Exploring the Internet of Things 4: Everyday output

ThingsHow will we interact with the Internet of Things? Top professionals already use big, high-definition flat screens, 3-D imaging, heads-up displays, well-registered augmented reality, and even stereophonic audio cues. Haptics are on their way for those for whom touch (like surgeons) or texture (like fashion designers) are essential to success.

I expect that, in high-risk, high value professions, output devices will continue to push the limits in terms of quality, responsiveness, data density, and links to the environment. They will have access to processing power and graphics capability that will only touch us tangentially, say, when we are passengers in aircraft, patients in hospitals, and investors getting money management help.

But what will be our personal, day-to-day experiences of the Internet of Things? Though we won’t be experiencing the leading edge (and today’s relationships with smart phones, television, and computers will not go away), we will see some changes.

For one thing, the data reaching us will come from multiple sources. In my last blog entry, I wrote about how many of us are stuck in the one–to–many paradigm. Projections on the use of the Internet of Things still seem to assume centralization. But what if we consider ourselves to be the agents of centralization? What if multiple data sources reach us in a way that is customized by our behavior and choices?

Rather than receiving information in a one-size-fits-all manner, we will have information delivered with content, emphasis, and design that is a much better fit to our needs and desires. So, in an essential aspect of a new area of things output design will be matching input from many sources to the individual. In a sense, we have already taken steps on this path. The results you get from a Google search, for instance, are likely to be very different from the results I see thanks to the Filter Bubble.

The quantity of data available—not just in terms of what can be captured, but in terms of what is available where you are–will create qualitative differences. This will be most striking in mobile environments, where we will see sharing of dozens, perhaps even hundreds or thousands, of devices that surround us according to what we need, what vendors need from us, or what we are willing to pay for. The “cloud” will not be just data and computing power sitting on mainframes that someone else is worrying about. Our processing, storage, and programming power may sit in the dashboards of cars (and not just those we are riding in, but all those around us), satellites above, the paint covering a bridge, and even chips embedded in our bodies. Capacity will be gathered in from wherever it is available, and coordinated to deliver entertainment, warnings, guidance, and instantaneous profiles on people we meet on the street.

I’ll add that much of what we receive, especially in audio, will be mediated by agents similar to Apple’s Siri. We are built for conversations and the Internet of Things seems to be positioned to take advantage of that.

So, even when we are working from laptops or smart phones, the shape and texture of our experiences with information will change. But what about new output devices? (We all love gadgets, right?) Corning Glass has a clever and fun vision of the future. Not surprisingly, it consists of ubiquitous glass surfaces, all of which act as input and output devices.

Surely, car windshields, helmet visors, and smart phone displays will be populated by more and more graphics, numbers, and newsfeeds that will add layers of information to real-life environments. And this sort of augmented reality will become more a part of our lives away from information surfaces as we see the development of something like Google goggles. (Beware of betting against people wearing these in everyday life. I still remember the shriek against a suggestion I made years ago that people would wear headsets as they went about their business. Now, you cannot go to an airport or a mall without seeing people with devices plugged into their ears.)

Development is underway on watches, clothing, contact lenses, and even tattoos that could operate and has output (as well as input) devices tied to the Internet of Things. I think, eventually, embedded devices that can be turned on and off with the thought will be part of the general human experience. We’ll all be cyborgs of a sort, but this won’t happen in the near future. Professionals, once again, will lead the way. I suspect they will be closely followed by those who have medical needs that drive this kind of investment and overcome concerns about privacy and security.

What we receive on output devices will affect our lives more profoundly than which devices deliver the information. The wildcard here will be what people want, and how social preferences will shape our uses. Who would have thought that most of a generation would be mesmerized by 24-hour texting? Identity, the need to be connected to others, and active participation in communities will remake our lives on a different level as we come to terms with an Internet of Things.

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