0portraitcati.jpgWhen i asked her what she does or drink to have so much energy and creativity Cati Vaucelle simply told me that she is spending the nights playing World of Warcraft. Well, i'm sorry Cati, it doesn't work for us mere mortals! Hanging around with druids and having a stroll through Dun Morogh on the back of a tiger doesn't usually results in projects that i'd want to blog. And if Cati's avatar kills monsters and completes quests as fast as she engineers new projects then she might be one of the most formidable players around. One day she's working on a touch-sensitive dress for sensory therapy, the day after she announces that she's just finished collaborating with Hayes Raffle on a rubber stamp that children can press onto the page to record sounds into their drawings.

I don't know which label i should put on Cati Vaucelle: is she a researcher? an artist? a designer? Something in between?

I am a knowledge shopper. I studied philosophy and fine arts, applied computer science, psychology, and computational linguistics starting in Paris with a B.S. in mathematics and economics. At MIT I took classes in engineering and programming, recently graduating from Harvard University in product design and architecture. Juggling among degrees triples my inspiration. I feel empowered by applying this knowledge in my research. Now I define myself as a researcher, an inventor and an artist at the same time. I collaborate frequently as I find it extremely enlightening. My work has implications for fields as diverse as HCI, architecture, fashion, learning and health care treatment.

Can you tell me something about your career: how you came to be interested in tangible interfaces, digital technology, augmented "everyday" realities?

I started to use microcontrollers to augment everyday objects back in Paris. I searched for prior inventions in the domain, and discovered the work of the MIT Media Lab. After a few years of research in physical augmentation via computer means I found that a new materiality emerged based on our physical limitations supported by digital possibilities. This new materiality was also created through the possibility to keep memorized an impossible number of data. I was fascinated by the power of computation in recalling memories. I designed a range of computational linguistic tools from toy design, storytelling systems, to performative text instruments to record stories of experiences. Gradually the six exteroceptive senses became part of my design principles. I like to engage people’s associative memory for elements in their life that can be recalled through AI tools and products.

In my sculpture work, I combine the material representation of a souvenir and its effect over time. I print a series of clothes in plaster molds and in life-sized frames. The pieces of clothing carved in the plaster come from people I care for. Their prints represent their passage in my life at a point. The mold essentially keeps the shape and the textural significance of the clothing.

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Memento Box: Outside and inside

I designed a series of kinetic and architectural installations, electronically mediated clothing, and smell collector systems in relation to my take on memories. I created the Memento Box, a kinetic installation that symbolizes a view on my relationship to souvenirs. This kinetic and electronic Box represents an attractive passage from door to personal space of souvenirs.

0breathingwallll.jpgThe Breathing Wall kinetic piece that I created with Ana Aleman consists of a wall made from thin transparent tubes that react to the public space. Made out of architectural objects that work independently or dependently of one another, it deploys and retracts soft fabric. The wall remembers the sense of the public and reacts accordingly.

In Touching Memories, I originally wanted the system to capture the memory of touch represented by its pressure and warmth. This system, later called Taptap and built with Leonardo Bonanni, Jeff Lieberman and Orit Zuckerman, supports the remembrance of a lost one, sharing physical prompts to recall a souvenir of touch for distant lovers. This work resulted in a series of prototypes: Squeeze Me, Hurt Me, Cool Me Down and Touch Me with implications for support in mental health care treatments. I continue independent research on Seamless Sensory Interventions for the treatment of mental and neurological disorders. Haptics are the key to bringing treatment into the social sphere through devices, providing new ways to mediate between the patient and the therapist both in and outside of therapy. Self-mutilation is a perfect test-case, because of the definitive “physicality? of the symptoms. However, the broader solutions that I am proposing have implications for diseases as diverse as autism, depression, and schizophrenia.

Cool Me Down

Together with Yasmine Abbas I explore the design of a touch-sensitive dress for massage and sensory therapy. The research focuses on the material - how the structure and the embedded components of the garment participate in pushing its function to become an envelope or cocoon for one's well-being. Touch·Sensitive is a haptic apparel that allows massage therapy to be diffused, customized and controlled by people on the move. It provides individuals with a sensory and alerting cocoon.

