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Let Our Robots Fill Out Your Forms…

Bankers are making use of new technology to determine whether you’re creditworthy. According to the NY Times:

“…they may look to see if potential customers use only capital letters when filling out forms, or at the amount of time they spend online reading terms and conditions–and not so much at credit history.”

They say that “no single signal is definitive, but each is a piece in a mosaic, a predictive picture, compiled by collecting an array of information from diverse sources.”

Fortunately for you, our new firm, HONESTLY, has a whole cloud full of robots standing by to fill out your loan forms for you.

HONESTLY has hacked into all the major banks and new technology providers. When our robots fill out your forms for you, you’ll hit all the right notes for their algorithms. This kind of service has previously only been available to the very rich, but thanks to the marvels of modern cloud-based technology, we can offer robot-driven loan application filling for a low $9.95.

The banks and other loan providers have said that they’ll continually change their matrix of criteria to create better risk assessments. Since we’ve hacked into their systems, have paid off their programmers, and created strong predictive profiles of their key executives, we can anticipate their every move. In fact, sometimes their new criteria comes directly from us, which saves us programming time. That’s a saving we pass on directly to you.

HONESTLY, I can’t think of a reason not to have robots fill out your next loan application.

 

I Like to iWatch

For some reason we're looking for a computerized wrist watch. I guess it's because everyone, at least before smart phones, used to buy a watch. The market for wrist watches appears to include just about everyone, but good quality watches are rarely replaced. It's becoming a niche market steeped in nostalgia.

A watch is for telling time. A computer isn't necessary for that function. No one needs an iWatch to tell time. The current networked wearables are small feature-reduced smart phones that can be strapped to the wrist. Not that phones are still telephones.

The etymology of the word “watch” isn't entirely clear, but it seems to have something to do with a schedule for keeping watch, for instance on the deck of ship. An iWatch would be a device for keeping an eye on the wearer. The schedule can be discarded because it's always on, although the batteries need to be recharged now and then. “Wearable” means attached via a strap or some other means–it's a device not meant for the hand or the pocket.

These new devices, if they actually appear, are personal data collection devices that will send information for analysis to a personal or feudal cloud. The devices themselves will have limited read-out capability. They are sensors. They're meant to suck in data, not to display it. And once it's “in,” there's little chance it will remain private.

 

Engelbart’s Frozen Vision

Early-Computer

The passing of Doug Engelbart brings to mind John Markoff’s book “What the Dormouse Said.” The subtitle of the book is “How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.” Engelbart was at the center of envisioning what networked personal computers could be. To some extent, we’ve just been coloring in the pictures that Engelbart drew toward the end of 1968.

The date of Engelbart’s death also marks the beginning of the end of the connection between LSD and the technology of personal computing. Engelbart was one of the early experimenters. And while you couldn’t say that his experimentation lead to his visions for technology, you can certainly say that nothing like that would happen today. Interest in our interior space may be at an all-time low. It simply lacks a decent return on investment.

The big demo set the boundaries of the vision, and the commercial technologists have spent the intervening years building it out. If the future wasn’t evenly distributed, it was the job of the personal computing industry to make sure that there was a networked personal computing device for every man woman and child in the country — and every other country too. That “future” is pretty evenly distributed now.

In the early days of the commercialized Network, we used to shake our heads at this company or that government agency and say: “they just don’t get the Internet.” At this point, I’d say that everyone “gets” the Internet and connected computing. Of course, no one gets the Internet in toto, but everyone gets enough of it. And despite the recent laments over the loss of the early spirit of the Network, like the man says: “the street finds its own uses for things.”

german-romaticism

There hasn’t been much new vision since the days of ARC, PARC and PLATO. Philip K. Dick saw the dark side which shows up in our movies. Jaron Lanier’s ideas about virtual reality are migrating into the games we play in our living rooms. David Gelernter’s LifeStreams are turning in the various Tweet Streams, Facebook newsfeeds and photostreams. The techno-primativism of Burning Man somehow never really makes it out of the desert. What happens at Burning Man, stays at Burning Man. The engineers at Google admit to trying to make working versions of the computing technology simulated in the original Star Trek television show. And through the inflation of the series of tech bubbles, “technology” was transformed into what venture capitalists were willing to fund. By that definition, even Engelbart wasn’t able to secure funding to continue his work. The vision was frozen in time. What we have now are the Stacks — which is the total commercial exploitation of Engelbart’s original interrupted vision in the form of feudal central clouds.

Newton-WilliamBlake

Vision has an interesting relationship with technology. It’s vaporware if you don’t build it. Its success is marginal if it doesn’t work its way into the fabric of our lives. But vision is less about the technology we’re building, and more about how we might do things. For instance, when we think about Ted Nelson’s vision for the Network, we see the road not taken. Engelbart’s road was taken, and taken from him. The regret that Engelbart had was that his vision was never allowed to evolve and grow. He never saw the “mother of all demos” as the end of the road. The commercial demands around evenly distributing that particular future put an end to all alternate paths, even the ones Engelbart continued to imagine.

