rather-than-negative-reinforcement dept
One of the areas of economics I'm most interested in is focused on incentives. While it's a simplification of things, there are so many areas where people seem to naturally gravitate towards negative reinforcement as an incentive system -- that is, punishing people for things they believe are wrong. While that does work in some cases, it's amazing just how frequently positive reinforcement to nudge behavior in a better direction works much, much, much more effectively. Aaron DeOliveira points us to an interesting example of a company focusing on positive reinforcement in an area where most people have long-assumed that punishment was the only possible option: dealing with the annoyance of people texting during a movie. The first response that many theaters (and theater goers!) have, is to "punish" this behavior by outlawing it. They set up rules and put up signs. They have silly commercials before the show about how annoying it is. But it's all based on the idea of negative reinforcement: punishing or shaming those who engage in the behavior. But, quite frequently, that does little to actually get people to stop.
So, it appears that the Cinemark chain of theaters is trying a system of positive reinforcement. Within its normal movie app for iOS and Android is a separate "mini-app" allowing users to put their phones into "CineMode." It automatically makes the screens on the phones dim, and puts them into vibrate mode -- sort of like an equivalent to airplane mode. But here's the kicker: since the app knows what you're doing, it can keep track of whether or not you actually follow through and leave CineMode enabled throughout the entire flick. For the users who do that, they get rewarded:
When the movie ends and the guest exits CineMode, Cinemark will automatically send a reward (digital coupon) through the app and store it in the Rewards section.
Who knows how well it will work in practice, but it's great to see people realizing that technology can help enable this kind of positive reinforcement, rather than always doubling down on the negative reinforcement/punishment.
We sometimes hear people say that BitTorrent as a technology is only good for infringement. We know that's not true, but then people will point to examples of how frequently it's used for infringement. Of course, that's meaningless when you look at both the larger picture and the nature of trends. When new distribution technologies are introduced, it's not surprising that they're used that way because there's so little legitimate activity on the system. But that changes over time. Remember, when the VCR first came about, nearly all activity on it was described as "infringing" by some, because there was no legitimate content being offered. However, obviously, over time that changed and more and more legitimate content was offered.
And while some ignorant organizations may declare that the Internet Archive is a "rogue site," I think most people recognize that it's a wonderful repository of all sorts of legal content, much of which is now available using the rather efficient distribution technology BitTorrent.
from the i-for-one-welcome-our-new-innovative-overlords dept
The entertainment industry has a long and storied history of incumbents freaking out about every technological advancement that alters the market. From iPods and digital distribution, to VCRs and home taping, all the way back to player pianos, it seems like they've never met a device they didn't hate and fear. And they've yet to be right about any of them: whenever a group claims something is going to destroy the music or movie industry, that thing ends up expanding it instead. In the interval, they churn out scare campaigns and sob stories like "Home Taping Is Killing Music", or the laughably intense anti-piracy ads that run before feature films, or in the 1930s, depictions of a vicious battle between musicians and evil robots.
Yes, evil robots. Long-time reader Matt Novak points us to a blog post he wrote last month, showing off some vintage ads from a campaign by musicians against recorded music in movie theatres:
That must be a textbook symptom of technophobia. You should only be warning the public about robot tyrants if you are a) dangerously insane or b) John Connor. Of course, as we now know, synchronized sound massively expanded the film industry, which in turn created countless new opportunities for musicians—while at the same time, closely-related technology advancements were turning the recorded music industry into its own powerhouse. Today's entertainment incumbents have reined it in a little, preferring somewhat-believable lies over utterly fantastic ones, and focusing more on issues of "theft" than a supposed decline in the quality of the experience (they leave the latter up to technicians and weirdos like Prince). And yet there are still striking similarities between their message and the copy that appeared on those 1930s ads:
The time is coming fast when the only living thing around a motion picture house will be the person who sells you your ticket. Everything else will be mechanical. Canned drama, canned music, canned vaudeville. We think the public will tire of mechanical music and will want the real thing. We are not against scientific development of any kind, but it must not come at the expense of art. We are not opposing industrial progress. We are not even opposing mechanical music except where it is used as a profiteering instrument for artistic debasement.