I design the Odora Storyteller, a smell collector. It encompasses the experience of the everyday collector and creates an associative memory of smells, places and objects. The first prototype is conceived for children to collect samples from their environment. The children can reveal and create associative connection between smells, textures and visual components of elements that they gather. The collected elements are then used to create and recall stories. I also envision this concept for persons suffering from Alzheimer's disease. People with Alzheimer’s could benefit from associative memory between smell and souvenirs of places.

The smell collector became a collector of everyday sensations. The collector allows a child to also collect temperatures - from the heat of the sun to the cold of the ice, invited to capture more complex temperature such as the soil.

I am designing Jewelry in the form of arial patterns of a city. My vision is to have in miniature the multitude of patterns that one can see from a distance. The research implication/discussion is now that we constantly travel by plane, use GIS, google map, satellite imagery, our vision is expanded. We now consider differently objects, we have a different representation to them. As much as the car has influenced painting and the representation of space and movement, I want to show how the use of new technologies can change our way to design objects.

Crazy toys allow children to voice out their drawing construction. Crazy toys capture the pitch and loudness of the child's voice and generates patterns on a screen. I am working on a database management of the child's pre-drawn pattern that she could decide to use for her compositions. I am currently making a generic doll whose body reacts to the sound input and generates digital drawings. I link max/msp to processing. The digital patterns from processing flow through the body of the doll as a metaphor on how digital technologies invade our everyday space and body.

One of your prior researches was concerned with the underlying mechanisms regarding the improvisation of narratives by children. This gave way to some pretty imaginative projects. What have you learnt from that experience with children? How much did their interaction with the objects/devices you gave them modified your perception of the subject?

I learned that tools for children need to be designed to support their evolving skills. Electronic toys, toys with AI and digital applications for children could benefit from multiple levels of learning including different layers of complexity.

As a research associate at Media Lab Europe from 2002-2004, I designed Textable Movie with Glorianna Davenport. In the framework of computational storytelling, Textable Movie promotes the idea of maker-controlled media and can be contrasted to automatic presentation systems. By improvising movie-stories created from their personal video database and by suddenly being projected into someone else’s video database during the same story, users can be surprised as they visualize video elements corresponding to a story that they would not have expected. With Textable Movie, users make their own inference about these discoveries rather than using artificial systems that make the inference for them. They can then create a personal mode of interaction with the system, e.g. mapping keywords to videos, and incorporate new video clips and sound samples to their database.

0textabemoih.jpgThe complexity, power and flexibility of Textable Movie can be seen in how novel projects presented themselves through its use. The immediate response from the system by the children made it comparable to a video game. I created Textable Game that extends the concept to the realm of video games. This application aims to engage teenagers in building their own games, e.g. action games, exploration games, mystery games, using their own video/audio footage, and allowing them to create their own rules and scenarios. The goal of Textable Game is to invite teenagers to be their own video game producers.

Evaluations with Textable Movie informed me that more fusion between creating an idea and producing it was necessary. For a revisit of Textable Movie, I wanted to couple mobile technologies to a platform that could materialize ideas and retrieve them seamlessly had to be implemented. I explored the concept of tangibility of digital data as a way for children to gather and capture data around the city for later retrieval. In this case, tangible objects become metaphors of captured elements. I conceived a device using mobile technology combined with tangible objects as metaphors called Moving Pictures: Looking Out/Looking In. This project became a team project that I developed with Diana Africano and Oskar Fjellström, both researchers at the Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden.

Moving Pictures: Looking Out/Looking In
allows children to gather outside and look around in their environment to collect visual clips, capture short videos using video cameras, and then come back inside to a video editing station where they reflect on and play with their media collection.

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Recording with the camera and uploading videos on the table

With Moving Pictures the experience for the user is transparent. The cumbersome process of capturing and editing becomes fluid in the improvisation of a story, and accessible as a way to create a final movie. I integrated different layers of complexity, from digitizing the media, performing a movie, to storyboarding a more complex narrative. Elements of design such as cards symbolizing the composition of the screen are used to offer the children the potential to become video artists, understanding and playing with the frame as they go.

