571 words — 3 minutes read

74 - Augmentation

I have a long fascination with augmentation through the use of computers. I fondly remember the evening at reboot 7 where we first watched the mother of all demos and then had a live video conference with Doug Engelbart, where he talked about his work on augmenting humans through computers (and his slight frustration that so few of his ideas had been implemented…) Doug Engelbart Demo 1968

But my fascination goes back even further. I remember installing the remembrance agent in Emacs, playing with the Autonomy agent software that watched what you wrote and suggested texts and articles that were related to what you were writing. Later, Zementa analyzed what you wrote in Wordpress and suggested similar articles, images etc.

But we have come a long way since then, and we have new augmentation tools on the verge of being deployed to the general public.

One device I’m looking forward to is the Memoto life blogging camera, that will take a picture every 30 seconds and build a stream of pictures of your life. I have always wanted something like that, so of course I jumped on the chance when the Kickstarter campaign was running.

The other project, of course, is Google Glass. which has the implicit promise of being the ultimate augmentation tool. Although the currently available use cases are “simple” (in the best sense of the word) there is much more potential. I can imagine that Google Glass not always is On and On Record, but will analyze what you are seeing and will be able to “intelligently” give you information about what you are seeing (name of person, when you met them, what emails you have exchanged with them, what buildings are in front of you, when the next bus runs, etc. etc.)

Memoto is planning to provide a cloud service that stores your pictures and builds the life log. On the Kickstarter forums, a lot of people voiced concerns about privacy, and Memoto has reacted: the plan is that you will be able to host your life log on your own servers. Fantastic, because I absolutely think that this is the correct place for such information.

With Google Glass there surely will never be a “local” storage and computation solution. All your data is belongs to Google. I think that Google indeed has the power and capacity to pull off the Glass project (maybe not this or next year, but surely within the next 5 years). But is that a future that is desirable? My friend Benjamin Stein has written replay, a book about a near future, where people carry an implant that records everything and allows the bearer to play back anything he has experienced. Of course, things go wrong in the book, and if you read German, I highly recommend you read the book.

I’m torn about what to think of Glass. On one hand, it seems to be the augmentation device that we all have been looking forward to, on the other hand it is a privacy nightmare come true. Is this the price we have to pay for a tool that potentially is incredibly useful? Or should we hope that Glass is going to fail like Google Wave? Is there a third way, with a private augmentation system? Is there such a system out there that I don’t know of?

Do you need an augmentation system? Would you use one? What price are you willing to pay?

Jens-Christian Fischer

Maker. Musician