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Posts in category 'Ubiquitous computing'

27 July 2014

Social wearables, as seen by the NYT R&D Group

blush

Noah Feehan of the New York Times Research & Development group explores the concept of social wearables: objects that explicitly leverage their visibility or invisibility to create social affordances.

“Wearables that engage with the world around me, and particularly with the people around me, are few and far between right now, but I think that as we move from low-level sensor fusion (gait analysis, GPS breadcrumbs) to more nuanced, semantically-rich signals (Curriculum, anticipatory systems), we’ll be able to author more synchronous and in-context experiences; we will have moved from recording to listening.

I’m particularly interested in social wearables because they will make rapid progress in the near term, as our listening capabilities (semantic analysis, real-time speech-to-text) improve. They also have the potential to introduce totally new types of information into a face-to-face interaction: we have an opportunity here to add bandwidth to ourselves, to make our own superpowers.”

Feehan then goes on with an initial categorization of the main functions he thinks we might see wearables focus on.

> See also “Blush, a social wearable” (post of January 2014)

20 July 2014

Baking behavioral nudges into the products we own

1Addicted-toaster

Maria Bezaitis, PhD and Principal Engineer of Intel’s User Experience Ethnographic Research Lab, discusses the Real World Web and how internet-enabled sensors will create new kinds of intimacies and engagements.

“Commitment and engagement are really powerful sentiments,” said Bezaitis. “The get to the heart of what’s important about our social relations – that we can experience commitment and engagement and the associated positive notions of dependency and obligation and loyalty. In our closest most important social ties, these are the values that are important to us.

“Today’s technologies – instrumented things, sensor networks, data – have the opportunity to deepen social relationships, to brings us new important kinds of social relationships that we don’t already have and to participate directly in those relations. When we start to think about our technologies as not simply providing incremental value – good recommendations or metrics for this or that problem – we give them room to grow.

“This is the future of smart. It’s no longer simply about speed, accuracy and connectedness, but about new kinds of intimacies, commitments and engagements with technologies and other people.”

19 July 2014

Jibo the “family robot” might be oddly charming, or just plain odd

jibo

The “world’s first family robot” is based on efforts to elicit emotional response in humans—a powerful idea, but one fraught with challenges, writes Will Knight in the MIT Technology Review.

“Resembling a static but animated lampshade (with a slightly Hal-like, glowing-orb face), Jibo is meant to perform relatively simple tasks like capturing video, relaying messages, and turning light switches on and off. The plan is also let outside developers create apps that interface with Jibo. There’s nothing particularly special about the functionality promised, but if the interface works as advertised (see the promotional video) it will be extraordinary. There are no conventional buttons, swipes, or commands to learn with Jibo; you’d simply talk to it as if it were a tiny robotic person.

Jibo promises to let us experience technology in an altogether more natural way, and there’s good reason to believe such an interface would be enjoyable and compelling to use (see “An AI Pal that’s Better than ‘Her’”). A more natural way of controlling consumer devices could certainly prove handy as smart appliances begin multiplying in our homes—potentially simplifying a mess of different competing interfaces.

But Jibo’s impact will depend entirely on how well it grapples with the complexities of human communication and the subtleties of social interaction.”

More on Jibo here.

19 July 2014

Book: Enchanted Objects

enchantedobjects

Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things
by David Rose
Scribner (July 15, 2014)
July 15, 2014
320 pages
[Amazon]

In the tradition of Who Owns the Future? and The Second Machine Age, David Rose, an MIT Media Lab scientist imagines how everyday objects can intuit our needs and improve our lives.

We are now standing at the precipice of the next transformative development: the Internet of Things. Soon, connected technology will be embedded in hundreds of everyday objects we already use: our cars, wallets, watches, umbrellas, even our trash cans. These objects will respond to our needs, come to know us, and learn to think on our behalf. David Rose calls these devices—which are just beginning to creep into the marketplace—Enchanted Objects.