Based on our evaluations with children, I found that Moving Pictures suffers from several limitations related to the problem of how to best digitally support meaningful interactions in the physical space. First the scalability of such a system at a networked and international level is flawed. I need to redesign the software technology to centralize the linked data and distribute the nodes of contained data in an organized fashion. To have the technology better assist how an individual moves about the physical space while capturing content their platform needs to be mediated by a centralized software architecture.

Second, system centralization implies new communication technology to mediate the video platforms and allow them to communicate with one another. The RFID technology in the wireless cameras could be redesigned into a pattern based technology using the video camera of any device.

Lastly, I would like to escape the hardware limitations of commercial video cameras. Users could use any phone, any camera or text based device to exchange material. The system should be designed to generalize despite different input modalities. All of these modifications shift the emphasis of the system from a simple, transparent, video platform, and into an architecture for supporting content generation that reflects the physical environment of the user through multiple information platforms.

What are the challenges, pecularities and pitfalls when working with children (compared with projects you'd develop for grown-ups)?

It is complex to work on projects for children because of our responsibility as adults. The video game world is very attractive to kids and it can also easily be allienating without any parental and environmental support. I also wish that companies could facilitate their console hacking for kids, by protecting certain parts of their market, but making it hackable for more creative projects. Kids could still use the console for its game purpose but could appropriate its design to make their own. As an example, experimented adults can hook up applications to the new Wii console using emulators, but this is not being hacked by children.

Also the Wii is an example of interesting design because it uses body motions and physical space as part of its design principles. I recently saw multiple generations, from the young child to the grand parents, play with it and everybody enjoyed it. It seems fully integrated within the family context as much as traditional board games have been in the past. In the realm of PvP video games, World of Warcraft has a nice goody for its users: they can take a break and double their experience the next time they come online but to not forget their addiction, WoW only doubles it up to two levels. This is smart, it allows users to go away from the computer screen for a few days and engage back into their addiction. However, sometimes this time is also used to create other characters…

There are also challenges for electronic toys. In 2002, a friend of mine commented beautifully on the matter:

"The most beautiful thing happened on Tuesday night. I was babysitting for Colum, Jenny's little boy, he's 5 (and three quarters!). We made up 2 new super heroes Lava Man and the other Lava Man! We were just having a really good play with lots of jumping around and shouting. Anyway, later we were just sitting down and talking more quietly. He was showing me this little dinosaur that has tiny batteries inside and when you open his mouth he roars. Colum said the batteries were wasted and I said I can get new ones for him. He said 'no, its terrible when the batteries work because every time he opens his mouth all he can do is roar, even when he tries to eat something all he can do is roar so he can’t even eat anything so lets leave him with the wasted batteries, he’s better that way'. All I could do was smile the widest smile." Andy Brady

0puppppppets3.jpgTraditional toys such as puppets and dolls encourage young children's storytelling in the form of pretend play. Unfortunately, the majority of commercial technological toys do not provide the space for children to tell their own stories; rather they tend to tell stories to them or constrain their play pattern. Children could benefit from creating stories rather than listening to them. The quote from Andy Brady is an example of how technology can be useless and, worse, annoying or constraining to the child. In this example, technology is not contributing anything to the play pattern of the child except the repetitious dinosaur roaring which apparently is not pleasing for anyone! The child voices his complaint by asking not to use this technology anymore.

In my work, I aim to add technology to prompt the child in a way that allows the child to be an active participant in story creation. When a system for authorship is well designed, the technology is not invading. In 2000 I created Dolltalk (PDF), a set of computational puppets designed for storytelling. Dolltalk captures the child's storytelling though motions made with puppetry and the voice of the child. In this work, the challenge was to combine the right balance of technology coupled with a narrative structure inspired by the toy. I have worked on business applications of this project with Mattel, Fisher Price and Lego.

Kids today grow among mobile phones, computers, sophisticated video games,... we didn't. How do you think it affects their perception of the frontier between virtual and physical world?