Victorian-Shop-Window

Once the vision becomes frozen, we are transformed from participants to consumers. Even the kind of “participation” that makes up the content of social media is largely a form of consumption. And “consumerism” as Timothy Morton likes to point out, is an invention of the romantic era. Recently, I was reading a collection of essays edited by Harold Bloom on Romanticism and Consciousness. I was struck by his description of a piece by Owen Barfield.

…A brief but profound chapter which I have excerpted from Owen Barfield’s “Saving the Appearances, a Study in Idolatry”. Barfield is a historian of human consciousness, who, in this remarkable book, traces and deplores our loss of “participation,” the awareness “of an extra-sensory link between the percipient and the representations.” The progressive loss of the sense of participation, over the centuries, results in an idolatry of memory images. In Barfield’s view, Romanticism arose as an iconoclastic movement, seeking to smash the idols and return men to an original participation in phenomena.

It seems that we’ve colored in all the pictures that Doug Engelbart left us. We’ve colored them in HD and 3D and in real-time streaming. It may be time to smash the idols and try to come up with a new set of pictures.

Television Signal Path and the Airplay Remote Control

zenith-remote-control

The control systems for television aren’t very good. One reason they persist is that once a viewer is watching a selected program, the control system recedes into the background. In the course of watching a presentation, the essential controls, the ones that control sound (louder, softer, mute), generally work quite well. The rest of the control system is a disaster that people have learned to accommodate. This snarl of technology around controlling a television is generally why people think there’s room for revolutionary innovation in the “battle for the living room.”

googletv_remote

Generally there have been a couple of approaches. The universal remote, a complex remote control device that consolidates all of the other remote controls. So instead of having five or six complex remote controls, you have one really really complex remote control. Google TV’s remote control with a keyboard pushes towards the limits of this kind of conceptual framework. The addition of voice command and SIRI is another solution at the limit. The other approach involves creating a “smart” television. This would be accomplished by integrating a Network connected computer into the television device. This new device would make all of the other devices obsolete. Various forms of this device have been foisted upon the public. It’s not that people don’t buy these “smart” televisions, it’s just that no one uses any of their capability.

The solution to this tangle of technology lies in the role of the remote control. The name “remote control” describes what the device does. It takes the control system from the television and allows it to operate at a distance from the television itself. That meant you didn’t have to get up off the sofa and walk across the room to select a program or control the sound volume. The “remote” has essentially provided the same service since it entered the living room in the mid-1950s. Nikola Tesla described its basic operation in a patent application more than 50 years earlier than that. To some extent, even cloud computing is just a variation of the same theme.

It was while researching wireless audio systems for my study that the basic change in the “remote” became clear to me. With all of my music available through a cloud storage system, I didn’t need a music system to decode physical media. From the many choices available, I selected the Bowers & Wilkins A7. It’s a single speaker that sits in a home WiFi network and listens for AirPlay signals. You can send it music via AirPlay from your phone, iPod, tablet or desktop computer—and that music can be stored remotely on the Network. Radio streams, YouTube sound, podcasts, etc. can be also be sent to this audio system. The key is the change in the signal path. The “remote” is no longer just a controller, it’s the receiver/broadcaster of the audio signal. The “stereo system” now listens for AirPlay signals, decodes and presents the sound. I liked this solution so much, I set up my traditional stereo to operate similarly using AirPort Express as one of the auxiliary inputs.

xfinity

You can see how this model would work for television. Instead of a smart television, you have a dumb television. The big screen does what the big screen does well. It shows high-definition moving pictures synchronized with sound. You can’t solve the “television problem” without changing the signal path. Once the remote control becomes a receiver/AirPlay broadcaster, all the peripheral devices hooked up to your television go away. Even your cable box becomes just another app on your phone or tablet. The interesting thing about this solution is that it doesn’t necessarily disintermediate the cable companies, the premium channels, Netflix, Amazon, Tamalpais Research Institute, Live from the Metropolitan Opera or your favorite video podcast.

back_of_tv

In this analysis, the real problem with the television is identified as the HDMI connector. Every device connected to the screen via HDMI wants to dominate the control system of the television; and every HDMI connection spawns its own remote. Once you get rid of the HDMI connector and transform the remote control into an AirPlay receiver/broadcaster, all the remote controls disappear. The television listens for one kind of signal and plays programming from any authorized source. The new generation of wireless music systems have demonstrated that this kind of solution works, and works today. By changing the signal path and the role of the remote, the solution to the problem of television is well within reach.

6_remotes

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