Communicate by Remote

Posted by on November 5th, 2008

    - image via

As communication becomes increasingly reliant on social media experiences i.e., email, IM, and text messages – valuable information woven subtly in physical interaction are lost. Communicate by Remote Concepts isn’t the first of its kind. The idea is simple. A user wears a small device with an integrated camera. This real time image is then translated into an abstract representation.Therefore the receiver gets (at least a part) of the visual stimuli the remote person encounters throughout the day. So you can get a glimpse of the kind of visual context the other person is in. This allows for a feel of connectedness and empathy with the remote user.

In this manner two or more people can always share experiences even from a distance. The receiving unit is a series of modular triangles one can set up however they like. It becomes a dynamic wall sculpture personalized by the abstraction of experience.

    - image via

Link and video via

Hostility Detector

Posted by on September 24th, 2008

    - photo via

Here’s FAST (Future Attribute Screening Technologies), a system the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is testing that measures facial expressions, pupil dilation, pulse/breathing rates, and skin temperature to determine if someone has hostile intent.

Testing the system with 140 paid volunteers, DHS says it’s 79% accurate on hostility and 80% on deception. This is just creepy. Isn’t there a law about search and seizure, privacy, anything? Never mind the U.S. Constitution, just protect us from evildoers no matter what, Big Brother. What if someone is just angry at a roommate or girlfriend? It sounds like the DHS should borrow a new name: the Pre-Crime Division, lifted from fiction to fact, right out of Minority Report.

Travel happy, never angry.

Link and photo via

Yes, Recruitment Agencies haven’t stopped vetting you via Social Networks

Posted by on September 14th, 2008

From ArsTechnica:

CareerBuilder found that 22 percent of the 3,100 employers it surveyed now use services like MySpace and Facebook to research candidates, up from just 11 percent in 2006. An additional nine percent of responders said they don’t conduct such research but intend to start doing so. Of those managers who did screen potential employees, just over one-third of them—34 percent—said they had found information that led them to dismiss candidates from consideration. Listed reasons include:

  • 41 percent of candidates disclosed incidents of drinking/drug use
  • 40 percent posted provocative photos or information
  • 29 percent had poor communication skills
  • 28 percent badmouthed a previous company/employer
  • 27 percent lied about qualifications
  • 22 percent made offensive statements about gender, race, religion, race, etc.
  • 22 percent used an unprofessional screen name
  • 21 percent were linked to criminal behavior
  • 19 percent shared confidential information from previous employers

Not that you even need SNSs to demonstrate your n00bitude. Back in the day, you know, when email was cutting edge, a co-worker sent an email to her friends back home about how much she’d lied to get the job, how much she was being over-paid, and how little work she was doing; only she sent it not just to her friends, but to the entire company.

So never use company email for personal purposes, and, as the article ends with:

If your MySpace, Facebook, blog, or LiveJournal contains information you don’t think an employer should see, it should be kept in “Friends Only” mode.

See Also:

The rise of the lifeloggers and self-trackers

Posted by on September 10th, 2008

The Washington Post has an interesting overview of the rising lifelogger scene. There is what might perhaps be a little generational-bias in there, but they have still come back with some interesting anecdotes:

When San Francisco couple Brynn Evans and Chris Messina heard of a new Web site called BedPost, they registered an account before the site was even out of beta. BedPost was created to map users’ sex lives online — everything from partner to duration of the encounter to descriptive words, which could later be viewed as a tag cloud….After all, they already use project-management site Basecamp to chart the nonsexual parts of their relationship.

They use location tracker to study where they’ve been.

They track their driving habits on, their listening habits on, and their Web-surfing habits, to the minute, on

“Brynn uses a service to track her menstruation,” says Messina helpfully. (Two of them, in fact: and Some of these trackings are visible to other people, but mostly the couple monitors the information just for themselves.

Before BedPost, they’d been using an Excel spreadsheet to track each interlude since the beginning of their six-month relationship, though they found the interface limiting. They saw BedPost and thought, “Oh, look, this guy’s doing this, too, and he’s actually making plots of it. Plotting was cool,” says Evans.