This current question reveals that each time there is a change, it transforms our ideal image of ourselves.

A useful historical metaphor exists in photography. At the inception of photography, the new medium was equally feared and admired. It was reduced to the status of being useful, but devoid of meaningful interpretations of reality, which was the provence of the fine arts and painting in particular. However, over time, the status of photography changed, and gained its independence from painting. Eventually, the photographic medium was accepted as having its own formal and aesthetic values. The end result was a revisitation of what painting could be, driven by the new aesthetic findings in photography, as exemplified in some of Duchamp's work, such as le nu dans l’escalier. The paradigm shift was not limited to painting, but provided social change as a new form of expression in the arts.

I gave this example to say that with photography we realized it was not an anti-art, it was another art. It is a medium. Children use these tools. It is important that we understand what they are. Digital is a revolution. It creates children's expectations of their interaction with their environment (virtual and digital) that can be different from ours (because we have not grown up in the same environment as the children of today).

When i go to tech conferences, i only see a tiny minority of women. how is it like at Harvard Design School? do you feel like you're part of a minority of geek girls? does it affect you?

In Paris, I studied with a majority of men. Women seemed to fear technical matters. It was clear that this was perpetuated socially. I graduated from Harvard University, Graduate School of Design (GSD), with a Master in Design, Product Design and Architecture. I had previously studied at the MIT Media Lab for a Master of Sciences. I am now back to the MIT Media Lab as research assistant and PhD candidate with Dr. Hiroshi Ishii in the Tangible Media Group. I can compare the impact of women in these environments. Women are less represented in general at the professorship level. A woman with engineering skills and with the same qualifications as a man seems to always be strangely discredited. On my side, I try to avoid this polemic and just develop my engineering work on my own. At the GSD, there are lots of women as students, but not that many as faculty members. At the Media Lab women are under represented in general. There is a mix between designers and geeky girls at the media lab, but the majority have a background in CS or electrical engineering and if not they all learn on the fly. I like working with women a lot at Media Lab, especially because I like seeing a feminine sensibility empowered with the technicality of engineering.

You're working mainly with technology: computers, rfid, even robots. Are you interested in emerging technologies like nanotechnology, biotechnology, synthetic biology? or is it too far from your own sphere (one only has 24 hours per day after all)?

These topics are fascinating and I am interested in everything that is emerging. I am a knowledge shopper after all! Maybe I will follow a degree in nanotechnology …


How do you think that digital technologies make us re-evaluate the physical world?

We are perceiving a new physicality through digital materials. This modification of our perception of the environment is developed thourgh our experience with the digital.

As an illustration of this new area consider the usual RFID tagging. RFID tags have been used throughout the physical space for cuing purposes. Beyond that, I argue that the presence of content cues throughout the space redefines our very perception of that space. Now an alternative to RFID tagging is possible, such that arbitrary physical properties of objects can be used as tags to content. One promising line of work is using mass to arbitrarily define tags. Any object can be assigned tag status by linking the mass of the object to some content that the user likes to represent from their environment. By reintroducing the appropriately weighted object to the system, the content can be recalled. Tagging serve as a means for feedback from the physical environment back to the virtual community. This line of thought is now possible by having been digital, conceptually, and subsequently discovering new design principles within the physical space. Tagging with the mass of the object uses technology to link the intrinsic physicality of the material to new conceptual possibilities regarding how we perceive physical space, content of physicality and extended virtual communities.

What did you try to achieve with "The Texture of Light"? Was it just a project you had to develop for the Smart Materials course at Harvard or do you plan to go further and exploit the idea in novel ways?

0textureoflight.jpgThe Texture of Light is a tangible system that exploits lighting principles and the exploration of life feed video metamorphosis in the public space using reflection of light on transparent materials. This project is an attempt to fight the boredom of everyday life and employs the simple use of chemistry, Plexiglas, and plastic patterns to form a visual reconstruction of reality, giving it a texture and expressive form. The tangible potential of the direct use of light on Plexiglas lenses and transparent materials presents three opportunities that are critical to this project. First is the collaboration in the public space facilitated by tangible means. The second opportunity is the improvisation and experimentation space offered by such tangible and mechanical systems. The third is the reinvestigation of the physical texture of light materialized, allowing a direct understanding of the effects of light properties on transparent materials e.g. reflection, color transformation, density, and diffraction.

