Bruce Sterling and many others have talked about the “internet of things” for years now, but the advent of IPv6 and increasing drives toward energy efficiency have brought an example to light. (Arf!)
NXP and Green Wave Reality’s idea for lightbulbs with individual IP addresses may well turn out to be vapourware in the long run (after all, we were supposed to have arphids in everything by now, weren’t we?) and has some basic implementation flaws (as pointed out by an early SlashDot commenter, it’d make much more sense to give each light fitting the IP address, so as to avoid readdressing every time a bulb goes), but the underlying point is valid: that ubicomp/everyware is coming, and coming fast.
Adam “Everyware” Greenfield doesn’t seem to have much luck with editors mangling his articles and essays before publishing them. His misfortune is our gain, however, as it means he ends up putting the originals up on his website, as with “The Kind of Program A City Is“, a piece which appears in a more abridged form in the latest dead-tree version of Wired UK. [image by Barbara L Hanson]
Everyone seems to be writing about urban futures at the moment, be it Chairman Bruce cheerleading the Augmented Reality types (who are working on a technology whose utility is far greater when deployed in urban spaces) or Matt Jones writing the most interesting post that’s apperared at io9 in months. Blame it on whatever you want, but cities are changing fast – indeed, as Greenfield notes, faster than even the people who saw the changes coming ever expected – and we need to prepare for urban spaces that are completely saturated by networked technology:
In the networked city, therefore, the truly pressing need is for translators: people capable of opening these occult systems up, demystifying them, explaining their implications to the people whose neighborhoods and choices and very lives are increasingly conditioned by them. This will be a primary occupation for urbanists and technologists both, for the foreseeable future, as will ensuring that the public’s right to benefit from the data they themselves generate is recognized in law. If we’re reaching the point where it makes sense to consider the city as a fabric of addressable, queryable, even scriptable objects and surfaces – to reimagine its pavements, building façades and parking meters as network resources – this raises an order of questions never before confronted, ethical as much as practical: who has the right of access to these resources, or the ability to set their permissions?
The map is no longer the territory (if it ever was). Next time you see graffiti, recognise it for what it is: the echoed report of the first skirmishes and warning shots in a war for public space which is just about to start in earnest, in multiple cities across the globe and in multiple augmented versions thereof. Let’s just hope that war continues to be fought predominantly with art and commerce rather than knives and guns, eh?
Those of you who follow Chairman Bruce and other such futurist types can’t have failed to notice the Cambrian explosion of buzz around Augmented Reality in the last month or so. I sure have, and I’ll confess to having been thoroughly bitten by the bug; not only does it mesh with my long-running cyberpunk jones, but it’s the logical next step from the metaverse (which still fascinates, though I don’t have the time for exploration that I did a few years ago).
There’s a real sense of imminence about Augmented Reality right now, a vibe similar to that around the internet itself in 1994 when I started university (and my short-lived dead-tree subscription to Wired, not coincidentally). You know the feeling: that whole “you can’t do much with it yet, but give these people a few years and some VC funding and who knows?” sensation; a feeling of potentiality.
Of course, AR is actually quite an old concept (the term was coined around 1990, apparently), but only now has mobile computing technology matured to a point where it can be put into practice at a price level where people like you and I can afford the hardware that runs it. If you’re carrying an iPhone or similar device (I’m an Android guy myself), you’ve got an Augmented Reality terminal in your pocket that’s just waiting for some killer apps to arrive.
Those apps are on their way, with quite a few in demo form already, but AR is a technology that will need infratructure – not hardware infrastructure so much as network protocols to connect the hardware together effectively. Enter Thomas Wrobel, a UK based sci-fi geek (yeah, he’s one of us!) who has developed a proposal for an open Augmented Reality network that could be built using existing protocols like IRC and HTTP. I’ll freely admit that a good 50% of the technical stuff he’s talking about here is way over my head, but the other half is full of things that have the appealing ring of simplicity. Wrobel’s aim is to create an AR system that avoids the ‘browser wars’ that have afflicted the web… and while I’m in no position to judge whether his ideas could actually work, I think it’s safe to say that he (and others like him) probably aren’t too far from some sort of conceptual breakthrough.
Of course, only time will tell if Augmented Reality will become a part of our day-to-day lives just like the internet has, or whether it will be relegated to the same Hall of Unfulfilled Promise that houses its closely related cousin, Virtual Reality. One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be an interesting journey.