Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Terra-Digi-Tech-Human: Mapping Human-Internet Geographies

Technological devices are increasingly mobile and increasingly embedded into our daily human experiences. The lines between humans and machines are blurred. When we move beyond the digital dualist trap of human vs. machine, and move toward an integrated model of the organic and mechanic, we have a more useful frame to understand how technology informs/interacts/articulates human experiences. At the heart of this experience is the Internet and human interconnectedness.

(Video Source: IFTF Video)

It is from this perspective that Dr. Jake Dunagan, Institute for the Future, presented “The Internet |Human Map: Forecasting a more Human Web,” at a recent TechXploration Event sponsored by PayPal.
“For most of its history, using the Internet has involved conforming and contorting to the logic, architecture, and input/output mechanisms of machine networks. Humans have kneeled before immobile computer screens, tethered our limbs to mice and keyboards, and craned our necks to use the smartphone screens in our hands. The human experience of the Internet, however, will change dramatically over the next decade. It will place humans at the center—redrawing our networked worlds to fit our native dimensions. And while it will continue to extend human capacities, it will do so in way that retains human proportions.”
The presentation was an examination of how humans will interface with machines in the near future; how humans will interact/integrate with networked technologies, and the place of the human at the center of the networked machine. The temporal focus was on the wide view, the broad view, of human-techno-interface.

Dunagan began the presentation with a discussion of the Vitruvian Man (at its core, it is about proportionality) as an instructive metaphor for the interface between humans and the Internet. He suggested we can develop more elegant ways to develop and enhance connectivity. 
"The tech programs us and we it."   
The proportional image of the Vitruvian Man was juxtaposed with the image of the new techno-human, who is "stretched" to fit the technical space. The two images provide the example-anti-example to think about the phenomenological experiences of humans within the technology that we create.

Dunagan argued that we have too often fit the human into the techno-space, rather than fitting the techno-space to the human, or thinking about how to bridge the spatial, visceral gaps. He suggested the goal is to make the two intermesh more consistently and less violently.

Here is the new-classic image of the hunched person laboring over a tech-artifact; the contorted human body straining to interact with technology. He suggested the interface between machines and human is not very "human."

Three broad stages of techno-development were explored:
  1. “Get it to work” – develop and build the devices then connect the devices 
  2. “Connect” – human interaction with devices; 5 billion Internet users by 2020. 
  3. “Let's get it ‘right’ " – make devices more streamline, ergonomic, and design-conscious 
We need to think earnestly about how to make technological interactions more pleasurable experiences. “Getting it right” can come in the forms of a variety of bio-tech and psychophysiological inputs such as bio-neuro-feedback, gesture control, visual control, vocal control, and environmental sensors. The argument is that when we forecast new technologies, design and physiological constructs should be considered in order to build better experiences.

Q - How do we get there?
  • architecture 
  • UX/UI interface 
  • contextually aware devices 
  • smart spaces 
  • augmented reality 
  • dynamics virtual realities 
The future-now is using sets of components that can be mixed and remixed into radical innovations:
  • adapted wireless networks 
  • ability to have more flexible interactions 
  • use of spread spectrum to develop better efficiencies 
  • use of mesh networks - communicate in local setting 
With the proliferation of mobile form factors such as handheld and tablets, the gaps are being filled in, as evidenced in new mobile robotics and new screen technologies. New operating systems for cloud-server supercomputing continue to proliferate – this is more than big data – this is harnessing super-processing capacities as a democratic practice.

One of the major limitations in the growth of technology is the human user. Humans have cognitive limitations, such as parallel processing issues. We can use intelligent spaces or contextually aware systems that learn about and search for human patterns to improve human performance capacities. The future-now is touch screens and mobile gestural interactions that mesh real world interaction and augmented reality. Gestural interface that blends the digital and physical world together. This is a core driver of near-future technological growth. The goal then is to look at technology through a combinatorial lens. Think of the DJ who mixes records creating new sounds and new ideas. Remix. 