Some believe the future will look like more of the same—more smartphones, tablets, screens embedded in every conceivable surface. Rose has a different vision: technology that atomizes, combining itself with the objects that make up the very fabric of daily living. Such technology will be woven into the background of our environment, enhancing human relationships and channeling desires for omniscience, long life, and creative expression. The enchanted objects of fairy tales and science fiction will enter real life.

Groundbreaking, timely, and provocative, Enchanted Objects is a blueprint for a better future, where efficient solutions come hand in hand with technology that delights our senses. It is essential reading for designers, technologists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and anyone who wishes to understand the future and stay relevant in the Internet of Things.

David Rose is an award-winning entrepreneur and instructor at the MIT Media Lab, specializing in how digital information interfaces with the physical environment. A former CEO at Vitality, a company that reinvented medication packaging, he founded Ambient Devices, which pioneered technology to embed Internet information in everyday objects like lamps, mirrors, and umbrellas. Currently Rose is the CEO of Ditto Labs, and his work has been featured at New York Museum of Modern Art and in The New York Times, and parodied on The Colbert Report. A frequent speaker at conferences and for corporations, he lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.

New York Times feature on David Rose

Penelope Green has just featured David, his thinking and his work in the New York Times:

“Mr. Rose, a boyish-looking 47-year-old serial entrepreneur who has invented more than a few magical things, including the talking umbrella, that doorbell and the Facebook table, is the author of “Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire and the Internet of Things,” out this week from Scribner. In it, he proposes that the most delightful, successful smart things mimic the qualities found in the magical tools of fantasy and folklore — Excalibur or Sting, the swords of Arthur and Frodo, say, or the talking mirror in “Snow White” — by doing one or two things really well or, as he puts it, by fulfilling “human drives with emotional engagement and élan.” [...]

The smartphone or tablet with its bland, dark screen and multitude of “tiny, inscrutable icons” leaves him cold. Convergence, the great technological design mantra of the oughts, is to Mr. Rose a dystopian horror. He wants to keep his keys, his musical instruments, his wallet and his pens, along with his hand tools, maps, cameras and books. He’d simply like to embed some of those things with special powers.”

24 April 2014

The Qualified Self and Affective Sensing

the-qualified-self

The people at frog design have been exploring sensing technologies and their impact on the human experience. Two interesting articles are the result:

The Qualified Self: Going Beyond Quantification
Just as stories yield data, data yield stories. And just as it is difficult to quantify our lives without data, we cannot qualify them without context or narrative. When we bring the two sides together, we achieve deeper self-knowledge.

Design and the (Ir)Rational Mind: The Rise of Affective Sensing
How we experience the world—our perception, behavior, memory, and social judgment—may be driven more by the mind’s subliminal, pre-cognitive processes than by the conscious ones.

24 April 2014

Smart cities need smart citizens

smartip

The idea of the SMARTiP project is to take the experience developed by a wide range of existing user-driven, open innovation initiatives in Europe, particularly those developed through Living Labs, and to apply this experience to the challenge of transforming public services by empowering ‘smart citizens’ who are able to use and co-produce innovative Internet-enabled services within emerging ‘smart’ cities. The aim is to enable to adoption of open platforms for the co-production of citizen-centric Internet-enabled services in five test-bed sites, Manchester, Gent, Cologne, Bologna and Oulu. The objective is to enhance the ability of the cities to grow and sustain a ‘smart city’ ecosystem which can support new opportunities emerging for a dynamic co-production process resulting in more inclusive, higher quality and efficient public services which can then be made replicable and scalable for cross-border deployment on a larger scale.

This will focus on a series of pilot projects, as outlined ‘Technical Pilots’, covering three thematic areas:Smart engagement; Smart environments; and Smart mobility.

