Friday, November 23, 2007

Lois R - Mike Liebhold

Ubiquitous Computing presentation by Mike Liebhold of the Institute of the Future

Mike Liebhold’s presentation gave many real examples of the technology he was illustrating which helped us to see what he termed the ‘blended realities’ between online and offline worlds. He discussed both current applications of computer technology and probable applications in the future.

He gave us a brief history of how he entered the future predicting business, which began in part with an article he published in Stuart Wilde’s Whole Earth Catalog in 1977 on the future of television.

According to Liebhold, the goal of the Institute of the Future is to think systematically in order to “move proactively in advance.” The Institute gives broad 10-year forecasts for the future, and over the past 30 years these forecasts have been about 70% accurate, according to Liebhold. He discussed the impact of ‘wildcards’ which are incidents that have a low probability of occurring in the future, but which have a high impact if they do occur. Hurricane Katrina and 9-11 are examples of wildcards.

Through his work at the Institute, Liebhold collaborates with social scientists and focuses his research by carrying out ethnographies, and he also gains information through workshops and interviews with experts from various fields.

He talked about GPS (Global Positioning System) technology and how location readings are now accurate within about 20 feet. He said that with the technology of ‘sensor fusion’ that GPS will be accurate within a ‘sub-millimeter.’

Through GPS, our cellphones or other handheld devices can keep track of where we are and provide us with information tailored to our location. For instance, as one possible application that Liebhold described, if we are looking for an apartment we could program our handheld device so that as we travel through a neighborhood our screen would give us photos and details about the apartments that are available in that area.

One technology that is now available is known as ‘psycho-geographic walks’ where your handheld device knows where you are walking based on GPS and you can listen to recordings of people who are telling stories about that area as you walk.

He also discussed current applications of technology like ‘telemedicine’ where a doctor can be thousands of miles away but he is directing an operation through the ‘telepresence’ of an interactive video.

He talked about applications related to retail purchasing, for instance our handheld device could read the barcode of a product and tell you whether there are any safety warnings, or what price that product is selling for at other retailers, for instance.

One possible application in the future that Liebhold mentioned could be that of our local grocery store sending a record of our purchases to our health or life insurance company.

He talked about the concept of Avatars dressed in costumes that we create in programs like Second Life and Yahoo and how others could look at us through the viewfinder of their handheld device and see what our Avatar looks like. We could also have computer-mediated conversations where we can display different costumes on ourselves as if we were live Avatars.

He also talked about privacy concerns related to others finding us through GPS locations broadcasted through our handheld devices, and mentioned a system that Yahoo is developing where we can reveal our location only to those whom we want to share it with.

I found Mike Liebhold’s talk to be enlightening throughout the hour that he spoke, and he gave me many insights into what technology is now capable of as well as probable directions for the future.

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