Is the best Cambridge’s techies can do?

Thatsmyface babyTake a good long look at It is a service that takes 2D mugshots and turns them into a 3D facial representation, which can then be used in a variety of ways.

Is the best Cambridge's techies can do?

You can have life masks in nice picture frames; a face mask of yourself as a caricature or as the opposite gender; or (here’s the best option) your own action figure, dressed up in any one of 60 handy costumes. When I looked at the site, its banner advert seemed to be slightly confused, advertising the face reproduction service with a shot of Daniel Craig’s phiz tastefully framed and bordered by what looks like part of the American Flag… but this isn’t my point.

Every year the Cambridge Computer Lab Ring holds a dinner, which is preceded by a few meetings, lectures and a bit of old-school face-to-face social networking. Some years it’s a bit ho-hum (a meeting of uber-nerds is effectively a black hole for charisma), though it’s almost always a mistake to play “spot the entrepreneur” with these guys.

This year, though, there was a distinct whiff of pragmatism in the air. Some of it was from recent publicity – the “Chip and Pin” hackers are part of this crowd, for instance, and one of the lectures didn’t waste the opportunity to connect the Lab’s graphics gurus with this year’s hot releases from Hollywood (did you know that the digital post-production business in Soho alone is worth £1.8 billion to the UK economy?).

Every year there’s a little burst of awards. The award that tends to attract everyone’s attention is “Best Business”, not least because the CamRing website has an impressive roll call of businesses founded by alumni of the course (the rule there seems to be that the shorter the description, the more hundreds of millions the venture is worth). So this year, the winner of the Best Business award was… .

ThatsmyfaceThe reaction in the dining room to the entrepreneur’s description of exactly what his product did was one of the best collective stunned silences I think I’ve ever seen. All that brainpower, algorithmic razzmatazz and academic hauteur took second place to a company that will sell you your face, on your own action figure, quite possibly in its custom-made little cagoule and holding its own miniature surfboard.

The message of the prize was pretty clear, though: you can be as polished and intricate and original as you like with your technology, but the guy who earns the cash is the one with an idea that fits into the mood of the marketplace. And, looking ahead to a period of Government spending cuts that are bound to include academia, perhaps it is indeed smart for Cambridge to give an award to the most commercially-minded technologist: we may all have to think that way.

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