I am implementing my vision of this project on a larger scale such as building-size panels the public could mechanically control using remote devices. Each panel will be pattern and transparent material specific. Two Plexiglas sheets could embed a water-fall, or viscous transparent material the user could distribute along his/her selected point of view. The software will allow media distribution among cities so that the outcomes of the public performances could be exposed on the panels of other cities.

Your work involves augmenting the physical using the digital. aren't you having nightmare of a physical object that does more bad than good because its digital "layer" is running amok?

The digital has suffered by trying to be too physical, trying to justify its existence by refining itself with physical rules. There are fundamental limits between the form and function of the digital and physical. This step was necessary to combine the digital to the physical without independence between these two modes of interaction. Now that the digital is part of our everyday life, it is the perfect moment to study how it can inform the structure of the physical and how it can drive new conceptions of the physical. The goal is to strike a balance between digital technologies and their physical components, such that despite their fundamental differences of form and use, the two can be seamlessly integrated and mutually inform one another.

I only augment the physical with the digital in certain conditions, because I also care about interdependencies between the digital and the physical. With each other they have a function. Without each other they also have a function. This differs from current considerations of physical and tangible representation by allowing the virtual and the physical to exist independently from each other, or, rather, to co-exist in a way that informs one another.

Specifically, the challenge is to augment the physical using the digital by maintaining a reason d’etre of the physical with the digital. Consider a scarf that warms up if a friend is missing. This computational scarf, even without technology, can be designed so it remains useful as a scarf, and keeps a memory of the interaction with the digital without detracting from its design as a physical object. On the other hand, the warmth generating sensor module, if removed from the scarf, can have another digital function and be integrated into a bedding to provide some warmth as well. Both the physical platform and the technology are dissociable, although the combination of the two generates the impact of the application.

My work incorporates materials that borrow rules from the digital and offer a sense of magic in the physical world. Smart materials are a reasonable platform for our desire to have the digital and physical inform one another simply due to the technical opportunities, such as scalability, computational power, and extensibility. However, in addition to having digital and technical possibilities, smart materials offer a relatively unexplored opportunity to drive new conceptions of digital and physical by adhering to intrinsically physical properties of material. Our concept of materiality can be intelligently redefined by the introduction of technical extensions to the material platform.Digital and virtual applications are changing our very conception of the physical space. A new materiality is emerging, based on our physical limitations supported by virtual possibilities. Digital has changed our perception of the physical, as in surface, light and texture, and also our body, as in its ideal representation. However, I believe that an incredible opportunity is being lost. Combined virtual and physical applications are not being designed with their independent principles of physical and virtual in mind. My research explore the fundamental differences between these worlds, and how, as the line between them blurs, we can take the lessons of the virtual space and redesign the physical space.

Merci Cati!

Sponsored by:

0etetete5.jpgYuichiro Katsumoto from imgl/Keio Media Design in Japan has developed a fascinating "toy" which could turn potentially any aspect of your daily life into a playful moment.

ET is a wearable computing system that uses RFID tags to transform any common object into a toy. When the user touches an object, the ET armband reads its RFID tag. ET makes a sound according to the user's actions. For example, an umbrella becomes a sword, an orange becomes a fireball, and a chair on wheels becomes a racing car.

Yuichiro Katsumoto was kind enough to answer a couple of questions:

Is E.T. an expansion of AMAGATANA? You first developed the sword/umbrella then decided to apply the principle to other objects, is that how it went?

Bingo! For AMAGATANA, an acceleration sensor is embedded in an umbrella. Therefore, it's nothing more than an umbrella which makes a sound of sword. So we took a sensor out of the AMAGATANA and applied it to a wristband with a RFID reader.


What was the biggest challenge you encountered while working on E.T?