Note the consistent refrain—"we're not opposed to technology and innovation, except that we totally are"—and the characterization of what they do as the entirety of "art". The more things change, the more they stay the same.
(By the way, there are several other amusing ads in the original post, and I strongly recommend checking them out.)
Earlier this year, we wrote about the (very, very cool) publicity stunt pulled by the band Atomic Tom, where they performed one of their songs live on the NYC Subway using only iPhones as instruments. Of course, they also filmed the whole thing with iPhones as well and that's actually becoming more popular. Jeremy points us to a story at Mashable covering ten music videos filmed with the iPhone and most of them are pretty damn good. Here's one that was produced and edited by Emmy Award-winner Alen Petkovic for the band Vintage Trouble:
As you watch these videos, you realize that in a lot of cases, if you didn't know they were filmed with a smartphone, you'd probably never know. We've shown how filmmakers can make a pretty high quality film with a standard DSLR in the past but I'm beginning to wonder when we'll see the first released "feature film" filmed entirely with smartphones. I would imagine it can't be that far away.
And, if you think about it, this is pretty damn exciting. I remember when I was a kid, the idea of being able to make movies was a really cool idea but it involved saving up a ton of money to buy an expensive video camera or hoping that you could find some friends whose parents had a video camera (which they never really wanted us kids to borrow). But when you get a super high quality video camera included in the phone you already bought anyway... well, suddenly some pretty powerful things can be enabled.
At a time when the movie industry is whining and complaining about how there are supposedly going to be fewer movies made, I'd argue that they haven't paid much attention to how much the tools of film making have been getting ridiculously cheaper over the past couple of decades. And no (before the Hollywood apologists step in and falsely claim this), I'm not saying that just because you can take decent videos on an iPhone, it means that we don't need professionals or higher end cameras and such. This is just to point out the extreme end of the spectrum and to recognize that some of it is definitely filtering back to other parts of film making as well. A professional film shot on a tight budget might actually be able to do a few more things because they can go with cheaper cameras. I've been listening to Kevin Smith's podcasts about his upcoming film Red State, and at one point, they mentioned that in order to fit things in their budget, they ended up borrowing a Red Camera (which is a high quality, but relatively cheap camera) from a guy in exchange for letting him hang out on set. But imagine what more people could do if they could devote less of their budget to things like cameras and make existing budgets go further.
You don't often get to see the details of a massive data center. The companies that run them tend to keep things pretty quiet, as they view the datacenter as a competitive advantage. Thus, what happens in Google's datacenters remains mostly a mystery. And yet, it seems that the folks at Weta Digital, famous for providing the computing horsepower behind major Hollywood blockbusters like Lord of the Rings and now Avatar are apparently willing to open up a bit and provide some details about its setup. What struck me as interesting wasn't so much the hardware specifics, but how they had to switch from the industry standard cooling system of raised floors and air-cooling, because the machines were too close together to get the necessary bandwidth. So, instead, they went with water-cooled racks. Water-cooled data centers have been increasingly common over the past few years (and were typical with many old mainframes), but they're still a technology that not all data center operators are comfortable with, and which many still think create more problems than they solve. So it's always interesting to see another one in action.
At the same time, as neat as it is to read about Weta Digital's massive computing power (which apparently represents one of the 200 largest "super computers") in the world, I'm still left wondering if the trend -- even for amazing movie effects -- isn't moving away from such massive data centers. We're seeing more and more what can be done on the cheap. And, no, it doesn't come close to matching the stunning effects found in the blockbuster movies that Weta works on, but it does have all the symptoms of a classic innovator's dilemma scenario, where the new stuff isn't "as good" as the old stuff, but is improving at a faster rate, and quickly reaching a point where it's "good enough" at significantly lower price points.
Given the regular discussions around here concerning movie budgets, where do people think the technology is headed for movie special effects? Will it always be run in giant datacenters, or is there a place for making high quality (even blockbuster-type) films on cheaper hardware?