The pilots aim to act as a catalyst to stimulate citizen engagement in becoming active generators of content and applications development, as well as being more informed and involved users of the developing Internet-enabled services in ‘smart’ cities. ‘Smart cities’ require ‘smart citizens’ if they are to be truly inclusive, innovative and sustainable. The promise of the information society, to create new ways of empowering people to play a fuller and more equal role in emerging governance systems through their access to dynamic Internet-enabled services, is also proving to be its biggest challenge, as not everyone is getting equal access to the skills and opportunities that are supposed to be there.

> Project brochure

9 April 2014

Tell me a story: augmented reality technology in museums

logo-chess-400

Museums around the world today face the challenge of increasing and maintaining visitor numbers, especially with younger audiences. A fall in visitors is seen by most as a negative outcome, both financially and in terms of wider social and educational impact. It can happen due to a range of factors, but one of the most important is that museums can often find themselves competing with the products of the entertainment industry, which at its heart is in the business of telling a good story.

The EU-funded Chess project (a shorter name for the much longer Cultural Heritage Experiences through Socio-personal interactions and Storytelling) plans to make interactive content such as games and augmented reality available to the entire museum sector.

“The project relies on visitor profiling, matching visitors to pre-determined “personas” – which are designed as a representative description of the various people that constitute a given museum’s visitor base. These are created through data from surveys, visitor studies and ethnographic observations. A given visitor is matched initially through a visitor survey to one of several representative personas, which in turn influences fundamentally the experience delivered by the Chess system.

Doing this makes the visitor experience non-linear. The system constantly adapts to a visitor’s preferences. For example, if a visitor fails in a game or stays longer in front of certain artefacts, the system can adapt the storyline. It makes the experience more dynamic and relevant, so instead of sending the visitor to X exhibit, the system might instead choose to send you to Y exhibit, where you will get more information that’s relevant to what you’ve shown an interest in.”

17 March 2014

Six ways to design humanity and localism into Smart Cities

frederiksberg

A long post by Rick Robinson, Executive Architect at IBM specialising in emerging technologies and Smarter Cities, admonishes Smart Cities planners and designers not to overlook the social needs of cities and communities. After all, he says, the full purpose of cities is: to enable a huge number of individual citizens to live not just safe, but rewarding lives with their families.

His well thought-through and experience based reasoning is very much worth a read and ends with an in-depth discussion of six practical steps:

  1. Make institutions accessible
  2. Make infrastructure and technology accessible
  3. Support collaborative innovation
  4. Promote open systems
  5. Provide common services
  6. Establish governance of the information economy
16 March 2014

Why smart cities need an urgent reality check

Cities: smart 3, boston

Responsive urban technology sounds enticing but citizens must not be disconnected from plans drawn up on their behalf, argues Gary Graham in The Guardian.

“It’s not clear at the moment whether future cities are strategic experiments for [large companies such as IBM, Samsung, Cisco and Intel], or if they are genuinely catalysing the regeneration of inner cities. To investigate some of these visions, I went to MIT in Boston for three months last year. The aim was to find out how people would get their goods and services in the city of the future, and how we we get everyone to engage with city plans.

We decided to test out some ideas with the inner-city communities of Boston in a series of workshops. We essentially combined science fact and science fiction by presenting them with a Boston set in 2037, based on current technological trends projected forward through several imagined scenarios.

We combined the traditional science fiction ideas of utopia and dystopia with realistic technological trends such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing and big data and asked Bostonians to come up with fictional stories about their life in these environments.”

And the answers were quite to the point:

“Workshop participants felt smart cities were rather utopian concepts growing from a vision put forward by one group of businesses. There was general agreement that there were often many visions for the city, but “at the moment it’s the rich and powerful who determine that future vision.”

Many were troubled by the notion that people would live in a city purely because of its technology capabilities and thought there were lots of other important social and cultural reasons influencing people’s decisions to live or work somewhere. Just because these urban centres could offer us new ways of living in the future does not negate the importance of the natural environment, history and legacy.”

