Sunday, August 16, 2009

Adam Greenfield's Principles of Ubiquitous Computing

Since I was introduced to Adam Greenfield via the July/August issue of Interactions magazine I have been searching for more content from him - essentially, I am trying to catch up on the last few years of Adam's writings regarding ubicomp since he offers unique and informed perspectives on this emergent phenomena. Needless to say, I have a long ways to go because much has been written and said by Mr. Greenfield.

Taking it one step at time, here I am going to focus on a set of principles for the design and implementation of ubiquitous computing that he has developed. These principles were shared back in 2006 in a talk that he gave titled Here, There and Everywhere: Issues in Cross-Cultural Ubiquitous Computing, which was delivered shortly after he wrote his first book.

I suspect that many of these ideas are captured in his book in greater depth, I will confirm that this is the case as soon as I get around to reading Everyware. I came across this information on the We Make Money Not Art blog, here is a direct link to the article.

What is the purpose and role of these principles: now that ubicomp is actually becoming ubiquitous it is important that devices and applications that deliver this type of computation are considerate to a human being's needs, desires, aspirations and dignity. In Adam's own words these "principles are just codifications of common sense and basic neighborly virtues, expressed in language appropriate to the domain of application. The best, smartest and most ethical developers have never needed guidelines to do the right thing."

Without further ado, here they are (please note that these have been taken verbatim from the We Make Money Not Art blog):
  1. Default to Harmlessness - in a world where it is possible for a device to broadcast your most intimate details, user's safety (physical, psychic and financial) must be ensured.
  2. Be Self-Disclosing - ubiquitous systems should be technically and graphically self-disclosing, so that users are empowered to make informed decisions.
  3. Be Conservative of Face - ubiquitous systems must not unnecessarily embarass, humiliate, or shame their users.
  4. Be Conservative of Time - Ubiquitous systems must not introduce undue complications into ordinary operations and should ba respectful of our time.
  5. Be Deniable - Ubiquitous systems must offer users the ability to opt out, always and at any point.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sixth Sense Mobile Interface

In February of this year I posted a video from Wired regarding a new wearable computing prototype that has been recently dubbed "SixthSense". This device was developed by an MIT Media Lab student named is Pranav Mistry. Recently I came across a video from TED, which was posted in March, that goes a little bit deeper into this invention. Since this is a really cool idea I've decided to share this new (or at least newer) video here.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Adam Greenfield on the Rise of Ubiquitous Computing

In the July issue of Interactions magazine I came across an interview with Adam Greenfield. The article, titled At the End of the World Plant a Tree, featured six questions from a lengthy interview that was conducted by Tish Shute in February of this year. As soon as I finished reading this condensed version I made my way to to access the full interview, which is well worth the time.

This interview was my introduction to Greenfield and many of his fascinating and thought-provoking ideas. Adam is currently leading Nokia's design direction for services and user-interface. The
 focus of this piece is on ideas that he explores in his soon to be released book The City is Here for You To Use.

This upcoming release is Adam's second book, he also keeps a blog called Speedbird and has released an interesting pamphlet called "Urban Computing and Its Discontents". All of his publications investigate the potential shape and impact of ubi-comp on modern life. His first book, titled Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, often made it into my amazon cart, though I never choose to purchase it due to my lack of familiarity with Adam (this is something I plan to remedy shortly).

Interesting topics covered in the interview:
  • Definition of relevant concepts such as "onto" and "ontomes". Ontomes refer to a global environment of addressable, queryable, scriptable objects (e.g. the class of objects), while onto refers to any given such object that is part of this environment (e.g. an object instance). These terms are closely related to the concept of "spimes" that was created by Bruce Sterling.
  • Conversations regarding evolving perspectives regarding the nature of ubiquitous systems. From Mark Weiser's vision of computers fading into the background, where they appear when needed and disappear when not in use, to Yvonne Rogers’ vision of computers supporting engaged living, helping people engage more actively in things that they do rather than do things for them.
  • Discussion regarding Greenfield's principles of ubiquitous computing. These principles are ultimately "codifications of common sense and basic neighborly virtues, expressed in language appropriate to the domain of application."
  • Viewpoints on the potential impact of ubiquitous technologies on our society's ability to instigate the necessary changes to create sustainable living practices and lifestyles. Adam's view on this topic is quite skeptical. "sometime in the next sixty years or so a convergence of Extremely Bad Circumstances is going to put an effective end to our ability to conduct highly ordered and highly energy-intensive civilization on this planet." 
  • Concerns regarding how to enable individuals to manage privacy at three distinct levels: secrecy ("data [that] should not be readable by or understandable by anybody except me or people I designate"), anonymity ("data [that] should be seen by anybody but about whom it is should be knowable only by me or people that I designate"), and autonomy ("my right to live under circumstances which reinforce my sense that I am in control of my own fate"). 
[picture taken by Pepe Makkonen]

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Data Should Inform But Not Determine

In this entry I will continue to explore the implications of the growing trend related to the creation of measurement and tracking systems for the optimization of life. On my previous post I failed to adress the impact of our decisions regarding what to measure on the way we lead our lives.

As we continue to leverage data to support and guide our actions and decisions, the selection of what to measure will become increasingly important. What we measure will identify what we deem to be most important, and will provide a foundation for our actions and decision making. In other words, the data will serve as a reflection of our world view as well as a basis for the reality that we strive to bring into existence in our life.

As a consequence the information systems that we create, which processes this information, will also grow in importance. It will play an enabling and limiting role in our lives. In the word of Terry Winograd , in "designing information systems we design ways of being." This will be more true than ever before as technology encroaches in the day-to-day lives of most individuals (at least in industrialized nations), no longer relegated to professional organizations and pursuits. Lawrence Lessig shared the same idea in his famous quote "code is law".

What does this all mean to me - it is now more important than ever that the creation of information systems be guided by the interests and active involvement of people that come from all different avenues within our society (rather than merely engineers, developers and programmers). 

Also, echoing a sentiment from my previous post, as individuals we need to remember to empower ourselves rather than data from outside. We can't loose sight that the data we are capturing and processing is ultimately nothing more than a guide posts that we have selected. The choices we make should be informed by data but not determined by it.