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Digital Being

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 10 months ago

Basically, being digital is about being free. Free to gather, sort, censor and expand information on a personal level. Through the use of computers, we will be both - the editors and consumers of the information before us. This future technology, will change the perspective on how humans think, interact with one another and live. The culmination of this technology will change civilization and how we are going to live in the future.

1.0 Bits are Bits


The best way to understand ‘Being digital’ is to reflect on the difference between bits and atoms. While we are in the information age, most information is delivered in quantifiable objects in the form of atoms examples being, newspapers, magazines, books and reports like this. The whole Global economy may be moving towards an information economy, but we measure trade and write balance sheets with atoms in mind.


Take an example of an Executive who visited a company and during security clearance, was asked by the receptionist the value of his laptop computer. He said is worth about USD 1.5 Million. The receptionist laughed and looked at the laptop and wrote the valued down as USD 2500. The Executive entered the company, downloaded the software and in the bargain concluded his deal. He sold the company the rights to his software for 1.5 million USD !! The point is that the atoms were not so valuable as the bits were !


The information superhighways is about global movements of weightless bits at the speed of light. The future of companies is almost 100 percent driven by the ability of that company's products or services to be rendered in digital form. Core business process while not change, but the ability to deliver information is a must. One cannot be dependent on sneakers and FEDEX to deliver the product brochure across the globe. Today's businesses are already dependent on networks, which allow communication over long distances. These networks use media like Fiber Optics, ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) or POTS (Plain old telephone services) cables. The transmission of bits across this media, is at the speed of light. This enables business to render instant service over a vast geographical area. Digital media will become driven by the combined forces of convenience, economics and deregulation.


Commingling bits are all about hypermedia and multimedia. Hypertext is a term for highly interconnected narrative or linked information. In the digital world an expression or idea can include pointers to other arguments or ideas. These links can be ignore or invoked. Hypermedia is a collection of elastic messages that can be stretched and shrink in accordance to the whims and fancy of the reader. The analogy that can be used, is as viewed in the mirrors of a barbershop, an image within an image within an image !


Multimedia on the other hand is interactive texture of colors and sounds rendered into digital form. This is broadcasted over various media. It is important to think of multimedia as more than just mixing fixed chunks of video, audio, and data, it is a rich texture of experience in digital form. Translating freely from one to the other is really where the field of multimedia is headed. The future of Multimedia will become more book-like, something with which you can curl up in bed and either have a conversation or be told a story. Multimedia should someday be as subtle and rich as the feel of paper and the smell of leather.


Today the common TV, has become an extension to the digital world. Connecting an electronic box (called WEBTV) onto the TV, like how a VCP is connected, allows a user to browse the internet, send and receive email messages. Three years ago, normal connections to information highways would require a computer attached to a modem. The minimum cost for the hardware and software would work out to about USD2000. This is pretty expensive for the common man! The normal person could not get connected. Now with the USD199 WEBTV or also known as "set top box" the gap between the "have" and the "have nots" are reducing dramatically.


We don't think of owning a phone or TV as being anything of a dividing zone between people. Rather the dividing zone of the digital world , would be the generational divide. The knowledge gap between the young and the old. The older generation is missing the information age and are being left behind. The older generation would need to reach out to their grandchildren or just ‘burrow’ one of the neighbors kids to help and assist them into the digital age. The key to getting the older generation on-line, is the helping hand of the younger generation. Meet elders (40 or 50’s) who say that they have discovered American On-line or WEBTV, you could bet that there is a teenager or grandchild who is spending vacation time at grandpa’s/grandma’s home!!


2.0 Interfaces

The history shows that human endeavors to make machines more useable. This usability is devoted to enhancing the sensory points of contact and evolving better physical designs. The interface was treated largely as a traditional industrial design problem. The designers of teapots and rakes considered the handles in terms of shape, heat transfer and the prevention of blisters. Interface is not just about the look and feel of a product. It is about creation of personality, design of intelligence and building machines that recognize human expressions.


When you meet another person for the first time, you are very conscious of their looks, speech, and gestures. However, the content of communication is the most appealing portion of the meeting, even if it is largely expressed by tone of voice and language of facial expression !! A good interface should also behave similarly. Like for example, if I were to ask a group of people "What is your name ?" the question really does not have any meaning unless I am looking at the individual at that time. Namely the adjective "your" gets its meaning from the direction of gaze. The idea is simple - talking, pointing and looking should work together as part of a multihomed interface. Interfacing is less about messaging back and forth but more like face to face, human to human conversation.


Future human-computer interface will be rooted in delegation, not in direct manipulation- pull-down, popup, click and drag methodologies. Ease of use has been such a compelling goal, that designers have not realized, many people do not want to use machines in this manner. Agent based interfaces will emerge as a dominant means by which computers and people talk with one another. The long term interface will require size, shape, color, tone of voice and all other sensory inputs.


