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Jaunt Offers an Immersive Enough VR Experience, But Can It Change Filmmaking?

October 19, 2014 Tech Comments Off

If any industry is equipped to bring the virtual reality experiences offered by Oculus Rift and other VR headsets to the masses it has to be gaming. Designed with omnidirectional player navigation in mind, video games are practically tailor-made for immersive virtual reality. Introducing VR to the film industry won’t be so easy. The equipment really doesn’t exist to do it, unless we’re talking films with full CGI environments and motion-captured characters as seen in titles like Avatar and Beowulf.

The makers of Jaunt, a multi-lens globe-like camera that can shoot in 3D and with nearly 360 degrees of freedom, are hoping to forcefully push filmmaking into the virtual reality age. In August, Jaunt received nearly $ 30 million in funding, facilitated in part by Google Ventures.

This past Friday, I had a chance to demo Jaunt footage on an Oculus Rift. The company’s VP of content, Scott Brook, served as my guide into this cinematic virtual reality, one hardly even out of the womb at this point.

In the first clip, I found myself positioned at the bottom of a skate bowl, as a skateboarder whipped past me. Brooks told me to look in all directions, so I obliged. After a brief moment of nausea—the psychedelic-esque price for entering Oculus Rift’s virtual realities—I was able to see how very immersive the experience can be.

It’s quite unlike my Oculus Rift experiences with SoundSelf’s synesthesia and Conductar’s metaversian augmented-VR. The only visible glitch was the region immediately around me, which can’t be filmed by the Jaunt camera, owing to the area in which the tripod and camera must be positioned.

Brook then transported me to a Steve Aoki DJ set. Looking from Aoki to the technicians nearby and out into the audience, it felt as though I were there. What’s odd about Jaunt’s footage, as seen with an Oculus Rift, is the sensation of simultaneously being there but not being there. If astral projection actually exists, this must be close.

Image: JauntVR

I was also treated to select clips from Matthew Gratzner’s The Mission VR (New Deal Studios), a World War II film being shot completely on the Jaunt camera. Again, the immersive sensation is undeniable. Viewers will feel literally dropped into the film’s proceedings. But, it’s also here that Jaunt’s inherent limitations surface.

Whether they know it or not, filmgoers are used to various depths of field, and this holds true whether a movie is shot on film or high-definition video. Characters and objects in the foreground are typically in focus, while the background details are blurred. This directs viewers’ eyes to elements of the frame that the filmmaker wants them to concentrate on for stylistic or narrative purposes. As seen in The Mission VR footage, this capability pretty much goes out the window with Jaunt.

To understand why, it’s important to know something about the camera’s design and operation. With over two dozen lenses protruding out of a gray spherical body, Jaunt looks like something out of science-fiction. It’s these lenses, with their overlapping depths of field—positioned to eliminate errors in post-production stitching—that simultaneously record 3D stereoscopic video in all directions. All of this data is loaded into Jaunt’s software, which digitally compiles the 3D and 360 degree environment.

In The Mission VR, the camera’s design and operation give the film the look of video. The reason for this is simple: Gratzner couldn’t swap out Jaunt’s factory lenses for the high-powered camera lenses that give feature films their characteristic cinematic look. Neither could he control light. Jaunt’s omnidirectional design demands that filmmakers either hide the lights (hard to do in a 360 degree scene), or, in the spirit of Stanely Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, use the natural light of the sun or candles.

Given enough time and experimentation on music video and commercial sets, filmmakers might figure out how to creatively hide lights on sound stages, but, even if they succeed, the results could be quite different than traditional film and video cinematography. On the other hand, Brook said that Jaunt responds well to dolly and other non-extreme camera movements, as well as the on-screen motion of human bodies.

Another issue is audio recording. Jaunt offers a 3D sound-field microphone fixed to the camera. It sounds pretty fantastic, especially in the skateboarding scenes, or at the Aoki concert. But, narrative filmmakers traditionally use boom mics to record actors. This just isn’t going to happen with the Jaunt camera, as the boom operator has nowhere to stand, unless they’re hidden somehow. Alternatively, filmmakers could use lavalier mics, but their sound quality is inferior to boom mics.