Messina and Evans prefer the term “data junkies,” spoken with the self-effacing self-awareness that comes from months of meticulous self-study.

Self-trackers like Messina and Evans could spend hours online, charting, analyzing, tracking. Life as a series of pure, distilled data points, up for interpretation.

It’s not about tracking what you do, they say. It’s about learning who you are.

In San Diego, statistics student David Horn already belongs to BrightKite, and, which tracks his Internet usage. He’s also experimented with to map food intake and calorie expenditure…Horn is working with his engineer girlfriend, Lisa Brewster, to develop an all-encompassing life tracker, under the working title of “I Did Stuff.”

“I’d like to track the people I talk to,” says Brewster, “and how inspired I am six hours later. And definitely location history — where I am, what time — ”

“Correlated with weather history,” interjects Horn. “And allergy data, pollen and mold in the air.”

Plus, “Web sites I read and their effect,” says Brewster.

These ideas are the types of heady possibilities that will be discussed by the members of a new group in San Francisco called Quantified Self. Members plan to meet monthly to share with one another the tools and sites they’ve found helpful on their individual paths to self-digitization. Topics include, according to the group invite: behavior monitoring, location tracking, digitizing body info and non-invasive probes.

And on it goes.

What are they odds that we have readers in the Bay Area heading along to Quantified Self? Hit us back with a report if you go!

via @chris23

DIY lifestreaming sunglasses

Posted by on September 10th, 2008

One man’s pervy spycam is another man’s lifestreaming device.

Remember when phone-cams first came out and you could not disable the annoying faux-camera-click? Yeah, that lasted about a year. Being out in public in today’s world means almost certainly being photographed in the background of someone’s quick holiday snap, not too mention the increasing spread of CCTVs.

So, want to get easily add video to your lifestream, as you go about some cool activity. For around $40? Then check out this guide from Instructables:

How To: Spy Sunglasses! – video powered by Metacafe

via GizoWatch.

Clive Thompson talks about Ambient Awareness in the New York Times

Posted by on September 6th, 2008

“It’s like I can distantly read everyone’s mind,” Haley went on to say. “I love that. I feel like I’m getting to something raw about my friends. It’s like I’ve got this heads-up display for them.” It can also lead to more real-life contact, because when one member of Haley’s group decides to go out to a bar or see a band and Twitters about his plans, the others see it, and some decide to drop by — ad hoc, self-organizing socializing. And when they do socialize face to face, it feels oddly as if they’ve never actually been apart. They don’t need to ask, “So, what have you been up to?” because they already know. Instead, they’ll begin discussing something that one of the friends Twittered that afternoon, as if picking up a conversation in the middle.

This is just a small sample of Clive Thompson‘s excellent piece in the NY Times, I’m So Totally, Digitally Close to You.

It’s a great overview of the emergence of ambient awareness (or intimacy); how a whole generation are using to online tools to maintain relationships, discover and re-connect with each other.

The anecdote about Facebook’s introduction of the News Feed is particularly interesting. How people’s first reaction was to rebel against ‘lost privacy’, but soon came to appreciate the benefits – the gestalt, if you will – of being able to scan what their friends have been up to.

Great work Clive!

IBM’s PENSIEVE – Next-Gen searchable outboard memory

Posted by on July 29th, 2008

This is the PENSIEVE user interface (click through for high-resolution):


This is IBM’s promo video for it:

YouTube Preview Image

This is ganked from PhysOrg:

“This is like having a personal assistant for your memory,” said Dr. Yaakov Navon, the lead researcher and image processing expert from IBM’s Haifa Research Lab. “Our daily routines are overflowing with situations where we gain new information through meetings, advertisements, conferences, events, surfing the web, or even window shopping. Instead of going home and using a general web search to find that information, PENSIEVE helps the brain recall those everyday things you might normally forget.”

…By simply typing the person’s name into PENSIEVE, you can recall when and where you met them, and any related information garnered at that time. You could even browse forwards or backwards in time to find out what events transpired before or after the initial meeting.

Another use of this technology is in reconstructing and sharing an experience or memory. If enough media-rich data was collected about a particular event, it can be used to build a more complex visual associative representation of the experience.

