[HCI] [Ubicomp] The Design Challenge of Pervasive Computing


John Thackara was the plenary speaker at CHI2000, lots of interesting thoughts here.

But do all these chips make for better products? Or a better life? Let me tell you a strange thing. Hardly anyone is asking that question. When it comes to innovation, we are looking down the wrong end of the telescope: away from people, toward technology. Industry suffers from a kind of global autism. Autism, as you may know, is a psychological disorder that is characterized by "detachment from other human beings." This autism probably explains the fiasco over third-generation (3G) Internet. In the United Kingdom alone, the auction of radio spectrum raised $25 billion. That's an awful lot of money to pay for fresh air! And what did these companies think they were buying? They thought they were buying the latest technological Holy Grail—the capacity to send broadband "content" to people on their mobile phones. Did these companies talk to people in the street, to their future customers, about this fantasy? No. They went to Comdex and talked to each other. Talk about the blind leading the blind. This whole sad 3G story is an exact repetition of 1993 when everyone said that the destiny of the Internet was to transmit Hollywood movies into our homes.


We are designing a world in which every object, every building—and nearly every human body—becomes part of a network service. We may not have set out to design such an outcome, but that's what we're going to get. Unless things change, we'll achieve pervasive computing and ubiquitous networking without having forethought the effects this will have or the quality of life we are bequeathing our children.


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