December 27, 2004

Science-Fiction-Schriftsteller Becomes Provocateur-in-Residence

Bruce Sterling announces he's becoming "Provocateur-in-Residence" at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

From the recorded video (WMP and QT formats available) of his recent lecture in Germany.

A few quick quotes:

I am becoming an academic this year. It's a miracle. During the year 2005 I will be a design professor at the Art Center College of Design in California, and I move there next month, and my official title is Provocateur-in-Residence. That's my official title. After twenty years of writing novels I have an official job, ladies and gentlemen! I even have a salary!"

. . .

I need to study objects, with a designers' intensity. I don't often make things, but I do want to understand what kind of new things might be made in the future.

. . .

Now I see six major trends at work today. I've been aware of all of these technical trends for some time, but recently these six trends seem to be converging. They're becoming integral parts of a larger general concept.

. . .

1. Interactive chips that can label objects with unique identities

2. Local and global positioning systems that can determine the location of objects in space and time.

3. Powerful search engines.

4. 3D virtual design of objects, models of objects.

5. Rapid prototyping and production of objects, Computer fabrication of objects

6. Cradle-to-cradle recycling. Zero-emissions manufacturing, design for disassembly. A new kind of death for objects.

. . .

My suspicion, my theory, is that we're almost about to give identity to everything we make.

. . .

RFIDs behave like bats. They have "radar", that can be heard in total darkness. You can hear them while they move. you can beam radio across vast numbers of them all at once, in massive flocks of RFIDs. And machines can hear them, and keep track of them.

. . .

Ten meters might not seem a very long range, or very useful. But imagine if RFIDs had a long range, say, a kilometer. Then, thieves could build an RFID reader inside of a van. And those thieves with that reader could simply drive through the streets of Munchen looking for wealthy people with a lot of RFID-tagged goods. Thieves could simply stand outside the rich person's house, beaming some radio in, and every object in the house would tell the thieves what it was!

. . .

What is the most useful service on the Internet? It is Google. Which is a search engine. Along with the internet of things you have a search engine for physical objects. And what good is that? Well, you don't have to remember where you put things anymore. You don't have to use your brain! You simply ask a voice recognition system with a search interface, "Where are my shoes?" "Your shoes are under your bed." That's simple. You may not think that's a useful service now. But wait until you're seventy-five years old.

I added the bold emphasis above because I had that very same thought the other day. I was walking along the La Jolla shoreline with my wife, and I noticed right away that everyone had a camera. Maybe not everyone, but enough people that it seemed like everyone. Video cameras, digital cameras, 35mm cameras. And everyone was taking pictures. Pictures of everything and everyone. La Jolla attracts a lot of tourists, particularly along the road that winds its way along the shore to the Cove. Lots of tourists speaking many different languages. The one thing they all had in common: cameras.

It struck me that with cameraphones and ubiquitous photography and Flickr-type services with their user-generated tagging, we're getting to the point where you won't have to remember anything anymore. You won't have to use your brain. And you certainly won't have to go to La Jolla to see and experience the beach at La Jolla.

You'll be able to see your own photos, but you will also be able to see yourself in the backgrounds of photos taken by complete strangers. Once cameras start storing GPS information (along with the direction you're facing), then we have the beginnings of reconstructing the visual world from all angles. In time, over a period of years, when services like Flickr (Flickle?) archive many billions of images, then we have a searchable index of the world, and every person place or thing in it.

I don't look forward to such a world, this searchable "internet of things".

Posted by brian at December 27, 2004 11:16 AM

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