"The most profound technologies are those that disappear.
They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they
are indistinguishable from it."
This was written over a decade ago by Mark Weiser, widely
considered to be the father of ubiquitous computing. He
used the term "embodied virtuality" to refer
to the process of embedding technology everywhere; in every kind
of object, building and space, and even in humans.
The essence of this vision is the creation of environments
saturated with computing and wireless communication,
yet gracefully integrated with humans. Many key building
blocks needed for this vision are already viable commercial technologies,
including such things as wearable and handheld computers, high
bandwidth wireless communication and location sensing mechanisms.
With embodied virtuality many things that have long been considered
inanimate will begin to take on more life-like behaviors and appearances.
Everything from toys, tools, appliances, clothing and cars
to buildings, factories and even whole cities will eventually
be seamlessly interconnected via high-speed networks. They will
be able to communicate, react and respond not only to people
but to each other as well.
As pervasive or ubiquitous computing continues to spread, it
will have an increasingly dramatic effect on how we perceive and
relate to objects and spaces. Embedded sensors and actuators
allow inanimate objects to move, see, hear, talk and sense the
surrounding environment: not in the ways that humans do this but
in a way that can create the illusion of life.
The superficial qualities that separate a person or animal from
a human-made artifact are being challenged. As artifacts react
and respond in ways that imply intelligence and "aliveness",
people will naturally tend to interact with their artifacts and
environment in a more personal and, perhaps, more emotional
In addition, pervasive computing implies pervasive connectedness.
Not only will people and things be interconnected through wireless
technology, human presence will also be distributed throughout
this vast network. People will increasingly communicate and interact
with each other through multiple channels in various states of
virtuality and physicality.
Pervasive connectedness, which encompasses such technologies
as global networks, virtual environments, artificial life
and various biological and environmental sensors, will continue
to blur the boundaries between physical reality and virtual
reality and between biological life and artificial life.
Whether this emerging reality enhances rather than overwhelms
our daily lives will depend on a serious effort to understand,
define and develop aesthetically designed solutions in the deployment,
integration and application of embodied virtuality. Weiser called
for the design of "calm technology" to address
issues of information overload and other overwhelming sensations
that occur with such a profound integration of embedded technologies.
This is one crucial area that needs to be addressed for ubiquitous
computing to succeed. Of equal importance is the aesthetic process
for defining and creating the emerging personalities, relationships
and sensory qualities of objects and spaces as they take on more
responsive, interactive and, ultimately, life-like qualities.
Living objects and sensitive spaces are provocative
concepts, but ones that should be considered by artists, social
scientists and technologists alike. Before ubiquitous computing
irreparably weaves itself into the fabric of our everyday lives,
we need to ask: How do we want pervasive computing to behave?
- Weiser, M. "The
Computer for the Twenty-First Century," Scientific
American, pp. 94-10, September 1991.
- Weiser, M., Brown, J. S. Designing calm technology.
PowerGrid Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1996.
Text originally published in ArtFutura's 2005 catalog.