Fluid Interfaces Premier gets Flamed

I came across this article on Three Questions for Patti Maes from MIT’s Technology Review. The interesting part is the comments.

Google Glasses

Google Glasses

A bit of background. Patti Maes is a living legend of HCI. She is MIT’s #1 in HCI and MIT is arguably #1 in the C and I parts of HCI (at least at MIT they’d argue that). Among other things, her group produced the extremely well publicized Sixth Sense work and the reasonably publicized (but more fun IMHO) Siftables work. And in typical MIT style, patented and spun-out these commercially. So Patti offers some words of wisdom in the article (paraphrased):

MIT's Sixth Sense

MIT’s Sixth Sense

  • Mobile devices will use their built-in sensors more, to make mobile interfaces socially and contextually better (the relevancy dream at local scale)
  • Devices that talk to each other locally might become more common (as you can do uber cool thinks, like Siftables, in this way)
  • Google Glasses (in reality, not the fancy videos) will be lame for the foreseeable future.
Sifteo's Siftables

Sifteo’s Siftables from David Merrill

To me, and my Nokia Research Center pedigree, this is blatantly obvious and doesn’t go very far into making it sound exciting and world changing – which normally happens for tech hype, especially the inevitable stuff. Yep, I agree with Patti, and yes this much is pretty forgettable. But…

She fed the trolls. She didn’t mean to, but she did so all the same. Comment after comment on this article is about Big Brother-esque automated spy-in-our-pocket scenarios. I don’t suggest that such scenarios should be ignored or ridiculed, just that the immediate mono-topical response to flame Patti for stating the obvious with “OMG, it’s George Orwell’s 1984 again” is just Internet trolling. The really interesting stuff is where the processing happens and how the different sensor, processing and interpretation pipelines are structured and connected. Incidentally, that’s where the privacy issues lie too. But more importantly, these factors determine practical acceptability issues such as battery life and all-you-can-eat-data requirements.

These specific complaints about the specific technologies aren’t that important to Social Robotics. But this knee-jerk trolling response to benign technology predictions will surely flame the world of Social Robotics on more than one occasion. Any agent that monitors and records the kinds of everyday and special things you get up to at home or in the office can be labelled a Big Brother. Whether that agent is technology-based, a colleague or a real live big brother (I have at least one of each of those). And the common factor concerning use or misuse of realtime or archived data, or the insights from analysis of that data, are the ethics of those who have, or can gain access, to those sensors, data and insights. Same story since the start of time, except now the agents might have trademarked badges and require recharging once in a while.

Funnily enough, the entry of the term ethics into common usage originates from Aristotle (though Socrates beat him to some of the concepts). And from this origin, ethics is about the pursuit of one’s own talents and realization to gain the best happiness – and social activities in support of this. i.e. ethics serves happiness, not paranoia. How times have changed.

And as for how to avoid these flames from trolls. Glitz and razzmatazz usually works – distract them with something too cool to ignore – but that takes a lot of effort. Otherwise, I’m open to suggestions – a preemptive dose of happiness maybe.

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