Ubiquitous computing vision flaws
Thinking about ubiquitous computing and the so-called "internet of things" lately, I have started to recognize the underlying process and how it is engineered. It's as if the starting point was the "social" which is then cut in different chunks and "places": home, work, etc... and then a second differentiation in "objects" or "things" that engineers try to "augment" or "make intelligent": smart fridge, augmented maps, intelligent car, house 2.0 and so on. It's as if the process was always like this, following both an incremental innovation path AND the assumption that objects should stay the same with an augmented smartness permitted by different sorts of Gods (AI, connection with 3D virtual worlds, networked capabilities). Janne Jalkanen has a good post which also deals with these issues, it's called "Ubicomp, and why it's broken"). He basically describes 3 reasons why he things ubiquitous computing is flawed, some excerpts:
- "People want to feel smarter, and in control. When you are overwhelmed with choice, you feel stupid. When you have five options, you can weigh them in your mind, and make a choice which you feel happy about - you feel both smart and in control. Apple gets this - the reason why iPhone is so cool is because it makes you feel powerful and in control as an user: you understand the options (no geekery involved), you can use it with ease, and you get to go wherever you want. Granted, your array of choice is limited, but that only exists so that you can feel smarter.
- The second big reason why the ubicomp vision is broken is cost. Building infrastructure costs money. Maintaining infrastructure costs money. Making your environment smarter means that it needs to have maintenance. Yes, it can be smart and call a repairmain to come by - but as long as it's not a legal citizen, it can't pay for the repairs. Is it really ubiquitous, if it works only in very selected patches of the world where people can afford it? (...) However, consider your personal electronics - like the mobile phone. You get a new one every two years (...) Personally, I think the iPhones and Androids and Limos and Nokias of the world have a lot more claim to the ubiquitous computing vision than the internet-of-things folks. They're already connected, and they're everywhere.
- The third thing that I find broken in the whole thing is how the human factor has been cut from the equation. Yes, it is said to transform our lives, but I've yet to hear one good reason what exactly would make two home appliances want to talk to each other? And note - I am specifically saying want. Because at the moment, they don't want anything. They do as they are told, without any personality or desires. We need to figure out what a toaster wants (and not ask the one in Red Dwarf) to understand why they would need to network - and if they do, why aren't they talking to me instead of each other?"
Why do I blog this? some great thinking here, especially about the underlying visions of ubiquitous computing and how it's tackled by people who really implement stuff. It's therefore interesting to see the perspective from someone at Nokia and about this claim that phones better relate to ubiquitous computing than other internet-of-things projects.