Most interns don’t deliberately try to deceive executives at their employer’s company, but Dolby intern Jimmy Tobin was asked to do just that.
For a reception following a day of meetings for the company’s 90 top leaders, Tobin, a student of symbolic systems at Stanford University, and fellow interns working in the Science Group with Senior Staff Scientist Poppy Crum were asked to create a series of demonstrations of perceptual illusions. While the demonstrations were meant to be entertaining, they also underlined Dolby’s continuing research into the neuroscience that underlies human perception.
In one demo, Tobin and fellow intern Stanford graduate Jennifer Hsu recreated the rubber-hand illusion.
A volunteer sits at a table and sets his or her left arm next to a rubber version of a right hand. The volunteer’s real right hand goes out of sight behind a low partition. The demonstrator brushes both the rubber hand and the hand that is out of the volunteer’s sight at the same time.
“You’re looking at the [rubber] hand,” said Tobin, “and you start to believe that that hand is part of your body … and your brain starts to assimilate that as part of your body.
“There’s two ways to do it,” he said. “You can stop touching [the real hand] and keep touching [the rubber hand] and ask, ‘Did you feel that?’ and usually they do. Or you can ask them to close their eyes and point to their hand, and they’ll point to [the rubber hand].”
Many of the interns were nervous about stroking the hands of Dolby execs. But Tobin joked that he saw it as a good career move. “So I was the guy brushing the executives’ hand. [He mimed the action.] ‘I’m Jimmy, and I’d like a job someday. Please remember this.’”
But Tobin’s five-month research internship hasn’t all been fun and games. He’s worked in Dolby’s San Francisco headquarters on experiments to see how slight modifications to audio and video quality affect viewers’ engagement in a movie.
Tobin spent weeks selecting and preparing movie clips for use in the tests.
“Psychophysical research is really precise,” Tobin said. “I’ve had to watch 20 or 30 movies and analyze different scenes to find scenes that had the criteria that we were looking for.”
He faced some challenges, but colleagues were more than willing to help.
“If I need help with something,” said Tobin, “I can just go to somebody that knows it, and they can … give me a few minutes: ‘this is what you need to read’; ‘this is what you need to look up’; … ‘this is the tool that you can use to do that’; or ‘there’s this code that I’ve already written to do it.’”
Tobin said, “There is so much happening right now” at Dolby. It’s been exciting “to get in on the ground floor of something that’s about to happen.”
One highlight of Tobin’s internship has been the opportunity to spend time at Dolby labs in Sunnyvale, California, one place where engineers and inventors put theories to the test, fashioning and fine-tuning audio and video technologies to deliver the entertainment and work solutions of the future.
On a recent Sunnyvale visit, Tobin learned that a movie studio had sent over a new 3D visualizing tool. “It came in that day, and [the Dolby engineers] were, like, ‘Do you want to come look at this new 3D material we have?’ … It was really cool to see this new technology that only a few people get to see.”
The attraction of Dolby, Tobin said, is that “we’re looking at the perception of the entertainment space, so if you really like music … or movies, this is the place to be.
“This is the tech company that’s doing that kind of stuff, working with these amazing directors and these amazing sound designers to create the movies that you love.”
If you’re a college student, graduate student, or new graduate interested in an internship, please visit the Dolby Careers page and contact us (use “University Relations team in HR” in the subject line).