Designer Habitats

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
21 August, 2018
Editorial: 230
Fecha de publicación original: 29 agosto, 2000

Don’t believe the person who is coming from the fair, but the one who is going back to it

The Net is about to turn into what is, in reality, artificial nature, with all the complexities that one would expect from an environment of that kind. This means a nature composed of electronic habitats which won’t depend on human presence for their functioning. They will exchange energy, sustain a diverse population, do maintenance work –a constant rebalancing–, keep an eye on their own information, detect mistakes and excesses, and propose and implement solutions. Basically, this is the logical result of a maturation process which started when the Net and the multiplicity of information storage and transmission systems developed over the last 40 years, were first conceived (the first Sputnik, one of the most emblematic events marking the start of this process, was launched in 1957).

In addition, a flood of new innovations are being hatched mainly in different centres in Europe, Japan and the United States. At the moment, what we have is an enormous puzzle. Nonetheless, many of the principal researchers in this field maintain that the pieces are falling into place quickly but surely. On the one hand, there are new web languages capable of detecting repeated or relevant information. On the other, there are knowledge distribution systems with their enormous capacity for information organisation. And going yet another step further we have the self-organisation systems which will be able to establish automatic links between different information areas based on user behaviour. And above and beyond all of these there is wireless communication, the invisible information and knowledge vacuum cleaners of Net information poised to distribute relevant data the instant a device is switched on in their vicinity. In short, pervasive computating.

Pervasive computing implies the integration of many things we have already seen, that we know exist, and have, on occasions, even used over the last few decades, such as interpersonal mobile communication, consumer electronics (from hi-fi’s to washing machines or starter motors on cars), the screen-windscreen, intelligent homes and buildings, computer control of road systems, video games, paper with electronic ink, remote self-checking of the functions of electronic devices and a long list of etceteras. This is total and full-time connection, independently of whether we use it or not, or what mechanism we decide to use in each case, from spectacles for video, a ballpoint pen with a screen for short texts, any of the surfaces within a car, a chip built in to a part of our bodies (useful for hospitals and other such services) or even next generation mobile phones (either made of gold like the German ones or bronze like the Spanish). As we saw in the editorial “The Land of the Rising Net”, Japan is taking the lead in this process at the moment. Not quite a year ago, it hardly featured in Internet demographic and content statistics. Now, Japan is showing more than its face: its entire powerful electronics industry is about to make a giant leap forward.

However, this is not enough. The creation of discreet electronic habitats, no matter how “invasive” we imagine and design them, only guarantees that information and knowledge will, literally, be in the air. Quite another thing is capturing the information and knowledge that we need. What is called “content” these days. In other words, what we in consider to be the end product of the PIG formula, the Net’s genetic code: Participation, Interaction and the Growth of information and knowledge as a result of the first two premises. In other words, communication to create knowledge via modification (interaction) of messages.

The solutions that have been available to us so far over this first five year taking off period have only been relatively useful. Now they are beginning to look more and more rudimentary, and in some cases an insult to the individual and collective intelligence of internauts. If we took any notice of what the megaportals and big corporations have on offer for the great leap forward into discreet computation, it would seem that we are going to be completely mad about train timetables, share prices or the top 40 hit parade. Some people, let’s face it, will be, but hundreds of millions of others inhabitants of virtual nature will possibly have other interests, other needs, and will want to do other things apart from having the next flight to Samarkand blinking up at them from the screens of their wristwatches. A timetable which, it goes without saying, they are unable to “modify” or “interact” with, as is already the case when we look up at a station or airport timetable panel and there is nothing we can do about the delay or cancellation of our trip.

The key to a pervasive Net will lie in how, for whom and in what context we generate knowledge. And it is here that many of the other pieces of this giant virtual nature puzzle come in to play, in particular new web languages. The objective is for the Net to be constructed as a kind of collective memory which adds to the intellectual capacity of each individual. This would be a first step towards developing new electronic spaces in which each entity –individual, collective, company, organisation, institution, etc.– could establish the limits of their own habitat depending on the knowledge they generate and need via specific communication, and not just via the technological format that allows them to manipulate and transmit it. More about this next week.

Translation: Bridget King