For these reasons, and potentially many others, the question then becomes: Will established and would-be auteur filmmakers use Jaunt? Considering that something as stylistically dynamic as David Fincher’s Seven or Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void (a film that was VR in its own way) just couldn’t be filmed on Jaunt, it’s hard to predict.

Christensen doesn’t seem too concerned, though, explaining that VR will demand a radical new approach to and style of filmmaking.

Despite these drawbacks, the Jaunt camera could find some more immediate use in horror or science-fiction films; genres open to new and exciting cinematic experiences.

And while making Jaunt both a hardware and software VR filmmaking package is smart (easing filmmakers into the field) and so-far necessary, it makes for a somewhat closed technology. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but filmmakers will probably want a few different options. To Jaunt’s credit, its developers plan to release new plug-ins and file formats for existing, industry standard post-production software and hardware.

Image: JauntVR/Facebook

After my demo, Brook explained how Google Cardboard—a $ 10 headset that works with any Android phone—is positioned to bring virtual reality film and video experiences to the masses right now. After demoing Jaunt footage on Google Cardboard, I wouldn’t doubt it, but this would require the Jaunt camera also being in the hands of content creators right now. Price and availability could be stumbling blocks.

If Jaunt wants to enable a wealth of immersive filmed content for Google Cardboard-esque headsets, it needs to be in the hands of independent filmmakers, since Hollywood—always the timid investor—won’t exactly be quick to adopt the technology. Christensen told me that the company is working with content partners who are currently in production on a wide range of cinematic VR experiences.

Will this be enough to deliver on the promise of virtual-reality cinema and video experiences? We’ll have to wait and see. My guess is VR film and video content will lag behind gaming. The upside is that Jaunt, like Oculus Rift before it, might motivate others to design and build 3D, 360 degree cameras at various price points. Then we might just begin to see an era of ubiquitous VR films and videos.

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Action video games bolster sensorimotor skills, study finds

October 18, 2014 Singularity Comments Off

University of Toronto study finds that action video games bolster sensorimotor skills

A study led by University of Toronto psychology researchers has found that people who play action video games such as Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed seem to learn a new sensorimotor skill more quickly than non-gamers do.

A new sensorimotor skill, such as learning to ride a bike or typing, often requires a new pattern of coordination between vision and motor movement. With such skills, an individual generally moves from novice performance, characterized by a low degree of coordination, to expert performance, marked by a high degree of coordination. As a result of successful sensorimotor learning, one comes to perform these tasks efficiently and perhaps even without consciously thinking about them.

“We wanted to understand if chronic video game playing has an effect on sensorimotor control, that is, the coordinated function of vision and hand movement,” said graduate student Davood Gozli, who led the study with supervisor Jay Pratt.

To find out, they set up two experiments. In the first, 18 gamers (those who played a first-person shooter game at least three times per week for at least two hours each time in the previous six months) and 18 non-gamers (who had little or no video game use in the past two years) performed a manual tracking task. Using a computer mouse, they were instructed to keep a small green square cursor at the centre of a white square moving target which moved in a very complicated pattern that repeated itself. The task probes sensorimotor control, because participants see the target movement and try to coordinate their hand movements with what they see.

In the early stages of doing the tasks, the gamers’ performance was not significantly better than non-gamers. “This suggests that while chronically playing action video games requires constant motor control, playing these games does not give gamers a reliable initial advantage in new and unfamiliar sensorimotor tasks,” said Gozli.

By the end of the experiment, all participants performed better as they learned the complex pattern of the target. The gamers, however, were significantly more accurate in following the repetitive motion than the non-gamers. “This is likely due to the gamers’ superior ability in learning a novel sensorimotor pattern, that is, their gaming experience enabled them to learn better than the non-gamers.”

In the next experiment, the researchers wanted to test whether the superior performance of the gamers was indeed a result of learning rather than simply having better sensorimotor control. To eliminate the learning component of the experiment, they required participants to again track a moving dot, but in this case the patterns of motion changed throughout the experiment. The result this time: neither the gamers nor the non-gamers improved as time went by, confirming that learning was playing a key role and the gamers were learning better.

One of the benefits of playing action games may be an enhanced ability to precisely learn the dynamics of new sensorimotor tasks. Such skills are key, for example, in laparoscopic surgery which involves high precision manual control of remote surgery tools through a computer interface.