“This is where the real power of collaboration kicks in,” said Eran Belinsky, research team leader and a specialist in collaboration. “You can recall the name of the person you met right before you entered a meeting by traversing a timeline of your experiences, or share a business trip with colleagues by creating a mashup that shows a map with an animation of your trail and the pictures you took in every location.”

This is the corporate future and it is only just starting to get messy. Let us just say I would be very careful now about using any company property for personal reasons.

Obviously this is awesome technology for personal use though, but I would want to be controlling the database. In a secure location. (According to CSI) Police already take people’s mobile phones in the event of emergency or tragedy. Would you want to hand over an indexed/tagged, searchable lifestream?

That being said, how rad would it be if it pulled-in CCTV images of you walking around?

Philip K Dick :- becoming more a prophet of the modern condition every second.

Ankle bracelets for everyone!

Posted by on July 22nd, 2008

From NaviGadget:

Spanish brand Keruve has come out with a GPS device designed to keep an eye out for Alzheimer’s patients.

The system consists of a special bracelet and a PSP like handheld device that can show the location of the person wearing the bracelet. Speaking of the bracelet; it is water resistant and it can only be taken off using a special tool.

According to Engadget “it can also apparently fall back on cell tower triangulation (otherwise known as A-GPS) provide a location when regular GPS is unavailable”.

So what we have here is a device perfect not just for finding your favourite senile uncle, but also for any would-be stalker, controlling spouse, un-trusting parent, or anyone else who just can’t bare to not know where someone is.

That’s the Con side. The Pro being, you could stalk yourself, ie lifelogging. And I am sure this could be incorporated into some neat RL/ARG games.

via medGadget

Twhirl embraces

Posted by on July 21st, 2008

twhirl logo In a move that I suspect will benefit both parties immensely, the latest version of Twhirl now supports the new microblogging service.

This just cements Twhirl as the desktop client of choice, since it already supported not only Twitter, but Friendfeed and Seesmic accounts (not to mention allowing broadcasting to Jaiku and Pownce).

So what is As they explain on the Twhirl blog: is a very young service, just a few weeks old. So please keep in mind that it does not support all functionality you are used to from twitter. For example, it does not allow to send private, direct messages, so everything you post is visible to everyone.

Not to mention no text-messaging support either! So why bother integrating it? Because it is built from the ground up to be far more stable and scalable!

As CNET exclusively reported:

…the Twhirl client won’t have to ping the servers to get updates; instead, updates will be sent directly to the Twhirl client. This makes nanoblog conversations more live–you can have a back-and-forth without hovering over the “update” button. It also means that your Twhirl client doesn’t have to be hitting the servers every few minutes for updates, which reduces the load profile on the service, theoretically at least.

So how is this win-win for both Twhirl and Twhirl gets a more robust alternative (ie no FailWhales) to Twitter, something that will keep people using it’s software. gets to tap into an existing user-base, something that will help give it momentum, and encourage developers to extended its feature-set to be a true competitor to Twitter. How they solve the Web->SMS problem though, I am very keen to see.

Right, the best for last. Rumor has it that integrated time-lines are in Twhirl’s immediate future; ie one time-line, multiple services. If they would just switch Pownce and Jaiku from broadcast/cross-posting to full integration we would be just about there.


(Apparently, I really like Twhirl…)

Building the Black Iron Future

Posted by on July 9th, 2008

The first time I ever heard of Shenzhen and the “Special Economic Zone” was when I was working for an international information clearinghouse that should remain nameless. It came up when I was facing the possibility of transferring to our Pan-Asia branch and living there part time. However, over the years, other than being the place where, chances are good, any random bit of tech you have on your desk was manufactured (your iPhone’s been there, as have many other Apple and IBM products, Wal-Mart items and the like) Shenzhen only popped back up on my radar a few months ago as one of the birthplaces of the new surveillance culture.

Chinese officials call it call it “The Golden Shield” and while it’s ostensibly a project of the Chinese Government, it’s being developed by familiar companies like IBM, AT&T, Nortel, Cisco, General Electric, Yahoo, Honeywell, and according to some reports, Google. What the Golden shield comprises is the largest integrated surveillance network in existence. It combines the existing “Great Firewall” which filters almost all net content into China with the “Safe Cities” initiative which includes cameras in all internet cafes, many entertainment venues, and in many cities (2 million cameras in Shenzhen alone by 2010) and a massive photo and biometric information database of all of China’s 1.3 billion citizens.