27 February 2014

[Book] The City as Interface

the-city-as-interface

The City as Interface
How New Media Are Changing the City
By Martijn de Waal
nai010 Publishers
2014, 208 pages

Digital and mobile media are changing the way urban life takes shape and how we experience our built environment. On the face of it, this is mainly a practical matter: thanks to these technologies we can organize our lives more conveniently. But the rise of ‘urban media’ also presents us with an important philosophical issue: How do they influence the way that the city functions as a community?

Employing examples of new media uses as well as historical case studies, Martijn de Waal shows how new technologies, on one level, contribute to the further individualization and liberalization of urban society. There is an alternative future scenario, however, in which digital media construct a new definition of the urban public sphere. In the process they also breathe new life into the classical republican ideal of the city as an open, democratic ‘community of strangers’.

Martijn de Waal is a writer, researcher, and strategist based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He is as an assistant professor at the department of media studies at the University of Amsterdam, and co-founder of The Mobile City, a think tank on new media and urban design.

> Read book review by Manu Fernandez

9 February 2014

A review of Adam Greenfield’s Against the Smart City

Masdar City

Chris Carlsson started reading Adam Greenfield’s new book, Against the Smart City, “with the expectation that it would be a critical view of the ways our urban lives have changed during the past half decade with the massive adoption of so-called “smart phones” and the rest of the ubiquitous technosphere.” But it turns out, writes Carlsson, he has “a rather different target in mind. His polemic, delivered by EPUB and kindle only (so far), is directed at a techno-utopian fantasy promulgated by large multinational corporations and their government client-sponsors.”

“The information platforms projected to undergird Smart Cities are to be privately owned. No open source or free software here! “The smart city is a place where the technical platforms on which everyday life is built are privately owned and monetized, and information is reserved exclusively for the use of those willing and able to pay for it.” As Greenfield notes in one chapter, the whole model is based on a neoliberal sensibility in which government is stripped down to its most minimal functionality (primarily policing and systems administration), while as much as possible of the surrounding society is privately owned. Most of what people might do with and for each other is to the greatest extent possible monetized and commodified, to be packaged and sold to the residents (clients) of the new towns. Greenfield has looked carefully at the promises and projections of the various corporate plans and nowhere has he found anything to indicate open access to “disaggregated raw [data] feeds.”

9 February 2014

How Big Brother’s going to peek into your connected home

nest_smoke_detecto

The tech industry easily convinced the public to accept a myriad of free services for the price of some loss of privacy. But getting them to embrace the smart home is going to be a far harder sell, writes Nick Statt.

“A Google spin on the smart home could become overwhelmingly influential enough to careen the industry towards a model of free or cheap products with subtle data collection caveats we simply ignore out of apathy or because the alternatives aren’t as good. In the age of NSA surveillance and mass adoption of data-sharing services and social networks, the threat of letting that strategy transition to the home is increasingly worrisome to those who think the option of keeping sacred certain aspects of our person lives should remain intact. [...]

That means going forward, the privacy discussion won’t just revolve around what data is being shared, with whom and for what purposes as if the debate were the same conversation that privacy advocates have regarding Facebook. Instead, the connected home market — with its many different products and platforms and no universal privacy protection — is offering consumers a thousand different ways to “make the home smarter,” with each coming with its own set of security risks and protection responsibilities that, if ignored or not followed carefully, can turn a system or product against its owner.”

31 December 2013

The epistemology of Big Data

ib-3-383x305

In addressing the insecurities of postmodern thought, Big Data falls prey to some of the same issues of interpretation, writes Michael Pepi in The New Enquirer.

More in particular, Pepi points out that “the conditions that generated postmodernism were an intellectual half-step toward the logic that permits the hegemony of networked computing — the era of grappling with Big Data.”. He goes on:

“The ideology of Big Data — that capitalists can and should mine a massive, schema-less trove information that we produce for patterns — is implemented through the discourse of e-commerce, social media, comments, video, and log files. By these means, capitalism rushes to the oracle of difficult-yet-omnipresent data to unlock and replenish the faith in a universal certainty and meaning. Judgment and certainty can then return to art only as networked aesthetic discourse — as the output of Big Data–style analysis. Hermeneutics become statistics. A critic’s opinion can be modelled, predicted, and exposed for its cultural contingencies and biases: Just map their browsing history, show a histogram of authors they cite by age, race, and sex. Analytics permits few myths since narrative scarcely survives reams of data.”

