Dæmons, Augmented Reality and Ambient Computing

When I was a child, I thought Philip Pullman was a very good writer. Today, I can confirm he is. Recently, he inspired me an interesting discussion about Augmented Reality and Ambient Computing.

In his “À la Croisée des Mondes” trilogy, Pullman imagined that people could have an external, almost-physical entity psychically linked to them: dæmons…

Humans in every universe are said to have dæmons, although in some universes they are visible as entities physically separate from their humans while in other universes they are not.

Dæmons have human intelligence, are capable of human speech—regardless of the form they take—and usually behave in all respects as though they are independent of their humans. Prepubescent children's dæmons can change form voluntarily, almost instantly, to become any creature, real or imagined.

Intentional contact between a person and another person's dæmon is avoided under almost any circumstances. However dæmons frequently interact with each in other in ways that mirror the behavior of their humans, such as fighting one another when their humans are fighting, or nuzzling one another when their humans embrace.

Humans are desperately trying to share information

A lot of times in my life, I come across with the following issue: humans are sharing information really, really slowly; and the people sitting just next to you often stay ignorant of what you’re thinking at, because we’re hesitant to broadcast publicly things that may only interest few or no people around us. The more people are around us, the more we restrict ourselves in the amount and kind of information we’re going to share. Paradoxally, the more people there are, the more people are potentially interested by what we’re thinking at.

The fact is, humans weren’t made to efficiently communicate information. We’re able to see things with an incredible precision and analyze those images at a speed no computer can even hope to reach anytime soon; we’re able to hear our environment, and make the distinction between a train incoming, a young boy laughing and our friend speaking to us in an instant, without spending any attention to it. When you think about it, we’re handling so much information in our life it may seem impossible to us if it wasn’t actually the case.

But when it comes to share, we’re incredibly bad. The amount of information we can transmit by voice is ridiculous, even when compared to the transfer speed of a 3-inch floppy. We can draw amazing images in our brain, but when it comes to share them, it may take hours to make them concrete, even if you have the artistic fiber and the good tools.

We’re also unable to crypt our communication channels; we’re having hard time when we try to follow more than one conversation at the same time and we can’t even open specialized channels. Seriously, that sucks. For real.

Social networks are a wonder…

However, our desire to share is there. We really want to share; and we’ve things to share. In the recent years, a first solution came to live, to solve this problem: social networks.

Social networks are amazing. They brought to us everything we lacked. We’re able to type (and read!) faster than we speak and listen. We’re able to share photos, videos. We’re able to broadcast to the people we care about, anytime, anywhere we want, keeping the communication channel clear for the others. We can encrypt our channels, we can have multiple of them. We can do anything we want. Or can we?

I really find it amazing that our channel is automatically filtered for us. You don’t see everything that gets posted on Facebook, only things that actually matters to you. The computer didn’t only allow a fast, broadcast communication, but also made possible such communication by effectively keeping our channels just as busy as we can keep up. This is something that vary from user to user, and Facebook really got that right.

However, social networks don’t solve an important problem: sharing things with the people around you is still not possible. Geo-localized channels aren't working yet. And I don’t think they can even start to work in the current state of art.

… yet social networks are one device away!

Today’s social networks can’t (and couldn’t) keep up with geo-localized channels because they’re one device away. This has multiple, important consequences.

Firstly, we don’t want to be disturbed by a device when someone around us has something to share. We want to actually feel it, we want to know it, not to have to constantly keep up with what our social feed is returning.

Live tweeting during events is something really amazing, but that you can’t really take advantage of when you’re really absorbed by the event. Local messaging should be something in us, for us, and if possible completely automatic; just like we notice that the girl sitting in next to us is really beautiful or that the speaker just went to the next slide, we should be able to feel that the audience is liking what we say, or finding it too complex: effortlessly, and in real time.

Secondly, like we don’t notice everything we see, we shouldn’t detect everything people share. Like our brain has filters, our communication channels need a filter, and it should have direct access to our thoughts, our interests and bring to our conscience only the few shared pieces of information that really matters to us; because they matter to us.

This is something an external device will never be able to do, I think. To get some sufficient context, we need our communication manager to be integrated with our thoughts. We need something linked to us.

It shouldn’t just be computer layer, it should be something living, feeling personal. Something you can ask questions, you can share your hopes, your despair or your sentiments with, or smile at if needed. I really think dæmons is the thing that materializes the best the experience I’m looking for.

We’re not so far away

Local, public wireless channels already exists. 3D augmented reality glasses are there to help us visualize dæmons and information in real time, in the world we know and like. Ambient computing is going to make information available everywhere, seamlessly. Computer and medical devices are starting to become smart enough to reconstitute what we say in our brain, with some training. And this is just the beginning.

With something like Project Milo, Microsoft opened the way to the truly personal assistant, and companies like Wolfram Research and Google provide a really appealing knowledge experience.

Someday, dæmons will become a reality. I’m certain of it. It’s just a matter of time…

Published on 2012-07-15 under ALL, FREMYSCIENCES


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