In creating ET, we developed two devices each called "BracelET" and "PockET". BracelET is a wristband with an RFID reader and acceleration sensor. PockET consists of a PC(Vaio Type U) and a system software which runs on PockET. The user wears the BracelET on the arm and PockET on the hip. When the user touches an object, BracelET reads its RFID tag, and PockET makes a sound according to user's action. We think that this new experience with the combination of technologies is innovative and challenge.

Anyway, fact is stranger than fiction. However, we cannot just behave like heroes in movies and video games as we are people who live in the real world. ET solves this despair. ET changes our daily life itself into play. ET will correspond to all commodity objects which surrounded us. Every act can become play. Finally, our life will be stranger than fiction!

Thanks Yuichiro!

Movie of Amagatana.
Related: Control Freaks.

0elentrrr.jpgThe 23rd Chaos Communication Congress has just kicked off this morning at the Berliner Congress Center in Berlin.

I arrived a bit late but when i finally got into the conference room Tim Pritlove was explaining the highlights of the events.

There will be a Powerpoint Karaoke (the speaker sees the slides of his presentation for the first time as his talk starts!), a Hacker Jeopardy (The one and only hacker quizshow), a second iteration of Biometrics in Science Fiction with short film scenes from movies and a Capture the Flag Hacking Contest.

The international VJ Conference AVIT>C23 is taking place at the BCC as well. They are located in the Art&Beauty area. The programme includes more than 20 presentations, performances, VJ-talks, techniques and technology lectures, and workshops.


Because one of the goals of the congress is to express concerns about a series of issues, including surveillance, Tim introduced a DIY surveillance system, a pretty badge complete with a blinking LED light, batteries and an active RFID tag. Project Sputnik is the real-time in-building location tracking system present at the 23C3. The signal is picked up by one or multiple of the 20+ readers installed throughout the venue. You can switch it off whenever you don't want your data to be visible. 0sputnikkk.jpg

Sputnik is an open project: CC-BY-SA Hardware and GPL Software (part of OpenBeacon). The hardware schematics and firmware source code will be published during 23C3, enabling hackers to enhance/replace the existing firmware, and to add new applications such as p2p communication between multiple devices. Or you can buy one for 10 euros at the entrance (there are only 1000 available!)

The main objective is to demonstrate what kind of surveillance is possible using off-the-shelf inexpensive technology, and to make hackers interested into exploring potential positive use cases for it.

To the delight of the audience, a Camp was announced for next year. It is scheduled on August 8-12 near Berlin (max. 1,30 hour drive.)

The theme of the conference this year is Who Can You Trust?

We are afraid of reality. Reality is: privacy fading away and almost gone by now; loosing control over our data, etc. While fighting the war, we have to adapt to reality and it's all about trust. What is trust? Something that takes a very long time to establish, it thrives on openness and discussion. Trust is the absence of fear. Trust creates security.

We can create security in our society only if we can establish trust.

Check also the CCC Events Blog and get the images.

0realsnailmail.jpgRealSnailMail is a project currently developed by boredomresearch. The system uses real snails with pet RFID chips glued to their shells to carry and deliver electronic messages on their own time, despite growing expectations of instant communication.

Commissioned as part of the Tagged exhibition in London, the launch of the project will constitute of a projection in the space gallery is a computer model created by boredomresearch, enabling them to test components they will need to build 'RealSnailMail'.

Eventually this system will be built into an installation version in 2007/08. You can visit the Real Snail Mail website and send a message which travels to a server where it is entered into a queue. Here it waits until a snail wonders in range of a hot spot. The hot spot is the dispatch centre in the form of a RFID reader. This reader identifies the snail from its chip and checks to see if it has not already been assigned a message to carry. If the snail is available it is assigned the message at the top of the list. It then slips away into the technological wasteland. Located at the other end of the pond (in the case of aquatic snails) is the drop off point. When, or if, the snail ever makes it here, it is identified by another reader, which then forwards the relevant message to the recipients email address; once again travelling at the speed of light.

The tagged exhibition runs until 21 Oct., at Space Triange, in London. The artists will give a talk tonight 7PM at [ s p a c e ].

Also by boredomresearch: Theatre of Restless Automata.

