Michael Porter and Chris Peters: Ubiquitous computing

Michael Porter (WebJunction) and Chris Peters (MaintainIT)
Ubiquitous Computing and Library Futures

UbiComp: Our definition is a model of human-computer interaction in which information processing has been thoroughly integrated into everyday objects and activities.  MP: “But Chris, that sounds crazy! Tell me more!”  CP: “Uh, ok.”  When computing and information access happen when and where we need it, enabled by calm technology that is everywhere but is effectively invisble.  Happens at the scale of The Body, The Room, The Building, The Neighborhood, ….

Moore’s Law:
October 2006:  64 GB Usb 2.0 Flash Drive, $5469.99.
July 2008:  $349.00
October 2008:  Terabyte External Hard Drives; $69.00 (one day special sale, but still…)

That transformation in price and availability is what makes UbiComp possible.  A good library example of UbiComp is RFID.  You can walk past a shelf without touching the books and having the books show up on a scanner.  Imagine things like RFID in all sorts of places, in our libraries, and in our communities.  Another example:  EyeFi wireless memory cards for cameras that put the GPS data onto your photos and upload straight from the camera to the internet.  The Ambient Umbrella connects wirelessly to weather information and glows to tell you what the weather is going to be.  All of this is computer science-produced information that impacts the culture we live in.

Right now, we’re in a position of convergence for technology: phones, software, hardware, open source… The Google Phone isn’t hardware, it’s an OS that allows developers to contribute to the suite of services available on hardware running the Google technology.   Consider: There are 3 billion cellular phones; there are 1.5 billion tvs.  Handheld computing is everywhere, Next steps?  Embed the tech in our clothing.  Lederhosen with ipod controls included.  Extreme example is of a dress that changes shape, color, and lighting with the heartrate and other biological indicators that it’s sampling from the wearer.  It’s extreme, but it’s possible!  Consider how many people have a Roomba or a Scooba: You have a robot doing your housework.  You really do, even though you don’t think of it that way!  The Chumby is a $200-ish computer that plays widgets:  Stock quotes, Twitter feed, a Flickr RSS feed, internet radio…  Passive but useful!  Seattle Public LIbrary is using portable VOIP communicators: They ARE Star Trek communicators, here for our use today.  Slingbox connection at your house allows you to connect your TiVo and your DirectTV and then watch the content delivered by those services on any of your mobile devices, wherever you are.

And Portability is the key to Ubiquity.  There is now a cell-phone sized projector.  So you can now have a computer that’s a phone that has a projector that can hook up to your Slingbox and project your TV wherever you are…  That’s Ubiquitous Computing.

Chris Peters:

Ambient Intelligence, and the Internet of Things: Both terms to refer to UbiComp that have interesting secondary implications.  There will be intelligence floating around our heads… and Things will have their own connection to the information world… fascinating, right?

UbiComp is the post-PC era, in which computing does not jump to the center of your attention and require all of your focus.  It does it’s job and lives in the background, doing the things you need it to do without your interaction.

UbiComp is embeded, context aware in space, time, environment, etc, personalized, adaptive, and anticipatory.  UbiComp will happen at the scale of you as a person, but also at the scale of the room you’re in, or the building you inhabit.  Neighborhood-wide wifi is already available… why not neighborhood-wide computing services?
Trends that will power UbiComp, and the attendant hurdles of each:

  • Cheap information processing
  • Cheap memory and storage
  • Wireless networking
  • Interoperability and open standards — how many cell phones can talk to each other? Not enough, due to closed/proprietary standards.
  • Universal addressability — we’re running out of IP addresses on our current standard
  • Sensors
  • Position awareness
  • Power

Spimes: A neologism of space and time: Everyday objects that have location awareness, social awareness, time awareness, and history.  A pen that can keep track of the materials used to make it, the energy flows used to make it, the places it has been, the things it’s done on your behalf, and understands its role in your workflow — it knows what color ink you like.

Calm Technology:

  • design firm proposed an image that has a crowd in it, and as your email inbox fills up, the crowd gets bigger.  It would sit at the fringe of your attention, instead of getting notifications every 2 minutes, you could just notice, lightly, from the corner of your eye, the size of the crowd.
  • The ambient umbrella.  The message comes to you when you need it, and over time, your subconscious will forget it’s a computer, and will just acknowledge that the blue light means you need the umbrella.  It’s polite computing, helpful computing.
  • Location based services.  So many GPS-enabled phones… so much information on the internet… In Japan, you can set up a dating profile on your phone, and as a good match gets near you physically, your phone can tell you…
  • WikiNear: Tells you the 5 closest Wikipedia articles.  Location-based reference service!
  • Digital Fabrication: Rapid prototypers/3-D Printers.  “A glowing, complicated printer”  Send it blueprints, and it starts to create an object — like a gear for a bicycle, or a model for something you want to build.  It lays down strips of plastic, and builds you the thing you envisioned.  Still awkward and primitive, like PCs in the 80’s, but consider:  It’s distributed manufacturing based on the availability of huge amounts of processing power and ubiquitous computing at the personal level.
  • Biotelemetry: COmputers that keep track of your vital signs.  Watches, wheelchairs, shirts, toilets… all wirelessly linked to your doctor or your medical records.  Also biofeedback — in games, like one in which your brain waves are measured by a headset, and the more you focus, the faster the Xwing raises out of the swamp…. (DUDE.)  An emotional map of San Francisco, based on people who wore biofeedback stress monitors and then their stress reactions were mapped onto a neighborhood map.  (Find the most stressful intersections!  Or, for example, the most stressful part of your library.  Or your library’s website. Or your research process.  Or your instruction sessions.)

Presentation slides here.


  1. “Moore’s Law:
    October 2006: 64 GB Usb 2.0 Flash Drive, $5469.99.
    July 2008: $349.00
    October 2008: Terabyte External Hard Drives; $69.00”

    The truthiness of these numbers is highly suspect. I would say they are outright lies, but that implies malice. They are certainly exaggerations.


  2. I don’t know about the first one, but I think he had screenshots for the second two. Michael also acknowledged that the last figure was a special sale price, which I’ve updated the post to reflect. I dunno, man. I think the point stands, though — power’s increasing, and cost is decreasing.


  3. Thank You! Great notes. Did you take those real time? Were you a court reporter in a past life? And you also picked up on the most important point of the whole presentation. A game that challenges you to lift an X-Wing fighter out of the swamp by focusing your attention.

    You’d have to ask Michael about where he found those specific numbers, but it’s not hard to find other sales in the same ballpark. I linked to a few of them at http://linkbun.ch/4hd6. Also, I’ve known MP for a long time and I can testify that he does his homework and checks his facts.


  4. The Oct 2006 & 2008 numbers were my big sticking points. I have been using solid-state (“Flash”) drives in server appliances since 2003ish, and have never paid anywhere near the 2006 figure, and you cannot find terabyte drives for the Oct 2008 price unless it’s a loss-lead, which isn’t very scholarly to quote. I can sell you a $2000 computer for $1 and then use it in my presentation to say PC’s are being sold for $1. 😉


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