The Institute has created a Human-Internet Map that traces the new geometry of the Internet shaped in the next decade by four new potentials:
"The capacity for FLOW, as technologies work together to create a seamless environment for human interaction

The ability to SENSE, as human-machine interfaces leverage all our human senses to become more intuitive and even invisible

The facility to CONTROL, as we amplify our human ability to direct, redirect, and restrain a more dynamic and organic Internet

The proclivity to EMERGE, as the Internet unleashes itself from its creators’ intentions and develops in unexpected and transformative ways." 
Download the Map here.

Flow refers to how we will weave, people, tasks, and information data in a seamless elegant fashion. One example can be taken from the future of Skype, where the user will be able to transfer a continuous conversation across multiple devices and in multiple spaces, creating a liquid experience leading to reduced interruptions and improve interactivity.

We need to search for signals in the data – the little seeds of change – that give us guide-posts about how the future might develop. The adventure is to seek out the edges and the fringes for what will become the mainstream in 10 years.
"Technology may understand us better than we do."
Dunagan opined that we can use technology to engage in archeology of the human experience, the use of technology to engage in cultural anthropological analysis. One area of focus is on how technology is impacting the way we work and organize. Smarter systems will provide data to view humans as functional nodes of work and organizations as algorithms; using software to put the right talent in place with the correct task and match talent with work purposes. The example of Soylent was provided to illustrate crowd-sourcing technology. Soylent is a mechanical turk mechanism, an MS word plug-in that allows user to shorten text in real-time. 
"Soylent aids the writing process by integrating paid crowd workers from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform into Microsoft Word, a popular word processing interface. Soy-lent is people: its core algorithms involve calls to Mechani-cal Turk workers (Turkers). Soylent is comprised of three main components: 1) Shortn, a text shortening service that cuts selected text down to 80% of its original length on average without changing the meaning of the text or introducing errors. 2) Crowdproof, an augmentation of Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar checker that finds problems that Word cannot, explains the problem and suggests fixes. 3) The Human Macro, an interface for offloading and automating arbitrary word processing tasks such as formatting citations or finding appropriate figures."
Sense is the interface; for example sensor and gestural interfaces; using multiple senses to interact with technology and the spaces around us. An example can be seen in LeapMotion – a connective gestural interface. This is being actively hacked at the developer level, and will be accessible soon at the consumer level. Another example can be seen in the development of neural interfaces in the neurogaming movement. More info on neurogaming can be found at NeuroGaming, a recent conference in SF that highlighted some of the cool work in this space.

We will see cognitive design interfaces that link multiple minds together, where multiple people can "jack" into the interface and work as a group. What if some aspects of future space travel were conducted in this fashion – using multiple connected minds to build materials in space? If things are out of order, more minds might be able to find the problems or issues within the system.

Emerge refers to unleashed and unexpected technologies. A dark example can be seen in the Knight Capital $440 million glitch. Things such as rouge algorithms, predictive algorithms, learning algorithms, and self-organizing systems will drive near-future tech.

Control is a very deep concept that here refers to the blurring of boundary lines, and where, if at all, those lines will be drawn. Issues such as privacy, security, economic control, and surveillance become more pronounced, as does the discourse around who controls the definitions and the imposition of constraints. 

The World Economic Forum recently stated that “personal data is the new oil”; data is information that many of us freely give away, often culled through big data collection with little control by end users. A more useful saying might be that “data is the new soil”, where we grow/cultivate/fashion/augment our understandings of self and other.
"We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." - Marshall McLuhan.
Dunagan argued that we have shaped the Internet and we are in a relationship with technology. We are struggling to understand the nuances of this relationship that is ever mutating. He noted that 50% of traffic is machine to machine; we are seeing a bifurcation of the Internet. The barrier for entry to the network is low, but our ability to self-fix is high; think fixing a VW bus compared to fixing a Telsa in technological terms. The final note was struck on that of augmentation vs.dependency. When we expand our capacities via technology, we make trade-offs. Here is what cognitive philosoher Andy Clark discussed as the dependency trap. The words of the character Thurfur Hawat, sci-fi series Dune, come to mind, "The first step in evading a trap...is knowing of its existence." 

(Video Source: IFTF Video)

Image Credit: Human Internet Map

Image Credit: Vitruvian Man
I, Producer [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image Credit: NeuroGaming Flyer. http://www.neurogamingconf.com/

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