Ramblings & ephemera

Spimes, objects trackable in space and time

From Bruce Sterling’s “Viridian Note 00459: Emerging Technology 2006” (The Viridian Design Movement: March 2006):

When it comes to remote technical eventualities, you don’t want to freeze the language too early. Instead, you need some empirical evidence on the ground, some working prototypes, something commercial, governmental, academic or military…. Otherwise you are trying to freeze an emergent technology into the shape of today’s verbal descriptions. This prejudices people. It is bad attention economics. It limits their ability to find and understand the intrinsic advantages of the technology. …

If you look at today’s potent, influential computer technologies, say, Google, you’ve got something that looks Artificially Intelligent by the visionary standards of the 1960s. Google seems to “know” most everything about you and me, big brother: Google is like Colossus the Forbin Project. But Google is not designed or presented as a thinking machine. Google is not like Ask Jeeves or Microsoft Bob, which horribly pretend to think, and wouldn’t fool a five-year-old child. Google is a search engine. It’s a linking, ranking and sorting machine. …

Even if there’s like, Boolean logic going on here, this machine has got nothing to do with any actual thinking. This machine is clearly a big card shuffler. It’s a linker, a stacker and a sorter. …

In the past, they just didn’t get certain things. For instance:

1. the digital devices people carry around with them, such as laptops, media players, camera phones, PDAs.
2. wireless and wired local and global networks that serve people in various locations as they and their objects and possessions move about the world.
3. the global Internet and its socially-generated knowledge and Web-based, on-demand social applications.

This is a new technosocial substrate. It’s not about intelligence, yet it can change our relationship with physical objects in the three-dimensional physical world. Not because it’s inside some box trying to be smart, but because it’s right out in the world with us, in our hands and pockets and laps, linking and tracking and ranking and sorting.

Doing this work, in, I think, six important ways:

1. with interactive chips, objects can be labelled with unique identity – electronic barcoding or arphids, a tag that you can mark, sort, rank and shuffle.
2. with local and precise positioning systems – geolocative systems, sorting out where you are and where things are.
3. with powerful search engines – auto-googling objects, more sorting and shuffling.
4. with cradle to cradle recycling – sustainability, transparent production, sorting and shuffling the garbage.

Then there are two other new factors in the mix.

5. 3d virtual models of objects – virtual design – cad-cam, having things present as virtual objects in the network before they become physical objects.
6. rapid prototyping of objects – fabjects, blobjects, the ability to digitally manufacture real-world objects directly or almost directly from the digital plans.

If objects had these six qualities, then people would interact with objects in an unprecedented way, a way so strange and different that we’d think about it better if this class of object had its own name. I call an object like this a “spime,” because an object like this is trackable in space and time. …

“Spimes are manufactured objects whose informational support is so overwhelmingly extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system. Spimes begin and end as data. They’re virtual objects first and actual objects second.” …

“The primary advantage of an Internet of Things is that I no longer inventory my possessions inside my own head. They’re inventoried through an automagical inventory voodoo, work done far beneath my notice by a host of machines. So I no longer to bother to remember where I put things. Or where I found them. Or how much they cost. And so forth. I just ask. Then I am told with instant real-time accuracy. …

It’s [spimes] turning into what Julian Bleecker calls a “Theory Object,” which is an idea which is not just a mental idea or a word, but a cloud of associated commentary and data, that can be passed around from mouse to mouse, and linked-to. Every time I go to an event like this, the word “spime” grows as a Theory Object. A Theory Object is a concept that’s accreting attention, and generating visible, searchable, rankable, trackable trails of attention. …

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