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Snap Shot Ecologies: Machine Vision, Link Space, Ownership + Expression In The Internet of Things

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Google Glasses, Google Glasses, Google Glasses…

This is an oldie but goodie…

Several years ago while working at the Beal Institute for Strategic Creativity (a predecessor to the SLAB) at OCADU, I was able to spend a considerable amount of time investigating/exploring the meaning and future potential of the internet of things, a context we referred to as -> “Dataspace”. One of my responsibilities while at “the Beal” was to share my research findings-insights-ideas with the community at large in a manner that was both true to our mission of developing and teaching strategic creativity and foresight methodologies – while also maintaining a more personal/empathetic perspective and creative approach to my interpretation and delivery of the material.

To better understand and  make sense of emerging technological paradigms (like the IOT) I frequently used my own experiences as a graffiti artist operating within “urban-spaces” and the “built environment” as a critical “human-centered” lens to evaluate and propose the meaning of IOThings often in relation to how self-expression, personal, and collective empowerment and participation may unfold and/or evolve.

Question: What if the future geo-spatial “dataspace” aka the Internet of Things was owned by brand lords and occupied by tenants?

Exploration: The ongoing convergence of the “internet” with machine vision, geo-locative, biometric, and RF interrogation technologies is forming a significant opportunity space for innovation. New business models, products, services and applications will undoubtedly emerge from within this space- and influence everything from e-commerce and real estate, to branding and marketing; art, activism, pornography, education, and health care etc. This context will certainly provoke more questions and critical discussion about the value of location based  data, fair use, ownership, privacy, and access; while sparking another wave of creative output and design that explores the potential of this new technological capability.

What we might call the “Snap Shot Ecology” is a context where cameras (yours and mine) capture (in a snap shot) the TOTALITY OF DATA and/or linkable information present within their environment. That is, to use a “camera” or other interrogation device to select and record the information presented on, reflected by, and linked via the web to; people, places and things.

This happens in two ways 1) the tangible, meaning that software essentially interprets and extracts information from the visible/manifest shapes, contours, colors, content, behaviors and environmental conditions we can see with our own eyes (or lens). 2) On the other hand, the intangible is also captured, this includes the invisible wavelengths of data and information linked to- and embedded in- sensors, the geo-spatial environment and radio spectrum. Essentially any data contained in, on, or linked to; RFID tags, beacons, barcodes, and “thin air”- meaning data-info or content attached to a specific point or location in space and time. The intangible consists of the things we can’t necessarily see with the naked eye- but know might be floating around just beyond our natural inherent senses.

In case you don’t already know, machine vision (MV) is essentially the software-driven ability to sense, extract and analyze information contained within an image. MV systems are traditionally used in security, supply chain management and manufacturing applications to identify production units, monitor quality and process efficiency etc. Well beyond simple bar-code scanning, they typically seek out, recognize and extract shapes from images, compare them to a template in a database, and initiate a pre-determined follow up action i.e. signal an alert, make a request, present an option, flip a switch etc. You’ve probably already used this software, or have seen it online, or at the very least, in movies.

Mobile apps like Amazon’s SnapTell, Nokia’s Point & Find, Google Goggles, and World Lens are some popular MV examples. World Lens leverages optical character recognition  (OCR) to translate images of text from one language into another. In the future – There are strange languages and foreign contours everywhere -> imagine the shape NEC has recently introduced a phone that recognizes fruits (for example, melons) and tells you where they’ve come from. I love knowing where my melons come from…

On the Radio end of the spectrum–NEC has also developed networked security cameras that combine machine-vision, biometrics, and long range RFID interrogators. In case you are wondering, an interrogator sends a query out and receives an answer back, or else. Do not underestimate the value and importance of a good interrogator. These systems simultaneously capture and analyze images (pictures of people) and information obtained from RFID tags (embedded on the artifacts they carry like ID cards and clothing) that pass within their field of view and/or functional range. Networks of these cameras continuously scan for, identify, interrogate, track and assess; the presence, movement, “nature”, and activities of objects and individuals within space. Soon you will too.

Aside from providing new ways to augment, navigate, and interact with public/private spaces, MV and the presence of a snap-shot-ecology enabled by hundreds of millions of so called “smart-phones” – context aware, networked and other such devices suggests a redefinition of the meaning, value, and use of “real-estate.” Here, in the snap-shot-ecology, the value of occupying space, of attaching (or linking) yourself onto others, should be well understood albeit from a slightly different perspective. Linkable Space, as in the amount of data or information contained within or linked to a geo-location, a sensor, RFID chip,  “contour”, color, pattern, material or texture has great value. Those who own, and control access to these linkable spaces – on products, people, places, and things –will have the power of sale and the ability to define the rules and set the price for a new class of members, tenants, residents, hobos, squatters and loiterers to play by. In this scenario – Slum lords or “Brand Lords”– charge rent while not maintaining and/or updating their property i.e. product / packaging design and geo-locations.

The battle for access, ownership, expression and fair use of linkable spaces ensues.

Space invaders” –(not to be confused with that throwback Atari style street artist)- will refuse to sign up, subscribe, pay rent, or ask permission to post and share content within. A self styled space invader may choose to rewrite the content stored on the RF tags embedded in the things they own so that a snap shot of their Nike sweatshirt or Coach bag links the viewer/photographer to the content of their choosing and not the brand’s. Politically incorrect culture jamming and mass hacktivism re-emerges to usurp the power of location, context, and brand recognition. Where’s the app for that?

At the object level – a consumer packaged goods company (Brand Lord) may choose to keep their unique brand color (i.e. Tide Yellow, Gain Green or UPS Brown) for themselves but rent out a portion of linkable space on the product’s contour, its unique texture, and or RFID tag to others so that when the UPS Truck or bottle of gain is captured in a picture the “tenants content” may present itself to the photographer. In theory, an infinite amount of tenants could occupy the same linkable product space but why not establish some artificial scarcity –encourage exclusivity and drive up “brand value”. In other words increase the price of being the only link available on the lot?

In addtion to shapes, colors and contours we will see this manifest through the more conscious design and applications of materials, textures and finishes – as we begin to see the emergence of smart phones and other web-enabled cameras capable of recognizing material properties and characteristics. Another scenario to illustrate this would go as follows: You point your camera down a crowded aisle (or street) full of similar products in search of a particular or preferred brand; your camera identifies and highlights that product and brand based on a unique “brand specific” material and texture. You ask is it real- or is it a fake? In the snap shot ecology your smart phone confirms its authenticity by focusing in on and capturing microscopic details invisible to the naked eye – and more difficult counterfeit or reproduce. You confirm its authenticity and decide to purchase. The converging sciences (nano-info-bio-cogno) continue to play an increasingly important role in product innovation and design.

One can imagine the information overload and the oversaturated nature of a snap-shot-ecology – presenting an always on two second full spectrum spectacle that is constantly popping up and changing in front of your lens. Search, navigation, and filtering tools from the web will undoubtedly evolve and apply, so too will the social bookmarking, networking and sharing behaviors that have more recently emerged online. Of course it will be your choice to tune in, play with, and/or opt out.

Note: The subject of this post was previously explored in “Le Confiture” a scenario presented at MIT’s Media In Transition 5 Conference 2007 ; parts of this larger scenario were expanded upon, remixed,  and published in the “Future” Issue of MISC Magazine

More on this topic later…




Written by mlincez

February 25, 2013 at 7:36 pm

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