Visit at the Institute For The Future (IFTF)

Yesterday, I visited the Institute For The Future in Palo Alto, California. I was actually invited my Alex Pang to present my current research about location awareness and collaboration. I met people like Mike Liebhold, Jason Tester with whom I exchange about pervasive gaming and Marina Gorbis. The place is really great and dynamic. The way it works (staff/interns/affiliate members/invited persons) make it very valuable. And being at the center of the Bay Area, close to Stanford helps a lot to gather interesting and meaningful people. For instance, yesterday, Douglas Engelbart was there.

The IFTF is a not-for-profit forecast think-tank. For that matter, they have research projects about what will happen in the future with regards to specific theme like healthcare, science/technology and society, and video games (mostly pervasive gaming). They produce valuable report (focusing on specific topics + "map of the decade"). Alex was really kind to answer to all my questions (I was so curious :) ) about things work here, what they do, how they conduct their research project, about what topics, with which persons/partners, how the validation is done...

The environment is very nice, nothing like cubicles or horrible look-alike office spaces. For instance here, tables are made of doors, and some people use IKEA chairs designed for kids.

iftf palo alto

As for my talk, it had been well received. The conclusion of my experiment interested them because it's an example of when we automate a certain process (in this case, displaying automatically the location of others), we can loose things at the end (less communication, less strategy planning/reshaping... in catchbob). The most critical person towards the results was certainly Mike Liebhold. Because of his background and research in GIS/context-awareness, he thinks this game is a too poor situation to generalize; he would like to see some REAL-USERS (like firefighters, emergency crews, the army...) using this sort of application to see whether we can replicate the results. I agree with that statement but I replied using the following points:

  • first and foremost, it was a pre-experiment before others, even if the results are interesting we may have to reproduce them in another context to validate the hypotheses
  • second, sometimes in research, especially for people with an experimental science background, we have to make (tough) choices and simplify situations to control variables, that's what happened with catchbob
  • third, having 2 groups of 30 real-user is both difficult in terms of organization and efficiency (we would have a commitment that all the systems works, what if it's not the case?). Beside, lots of those professionals operated with a command and control room that receives information coming from the field and dispatch orders. It's something I am not interested in, my focus is directed towards decentralized groups working on the field.

Alex was also wondering about an equivalent of technorati/ for location awareness, I mentioned Plazes which I found highly relevant and powerful. The location awareness thing reminded him a similar application in the last Harry Potter volume. Besides, Alex took notes about the presentation on Future Now.

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