Closing Keynote at AMI2011, Beyond Ubicomp – Computing is Changing the Way we Live

On Friday afternoon I had the privilege to present the closing keynote at AMI2011 in Amsterdam with the title ‘Beyond Ubicomp – Computing is Changing the Way we Live’. The conference featured research in Ambient Intelligence ranging from networking and system architecture to interfaces and ethnography. It brought an interesting set of people together and it was good to see many students and young researchers presenting their work.

In my closing keynote at talked about my experience of the last 13 years in this field and about a vision of the future. My vision is based on a basic technology assessment – basically looking what technologies will (in my view) definitely come over the next 20 years and looking at the implications of this. I stared out with a short reference to Mark Weiser’s now 20 year old article [1]. The upcoming issue of IEEE Pervasive Magazine will have a in-depth analysis of the last 20 years since Weiser’ article – we have also an article in there on how interaction evolved.

The vision part of the talk looked “Perception beyond there here and now” [2] from 3 different angles:

  • Paradigm Shift in Communication
    Here I argue that the default communication in the future will be public communication and only if something is secret we will try to use non public channel. First indicators of this are a switch from email to twitter and facebook. I used a cake baking example to highlight the positive points of this shift.
  • Steep Increase in media capture
    The second angle is just observing and extrapolating the increase in capture of media information. If you go already now on youtube you will information about many things (backing a cake, repairing a bike, etc.). The implication of this increase in media capture will be virtually unlimited access to experience other people share
  • Transformation of experienced perception
    The final angle is that this creates a new way of perceiving the world. We will extent perception beyond the here and now and this is bringing a completely new way of creating and accessing information. I used the example of enquiring about buying an international train ticket at the station in Amsterdam. If you can look there through other people’s eyes the question becomes trivial.

My overall argument is that we are in for a major transformation of our knowledge and information culture. I would expect that this shift is as radical as the shift from an oral tradition to the written societies – but the transition will be much quicker and in the context of a globalized and competitive world.

The main conclusion from this is: Ethics and values are the central design material of this century.

Looking at twitter it seems it got across to some in the audience 😉 If your are interested, too have a look at the slides from the keynote.

[1] Mark Weiser. The computer for the 21st century. Scientific American, Vol. 265, No. 3. (1991)
[2] Albrecht Schmidt, Marc Langheinrich, and Kritian Kersting. 2011. Perception beyond the Here and Now. Computer 44, 2 (February 2011), 86-88. DOI=10.1109/MC.2011.54 http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/MC.2011.54

NSF/EU workshop in Mannheim

Mohan Kumar and Marco Conti organized an EU/NSF workshop on Future Directions in Pervasive Computing and Social Networking for Emerging Applications. They managed to get together an interesting set of people and the discussion in the break out session were very enjoyable and I got a number of ideas what really are the challenges to come.

There are the position statements on the web page and at some point the identified grand challenges will be available.

PS: blackboards are still highly effective 😉

Will it be possible to keep data secret in the future?

At the moment there is an interesting discussion in Germany: should the state buy data (leaked out of a Swiss bank) that give details on people who have not paid their taxes in Germany. I will not add to the political discussion on that as there have been many arguments – some interesting and others funny. I am only amused about a small party that is very much against it. But one has to be fair – this is after all an indicator that democracy works 😉 parties represent the interests of their voters…

I think on a more general scale this incident and similar current cases could be an indicator of a future where everything that is on (electronic) file is likely to become public, given that there is an interest. One hundred years ago it was pretty difficult to steal or copy a few thousand data sets. You would have needed access to the archives for many nights and copying would have taken days. 30 years ago it would have been still hard – e.g. copying stacks of paper on a Xerox or using several large magnetic disks. Over recent years it has become much easier – a memory card is fairly small and a digital camera to copy documents is in many current mobile phones. It seems that if someone has rightful access to data (at a certain point in time) it may proof very hard to keep them from making a copy – may it be by copying the data digitally or by capturing electronically what they see. And hiding a SD-card is much more trivial than a car load of paper.

And as we know technology is progressing – perhaps we will get laws that restrict how small the physical size of a memory device can be 😉 And there is always a party who will lobby for it…

Energy Harvesting – wireless power?

Since a wireless charger (RCA Airnergy) was announces at CES that harvests energy from wifi signals that are around the topic is everywhere in the (tech) news. It is an exciting prospective to imagine mobile devices that will recharge themselves from the environment they are in. However I am not sure how well harvesting energy from RF will worked in regular environments – not saturated with radio signals.

