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The Do-It-Yourself Home of the Future -- Nanobots Included
Jon Lebkowsky, 5 Oct 07
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Futurist Derek Woodgate, David Demaris, Maggie Duval and I have been working on a showcase for Maker Faire Austin (October 20-21), with "DIY home of the future" as our core concept, assuming we don't drift into other strangeness.

Creating a futurist showcase is a great way to stumble onto new concepts; one that we're playing with is ambient intelligence, defined in Wikipedia as "electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people." It's kind of like ubiquitous computing, or ubicomp -- the integration of information processing into everyday things... cars, toasters, wall, refrigerators, dust -- which I discussed with Adam Greenfield, author of Everyware: The Dawing Age of Ubiquitous Computingin our Worldchanging interview last year. Ubicomp and ambient intelligence are both about processors embedded all around us; the difference is that ambient intelligence describes an environment, while ubicomp is about an "internet of things."

Imagine sensitive nanobots among particles of dust, working in aggregate to facilitate smart-room responses. At our Maker Faire installation, we want to suggest this sort of future. The DIY aspect is that you can construct a reality of your own making, making your home less a set of walls created by others than a malleable infrastructure that can be shaped according to your tastes and desires: a wall that could be a composite of images from anywhere, about anything; a fine-tuned environmental program that adjusts heat and humidity according to your moods; a "smell wall" that can emit odors, even pheromones; a biofeedback room where you can reach technology-mediated mental and physical states; a Second Life sort of visual interface that is pervasive throughout.

Second Life is part of the picture because it points to the potential for a graphical operating system and interface for the virtual home of tomorrow, in which immerseive environments are coded for large high def display throughout the living space, creating a bridge between our everyday lives and something like television, but one that you experience irather than merely watch. This sort of home life is already percolating: there are gamers in my family who own massive high-def television sets that fill the room with the game experience. We're imagining that and more. For instance, at Maker Faire, we're going to show "Healing Rhythms" by Wild Divine, a "whole body wellness system" that combines meditative exercises with biofeedback hardware and sensors. A future high def ambient system like this could be used to create a meditation wall custom-synced to biorhythms, possibly including light and sound technology to help tune specific brainwaves. (This is for wellness, arguably not so much for spiritual voyages; I'm not convinced computer-generated environments would be effective in breaking the cycle of birth and death.)

Of course there's a down side: a world where some significant part of your everyday reality is computer-mediated and media-infused contains infinite real estate for advertising. That aspect of commercial television will be leaking into everything -- a phenomenon visualized persuasively in the movie Minority Report. You'll want to have a popup blocker embedded in your brain.

How likely is it that all this will come about? Ambient intelligence and the computer-mediated DIY environment of the future are suggested by current trends, but more extreme visions, like Minority Report's ad-saturated extended mall environment, might drive people away, and therefore fail. I want to believe there's a limit to our tolerance for marketing messages; consider the Eisenbergs' conjectures, supported by research, that heavy-handed ad-saturated marketing just doesn't work. That said, it's a near-truism that while we seldom get the future we predict, we always get the future we choose.

At Maker Faire, my team will not be giving much weight to the down side in our vision of the home of the future; we prefer to focus on the use of digital technology to change, hopefully enhance, what it means to be human. Some of us who've been cyborging like crazy for almost two decades now are already creeping up on the digital future and the promise of a technological singularity, whatever that might be. I've been skeptical of some visions of singularity. But thinking about future environments, watching change accelerate, it's hard to avoid a supposition that we're on the verge...but just what we're on the verge of is quite open to speculation.

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erm, you could consider some more appropriate image to accompany this story, since it ain't really about teledildonics. i don't know what bright green gender equality looks like, but pretty sure this isn't it...

peace to ye;


Posted by: hans samuelson on 6 Oct 07

That's a bit of robot sculpture by Brooks Coleman, featured at one of Austin's Dorkbots.

Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 6 Oct 07



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