Category Archives: emerging technology

Skinput: The body as your keyboard

Chris Harrison, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, has built a device that recognizes taps and flexes on your arm to turn your body into a computer input. The basic idea is you could dial a phone number or adjust an iPod with simple body movements. It’s a rudimentary but intriguing continuation of our human convergence with technology. Don’t think you’re part machine already? Then put down your glasses, take out your dental fillings, and remove the leather shoes that cushion your feet.

Via Bill Green.

Social media iTunes?


This one’s for the Apple fanboys. A German blogger has posted screen shots of what appears to be a newly planned icon in the popular iTunes interface marked “social” — at left in shot above — so you can share music with your friends on Twitter or Facebook.

While this could be a Photoshopped crock, it points to the future Charlene Li has been riffing about for a year now: that social media will become like air, a utility similar to wall outlets that you plug into. The idea of human relationships being tied down by specific portals such as Facebook or Twitter is comical when you think about it. After all, it’s your life and contacts — shouldn’t you own your social graph? Eventually human networks powered by technology will disengage from specific applications and instead be a cloud than any program or device can access. Swipe your finger in 2020, technology recognizes you, and the bar tabletop at the hip club in New York City can broadcast your fun to all your 20,000 remote friends. Add in GPS and chips that cost as much as sand, and everyone you want can follow you everywhere as soon as you toss the virtual switch.

The challenge will be setting up logical filters so your boss doesn’t hear about the party. Perhaps you’ll simply set up friend playlists, just like your music controls now, so you can play to the world depending on your mood — hip, sexy, family, work. It’s coming. Just ask Apple … or the bloggers who mock up the fake products Apple will eventually make.

Sports fans swing for the lenses


We read once that human eyes lose their sensitivity to color over time, which is why memories of the green grass and blue sky from your toddler days seem so, well, green and blue. Fading eyesight explains why old people in Florida wear plaid pants, and perhaps why U.S. sports fans have now become dolts that watch 3-D television projections of the game while they sit in the very stadiums in which the game is being played.

Now we certainly don’t mean to offend anyone who enjoys watching people in spandex bump into each other; in some countries that is not tolerated but here in America we call it football. Our point: The emergence of cheap, giant-screen, flat-panel screens is starting to encroach on reality. Panasonic chief Toshihiro Sakamoto opened CES this year with a 150-inch plasma called, fittingly, the Life Screen — not to be confused with the Life Wall, another Panasonic treat that covers entire walls of a consumer’s home. (Imagine it: “Honey, I told you to turn off that wallpaper!”) Light-bulb-maker Philips has been playing with screens that intercept reality via clear glass, so you can look outside a window or wave your hand to grow a shade tree to block the neighbor’s view.

No real news here except the fakery of colored images has been arriving for a while; U.S. office workers spend one-third of each day in front of a screen moving numbers and words around, then drive home to watch the tube. The Super Bowl is almost here and consumers are talking more about the upcoming ads, to be shown on screens, than the game itself. The players meanwhile will dance around a moving yellow line on the field that doesn’t really exist, except for video projection and GPS camera technology giving fans at home a clear view of where the ball needs to go. Reality, it was lovely; we’ll miss you when you’re gone.

Twitter’s failure: We recommend binding it in a book


How precarious is it that you store so much of your thoughts, work and relationships online?

Last night Twitter crashed again, but this time the messaging service didn’t shut down — it misplaced “followers,” or about one-third of the people whom other people had connected with. Imagine one-third of your Facebook or LinkedIn or Outlook contacts mysteriously disappearing and you get the idea.

Twitter users screamed. The pain was intense because people carefully build up Twitter audiences over time. Some, like us, network for marketing inspiration and carefully build a group of specialized experts to converse with. Power users, such as social media adviser Chris Brogan or the ad industry’s “experience designer” David Armano, open arms to the world and build up thousands of followers.

Suddenly, human links were gone. It points out the fragility of entrusting content to online computing clouds — something almost all of us do. This blog contains more than 700 articles on advertising strategy, enough for a book and not backed up anywhere. Your Flickr photos or YouTube uploads or LinkedIn resume are floating on servers halfway around the country.

And it goes deeper, to the tools you use every day. Phone numbers are stored in your cell phone, not mind. You write electronic documents stored on spinning hard drives susceptible to crash. Your personal wealth is stored in a checking account and Vanguard fund, really computers filled with ones and zeros.

And it goes even deeper, to the future. Today we can’t play eight-tracks or vinyl records. Will blogs and Word/Excel documents and Tweets be visible to the technology users of the future? Or will our grandchildren think back and laugh at our text communications, like a pile of dried up faxes or IBM computer tapes decomposing in a landfill?

The power of using the “new thing” is hard to resist. Unfortunately, everything new at some point becomes history.