The research was done in collaboration with Daphne Bavelier who has appointments with both the University of Geneva and the University of Rochester.

Their study is published in the journal Human Movement Science.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Toronto. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Latest Science News — ScienceDaily

The Key to Dark Matter May Be Hidden Light

October 18, 2014 Tech Comments Off

A team of German astrophysicists is at work repurposing a large metallic mirror, originally constructed as a cosmic ray detector prototype, for use in the hunt for dark matter. Compared to the exotic supercooled xenon reservoirs currently at work at various laboratories deep underground, a regular-looking sort of mirror might not seem terribly exciting, but it’s after a very different sort of dark matter prey: hidden photons.

Most dark matter detection experiments have a certain kind of dark matter in mind: WIMPs, or weakly interacting massive particles. These are particles that would have originated in the very early universe when everything existed in a state of thermal equilibrium, e.g. everything was about the same temperature and all particles had the same limited properties. Cooling brought the universe definition and differentiation.

WIMPs got shorted in the whole cosmic cooling process, however, and while the universe’s “normal” matter wound up with a whole suite suite of different sorts of interactions—electromagnetism, the strong and weak forces, and gravity—these dark matter particles only feel the weak force and gravity. Without the strong force or electromagnetism, they can’t form into nuclei and atoms (via the strong force), nor can they repel/attract each other via the electromagnetic force.

We see the effects of dark matter gravity in abundance, and we can make estimations based on those effects as to how much dark matter there actually is out there: 85 percent of all matter in the universe. Far from being exotic, dark matter is what holds galaxies together, allowing things like solar systems and life-harboring planets to form.

WIMPs aren’t something astrophysicists just pulled out of their asses. There’s an extraordinary correspondence between the observed strength of the weak force, which governs radioactive decay, and the observed amount of dark matter in the universe.

Image: Ralph Engle/

This is known as the “WIMP miracle.” “From a particle physics perspective, the early universe was a high energy place where energy and mass could switch from one form to the other freely as enshrined in Einstein’s E = mc2,” writes Stacy McGaugh, a University of Maryland astrophysicist and reluctant dark matter naysayer. “Pairs of particles and their antiparticles could come and go. However, as the universe expands, it cools. As it cools, it loses the energy necessary to create particle pairs.”

“When this happens for a particular particle depends on the mass of the particle,” McGaugh continues, “the more mass, the more energy is required, and the earlier that particle-antiparticle pair ‘freeze out.’ After freeze-out, the remaining particle-antiparticle pairs can mutually annihilate, leaving only energy. To avoid this fate, there must either be some asymmetry or the ‘cross section’—the probability for interacting—must be so low that particles and their antiparticles go their separate ways without meeting often enough to annihilate completely.”

The WIMP particles that don’t meet their antiparticles and, thus, aren’t annihilated continue on, leaving what’s known as a “relic density.” The cross-section McGaugh mentions must be roughly equal to the probability of particle interaction according to the weak force (the weak force’s cross-section) to result in the dark matter distributions we observe in the universe. A powerful coincidence.

It takes more than a coincidence to prove the existence of WIMPs, however: We also need to actually see them. So far, after a quarter-century of hunting, we haven’t registered a single WIMP. Perhaps then we should look elsewhere for dark matter possibilities as well, which is where the German’s mirror scheme, aka the FUNK experiment, comes in.

The mirror, which is based at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, is being retrofitted to hunt for a different theorized form of dark matter particle known as WISPs, a form of which is hidden photons. These are photons similar to those that we experience everyday as carriers of the electromagnetic force (so: light, electricity, heat), but they interact via this force only very weakly. A WISP might interact with an electron just like a normal photon, but only the tiniest bit. It would be very easy to miss.

WISPs have some strange properties (or would have some strange properties), one of which is the possibility of suddenly changing into a regular old photon in the presence of a strong magnetic field. In the German group’s dish-mirror scheme, the idea is that WISPy hidden photons will smack the mirror, exciting the electrons within it just enough such that they will emit regular photons. These regular photons will be be fired off as the tiniest bits of light at right angles to the incoming WISPs.