19 November 2013

[Book] Reputation Economics

reputationeconomics

Reputation Economics: Why Who You Know Is Worth More Than What You Have
by Joshua Klein
Palgrave Macmillan Publisher
November 2013, 256 pages
[Amazon link]

Abstract
As the internet has increasingly become more social, the value of individual reputations has risen, and a new currency based on reputation has been created. This means that not only are companies tracking what an individual is tweeting and what sites they spend the most time on, but they’re using this knowledge to predict the consumer’s future behavior. And a world in which Target knows that a woman is pregnant before she does, or where a person gets a job (or loses one) based on his high school hijinx is a scary one indeed. But what if there were a way to harness the power of these new technologies to empower the individual and entrepreneur? What if it turned out that David was actually better suited to navigate this new realm of reputation than Goliath? And what if he ushered in a new age of business in which reputation, rather than money, was the strongest currency of all? This is all currently happening online already.

The author
Joshua Klein is an internationally known technology expert who studies systems, from computer networks and institutions to consumer hardware. His recent projects have included an acclaimed new television series on the history of innovation on the National Geographic Channel, called The Link, one of the most watched TED videos of all time (about vending machine to train crows to exchange found coins for peanuts) and the development of a cell phone application to create a virtuous cycle of education and employment in South Africa. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, O Magazine, and The Harvard Business Review. He has made appearances on MSNBC, NPR, and has spoken at conferences from TED to Davos, and presented in front of organizations ranging from the State Department to the Young Presidents Organization Global Leadership Congress, to Microsoft to Amazon. He lives in New York City.

Essay based on the book
Worth reading, although I am not sure how his second and third solutions (see below) would actually work for the very large majority of people (particularly in a world of corporations who are very smart with algorithms and pervasive surveillance):

Solution 1:

“We can opt out entirely, which is increasingly only possible if we want to wrap our heads in tin foil and live in a cave.”

Solution 2:

“We can limit how our personal information is gathered and utilized, and in doing so we can demand that it be purchased at higher rates than just access to Instagram. It may not mean cold hard cash (at least not at first), but we can certainly expect more premium services, more discreet advertising, or even just better control over who gets our data and for what purposes.

After all, once we start controlling what we share with whom, we can decide that certain kinds of information are worth more to which retailers. Want to know what sort of food I regularly order? I might decide to share that with FreshDirect (a grocery delivery service) and Seamless (a restaurant delivery service), but not with Good Eggs or GrubHub (their competitors). Once those services recognize that I’ve got a commodity they want—namely data that allows them to upsell, cross-market, and target-promote—and that I’m willing to withhold that information from one provider in favor of another, it changes the game substantially. In exchange for my precious data, companies might offer me meaningful dollar-value promotions, discounts, and special offers.”

Solution 3:

“|If companies won’t start offering genuine value for your data, then you should consider holding it back. Most of the tracking systems that exist online can still be circumvented or blocked: There are virtual private networks (VPNs) to prevent our location from being tracked, browser plug-ins to keep our Web page views private, encryption tools to keep our documents and emails from being scanned, and anonymizing software to allow us to participate in social networks without our real-world identities being connected to our online conversations. As an added bonus, many of these technologies (such as TOR for anonymizing our Internet traffic or PGP for encrypting our email) can also protect our data from government surveillance, both national and international.”

I guess I will have to read the book.

