Monday, March 06, 2006

The Internet of Things

Etech 2006 got off to a roaring start with Bruce Sterling delivering his keynote on "The Internet of Things". I've never seen Sterling speak in public but I have heard his talks via podcasts and I am a fan of his science fiction novels. Seeing him in person was quite a treat. He has the air of some kind of futurist preacher bringing down glimpses of what could be with the authority of the almighty. The talk focused on the future of physical objects and more importantly our relation to them. These future objects, or spimes, will start and end as data. The actual physical object will only be the physical projection of the objects design on the internet. Spimes will be trackable, searchable, and linkable. There is a growing body of discourse about this topic and an increasing number of manifestations of the technologies that will make spimes a reality. RFID, search engines, 3-D printers or personal fabricators, ubiquitous data networks and communications are all the initial threads in the tapestry that will tell the history of spimes in the future. Imagine the scenario where you have a need for some useful object. You search for it on the internet using a Google-like search engine. You find the design, buy it, download it, and print it out from your fabricator. You never worry about loosing it because you can search for it and its geo-location features let you find it. Then when the object no longer serves its purpose you look up how to properly dispose of the object. How to break it down so it doesn't end up in our biosphere as rotting, rusting junk. Along the way he explained that he made up the spime noun as a though object that could essentially be linked to, discussed, and debated. He emphasized the importance of language in a field where engineering doesn't give us the proper vocabulary to exactly specify what needs to be discussed. Interestingly enough he stressed the notion of keeping the language as loose as possible positing that the language around Artificial Intelligence may actually have set computation back a few years. After all we are realizing that the goal of making an intelligent machine was essentially misguided and there may have been man-centuries of effort wasted when we could have been trying to solve real problems. Controversial and inspiring, Sterling was riveting. What a great way to kick-off the conference.

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