These emitted photons would then be concentrated toward a central detector, which itself would be tuned such that background light/photons would be filtered out. “To detect photons induced by this process, the advantage of using a spherical mirror is imminent,” the German team writes in a paper posted to the arVix preprint server. “Photons from far away background sources impinging on the mirror will be focused in the focal point … whilst the Dark-Matter-induced photons will propagate to the center of the mirror sphere. There, a detector can be mounted.”

Image: University of Leicester

The group’s WISP-focused effort should gain a new weight given the release last week of a paper describing mysterious x-ray signals apparently traceable back to the Sun. It’s possible that these x-rays are WISPy particles known as axions being converted to regular photons upon meeting the strong magnetic field of Earth.

“It appears plausible that axions—dark matter particle candidates—are indeed produced in the core of the sun and do indeed convert to x-rays in the magnetic field of the Earth, George Fraser, the new x-ray paper’s senior author, concluded.

Is that the dark matter answer then? Hardly. The new x-ray results will take years more analysis, while the new mirror detection scheme is only the second of its kind, with the other being the United States’ ADMX experiment. At the very least, it’s always nice to see contrarian science get a leg up: What’s more exciting than being wrong?

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Better prosthesis: Sensor invented to learn about, improve fit

October 18, 2014 Robots Comments Off

As an amputee walks on a prosthetic leg during the day, the natural fluid in the leg shifts and the muscles shrink slightly.

Now imagine the problem that poses for the fit of the prosthesis.

There’s a growing need for a solution. The national Amputee Coalition says nearly 2 million people in the United States live with limb loss, and about two-thirds have lost a lower limb. That could double by 2050 as diabetes increases. Diabetes is the leading cause of limb loss, accounting for more than 65,000 amputations a year nationwide. In addition, there were more than 1,500 major limb amputations from U.S. battle injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2013.

Sandia National Laboratories researcher Jason Wheeler has been studying prosthetics at the labs for a decade and is part of an Intelligent Systems, Robotics and Cybernetics group working to develop a sensor to tell how a limb changes, along with a system that automatically accommodates those changes. After additional testing and refinements, Wheeler hopes to find a company that wants to market the sensor system.

The interface, or socket, between a prosthesis and a limb is custom-made, starting with a cast of the area.

The socket follows that contour, and a clinician adjusts it for the best fit.

In the case of a leg, the prosthesis bears the weight of the wearer when standing or moving. But Wheeler said tissues in your leg, unlike tissues on the bottom of your foot, aren’t well-suited for that pressure. In addition, a limb doesn’t stay the same shape during the day because of fluid fluctuations, and, of course, people gain or lose weight. Thus, a custom-fit socket doesn’t always fit.

Researchers invent sensor that detects pressure in three directions

Robotics researchers developed a small sensor, about the size of a quarter, for inside the socket to monitor fit and detect changes. Sandia researchers have applied to patent the work and have presented papers about it at conferences.

Wheeler said Sandia’s sensor is unique because it detects pressure in three different directions: normal pressure, like when you push your finger down on your thigh, and shear forces in two directions on the skin — think of sliding your finger down and across your leg. Shear forces are important because they cause such problems as rubbing, blisters and abrasions, but no appropriately sized commercial sensing system can monitor them, he said.

So Sandia invented the three-axis pressure sensor, incorporated into a liner that slips into the socket of a prosthesis. Sensors can be distributed to measure three directions at several sites. Other designers have placed pressure sensors in sockets, but those measured only normal pressure, Wheeler said.

“The thing that prevents people from wearing a prosthetic or being satisfied with their prosthesis is comfort,” he said. “Even if you’ve got a high-technology limb, if it’s not comfortable, people won’t wear it.”

Shear pressures in a socket haven’t been well studied, and Sandia wants to understand them better to use that information in developing systems that adjust socket shape to changes in limb shape. “This extra information gives you better ability to know when you need to make modifications because the shear pressures tend to be a little more sensitive to changes in socket shape than normal pressures,” Wheeler said.

System makes adjustments for fit by moving fluid in liners

Sandia’s system automatically adjusts socket shape by moving fluid into bladders inside the liners that amputees normally wear to improve a socket’s fit and comfort. Standard liners are like a stretchy, cushiony sock, just a few millimeters thick, made of a gel-like material that’s a bit sticky to help hold everything in place.