It’s a massive and lucrative project which is why Western companies are flocking to build a better democracy-free future for China, while here in the US they continue to sell a “freedom friendly” image. Meanwhile the “Golden Shield” has already been tested on examples like the Lhasa riots which recently left anywhere from 16 to 100 people dead as monks clashed with police. The Shield allowed CCTV footage to yield become identities and then locations of many monks and passersby involved in the rioting allowing Chinese police to quickly round up hundreds of people allegedly involved. The same security system is being used, of course, to protect the upcoming 2008 Olympics as well.

As Naomi Klein writes in the Rolling Stone article that many of my statistics are pulled from, these are the kind of companies doing business with China on the sly in order to testbed a new generation of biometrics technologies:

You have probably never heard of L-1, but there is every chance that it has heard of you. Few companies have collected as much sensitive information about U.S. citizens and visitors to America as L-1: It boasts a database of 60 million records, and it “captures” more than a million new fingerprints every year. Here is a small sample of what the company does: produces passports and passport cards for American citizens; takes finger scans of visitors to the U.S. under the Department of Homeland Security’s massive U.S.-Visit program; equips U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with “mobile iris and multimodal devices” so they can collect biometric data in the field; maintains the State Department’s “largest facial-recognition database system”; and produces driver’s licenses in Illinois, Montana and North Carolina. In addition, L-1 has an even more secretive intelligence unit called SpecTal. Asked by a Wall Street analyst to discuss, in “extremely general” terms, what the division was doing with contracts worth roughly $100 million, the company’s CEO would only say, “Stay tuned.”

The good news, though is that the American Government, as they learn about these technologies is only too eager to strip mine them for ideas:

The revelation that China was constructing a gigantic digital database capable of watching its citizens on the streets and online, listening to their phone calls and tracking their consumer purchases sparked neither shock nor outrage. Instead, Walton says, the paper was “mined for ideas” by the U.S. government, as well as by private companies hoping to grab a piece of the suddenly booming market in spy tools. For Walton, the most chilling moment came when the Defense Department tried to launch a system called Total Information Awareness to build what it called a “virtual, centralized grand database” that would create constantly updated electronic dossiers on every citizen, drawing on banking, credit-card, library and phone records, as well as footage from surveillance cameras. “It was clearly similar to what we were condemning China for,” Walton says. Among those aggressively vying to be part of this new security boom was Joseph Atick, now an executive at L-1. The name he chose for his plan to integrate facial-recognition software into a vast security network was uncomfortably close to the surveillance system being constructed in China: “Operation Noble Shield.”

Empowered by the Patriot Act, many of the big dreams hatched by men like Atick have already been put into practice at home. New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are all experimenting with linking surveillance cameras into a single citywide network. Police use of surveillance cameras at peaceful demonstrations is now routine, and the images collected can be mined for “face prints,” then cross-checked with ever-expanding photo databases. Although Total Information Awareness was scrapped after the plans became public, large pieces of the project continue, with private data-mining companies collecting unprecedented amounts of information about everything from Web browsing to car rentals, and selling it to the government.

Check out the rest of that excellent article for far more detail on the topic of surveillance culture in China. My goal isn’t to poke at China in particular. For example the draconian national firewall around our old friend Dubai (as well as Saudi Arabia, and Qatar) is built and administered by U.S. based company Secure Computing a.k.a. Smart Filter. Now leaving aside the possibly vastly hypocritical clash behind some of their senior staff’s personal lives (Google boingboing, adult baby, and smartfilter, if you care to) and the technologies they develop to limit internet access for others, once again we have a Western company (this one more public about it since internet censorship is their raison d’etre) implementing and developing censorship technologies overseas.

What prompts this little link-filled rant, then? Well, today the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 passed. This act, for those of you playing along at home or abroad, first of all offers up immunity to Verizon, AT&T, and several other telecom companies for their part in assisting the National Security Agency with warrentless wiretaps before and after the 9/11 attacks. The act then proceeds to arguably weaken oversight of domestic wiretaps and information collection. The Bill passed with overwhelming support, granting retroactive protections for invasions of privacy by a collection of telecom companies.