Talking about slowing the web

Louise Klinker's SLOWEB project that responds to peoples' obsession with speed and efficiency when using computers.

What does it mean when you have to queue to enter a website? And does it feel special to know that you are the only one using a service like Google at that time?

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SLOWEB offers peripherals for the computer: a blind for the screen and a coffee mug to use as a mouse. SLOWEB also offers two computer applications: a special slow mail service that provides extra information about how long the author took to write it and is also concerned with the geographical relationship between author and receiver and a unique version of Google that requires you to queue if you want to enter a website.

And there's also SLOWmail by Carolyn Strauss and Julian Bleecker from slowLab. This project has been awarded one of the Rhizome 2006/2007 commissions. The email service would deliberately slow down the pace of electronic messaging, offering a more reflective experience for both sender and recipient, and challenging forth more artful, writerly and meaning-ful correspondence.

The author tags his correspondence to describe a relationship to the recipient, their respective geographic locations and the mood of the message. The message is then filtered through the SLOWmail software environment which further interprets its meaning and assesses the sender-recipient relationship, factoring in message history, frequency of correspondence and past message content to determine the delivery timeframe.

At any time, users may login to the SLOWmail web site to view messages in progress, experienced as compelling graphic visualizations that develop gradually to represent pending correspondence.

I came back from Ci'Num yesterday. The event, held in Margaux (very very small French town too far away from the shopping spree i had planned to make in Bordeaux), is a collective and open strategic foresight process that aims to create a worldwide community of thinkers and stakeholders, working together in order to identify opportunities and challenges for the future of civilizations confronted with (at least) to main transformations: globalization and digitization.

Nicolas has more on the seminar: CNIUM2006: Facts from today's seminar and CNIUM2006: surface subways, prabsence and the “why? question.

0adamgreenfield.jpgAdam Greenfield gave a brilliant speech on Friday at Ci'Num. Greenfield has written a book i'd recommend everyone to read ASAP (and if you don't trust my judgement...): Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing (on Amazon: USA and UK), it deals with ubiquitous computing and its implications for society, for business, for the way we design spaces and cities - even for the way we relate to each other.

My notes from his talk, Here, There and Everywhere: Issues in Cross-Cultural Ubiquitous Computing.
Circa 1990, Mark Weiser at Xerox PARC coined the term ubiquitous computing or "ubicomp", he said that information would be invisible, "in the woodwork everywhere around us."
Characteristics of ubicomp? Embedded, communicates wirelessly, imperceptible, multiple services and devices, post-GUI (Graphical User Interface), information processing dissolving in behaviour.

First example of Ubicomp. In Hong Kong, there's an RFID touchless payment system called Octopus. First designed for public transport, the system has now pervaded the whole city. It works by tapping a smartcard on a reader. But the range is so good that a new behaviour has emerged: women leave their card in the bottom of their bag, when passing the reader they merely swing their handbag over it, they never break the pace. This complex payment has thus been reduced to a very simple gesture that was discovered through everyday use and has spread organically. We'll see more of this kind of unforeseen behaviour.

Information processing is showing up in new places. Korean door lock that features 3 types of keys, a mobile phone-activated one, an rfid one and a biometric one.

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The Galleria department store in Seoul (designed by UNstudio - more images): the lights on its facade respond to the conditions inside the building.

A class of system that tends to colonize everyday life.
Panopticon effect, we redefine the need to feel that we might be observed all the time. Example: the "intelligent rest room" system which integrates into the bathroom monitors your family's vital statistics (urine sugar levels, blood pressure, body fat percentages and weight). The results can immediately be checked on a screen on the bathroom wall and are uploaded to the family computer where a health care software can advise on diet, exercise, etc.

0everywarere.jpgTo anyone that says that such examples are sci-fi-esque, Greenfield reminds that:
The Octopus system has been launched in 1997. By 2004, 95% of the population in Hong Kong aged between 16 and 65 was using this RFID-based system to access private space, pay for a can of Coke or their phone bill. There are more daily transactions than residents in the city.

