Monday, March 13, 2006


I felt like I was making bad choices by just going to the celebrity panels (see Henry Rollins, James Surowiecki, Jason Kottke-- OK, celebrity is a strong word), but I also knew that "AJAX: What do I need to know?" and other extremely technical niche programming wasn't for me. So I asked some geeks, what I should go to and the consensus was Adam Greenfield's "Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing." I have to give the geeks their due because Greenfield's was the sort of tech talk that was big picture and dense, but that everyone could and should understand and have an opinion about.

Adam has given a great deal of thought to the implications of a world where computers stop being the clunky desktop (or even laptop) utility devices, and are instead integrated into every manufactured object on the planet. The new IP convention is going to create enough IP addresses (that's the unique number your computer is on the internet) so that every grain of sand on earth could have one. Think about that. Every can of soda (OK, pop, I'm still learning to be a Chicagoan) can have an IP address. It can communicate all kinds of information back to the manufacturer about when it was purchased, how fast it was consumed, etc. Imagine water glasses that signal the waiter when it's empty. Imagine toilets that analyze and report the contents of your stool to your medical professional. These are answers to a questions that were never asked, but will likely come about because the lucrative information market will drive them into existence.

Greenfield thinks this could be a recipe for misery, but ubiqitous computing is marching forward anyway. So, he decided to introduce some principles of ubiquitous computing, just to start the discussion so manufacturers and the public could begin a discourse about how this will impact our lives. If these principles remind you of Aasimov's I, Robot you aren't the only one.

Principle 1: Default to harmlessness. e.g. ABS brakes. When ABS fails the automobile defaults to old fashioned braking mechanisms. The brakes don't go engage and disengage at 1000 times a second, but at least the car stops.

Principle 2: Be Self Disclosing. "Seamlessness" is a common word in design, but ubiquitous computing must be optional, so seams are necessary.

Principle 3: Be Conservative of Face. Don't unnecessary embarras, shame or humiliate the users.

Principle 4: Be Conservative of Time. Don't make unnecessary complications. I don't want to reporgram my shower every morning.

Principle 5: Be Deniable. Users can opt out always and at any point and alternatives must be available.

It's pretty common sense, isn't it? But, these sorts of standards are very difficult for engineers to agree upon. The engineering world simply isn't driven by top down thinking and regulations across companies and countries is near impossible. Anyway, Greenfield didn't really present them as "regulations" he just wanted to get people thinking so we didn't boldy go forward without considering all the implications. Think about this when you use your Chicago Plus card. It's already hooked up to your Visa. Do you want the RFID chip in the card to allow you to buy a hamburger at McDonald's? This is what's happening in Hong Kong. It's called the Octopus card. I wish ours had a cool name.

OK, that's enough thinking for today.


At 3:31 PM, Blogger adamgreenfield said...

Proud to be the choice of geeks everywhere - and very glad you dug the set.

Mail me if you'd be interested in me coming on up to Chicago. I'd love to do some NPR.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger adamgreenfield said...

Or, uh, CPR, as the case may be...
; . )

At 4:28 PM, Blogger roman mars said...

The man himself, ladies and gentlemen! Adam, I hope I represented your ideas adequately. I did my best.

Now I'm nervous that Henry Rollins knows I called him the 3rd best Black Flag singer.


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