These are some of the same telecom companies and their interests that, as we’ve seen elsewhere, have their hands on the rudder of a different Web 2.0. One that resembles the satirical USIdent integrated internet/entertainment/surveillance solution from Southland Tales more than it does the Web 2.0 of a thousand blog entries. While it’s easy to see mainly the utopian or fantastic applications of a lot of the technologies we discuss and trumpet on here, so many of them have an equal footing in a parallel version of the future being grown as we speak by some of the same companies produce the cool new future gadgets.

This is one of the reasons I take the “find outbreaks of the future” mandate so seriously. First of all, outbreaks of the future are not always pretty; but secondly, by keeping our eyes open and aggregating this kind of information, we’re at least increasing the odds of being able to pick our own futures. Because honestly? I don’t want the futures that the people are offering “liberation” with jokes about surveillance are selling.

At least, that’s what I tell myself at night.

Group Sex, Apple Pie, Google Trends and Defining Obscenity

Posted by on June 24th, 2008

According to a 1973 Supreme Court decision, one of the yardsticks used to determine if material can be considered obscene is whether said material violates “contemporary community standards”. Which is why, in his defense of an adult website operator, lawyer Lawrence Walters is using google search information from the area the trial is taking place in.

In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.

The search data he is using is available through a service called Google Trends ( It allows users to compare search trends in a given area, showing, for instance, that residents of Pensacola are more likely to search for sexual terms than some more wholesome ones.

Mr. Walters chose Pensacola because it is the only city in the court’s jurisdiction that is large enough to be singled out in the service’s data.

“We tried to come up with comparison search terms that would embody typical American values,” Mr. Walters said. “What is more American than apple pie?” But according to the search service, he said, “people are at least as interested in group sex and orgies as they are in apple pie.”

Bruce Schneier on The Myth of the ‘Transparent Society’

Posted by on June 8th, 2008

Bruce Schneier let recently in an opinion piece in WIRED:

Explained in books like David Brin‘s The Transparent Society, the argument goes something like this: In a world of ubiquitous surveillance, you’ll know all about me, but I will also know all about you. The government will be watching us, but we’ll also be watching the government. This is different than before, but it’s not automatically worse. And because I know your secrets, you can’t use my secrets as a weapon against me.

All aspects of government work best when the relative power between the governors and the governed remains as small as possible — when liberty is high and control is low. Forced openness in government reduces the relative power differential between the two, and is generally good. Forced openness in laypeople increases the relative power, and is generally bad.

But we all know this is rarely the case. He does provide an example of when it is though:

Seventeen-year-old Erik Crespo was arrested in 2005 in connection with a shooting in a New York City elevator. There’s no question that he committed the shooting; it was captured on surveillance-camera videotape. But he claimed that while being interrogated, Detective Christopher Perino tried to talk him out of getting a lawyer, and told him that he had to sign a confession before he could see a judge.

Perino denied, under oath, that he ever questioned Crespo. But Crespo had received an MP3 player as a Christmas gift, and surreptitiously recorded the questioning. The defense brought a transcript and CD into evidence. Shortly thereafter, the prosecution offered Crespo a better deal than originally proffered (seven years rather than 15). Crespo took the deal, and Perino was separately indicted on charges of perjury.

As he concludes:

Police routinely record traffic stops from their squad cars for their own protection; that video record shouldn’t stop once the suspect is no longer a threat.

Cameras make sense when trained on police, and in offices where lawmakers meet with lobbyists, and wherever government officials wield power over the people. Open-government laws, giving the public access to government records and meetings of governmental bodies, also make sense. These all foster liberty.

Who watches the watchers? Almost no one. Let us all see what little we can each do to change this.

I am talking about members of Anonymous uploading photos of the Scientology agents that routinely follow them after events.

Everyone having access to CCTV footage in cities like London; could not this be far more effective if crowd-sourced, and then citizens nearby alerted to help their fellows? An online Neighbourhood Watch?