The single largest challenge faced now is the oxymoron term ‘virtual reality’, or commonly called as VR. VR can make the artificial as realistic as it can get and even more realistic then the real !! The idea of VR is to deliver a sense of "being there" by giving some sought of sensory organ the perception of spatial reality. Since the imaginary (graphic interface) is computed and not real, there is no need to limit oneself to the life size or real places. VR needs to be tightly coupled with speed of changing images in co-relation to body movement and head position. The ultimate VR experience would be to float a 3D holographic image in space and deliver the whole image in full spatial full. In tomorrow's world ( maybe our grandchildren) will watch their entertainment "sitting in" for the movie or the ball game. The images will float around the room in 3D. Theses 3D pixels (picture elements) will float in space and deliver sound, color and motion everywhere around the viewer.


In all this, "the hear more and see better" concept is fully compliant. To understand this concept the experiments calls for viewing two separate TV’s, one with surround sound and the other with mono audio. Both TV’s have the same identical properties in terms of color, resolution and size. However most respondents state that set-up 1, with surround audio is much better viewing ! The viewing experience is always more satisfying with better sound !! So digital sound interfaces, plays a very important part of the future.


Interfacing "gaze" technology calls for intuitive and highly technical developments. The way humans detect each others direction of gaze and eye contacting is very complicated. One understands that the other person is looking beyond you or at you. Gaze is the ultimate mode of human pointing. In today's technology we use the mouse. In future technology the computer will use ‘eye gaze’ technology to know when to scroll the screen or highlight a word. All this works even better if there is another channel of input -speech.


In use of a computer, one has to be seated in front of the computer. You must attend to both content and process. There is no possible way to use a computer from ‘beyond arm length’. We commonly talk to people at a distance. We could momentarily turn our ‘gaze’ elsewhere and still be able to communicate with other people. Spoken words carry vast amounts of information, beyond words themselves. While talking, one conveys passion, sarcasm, anger, humor and many other emotions. They are the very qualities which have made human beings make speech as the most preferred mode of communication. Speech interaction is a powerful mode of communication. When speaking on the phone, we sometimes falter, if the speaker on the other end does not say ‘aha’ or ‘hmmm’ when one is speaking. The normal, "hello are you there ?" question is raised. The ‘aha’ does not reflect the yes/no response to anything which is being said. Rather it is basically transmitting one bit of information which states "I'm here, listening".


The use of parallel communication, gesture, gaze, speech is the essence of human communications. The future will find most humans talking to the various machines that they use in their everyday life. What troubles people is that they are self-conscious about whom and to what they speak too. We love talking to our pets, birds, flowers, plants or anything which is animated. When one extends the idea of talking to the door knob or toaster, one would be classified as being a lunatic or a drunk, if you talk to these objects. However, most people have no problem of speaking and recording their own messages on the answering machine. Future innovations would make objects with the ability of speech recognition and common day utterances will be the normal. When this happens, most people would not have any hesitation of speaking to inanimated objects.


The best analogy for a conceivable human -agent would be the ‘Butler’. The ‘Agent’ answers the phone, takes down messages, recognizes callers, disturbs you when needed and even tell a white lie on your behalf. The idea would be to build a computer that possessed a body of knowledge both about something ( a process) and also your relationship to that process. The look and feel of interfaces count, but they play a minor role when compared to intelligence.


It is important to note the future interface agents will vary. Each individuals interface learns the process, that is, how the user wants the process to be. In addition, knows the whims and fancies of the user for that process. All this is based on the individuals perspective of information handling, entertainment habits, speech mode, gaze mode, and social behavior - which boils down in a single entity a "digital being".


3.0 Digital Life


The industrial age has come and gone, the post industrial age is the information age!! The transition period between information age to the "digital age" is beginning. The industrial age, is very much an age of atoms, it gave us the concept of mass production. The information age, the age of computers, showed us the same, but with less regard for space and time. The manufacturing of bits could happen anywhere, at any time. For example, transactions can occur among the stock markets of New York, London, and Tokyo as if they were three adjacent office machines. In the information age, mass media got bigger and smaller at the same time. New Broadcast forms like CNN reached larger audience and made broadcasting broader. However, niche magazines, cable services are examples of narrowcasting. For example, the NY Financial times which publishes information on the web and is intended and accessible for a specific target audience. These target audience have signed and paid up for such services.


The Digital Age, would have an audience of the size of one. The individual. Everything is made to order and information is extremely personalized. A generalized concept is that the information age is moving into smaller and more compact specific group. The narrow casting from the large to the small, a small to the individual. Personal information like age, gender, martial status, income, likes, dislikes have nothing to do with narrowcasting- the individual is not a single demographic unit ! In being digital the concept of "Me/ I" is strongly emphasized. The "Me/ I" of being digital implies the information of where my girl lives, whom I had dinner with, what I eat, which movie I watched last night and when my flight to London is scheduled to leave. This information has no correlation to a demographic unit or any statistical information. This unique combination of information determines, what news services I may need. What are the expected weather conditions in London when I arrive and when at what time I need to be given a wakeup call to catch my flight on schedule. Or that matter of fact, how many slices of toast I would have for breakfast, after a specific meal. (which I had last night !).