10 November 2013

Ergonomics in the digital age

thenewergonomics

In this age of ubiquitous computing, what exactly are we doing to our bodies, asks Avinash Rajagopal in a highly recommended piece in Metropolis Magazine:

“Today, our fingers are furiously swiping and typing, our shoulders are hunched, our spines are curved, our necks are either bent over tiny screens or swiveling to catch the magnificent sweep of big ones, and we increasingly want to start doing these things earlier in life and keep doing them later in life. We continue to go wide-eyed at the release of each new smartphone and we want to use technology everywhere, with little thought for the physiological and cultural consequences. How can we learn to use our bodies more kindly in this new millennium? [...]

Such awkward collisions of the digital and the physical show how ill-equipped designers are to deal with the range of possibilities that technology affords. This is because there is a deep divide between the skill sets they use to tackle each of the two realms. The designers of software and interfaces have relied on specialists in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) to tell them how our eyes, fingertips, and brains process information, while industrial designers have traditionally turned to physical ergonomists for design guidelines and anthropometric data on how our limbs move and behave.”

Rajagopal ends with a recommendation: “We must apply Occam’s razor to ergonomic design. The creative breakthrough in the field will ultimately be when designers can bring the greatest comfort to the maximum number of people, in a variety of situations, in the simplest way possible. That was always the basic tenet of human-centered design, and one we would do well to recall in these tech-fetishistic days.”

29 September 2013

The problem with big data correlations

 

“The people using big data don’t presume to peer deeply into people’s souls,” argues David Brooks in the New York Times (in an April 2013 column). “They don’t try to explain why people are doing things. They just want to observe what they are doing.”

“The theory of big data is to have no theory, at least about human nature. You just gather huge amounts of information, observe the patterns and estimate probabilities about how people will act in the future. [In other words,] this movement asks us to move from causation to correlation.”

While this approach has yielded some impressive results, he says, one should be also aware of its limits and goes on to list four of them:

  • The challenge of discerning meaningful correlations from meaningless ones
  • People are discontinuous and the passing of time can produce gigantic and unpredictable changes in taste and behavior
  • The world is error-prone and dynamic
  • The distinction between commodity decisions and flourishing decisions

Interesting too, his conclusion: “My worries mostly concentrate on the cultural impact of the big data vogue. If you adopt a mind-set that replaces the narrative with the empirical, you have problems thinking about personal responsibility and morality, which are based on causation. You wind up with a demoralized society.”

24 September 2013

When does quantity become quality? How to navigate big data

quantity-becomes-quality-small_0

While “Big Data” is causing excitement in the IT and business sector, the practice and concept of data analysis is not unfamiliar to those coming from a UX research background, writes Michael Lai in UX Magazine. The intersection of business intelligence and user-centric design therefore creates both demand and opportunity for UX professionals with specialist knowledge in user research to create more impact with their work.

24 September 2013

Can Smarter Cities improve our quality of life?

goldengate

Can information and technology improve the quality of life in cities?

That seems a pretty fundamental question for the Smarter Cities movement to address. There is little point in us expending time and money on the application of technology to city systems unless we can answer it positively.

Rick Robinson, Executive Architect at IBM specialising in emerging technologies and Smarter Cities, argues that the answer is yes in a long post on his blog, that is structured around Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”.

19 September 2013

A Manifesto for Smart Citizens

citizens-science

We, citizens of all cities, take the fate of the places we live in into our own hands. We care about the familiar buildings and the parks, the shops, the schools, the roads and the trees, but far more about the quality of the life we live in them. About the casual interactions, uncalled for encounters, the craze and the booze and the love we lost and found. We know that our lives are interconnected, and what we do here will impact the outcomes over there. While we can never predict the eventual effect of our actions, we take full responsibility to make this world a better place.

Therefore…

19 September 2013

The Internet of Things and the mythical smart fridge

internet-of-things-small

In this article for UX Magazine, Avi Itzkovitch explores the opportunities the Internet of Things presents to designers. Because the smart fridge is the cliché people usually refer to when discussing the Internet of Things, he uses this mythical smart fridge of the future, to illustrate how these devices may one day work and to reveal insights about the technology we will need to use as we design products for the Internet of Things.

The smart fridge remains an enigma to me though. To what problem is this an answer?