Would it not be great if by logging in your position on BrightKite, you were also registered as being the nearest First-Aid provider?

The Naked Generation – Authenticity and Transparency

Posted by on May 9th, 2008

There’s a good post over here regarding Authenticity, Transparency and the so called “Naked Generation”. (Or alternately, “Generation Facebook” or “The Participatory Panopticon”.)   It touches on a few interesting bits, such as Authenticity vs. Transparency and alternate ways for networking sites to link users outside of pre-existing social networks.

Anonymity is one of the pillars of online communication. The ability to become someone else, mask some part of yourself, or lurk in the shadows increases paths to participation. The dark side of anonymity is irresponsibility, and we have already witnessed other social networks tackle Jon Swift problems by censoring their own communities to strengthen legitimacy. Even as we collectively accumulate personal profile pages that express our real identities, however, there are initiatives emphasizing anonymous disclosures. The Experience Project is designed around anonymity, asking members of the two-year-old community to connect through their experiences rather than extending existing social circles. In the end, though, this approach is about lowering barriers for people who could not otherwise participate in discussions. The impact of what is shared is dependent on the relationships we form with the identities we assign to ourselves and others.

The consequence of self-disclosure centers around the resilience of information.

Twitter, a microblogging service that exploded to a million members in about a year, uses the SMS constraint of 140 characters to lower the barriers to entry for potential authors. It is much easier to conceive of sharing a simple sentence or two than several paragraphs. The custom nature of the personal information stream (everyone can decide whose content they want to follow) implies a sense of control. However, the reality of Twitter is that the content is public. Even with private streams—where a member can require a mutual handshake before someone else can see their posts—the act of sharing content with anyone exponentially increases the likelihood that information will reach a public audience. The age of the intelligent web is here, and innocuous posts made in a semi-protected context one day can give rise to unexpected revelations in the future.

This has implications on future career paths, as comments in a Web Worker Daily article last September attest. Tim O’Reilly expects a Web 2.0 backlash and a return to private data. Perhaps. At the start of the year, Duncan Riley published a poll asking, should some things remain private in the age of lifestreaming. The nature of that flawed question led to a predictable response—less than 10% of respondents said “No”—and false evidence that we disclose too much about ourselves. A more relevant line of questioning would be what kinds of information should be private, for ourselves and from others.

That many of us in the wired world are living on the edges of a transparent society is not new, but there are still a lot of questions to be deal with regarding how much of our lives we share and where we draw that line.  Given how public I am about facets of my personal life on the web, and how I don’t try to hide my identity, this is a situation that’s usually on my mind.

The UK’s massive CCTV network FAILS

Posted by on May 7th, 2008

CCTV boom has failed to slash crime, say police. Solution? Throw more money at it:

CCTV network

Massive investment in CCTV cameras to prevent crime in the UK has failed to have a significant impact, despite billions of pounds spent on the new technology, a senior police officer piloting a new database has warned. Only 3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images, despite the fact that Britain has more security cameras than any other country in Europe.

The warning comes from the head of the Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office (Viido) at New Scotland Yard as the force launches a series of initiatives to try to boost conviction rates using CCTV evidence. They include:

  • A new database of images which is expected to use technology developed by the sports advertising industry to track and identify offenders.
  • Putting images of suspects in muggings, rape and robbery cases out on the internet from next month.
  • Building a national CCTV database, incorporating pictures of convicted offenders as well as unidentified suspects. The plans for this have been drawn up, but are on hold while the technology required to carry out automated searches is refined.

Meet your Surveillance State future, now with extra Post-Privacy. They’re going to put suspected criminals images on the ‘net? Yeah, like that’s not going to lead to massive false-positives, careers, reputations and lives destroyed?!

Talk about pig-headed, these police have decided CCTV is the way of the future, but camera’s will never replace manpower on the ground! Most especially because they can’t jump off the wall and intervene to prevent a crime. OK, YET! :D

No wonder Cory’s bringing the generous anger in Little Brother. Fight back! Even if it’s just by getting your kid sibling to read this book.

via BoingBoing

See Also:

NTT Firmo transmits data through skin

Posted by on April 24th, 2008

NTT has begun selling a device that transmits data across the surface of the human body and lets users communicate with electronic devices simply by touching them, the company announced on April 23.