Since modifying a custom socket would be expensive and cumbersome and could require several fittings, Sandia adapted its technology to fit inside a liner made of elastomeric material similar in thickness to a gel liner.

“With the liner, you just take out your old one and drop in the new one and you’re good to go. That’s a very important component of this technology,” Wheeler said.

The Sandia system adjusts to limb changes by placing bladders inside the liners, and filling the bladders using valves and pressurized liquid on the outside of the liner. Prototypes have been developed to fill and empty the bladders automatically, but Wheeler said more research is needed to determine when it’s best to add and remove fluid.

A liner can incorporate both sensors and bladders inside, depending on the need. “Sometimes you might just want to sense, sometimes you might just want to fill a bladder, sometimes you might want to do both, so the system is flexible enough you can create a liner that does any of those functions,” Wheeler said.

Amputees currently add special fitted socks on their limb to deal with fluid loss and shrinkage. It’s an imperfect solution, forcing them to keep socks on hand and to take off the prosthesis to change them.

It’s also imperfect because the leg loses volume in muscles but not where it’s largely bone, such as the front of the tibia. A sock adds volume everywhere, distributing pressure unevenly. In contrast, a bladder system adds volume only where needed. “Being able to put additional fluid volume locally, where you lost it, is an important component,” Wheeler said.

Sensors, adjustment system have undergone limited testing; more work planned

Sandia, through a partnership with the University of Washington, has done limited testing with a prototype sensor liner. Wheeler also tested it, using a liner cut out at the bottom so he can slip it on his leg. Then he uses a clamp-on two-piece socket with an artificial foot so he walks on the artificial foot underneath his own foot, which shifts the load to his leg. Amputees also have tested prototype liners with the integrated bladders.

The sensor and bladder systems have not yet been tested together as a closed loop system.

“Right now, we don’t really understand the right method to control the fluid movement,” Wheeler said. “When you walk you have all these different signals and they’re telling you something, but due to limited research in this area it’s not entirely obvious what the signals mean. We need to do more studies to learn what those signal changes mean about how to adjust socket shape.”

Other institutions have worked on closed loop systems, but Wheeler said Sandia’s development of liners with both sensors and automatic fluid adjustment is unique. “That capability to construct liners with things built right into them should be of a lot of interest to the orthotics and prosthetics community,” he said.

Sandia’s robotics group began prosthetics research more than a decade ago through the Department of Energy’s proliferation prevention programs, initially collaborating on humanitarian projects with Russian companies. Wheeler, who has a background in mechanical engineering and assistive robotics, worked on some of those programs when he joined Sandia in 2004. The robotics group has continued prosthetics research with funding from the Department of Defense Peer Reviewed Orthopaedic Research Program, which develops technology for veterans. “We have the expertise here and it relates to our national security missions,” said Wheeler. He said prosthetics research and development is an ideal way to combine his expertise in mechanical design and biomedical engineering with his desire to help injured people.

Development is continuing and more amputee testing is needed, but the technology “is getting mature enough where before too long, if we want it to be successful, we’re going to have to hand it off to a commercial entity to market it,” Wheeler said.

Robotics Research News — ScienceDaily

​FCC Chief Says He Agrees With Obama on Net Neutrality. Critics Are Skeptical

October 17, 2014 Tech Comments Off

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler declared on Friday that he is in agreement with President Obamas opposition to internet fast lanes, but critics aren’t buying it. They say Wheelers controversial net neutrality proposal opens the door to that very thing.

Wheelers comments, delivered during a press conference following the FCCs monthly meeting, came one week after Obama issued a strong statement opposing paid prioritization, which Open Internet advocates say is anathema to net neutrality, the principle that broadband providers should treat all data equally.

On Friday, Wheeler said that he and Obama, who last year appointed the former industry lobbyist and venture capitalist as FCC chairman, are on the same page.

The president and I are in agreement and have always been, Wheeler said.

The kerfuffle over whether Obama and Wheeler are actually in agreement about net neutrality is just the latest twist in the FCCs highly-politicized effort to craft Open Internet rules, after a federal court threw out the agencys previous rules in January.

Wheeler is playing word games, said Marvin Ammori, a prominent First Amendment lawyer who supports net neutrality. It doesnt make sense. Theres a huge difference between Wheeler’s rhetoric and his proposal.