The topic is really exciting – and in the end people probably do not care much if the energy is harvested from their movement, from light, temperature or RF – as long as it works. There is a introductory article to energy harvesting by Joe Paradiso and Thad Starner [1] which is worthwhile to read.

[1] Joseph A. Paradiso, Thad Starner, “Energy Scavenging for Mobile and Wireless Electronics,” IEEE Pervasive Computing, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 18-27, Jan.-Mar. 2005, doi:10.1109/MPRV.2005.9

The next big thing – let’s look into the future

At Nokia Research Center in Tampere I gave a talk with the title “Computing Beyond Ubicomp – Mobile Communication changed the world – what else do we need?“. My main argument is that the next big thing is a device that allows us to predict the future – on a system as well as on a personal level. This is obviously very tricking as we have a free will and hence the future is not completely predictable – but extrapolating from the technologies we see now it seems not farfetched to create a device that enables predictions of the future in various contexts.

My argument goes as follows: the following points are technologically feasible in the near future:

  1. each car, bus, train, truck, …, object is tracked in real-time
  2. each person is tracked (location, activity, …, food intake, eye-gaze) in real-time
  3. environmental conditions are continuously sensed – globally and locally sensed
  4. with have a complete (3D) model of our world (e.g. buildings, street surface, …)

Having this information we can use data mining, learning, statistics, and models (e.g. a physics engine) to predict the future. If you wonder if I forget to thing about privacy – I did not (but it takes longer to explain – in short: the set of people who have a benefit or who do not care is large enough).

Considering this it becomes very clear that in medium term there is a great potential in having control over the access terminal to the virtual world, e.g. a phone… just thing how rich your profile in facebook/xing/linkedin can be if it takes all the information you implicitly generate on the phone into account.

Information vs. Mobility, Percom PC meeting in New York

The PC meeting for Percom 2009 took place at IBM in Hawthorne, NY. Percom had about 200 submissions and many good ones – so we could compile an exciting program across the whole field of pervasive computing and communication. As one of three program vice chairs I have looked in detail in about 1/3 of the submissions that were application related. It is interesting to observe that research as a whole in the field becomes more major and at the same time more incremental. 

To me this puts up the big question in which domains will the new big innovations happen, what is the next trend after we have pervasive computing? There are luckily plenty of options, but at the moment it seems that there develops an interesting relationship between information, communication, mobility and energy. It seems that we can compensate mobility by information and communication and similarly we can reduce energy required by information available. One example is: if I know where things are (=information) I can reduce the effort required to find them (=mobility). Is there more to it?
Each time in the US – even in New York were public transport works quite well – one is surprise how alien it appears to many that it could be an option to take public transport on a business trip (e.g. there are no first class coaches on regional trains). Flying from Düsseldorf into Newark it was convenient to take the train to Penn Station in NY City and then an express train to White Plaines. If we would not have gone for a walk in the city we probably would have been equally fast as by car. With the again low gas prices in the US (less than 2U$ per gallon, down from 4 just a few month ago) I would expect public transport and small cars will not gain too much popularity – before the next rise in gas prices.

PS: it is amazing how many possiblities there are to serve coffee (and this is probably not one of the most environment friendly)

Keynote at MobileHCI2008: BJ Fogg – mobile miracle

BJ Fogg gave the opening keynote at mobile HCI 2008 in Amsterdam. The talk explained very well the concept of Captology (computers as persuasive technologies) and the newer projects are very inspiring. He put the following questions at the center: How can machines change people’s minds and hearts? How can you automate persuasion? His current focus is on behavior change.

He reported of a class he is teaching at Stanford on designing facebook applications. The metric for success (and on this students are marked) is the uptake of the created application over the time of the course. He reported that the course attracted 16 million users in total and about 1 million on a daily basis – that is quite impressive. This is also an example of the approach he advocates: “rather try than think”. The rational is to try out a lot of things (in the real market with real users, alpha/beta culture) rather than optimize a single idea. Here the background is that nowadays implementation and distribution is really easy and that the marked decides if it is hot or not… His advice is to create minimal application – simple application and then push it forward. All big players (e.g. google, flickr) have done it this ways…

With regard to the distribution methods for persuasion he referred over and over to social networks (and in particular facebook). His argument is that by these means one is able to reach many people in a trusted way. He compared this to the introduction of radio but highlighted the additional qualities. Overall he feels that Web 2.0 is only a worm up for all the applications to come on the mobile in the future.