In New Songdo City, a "ubiquitous city" being built in South Korea, all major information systems share data, and computers are to be built into the houses, streets and office buildings. The project has been launched in 2004 and is backed by ABN Amro, Kookmin Bank and Woori Bank.

Such projects are not just an "Asian affair". Mastercard PayPass, launched last year in the US, is also RFID-embedded and works in a way very similar to the Octopus card.

Greenfield's principles of ubiquitous computing:

1. Default to Harmlessness - in a world where it is possible for a device to broadcast your most intimate details, user's safety (physical, psychic and financial) must be ensured.

2. Be Self-Disclosing - ubiquitous systems should be technically and graphically self-disclosing, so that users encountering them are empowered to make informed decisions. Adam and his wife, Nurri Kim, worked on a few icons (PDF) that could inform the viewer about the type of device they are interacting with and what information about them will be shared.

3. Be Conservative of Face - ubiquitous systems must not unnecessarily embarass, humiliate, or shame their users.

4. Be Conservative of Time - Ubiquitous systems must not introduce undue complications into ordinary operations and should ba respectful of our time.

5. Be Deniable - Ubiquitous systems must offer users the ability to opt out, always and at any point.

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Of course, things gets a little more complicated when one thinks that each community, each culture comes with its own problems. Everyware presents itself as universal and neutral, while our values are different. For example, risk and safety are constructed very differently from society to society.

The US are very concerned by their own safety. Playgrounds would typically be surrounded by fence and carry warnings. That would be insane in German context where it is believed that childhood implies risks and play involves the idea of danger. In Japan (which on several aspects can be regarded as a "nanny state") escalator chimes in warnings upon approach ("the entrance to the escalator is here, take care upon alighting on the escalator"), upon approach to the top ("the escalator will be slowing down", then "the escalator is slowing down"), etc.

Similarly the desire to connectedness is constructed differently from society to society: US citizen are unwilling to get any intrusion into their privacy; whereas Koreans and Japanese want to be connected all the time.

Social status is differentially explicit. In the US, the notion of hard-coded markers of society is not accepted, US citizens like to think they live in a class-less society. In Japan and Korea, social status tend to be much stronger: which school you attended matters for example.

Levels of public investment in infrastructure diverge widely (wifi in subway in Japan).

Adam's point is not to judge but to note these differences.

How do we get to design systems that are robustly ubiquitous and that respond to the differences in people's experiences?

Old fashioned idea: consciousness-rising; improved methodology foregrounding, ethnography and user insight; a role for standard bodies; regulatory community to protect people's prerogatives.

More about Greenfield and his latest book, Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing: Designing for everyware: An interview with Adam Greenfield, Ethics and RFIDs - video of Adam "Everyware" Greenfield.

S.U.I. stands for Smart Urban Intelligence and caricatures the growing tendency towards computer-controlled surveillance of public and private spheres. This project, by Japanese artist Ryota Kimura, is based on the SUICA, the RFID-equipped cards that are used in the Tokyo subway system. S.U.I. reads out the data from such cards and interprets them in an arbitrary, prejudiced way. I'd like to add immediately that i was very happy to find this work at ars electronica. I wish i could talk with Ryota Kimura more than i did yesterday but his english is not great and my japanese is inexistant. I keep hearing in talks about media art in Asia that Japanese artists do not have a critical approach to technology like we do in the West. It might be right for many case, but as this project shows we shouldn't generalize so easily.

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S.U.I. is a "fictive service in the very near future." Reading actual data in a real SUICA smartcard for a railway ticket, it displays on a screen the history in the card in the form of motion video and of visualized route map in real time. At the same time, a bot as "the agent of the service" automatically analyzes the data and interprets it in an arbitrary way. He makes extremely shortsighted presumptions, mixes fictive things with the real fact related to the card, and so on.

The bot speaks about the following things: Card holder's "living place;" his or her "favorite place" to visit, and the related intrusive recommendation; records of his/her "returning home," of "staying out overnight" etc; a very shortsighted assumed "profile," something not worth bothering about each station in the history, etc.

As the artist writes: I hope people become more aware of the growing situation, that is "administration of individual body by the RFID technology," and of the problems it potentially contains through this work.

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