2010+ Technology: The Internet of Things Slowly Comes of Age…
In this post I want to discuss some ideas about the direction technology may take over the next few years. As with all forecasts, I want to remind the reader that nobody can see into the future:
I believe a major theme continues to be the movement toward ‘The Internet of Things‘. Despite that this idea has been around for some time it remains observable as a long-term, or over-arching, theme governing media and telecommunication technologies. Furthermore, irrespective of the mode (i.e. RFID, GPS etc…) that ultimately binds the ‘Internet of Things’, it is the theme of objects, services and individuals networked with one another that is important. The important point here is the transformation of a world of atomized objects into a world of objects capable of communicating with one another. In earlier posts I have suggested thinking about ideas such as (1) the “anthropocene” (i.e. the most recent point in the earth’s history where the earth itself is no longer ‘natural’, but conditioned by the effects of human civilization) and (2) the present age understood as, in Heidegger’s words, forcing “the world [to] appear as re-presentation ‘for man’ “. One also ought to consider Nietzsche’s 1863 comment that “As a “rational” being, [man] now places his behavior under the control of abstractions. He will no longer tolerate being carried away by sudden impressions, by intuitions. First he universalizes all these impressions into less colorful, cooler concepts, so that he can entrust the guidance of his life and conduct to them.” with the utmost seriousness. In this comment, Nietzsche spells out the theoretical desire for an ‘Internet of Things’: “the metamorphosis of the world into man.” Now, let’s move into more concrete territory and observe some of the ways this is being carried out:
One long-term trend is the Disappearance of the Screen. The last two years have seen smaller, thinner and more interactive screens on iphones and other smart phones. But aside from this quantitative shift we have also seen a qualitative shift amidst concepts such as Pranav Mistry’s “SixthSense” device (featured in a popular TED talk). Rather than a screen, the SixthSense device projects visual information onto the user’s immediate environment. But less conceptual than the “SixthSense” are devices such as Light Blue Optics’ “Light Touch”, an interactive projector that transforms flat surfaces into a touch screen. Listen to how Light Blue Optics describes their Light Touch: “It frees multimedia content from the confines of the small screen, allowing users to interact with that content just as they do on their hand held devices – using multi-touch technology.”
On this theme of the disappearance, or transformation, of the screen, I’ll point out that a number of companies and research facilities are working on glasses – and even contact lenses – capable of superimposing a digital display over the wearer’s vision. Vuzix now has listed “The Wrap 920AR” among its new products. Vuzix calls the Wrap 920AR “the world’s first consumer video eyewear … that ‘looks’ into the world, bringing mixed and augmented reality to life. The stereo camera pair, … can be viewed in 3D stereoscopic video on the Wrap eyewear displays.” Future development of this sort of technology will likely not be glasses but some sort of, less bulky and awkward, contact lens. Prototypes of such a contact lens, that uses small circuits and LEDs, do already exist. Check out this concept for a digital contact lens by Babak Parviz who works with bionanotechnology and nanofabrication at the University of Washington.
There seem to be three possible futures for the screen. Future 1: Simply a continuation of the status quo. Think about how the ipad, for example, resembles a larger ipod/iphone touch display. Future 2: Exemplified by the SixthSense or Light Touch. Future 3: Exemplified by digital glasses or digital contact lenses. But I believe we will not see a continuation of the status-quo. The screen, I think, is undergoing not only a quantitative (size/width), but a qualitative change (type).
What runs common through these three possibilities for the screen is the importance of another likely long-term trend Augmented Reality [AR]. Over the past year AR has hit it big and app developers have nowhere near exhausted their possibilities. One of the finest AR apps this year, Layar, is an augmented reality browser. Its tagline – tellingly – is “Browse the World”. Layar allows the user to use their smartphone camera to lay digital data overtop the external world. For example, when I aim my iphone camera at a specific location/object, information about that location/object appears overtop it. Do yourself a favor and head over to Layar’s site and familiarize yourself with what they’re up to. It’s worth a few minutes of your day.
This type of technology, obviously, raises questions about the status of individual people and augmented reality. When will apps capable of identifying something like Facebook images/data from the faces of individuals walking down the street come into the mainstream? Here, we find a means of identifying people that does not rely on some sort of RFID chip or GPS tracking device, but the very architecture of faces: biometric image recognition apps. On this theme, I’ll note a clever image recognition search engine called TinEye. TinEye allows users to search saved photos for similar photos on the internet. One can imagine the many ways something like a TinEye smartphone app could be linked up with Flickr and Facebook accounts. One might also develop a headache at all the privacy issues such an app would raise!
Each of the themes I have suggested in this brief post (1) Augmented Reality Browsers, (2) Biometric Image Recognition Applications and (3) The Disappearance of the Screen (either into the eye [AR glasses/ AR contacts] or into the world [SixthSense/LightTouch]), is part and parcel of the burgeoning Internet of Things. The Internet of Things is part and parcel of what Nietzsche, and later Heidegger, diagnosed as the Modern drive to bring the world into the purview of the anthropocentric (human) will. Thus, at the outset of the 21st century, surrounded by the ‘death of nature’, the world we find around us is increasingly one created for, and observed with the assistance of, technological apparatuses.
—–Cybject is only a thought experiment ——-