At the center of the talk was that prediction that mobile devices will be within 15 years the main technology for persuasion. He argued that mobile phones are the greatest invention of human kind – more important than the writing and transportation systems (e.g. planes, cars). He explained why mobile phones are so interesting based on three metaphors: heart, wrist watch, magic wand.

Heart – we love our mobile phones. He argued that if users do not have their phone with them they miss it and that this is true love. Users form a very close relationship with their phone and spend more time with the phone than with anything/anyone else. He used the image of “mobile marriage”…

Wrist watch – the phone is always by our sides. It is part of the overall experience in the real world provding 3 functions: Concierge (reactive, can be asked for advice, relationship base on trust), Coach (proactive, coach comes to me tells me, pushing advice), and Court Jester (entertains us, be amused by it, create fun with content that persuades).

Magic wand – phones have amazing and magical capabilities. A phone provides humans with a lot of capabilities (remote communication, coordination, information access) that empower many things.

Given this very special relationship it may be a supplement for our decision making (or more general our brain). The phone will advise us what to do (e.g. navigation systems tell us where to go) and we love it. We may have this in other areas, too – getting told what movie to see, what food to eat, when to do exercise, … not fully convinced 😉

He gave a very interesting suggestion how to design good mobile applications. Basically to create a mobile application the steps are: (1) Identify the essence of the application, (2) strip everything of the application that is not essential to provide this and (3) you have a potentially compelling mobile application. Have heard of this before, nevertheless it seems that still features sell but it could by a change with the next generation.

He provided some background on the basics of persuasion. For achieving a certain target behavior you need 3 things – and all at the same time: 1. sufficient motivation (they need to want to do it), 2. Ability to do what they want (you either have to train them or to make it very easy – making easer is better) and 3. a trigger. After the session someone pointed out that this is similar to what you have in crime (means, motive, opportunity 😉

For creating persuasive technologies there are 3 central pairs describing motivation:

  • Instant pleasure and gratification vs. instant pain
  • Anticipation of good or hope vs. anticipation of the bad or fear (it is noted that hope is the most important motivator
  • Social acceptance vs. social rejection

When designing systems it is essential to go for simplicity. He named the following five factors that influence simplicity: (1) money, (2) physical effort, (3) brain cycles, (4) social deviation, and (5) non-routine. Antonio pointed out that this links to work of Gerd Gigerenzer at MPI work on intuitive intelligence.

[1] Gigerenzer, G. Gut feelings: The intelligence of the unconscious. New York: Viking Press.

Hans Visited our Group, Issues on sustainable energy / travel

Hans Gellersen, who was my supervisor while I was in Lancaster, visited our lab in Essen. We discussed options for future collaborations, ranging from student exchange to joined proposals. Besides other topics we discussed sustainable energy as this is more and more becoming a theme of great importance and Pervasive Computing offers many building blocks towards potential solutions. Hans pointed me to an interesting project going on at IBM Hursley “The House That Twitters Its Energy Use“.

At the Ubicomp PC meeting we recently discussed the value of face-2-face meetings in the context of scientific work and it seems there are two future directions to reduce resource consumption: (1) moving from physical travel to purely virtual meetings or (2) making travel feasible based on renewable energies. Personally I think we will see a mix – but I am sure real physical meetings are essential for certain tasks in medium term. I am convinced that in the future we will still travel and this will become viable as travel based on renewable energies will become feasible. Inspiring example project are SolarImpulse (its goal is to create a solar powered airplane) and Helios (solar-powered atmospheric satellites). There are alternative future scenarios and an interesting discussion by John Urry (e.g. a recent article [1], a book – now on my personal reading list [2]). These analyses (from a sociology perspective) are informative to read and can help to create interesting technology interventions. However I reject the dark scenarios, as I am too much of an optimist trusting in peoples good will, common sense, technology research and engineering – especially if the funding is available ;-).

[1] John Urry. Climate change, travel and complex futures. The British Journal of Sociology, Volume 59, Issue 2, Page 261-279, Jun 2008

[2] John Urry. Mobilities. October 2007.

Ageing, Technology, Products, Services

Today and yesterday I am visiting a conference that is concerned with ageing – looking at the topic from different perspective (computer science, psychology, medicine, economics) run at the MPI in Berlin. The working group is associate with the the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and I was invited by Prof. Ulman Lindenberger who is director at the Max Planck Insititut and works in Lifespan Psychology. The working group is called ageing in Germany (in German).

