Stewart co-founded Stugo, a boutique software consultancy, with his twin brother Gordon 8 years ago. He taught himself to write programs at a young age and has previously worked as a researcher with the University of Strathclyde, helping to develop image similarity algorithms. He is passionate about technology and how it can be used to solve problems.
What brings you to the Milk Bar?
I think technology has great potential to improve people’s lives if deployed correctly. The Milk Bar is about bringing people together to discuss how innovation can make for happier customers and happier workplaces, rather than solely bigger profits, and it's this people aspect that fits well with our company values.
Why are you passionate about these emerging technologies?
I have been passionate about technology from a young age, and have always enjoyed building things. First K’nex and Lego, then after realising I could learn to build virtual things, I taught myself programming. I went on after my degree to work as a researcher for a while, and I found great satisfaction and motivation in quest for knowledge and seeing how the algorithms we were working on could be applied to solve real-world problems. I took this into Stugo, where we solve problems using cutting edge research and technology.
Can you describe the main differences between AR and VR?
Virtual Reality (VR) is an immersive experience where the whole thing you are looking at is completely generated. Normally you’d have a headset so that you’re completely immersed in the world, and it’s therefore indistinguishable from reality. In the shorter term, I reckon it’s more likely to be used for games and entertainment, and perhaps also training.
In Augmented Reality (AR), you overlay virtual components on the real world. If you’ve seen Iron Man or Terminator, then you’ll be familiar with this concept. It’s much easier to see how this kind of thing could be introduced to existing jobs to make them easier.
In your opinion, how mainstream are these technologies really going to be?
In a sense, virtual reality is mainstream already. OK, kids don’t have the goggles (yet…) so it’s not true VR, but Minecraft, a computer game in which players can collaborate to build a block-world virtual reality, took off in a big way. A diverse range of people play it, not just restricted to the usual hardcore gamer.
We’re going to need more immersive, even playful, technologies for education. Research shows that people learn in a variety of ways, and that current mainstream educational methods just don’t work for a large proportion of people. We’re still hamstrung to Victorian ideas of academia, the 3 R’s, and the hierarchy of subjects that puts science above art, but in order for Scotland to be competitive globally in the coming generations, there needs to be a step-change in education.
I think we’re going to see AR increasingly put to use in work situations quite soon. Amazon warehouse workers currently have a computer system giving them instructions through headphones after working out the most efficient path through the warehouse and so on, so I can definitely see a similar sort of system with visual AR. Police might have AR doing face recognition against mugshots for example, sales people might have a system to help them remember who all their contacts are. The possibilities are endless really.
Can our bodies and minds really cope with VR? Are there any drawbacks or lines not to cross?
You just need to Google something like “virtual reality fails” (an exercise for the reader!) to see how the brain can freak out with really inconsistent sensory input. It’s possibly something that people will get used to over time though.
Another issue is that people are already so engrossed in their technology (e.g., mobile phones), that someone invented an app (Babee on Board) to alert London Tube users that there’s a pregnant woman needing a seat: he was suitably embarrassed on one occasion when he failed to look up for long enough to notice a pregnant woman, and an old woman surrendered her seat instead. And that’s with 12 cm screen, never mind a headset.
I reckon one of the main problems with adoption of AR outside the work environment is going to be the privacy issue. There have been several high profile cases of people with Google Glass getting into fights and having their devices ripped off their faces because people feared they were being filmed. For Sherlock fans, the bad guy Charles Augustus Magnussen silently contemplating you while he recalls all sorts of facts about you is pretty creepy.
In summary, I think AR could be very beneficial for the working environment and other contained environments such as museums, attractions and so on, but it’s probably going to be a while before society is ready to accept it in normal life.
Don't miss your chance to meet and hear from Stewart at the Milk Bar on 10 February 2017, 3 - 6 pm at Change Recruitment Group, 10-14 West Nile Street, Glasgow!