Ubiquitous computing and foresight

The Bell&Dourish paper I've blogged about last week is still sparking some interesting discussions (interestingly it's not only ubicomp researchers but also architects). What is interesting to me is how this discussion about focusing on the ubicomp of today and less about proximal future connects with the discussions I had with Bill after the LIFT07 foresight workshop. The "here today" versus "could be tomorrow" argument is indeed one of the underlying questions of foresight versus design practice. In Bell and Dourish article, the authors critique these earlier visions of a proximal future not to complain about past visions, nor to understand why we haven't gotten there but rather because it allows them to question an important assumption made by ubicomp researchers: the coming of a so-called seamless world with no bugs and perfect could of connectivity (that do not hold true as Fabien described it at LIFT07).

So the point here is the importance of the "why question", the crux issue that the LIFT07 workshop addresses; critical foresight is about asking why something worked, why someone would want the future you propose or why the path proposed is possible. In the context of this ubicomp paper, some additional questions about the future of ubiquitous computing can be asked: what would we want: a short term vision of the next incrememental ubicomp 'project' or a new strong vision (as Weiser's calm computing was). But what might be needed for having this strong vision is clear and lucid description of the why that eventually lead to a point people could aim at.

So there could be an interesting exercise to think about when criticizing the intelligent fridge, CAVES, intelligent assistants or other ubicomp dreams that failed. That could be a good agenda for a possible workshop at some point.