Antonio Krüger and I represented the technology perspective with example from the domain of ubiquitous computing. My talk “ubiquitous computing in adulthood and old age” is a literature review in pictures of selected ubicomp systems targeted as an introduction to non-CS people to the domain. The discussions were really inspiring. In one talk Prof. Jim-Chern Chiou from National Chiao Tung Univeristy in Taiwan (the brain research lab) presented interesting dry electrodes that can be used for EEG – but also for other applications where one need electrodes.

Antonio reported an interesting experiment on the navigation/walking performance of people. The basic message is: if you are old and you can hold on to something while walking you gain cognitive resource – if you are young this effect is not given – has quite interesting impliciations [1]. Antonio worked on more in this domain, see [2].
Over lunch we discussed some ideas related to persuasive technologies and Ulman Lindenberg hinted me some relevant authors (Bargh, Gollwitzer) and I found an interesting manual on subliminal prime on the web.
[1] Martin Lövdén, Michael Schellenbach, Barabra Grossmann-Hutter, Antonio Krüger, Ulman Lindenberger: Environmental topography and postural control demands shape aging-associated decrements in spatial navigation performance. Psychology and Aging, 20, 683-694, 2005 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16420142
[2] Aslan, I., Schwalm, M., Baus, J., Krüger, A., and Schwartz, T. 2006. Acquisition of spatial knowledge in location aware mobile pedestrian navigation systems. In Proceedings of the 8th Conference on Human-Computer interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (Helsinki, Finland, September 12 – 15, 2006). MobileHCI ’06, vol. 159. ACM, New York, NY, 105-108. DOI= http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1152215.1152237

Keynote at Pervasive 2008: Mark Billinghurst

Mark Billinghurst presented an interesting history of augmented reality and he showed clearly that camera phones are the platform to look out for. He reminded us that currently the 3D performance of mobile phones is similar to the most powerful 3D graphics cards show 15 years ago at SIGGRAPH. Looking back at Steven Feiner’s backpack [1] – the first augmented reality system I saw – can tell us that we should not be afraid to create prototypes that may be a bit clumsy if they allow us to create a certain user experience and for exploring technology challenges.

In an example video Mark showed how they have integrated sensor information (using particle computers) into an augmented reality application. Especially for sensor-network applications this seems to create interesting user interface options.

One reference on to robust outdoor tracking done at Cambridge University [2] outlines interestingly how combining different methods (in this case GPS, inertial, computer vision and models) can move location techniques forward. This example shows that high precision tracking on mobile devices may not be far in the future. For our application led research this is motivating and should push us to be more daring with what we assume from future location systems.

Mark argue to look more for the value of experience – the idea is basically that selling a user experience is of higher value than selling a service or a technology. This view is at the moment quite common – we have seen this argument a lot at CHI2008, too. What I liked with Mark’s argument very much is that he sees it in a layered approach! Experience is at the top of a set of layers – but you cannot sell experience without having technology or services and it seems a lot of people forget this. In short – no experience design if you do not have a technology working. This is important to understand. He included an example of interactive advertisement (http://www.reactrix.com/) which is interesting as it relates to some of the work we do on interactive advertisement (there will more as soon as we have published our Mensch und Computer 2008 paper).

His further example on experience was why you value a coffee at Starbucks at 3€ (because of the overall experience) reminded me of a book I recently read – quite a good airline/park read (probably only if you are not an economist) – makes the world a bit understandable [3].
Build enabling technologies and toolkits as means to improve one’s citation count was one of Mark’s recommendations. Looking back at our own work as well as the work of the Pervasive/Ubicomp community there is a lot of room for improvement – but it is really hard to do it …

[1] S. Feiner, B. MacIntyre, T. Höllerer, and T. Webster, A touring machine: Prototyping 3D mobile augmented reality systems for exploring the urban environment. Proc. ISWC ’97 (First IEEE Int. Symp. on Wearable Computers), October 13-14, 1997, Cambridge, MA. Also in Personal Technologies, 1(4), 1997, pp. 208-217, http://www1.cs.columbia.edu/graphics/publications/iswc97.pdf, http://www1.cs.columbia.edu/graphics/projects/mars/touring.html

[2] Reitmayr, G., and Drummond, T. 2006. Going out: Robust model-based tracking for outdoor augmented reality. In Proceedings of IEEE ISMAR’06, 109–118.http://mi.eng.cam.ac.uk/~gr281/docs/ReitmayrIsmar06GoingOut.pdf, http://mi.eng.cam.ac.uk/~gr281/outdoortracking.html

[3] Book: Tim Harford. The Undercover Economist. 2007. (German Version: Ökonomics: Warum die Reichen reich sind und die Armen arm und Sie nie einen günstigen Gebrauchtwagen bekommen. 2006.)