The new product, called “Firmo,” consists of a card-sized transmitter carried in the user’s pocket. The card converts stored data into a weak AC electric field that extends across the body, and when the user touches a device or object embedded with a compatible receiver, the electric field is converted back into a data signal that can be read by the device. For now, Firmo transfers data at 230kbps, but NTT is reportedly working on a low-cost 10Mbps version that can handle audio/video data transfers.

Firmo is based on NTT’s RedTacton human area network (HAN) technology, which is designed to allow convenient human-machine data exchange through natural physical contact — even through clothing, gloves and shoes.

NTT initially hopes this human area network technology will appeal to organizations looking to boost convenience and security in the office. Obvious applications include secure entrances and keyless cabinets that recognize employees when they touch the door handle (thus bypassing the need for card-swipers and keys), or secure printers that operate only when you touch them.

Link via

Robotic Body Scoopers: Bring Out Your Dead

Posted by on April 22nd, 2008

In Japan, the task of extracting their dead has become a bit more advanced.Meet Robokiyu the Rescue Robot, whose job it is to come in and extract the dead from any situation.

Owned by the Tokyo Fire Department and controlled by remote control Robokiyu uses two movable arms to drag a person’s body up the slide located in the front of the machine.

Don’t worry if you happen to be presumed dead and picked up by Robokiyu, he has fresh oxygen pumping through him at all times for your convenience.

Still I can only imagine how scary that would be. Laying out after a long night of drinking to have be jolted awake in the arms of some giant robot trying to eat you… wow


Thank you for the tip, Jason!

Charlie Stross’s notion of Total History

Posted by on April 20th, 2008

Time to once more break up the shiny with a little social-SF futurism.

Let’s start with something simple, like changes in how we use email.

Remember the early days of web-based email; 5 MB accounts on Hotmail, constantly deleting to make room for the new.

Now think about recent services like Gmail; no need to ever delete, your capacity increments on a daily basis, a continual archive of every email ever sent and received, all filed nicely with labels and such.

Have you thought through the implications of these sorts of changes? Well, let me save you some time, and point you to a recent essay on just that subject, from uber-SF author Charles Stross.

Just start with this morsel from Shaping the future (emphasis mine):

This century we’re going to learn a lesson about what it means to be unable to forget anything. And it’s going to go on, and on. Barring a catastrophic universal collapse of human civilization — which I should note was widely predicted from August 1945 onward, and hasn’t happened yet — we’re going to be laying down memories in diamond that will outlast our bones, and our civilizations, and our languages. Sixty kilograms will handily sum up the total history of the human species, up to the year 2000. From then on … we still don’t need much storage, in bulk or mass terms. There’s no reason not to massively replicate it and ensure that it survives into the deep future.

And with ubiquitous lifelogs, and the internet, and attempts at providing a unified interface to all interesting information — wikipedia, let’s say — we’re going to give future historians a chance to build an annotated, comprehensive history of the entire human race. Charting the relationships and interactions between everyone who’s ever lived since the dawn of history — or at least, the dawn of the new kind of history that is about to be born this century.

Total history — a term I’d like to coin, by analogy to total war — is something we haven’t experienced yet. I’m really not sure what its implications are, but then, I’m one of the odd primitive shadows just visible at one edge of the archive: I expect to live long enough to be lifelogging, but my first forty or fifty years are going to be very poorly documented, mere gigabytes of text and audio to document decades of experience. What I can be fairly sure of is that our descendants’ relationship with their history is going to be very different from our own, because they will be able to see it with a level of depth and clarity that nobody has ever experienced before.

Meet your descendants. They don’t know what it’s like to be involuntarily lost, don’t understand what we mean by the word “privacy”, and will have access (sooner or later) to a historical representation of our species that defies understanding. They live in a world where history has a sharply-drawn start line, and everything they individually do or say will sooner or later be visible to everyone who comes after them, forever. They are incredibly alien to us.

When you have digested that, go back for the full meal.

Total History. Coming soon. Prepare yourselves.

New Alien RFID Reader adds geopositioning and helps Augmented Reality?