Ammori and other net neutrality advocates—including dozens of US lawmakers, policy experts, and startups—are urging the FCC to reclassify broadband service under so-called Title II common carrier regulations. Such reclassification, they argue, would give the commission the authority to ensure that broadband providers don’t block or discriminate against online services—two principles that are at the heart of net neutrality.

Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T vehemently oppose such a move, which they say would allow “unprecedented government micromanagement of all aspects of the internet economy.” They say that reclassification would deter them from making capital investments needed to improve and expand their service.

Wheeler has proposed a new policy that stops short of reclassification, and that critics say would open to the door to so-called paid prioritization—aka fast lanes—which many Open Internet advocates argue would sound the death knell for net neutrality. Wheelers proposal sparked a huge backlash from net neutrality advocates who flooded the FCC with a record-breaking 3.7 million comments, most opposing his plan.

Speaking at a Town Hall for Innovation in Los Angeles last week, Obama said he opposes paid prioritization, the notion that somehow some folks can pay a little more money and get better service, more exclusive access to customers through the Internet. The president added he expects whatever final rules to emerge to make sure that were not creating two or three or four tiers of Internet.

Wheeler has gone to significant lengths to argue that he and Obama are of one mind about net neutrality. I believe that on the important question of paid prioritization and opportunity that is created by an Open Internet, the President and I are in agreement and have always been,” Wheeler said Friday.

But critics say that Wheelers actual proposal undercuts that claim.

Wheeler has long said that he believes in an open Internet, but the details of his proposed rules belie that position, said Julie Samuels, executive director of Engine, an advocacy group that advises startups and supports Title II reclassification. The presidents statement was, of course, much stronger, clearly disavowing fast and slow lanes. We all know that is the only way to ensure a level playing field on the Internet.

Obama and Wheeler are engaged in something of a delicate dance about net neutrality. Although the president appoints the FCC chairman, the FCC is an independent agency that oversees the nations communications infrastructure as well as the largest telecom, cable and satellite companies. I can’t just call [Wheeler] up and tell him exactly what to do, Obama said last week.

Obama cant order Wheeler to act one way or another, and it would be inappropriate for him to publicly support—or oppose—Title II reclassification. Nonetheless, Obama appears to be sending not-so-subtle signals that stop short of spelling out his position one way or the other. My appointee, Tom Wheeler, knows my position, Obama said last week.

Some Open Internet advocates have suggested that Wheeler wants to avoid antagonizing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which furiously opposes Title II reclassification. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican who serves as Vice Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FCC, has called net neutrality rules “socialistic,” a view that is shared by many members of her caucus.

But several prominent Democratic lawmakers have made clear that they would support Wheeler in the inevitable political fight with the GOP, if he decides to reclassify broadband under Title II.

I believe the FCC should follow the courts guidance and reclassify broadband as a Telecommunications Service under Title II of the Communications Act, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said last month.

Samuels, executive director of Engine, says that if Wheeler really is in agreement with Obamas opposition to paid prioritization and a multi-tiered Internet, he should demonstrate that agreement with real action, not just words. Were glad to see Wheeler support the Presidents statement, and we hope well see rules that actually back that up, Samuels said. So far, of course, we have not seen that from the Chairman.

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Tech Companies Need to Hack Workplace Culture, Not Female Biology

October 17, 2014 Tech Comments Off

Facebook and Apple’s latest headline-grabbing staff perk is to pay for female employees to freeze their eggs. NBC reported on the new cryopreservation benefit at the Silicon Valley corporations, which it said appeared to be the first major employers to offer this coverage for non-medical reasons.

You could see this as an empowering message to women that having a career in tech doesnt have to mean forfeiting a family life. Or you could see it as an alarming incentive for women to keep working as long as possible, without letting such trivial things as biological fertility get in the way. Either way, one things for sure: egg-freezing isnt going to level the playing field for women in tech.

Dont get me wrong, the egg-freezing perk is a good little bonus on the whole. Fertility declines rapidly in women after the age of 35 as their eggs decrease in quality, and freezing eggs can relieve this time pressure. Having this opportunity gives women more choice when it comes to family planning—another option if theyre not ready for kids when the biological clock chimes loudest. While it seems unlikely many will make use of the perk, the few that do will no doubt appreciate their employer picking up the bill.

