From proactive computing to proactive people in Ubicomp

Rogers, Y. (2006) Moving on from Weiser's vision of of calm computing: engaging UbiComp experiences. In: P. Dourish and A. Friday (Eds.) Ubicomp 2006 Proceedings, LNCS 4206, pp. 404-421, Springer-Verlag. In this paper, the author starts from the classical ubicomp description by Mark Weisre about a potential era of "calm computing" and explains how research in that domain did not match these expectations. The most important stance of Yvonne Rogers lays in this idea that "An alternative agenda is outlined that focuses on engaging rather than calming people" so that academics can have a new research agenda. Some excerpts:

There is an enormous gap between the dream of comfortable, informed and effortless living and the accomplishments of UbiComp research. As pointed out by Greenfield [20] “we simply don’t do ‘smart’ very well yet” because it involves solving very hard artificial intelligence problems that in many ways are more challenging than creating an artificial human. (...) To this end, I propose one such alternative agenda which focuses on designing UbiComp technologies for engaging user experiences. It argues for a significant shift from proactive computing to proactive people; where UbiComp technologies are designed not to do things for people but to engage them more actively in what they currently do.

What is very pertinent is to see her motivation:

My reason for proposing this is based on the success of researchers who have started to take this approach. In particular, a number of user studies, exploring how UbiComp technologies are being appropriated, are revealing how the ‘excitement of interaction’ can be brought back in innovative ways.

And of course the value of the article is also conveyed by some research directions (which are more or less also phenomenon that we can observe in research publications and projects): the development of small-scale toolkits and sandboxes (that offer the means by which to facilitate creative authoring, designing, learning, thinking and playing), the practice of scientific inquiry and research and the potential for using UbiComp technologies to engage people is as part of self-monitoring and behavioral change programs.

Why do I blog this? I have always been skeptical about the notion of "calm computing" and this article is interesting for that matter. I also found interesting this stance and the vocabulary she's using (for example "A New Agenda for UbiComp: Engaging user Experiences", this "user experience" term is not much frequent for academics).

Additionaly, her comparison between the failure of strong AI and Weiser's vision of ubicomp makes sense.