Social media explained, pardon the language

First, forgive the F*** bomb. We’d edit these slides for your delicate sensibilities, but don’t know how.

Second, extreme credit goes to Marta Z. Kagan for collapsing all the hyperbole about new communications into a pithy, inspiring slide show. Hit the right arrow to play. And get scared when you read Marta’s stats on the flaccid disempowerment of traditional advertising media. If you aren’t learning and testing new communication formats, well, get on the bus.

Via Shannon Paul.

Philips’ window on the future

What will happen to communications when every wall, window and countertop is a computer screen?

Andy up in Vancouver points out Philips, mentioned in our last post, has even more super-cool technology that turns clear glass panels into video screens. So, for example, you can turn a window into the illusion of a shade tree growing outside. By waving your hands.

Freaky. Cool. And details in Spanish, but you’ll get the drift.

X-raying the behavior of people, not data


It’s both groovy and scary that MIT researcher Sandy Pentland has figured out how to track your chance of success in life with a cell phone. Think of behavioral targeting on steroids, and you get the idea.

Just as internet advertisers now use “data mining” and “click streams” to follow your online web visits to serve you targeted ads, the MIT idea is to use a cell phone to track your movements, social connections, and even the tone of your voice for “reality mining.” New cells phones can monitor GPS location, movement (with accelerometers), thus motion and body language, and tone of voice — things Forbes notes can determine the outcome of negotiations and purchase behavior. For example, MIT studies have found that evaluating the tone of a salesperson’s voice can predict outcome of a buyer saying yes with about 89% accuracy. Sandy notes, “Humans have a kind of second language that we’re not conscious of, a signaling language.”

In essence, this type of tracking will create a real org chart of humanity — who travels where, connects with whom, and communicates in a way most likely to make transactions or productivity or flu outbreaks happen. On the positive side, ad personalization and economic studies will be empowered. On the negative side, privacy will be a thing of the past.

(Photo: Meredith Farmer.)

Samsung’s infinity screen: Maybe Ned Ludd had a point


This week it finally ended. No, not the battle between Hillary and Obama; just visual reality.

The image above is the latest tech toy profiled in Engadget: a Samsung 46-inch High Bright panel that has three unusual features: (1) it’s three times brighter than current LCD screens, (2) it’s so bright it’s visible outdoors, and (3) it was designed to be tiled — stacked side by side with invisible edges between the screens.

Get it? Suddenly people can build ultra-bright, ultra-high-res video walls of infinite height and width, laying visual bricks for walls or ceilings or sides of buildings with images brighter and more clear than reality. The costs to do this will be prohibitive in the next year or two, but soon, probably starting in Dubai and working back to the U.S. through Vegas, you won’t believe your eyes — because everything cast at you, inside and out, may not be worthy of belief.

Architecture drafting tables, we weep for thee

Make the Logo Bigger introduces us to Video Trace, a 3-D modeling program that makes it head-slappingly easy for a user to trace images from video stills and quickly create complex architectural diagrams. It’s also a bit scary, if you follow the video all the way through, how it allows users to manipulate video images and alter the “reality” before your eyes (watch the truck clone itself).

Wonder what happens when creating opinions about the world’s news moves from web sites and blogs to editing the actual video images.

Johnny Lee and the viral petri dish

It’s amazing to think that one researcher, working alone in a lab, can have an idea and reach millions of people in just a few weeks. The brilliant Johnny Lee did this with his Wii video game remote hacks, in which he creates a stunning interactive whiteboard and 3-D system for less than the cost of two movie tickets and a large popcorn. Not only is Johnny brilliant, but he posts his software for free on his web site for the world to download.

It’s a nice two-step case study in viral marketing, where the idea is extraordinarily catchy (“researcher creates revolution in video games with parts from RadioShack”) and the distribution network amplifies it (“YouTube users go nuts, viewing original video 4.5 million times”). Social media has creating a toasty-warm petri dish for viral communications.

It’s also a nice touch of humility to see Johnny trembling a bit on the TED conference stage, perhaps awestruck at the fandom he has created so fast with a little help from YouTube. The guy just gave the 2.7 million teachers needed in the United States a presentation tool they never could have afforded before. Johnny, it is we who should be trembling to accept such grace from you.

Speech tip via Boing.

(Correction: It has come to the editors’ attention that petri dishes are used primarily for growing bacteria, which are very small cellular creatures, but not as small as viruses, which are sub-microscopic agents that grow and reproduce inside host cells. Thus the metaphor of this headline, “viral petri dish,” makes no sense biologically, and may not be a metaphor at all but instead an aphorism, since it hints at a concise statement of scientific principle, except that the statement is false. We sincerely regret the false aphoristic metaphoric viral petri dish error.)