What’s more, Apple and Facebook (among other tech giants) are known for having generous maternity and paternity benefits that go beyond legal requirements. Facebook, for instance, reportedly offers both mothers and fathers four months of paid leave, plus a casual $ 4,000 at the birth or adoption of a new child. Thats good.


But if tech companies want to attract more women into the industry—which diversity reports have shown remains depressingly white and male—there are deeper, cultural issues to address. Egg freezing is not going to be the great leveller.

For a start, as Business Weeks Emma Rosenblum points out, its an invasive and often heartbreaking procedure that few women opt into lightly. Its not as simple as just putting your fertility on hold at your bosss convenience, even if you wanted to.

In any case, unless women are going to start having children past retirement, theyll still need to fit a pregnancy and child into their working life at some point, which is where the real difficulties kick in.

To really work on closing that gender gap, tech companies—hell, most all companies—need to address some fundamental aspects of workplace culture, not of biology. Because the evidence suggests that when it comes to career and family, you still cant have it all. Unless youre a man.

The Guardians Siri Srinivas points to a recent CUNY study that demonstrated this disparity in terms Silicon Valley types may best understand: cold hard cash. It found that, on average, women with children earned dramatically less than men with children between 1990 and 2010.

No huge shock there, given that women generally earn less than men. But what was most interesting was that, up to the age of 65, men with children earned significantly more than men without, but the same wasnt true for women. The researchers called this the mommy tax and daddy bonus.

Overall, its clear that, career-wise, motherhood is more of a burden on women than fatherhood is on men. 

You still cant have it all. Unless youre a man

Actually conceiving and giving birth—with fresh or frozen eggs—is just the start of the conflict between family life and work life. To truly address the disproportionate impact parenthood has on women, you need to consider the whole package.

In the immediate aftermath of the birth, there are obvious reasons women need to take some time off when they’re having a baby. Childbirth is no coffee break pursuit, and not every career woman is Marissa Mayer. Until the transhuman future of artificial rent-a-wombs become reality, mothers are necessarily more burdened by actual physical pregnancy than men—and even if technology breaks past that, we can probably expect social attitudes around which sex should be taking care of a newborn to endure.

Really, theres no reason fathers shouldn’t be capable of caring for a new child, and no reason they shouldn’t have an equal opportunity to do so—just as women should have an equal opportunity to return to work. The reason this generally doesn’t happen, of course, is less about logistics and productivity and more about social pressure.

One way to help redress that balance in the early days of parenthood is to offer paternity leave equal to maternity leave, as Facebook does. Many tech companies offer leave for new fathers that, while generous compared to the status quo, is significantly less than their maternity leave, which means mothers are likely to end up playing the main childcare role from this early stage. And even when men have the option to take time off, studies have shown that uptake of paternity leave generally lags far behind that of women. The burden remains unequally distributed.

Once a woman returns to work, the balancing act between family and career starts in earnest

Even if the parental leave issue is deftly navigated, children dont grow up in even the most generous 17 weeks of paid leave. Once a woman returns to work, the balancing act between family and career starts in earnest. 

Earlier this month, Kieran Snyder collected experiences from hundreds of women in tech for a story in Fortune, and found that many decided to leave the tech industry after becoming mothers, often citing inflexible work arrangements, an unsupportive work environment, and difficulties sorting out childcare as pushing them into staying at home.

NY Mags Kat Stoeffel notes that Facebook offers an on-site day care—for dogs, not children.

While perks for new parents are great, an understanding of the requirements of parents from that point onwards is just as important, if not more so. A baby lasts a lot longer than the birth.

Of course, the disproportionate impact of parenthood on working women over working men is not unique to the tech world; the persistent assumption that women should shoulder most of the responsibility of parenting and prioritise family over work is a society-wide issue.

But if the tech industry really wants to be the one to buck the trend, it needs to focus more on fundamental cultural changes than one-off bonuses; long-term improvements that make the workplace more flexible for mothers and fathers alike.

Egg freezing might make women more suitable for the workplace. What’s really needed is for the workplace to become more suitable for women.

xx is a column about occurrences in the world of tech, science, and the internet that have to do with women. It covers the good, the bad, and the otherwise interesting gender developments in the Motherboard world.

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