Posted by on April 13th, 2008

RFID-manufacturer Alien Technology announced this week it has created new software for its tag readers. The software provides information on the velocity and position of tags, and can thereby distinguish between adjacent tagged objects such as luggage.

Immediate benefits – no lost luggage. (Yeah, sure)

Slightly longer-term? Stick an RFID in or on your person and you’ve got another part of the recipe for ultra-precise augmented reality.

It’s inevitable that RFIDs will soon work there way into our homes. Just as you will probably soon be able to google your shoes, so will your own mobile device or PC know exactly where you are.

Because just as WiFi Signal strength is now being used for medium-level geopositioning to supplement GPS, RFID Readers like this will give us the last level of granularity needed to perform the real-time tracking required to realize Augmented Reality, as demo’ed in videos like this:

YouTube Preview Image

Removing the need for those QRCodes you can glimpse scattered around the room; an ugly kludge to give the camera some idea where to place the virtual characters, but no uglier than the rough, prototyped equipment.

Yes, this raises the whole Privacy issue again. At the very least the early versions of this will probably be homebrewed; bits of OpenSource code tied together by Perl or Python, and stuck behind a powerful firewall.

But once the commercial applications start coming out (think LARPs meet MMORPGs) well, to say some strict measures will need to be enforced is an understatement. Because every kid on the planet will want to play, but could you imagine convincing a parent that someone other than them should be able to record their child’s precise location.

Even more importantly though, where’s the other part of the tech needed for Augmented Reality; functional (and non-ugly!) HUDs?!

University of Washington researchers combine RFID and Social Networking

Posted by on April 8th, 2008

Ok, we’ve been reading about RFIDs here for a while now. So it’s probably no surprise to learn that University of Washington researchers are busy ‘prototyping the future’; namely mucking around with RFID tags and getting paid for it.

Yes, clearly I wouldn’t mind that job. However, they’re not just running around tagging things. This is where it gets interesting:

They created an application called RFIDDER that lets people use data from radio tags to inform their social network where they are and what they’re doing. The feature can be used on the Web and on a mobile phone, with a connection to the social-networking service Twitter.

Borriello can let Welbourne, the project’s lead graduate student, see where he is all day, or he can modify settings so Welbourne can only see where he is within 15 minutes of their scheduled meeting. The system is transparent, so each can tell if the other has checked his whereabouts.

The lab’s Personal Digital Diary application detects and logs a person’s activities each day and uploads them to a Google calendar. Users can search the calendar to jog their memories about when they last saw someone or how, where and with whom they spent their time.

That’s freaking excellent. A service that is constantly and automatically answering the question “Where Am I?” (as opposed to Twitter’s “What Am I Doing?”).

For starters, that makes an awesome addition to one’s personal lifelog.

And that information is conditionally shared with the members of your network? Nice.

Because you’re going to need a lot of control to prevent information overload. Just as most of us disable replies in Twitter for those we don’t follow, so would we really not care where person-X is all the time.

I’m thinking something like notify me when:

  1. my Contact changes Location (ie new City)
  2. when we have an appointment (integrates with GoogleCalendar, etc)
  3. I’m about to unexpectedly run into them.

And throw in a broadcast mode for good measure; just so you can say look at where i am!

But why else would you want to be constantly updated whenever your Buddy goes to the toilet? Unless you’re uber-stalking person-X. Or they’re your child or something.

Of course, all of this is nothing compared to massive ambitions of that South Korean experiment, New Songdo City . But it’s still pretty neat.

via Futurismic

I Am Legion

Posted by on April 2nd, 2008

Slashdot has pointed up the latest caper of the German Chaos Computer Club – they reproduced a plastic foil with the fingerprint of German Secretary of the Interior Wolfgang Schäuble in 4,000 copies of their magazine Die Datenschleuder — ready to glue to someone else’s finger to provide a false biometric reading. The CCC has a page on their site detailing how to make such a fake fingerprint.

This is an amazing simple way to mainpulate biometrics – the step by step guide was produced in 2004.

Imagine a movement of Anonymous individuals loose in a city all with the fingerprints of a high ranking official…

Welcome to the Future.