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Big Ideas: “A platform to allow creatives to design immersive AR experiences” with Adobe CTO, Abhay Parasnis

It is our closely-held belief that there will always be positive value to pursuing new and better forms of creative expression through technology. However, with technologies like AI and AR, you’re having to ask yourself, “how do I know what’s real versus what’s not?” The reality is that we look at it two ways. Our […]

It is our closely-held belief that there will always be positive value to pursuing new and better forms of creative expression through technology. However, with technologies like AI and AR, you’re having to ask yourself, “how do I know what’s real versus what’s not?” The reality is that we look at it two ways. Our role in this industry is to continue to push the limits of technology, innovation, and what’s possible, but we also must be mindful about the implications to policy and society. At Adobe we are working to explore and address the societal impact of these technologies — from privacy concerns, to bias in algorithms, to the ability (or inability) to authenticate content — not just for our work, but the broad ecosystem building these new innovations. It’s a dialog that we must engage in as an industry as new tools and new mediums come into existence. Everyone is going to have to figure out the norms, and what is acceptable versus what is not.


Aspart of my series on “Big Ideas That Can Change the World”, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Abhay Parasnis. Abhay Parasnis is Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Adobe, Inc. In this role, Parasnis is charged with bringing a fresh vision and driving initiatives across the company’s overall cloud platform, product engineering, data science and technology strategy, setting the direction for the entire Adobe portfolio. He also oversees Adobe Research and its focus on blending cutting-edge academic discovery with real-world industry impact in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, immersive media, document intelligence, analytics and data science. Innovation continues to be at the heart of what Adobe does as a company, and as CTO, Parasnis has spearheaded Adobe’s AI transformation through its pioneering work with Adobe Sensei, the company’s AI and Machine Learning framework that powers the Adobe Experience Platform. Adobe Sensei is the magic behind the world’s best digital experiences, powering intelligent features across the Adobe product portfolio.


Thank you so much for joining us Abhay. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Webelieve we are at the beginning of the next major leap in computing — the intelligence era — where computers will be able to see, hear and sense the world around us. Unlike previous inflections that were driven primarily by breakthroughs in generalized hardware platforms, we are now finding that progress is increasingly driven by specialized software stacks, which is where the greatest opportunities for innovation lie. Once computers develop deep sensory abilities with computer vision, voice and sensors all powered by artificial intelligence (AI), it will profoundly elevate the role of computers and change our daily lives in dramatic ways. We are poised on the precipice of an exciting new era of experiences that escape the glass — driven by voice, vision and immersion — and extend into the physical world.

As we drill down into what those opportunities for innovation look like, we recognize the potential of immersive design in new frontiers like augmented reality (AR) to enable new forms of creative expression, and to deliver customer experiences and business models that we couldn’t even imagine 10 years ago.

For the last couple of years, all of us have been hearing a lot about the potential of new immersive platforms. But the reality is most of this has been out of reach for most people because these platforms require fundamentally different skillsets with entirely new development tools, programming languages and runtimes. In other words, people across all industries with these amazing creative abilities have been given a blank canvas, but without the right tools to paint with. To truly democratize this medium requires solving some hard problems. For AR to go truly mainstream requires solving both sides of this equation — authoring & delivery — within a consistent immersive platform.

In June 2018, we took a major step forward in this journey to solve these problems, unveiling a new authoring tool and multi-platform system called Project Aero, equipping creatives to design immersive experiences that blur the lines between the physical and digital worlds and explore these new mediums. With Project Aero, designers are now able to create AR content using popular tools they already know such as Adobe Photoshop CC and Dimension CC — and for the first time, they are able to lay out and manipulate designs in physical spaces, making AR creation more fluid and intuitive.

This breakthrough is enabling creatives to design and publish immersive experiences — and is just the first step in making the AR creation process accessible to all. Our mission with Aero is to democratize the creation of immersive experiences, establishing a new discipline for immersive design blending the digital & physical world and empower people to easily craft high-quality AR experiences.

How do you think this will change the world?

From retail to entertainment to hospitality to travel and beyond, AR has the potential to transform and completely reimagine customer experiences. Adobe has always been a company that has embraced new storytelling mediums. Whether it was print, PC, web or mobile shifts, we’ve always looked around the corner and built creative platforms for the future. We believe we’re now at a similar inflection point as AI enables a new level of machine awareness through computer vision, voice and sensors, allowing us to create breakthrough experiences that escape the glass.

As our lives become increasingly more and more digital, people don’t just buy products anymore — they buy experiences. It’s exciting to watch how businesses of all sizes can completely reimagine how they interact with their customers and design incredible new interactive customer experiences as AR becomes more accessible.

This is an aspirational journey that we’re embarking on, and Project Aero is the first milestone in our mission to democratize the creation of these immersive experiences. We’re excited to partner with the creative community and industry leaders, like Apple and Pixar as announced at WWDC, on this transformative medium to make this vision a reality, where digital experiences take us beyond the screen and blend into the fabric of everyday life.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

It is our closely-held belief that there will always be positive value to pursuing new and better forms of creative expression through technology. However, with technologies like AI and AR, you’re having to ask yourself, “how do I know what’s real versus what’s not?” The reality is that we look at it two ways. Our role in this industry is to continue to push the limits of technology, innovation, and what’s possible, but we also must be mindful about the implications to policy and society.

At Adobe we are working to explore and address the societal impact of these technologies — from privacy concerns, to bias in algorithms, to the ability (or inability) to authenticate content — not just for our work, but the broad ecosystem building these new innovations. It’s a dialog that we must engage in as an industry as new tools and new mediums come into existence. Everyone is going to have to figure out the norms, and what is acceptable versus what is not.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

If you look at the marketplace, you’ll see a confluence of advances in chips and processing power, along with a maturation of camera and sensor technology. There is, understandably, excitement around the hardware, and there are plenty of major players investing in that space.

The tipping point for Project Aero was the realization that no one else was solving the large and difficult problem of content authoring for this world. The landscape for this new technology was like a blank canvas, full of potential, but with no paint or brushes to create a work of art.

We have always believed that Adobe has the opportunity and responsibility to not only offer best-in-class products of today, we also have to set the language of design for the future. And as these new mediums become pervasive, we have to shape, in effect, the creative taste for the entire world. And that’s a responsibility we take very seriously.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

We understand that augmented reality is poised to change everything from the way we express ourselves to how we experience the world around us. However, while the creative community has been hearing about the potential of new immersive platforms, creation tools have been out of their reach.

Current AR platforms require fundamentally different skillsets, with entirely new developer tools, programming languages and runtimes. For AR to truly go mainstream — there’s a need to solve both sides of the equation — authoring and delivery — within a consistent immersive design platform. And that’s exactly what we plan to do with Project Aero.

One way we’re bringing AR content authoring to all creators is through partnerships with our peers in the tech community. For example, through a collaboration with Apple and Pixar, creators will be able to create AR content that can be natively consumed in the Apple ecosystem from tools like Photoshop CC and Dimension CC. Additionally, Project Aero will allow creators to build simple AR scenes and experiences by leveraging Apple’s ARKit.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m @parasnis on Twitter and encourage readers to check out @Adobe for the latest innovations and ideas coming from our team.

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