Life in the digital world would take on a total different perspective on how time would be utilized. "Prime time" would change the way current broadcasting of information. Video on demand (VOD), will be a beneficial applications on the superhighway. Videocassette-rentals are pay-per-view currently. The only difference for the time being is that the stores, which rent atoms, are easier to browse than a menu of rentable bits. This will changing rapidly. When electronic browsing is made more pleasant by imaginative agent-based systems, VOD will not be limited to a few thousand selections. VOD will be literally unlimited. The user benefits from these digitized bits, one does not bother about late fines, returning or actually ‘sneaker netting’ (physically going) to pick it up. On the other end businesses have the opportunity of not bothering about late fines and non-receipt of the ‘atom’ video cassettes.


The digital age is about acquaintance over time. Machines' should understand individuals with the same degree of subtlety (or more than) we can expect from other human beings. This includes idiosyncrasies and totally random events, good and bad of our lives. For example, having heard from the liquor store's agent, the personalized agent or machine could call to your attention a sale of a particular wine. This wine, is the type of wine that was liked by the guests you have coming to dinner tonight. The agent would remind you to drop the car off at a garage, because the car told the agent, it needs new tires. It could clip a review of a new restaurant because you are going to that city in the next 48 hours. All of these is based on a model of you as an individual, not as part of a demographic group.


Digital Life will not only benefit the fully developed individual, but also help the young. "Teaching Children thinking" is a concept which uses computers as engines that children would teach and thus learn by teaching. Research proves that a significant part of learning certainly comes form teaching. Learning by doing has become a rule rather then an exception. With computer simulation anything is just about possible. One does not need a live frog for dissecting it, rather a computer module with all the frog like behavior. This simulated behavior allows thinking minds to find abstract solutions by playing with information. This means of learning, across a wide range of cognitive and behavioral styles, would enhance the capabilities of the "thinking mind". Today's children are getting the opportunity to be street smart on the digital highway. Children are reading and writing on the Internet, not just to complete an exercise or a class. Rather its about craving a niche for themselves and saying…".this is who and where I am and this is my digital presence here". The Internet provides a new meaning of reaching out and finding knowledge and information. Over time, the web of knowledge would dynamically increase as more and more of the younger generation go onto the superhighway.


The digital ages extends into the household. Each machine in today's household is a standalone machine which does not communicate with the other. The toaster, fridge, VCP, TV etc. all have standalone functions which do not communicate with one another. The Digital future will have all these smart machines communicate with one another. Being digital changes the character of the standards for machine-to-machine communications. They lend themselves to higher-order descriptions and protocols (a term previously reserved for communication of polite society). Protocols can be very specific about how two machines handshake. The term handshaking is the technical term for how two machines establish communications, deciding upon variables to be used in their conversation(s) and how to exchange bits to one another.


The earliest known gadgets which communicate with one another is the Timex wristwatch. It has the ability to read and display schedule, appointments etc. through a special wireless transfer between the Microsoft scheduler on the PC. Some of the latest experiments extend this idea into what is called as embedded machines/gadgets. Like in the 1998 Java Programmers conference in CA, all the Java programmers were given a special ring which were pre-programmed with their own specific information and taste of Coffee. When a refreshment was need, all the person had to do was insert his portion of the ring onto a coffee table socket. Within 3 minutes flat, his taste of coffee was sent to him, with the details of his name, company etc. printed on the plastic cup !! The first of the smart wearable device. The future will tend to have functional accessories for wearing. Like smart glasses which show images, wristwatches which will monitor the heart beat or ear rings which will translate. Wearable devices and bodynetworks will make the digital future surpass the limits of current imagination


4.0 The age of optimism

Being optimistic, does not mean then one is blind to the dark side of being Digital. The next decade will see more software piracy, data thieves, hackers and digital vandalism. Moreover, the darkest side will hit normal people. They would loss jobs to wholly automated systems. The notion of lifetime employment at one job has already started to disappear. As the business world globalizes and the Internet grows, we will start to see a seamless digital workplace. Bits will be borderless, organizations and countries will have to regulate the flow of bits in and out of their borders and boundaries. Bits are not edible; in that sense they cannot stop hunger. Computers are not moral; they cannot resolve complex issues like the rights to life and to death. But being digital, nevertheless, does give much cause for optimism. Like a force of nature, the digital age cannot be denied or stopped. It has four very powerful qualities that will result in its ultimate triumph: decentralizing, globalizing, harmonizing, and empowering.


Decentralizing means the enterprise of the future can meet its computer needs in a new and scalable way. The enterprise would populate the organization with personal computers that, when needed, can work in unison to crunch on computationally intensive problems. Computers will literally work both for individuals and for groups. The same decentralized mind-set growing in our society, driven by young citizenry in the digital world. The traditional centralist view of life will become a thing of the past.


Digital technology can be a natural force drawing people into greater world harmony. Government will be forced to cooperate with one another as the driving force of its citizens orders it to do so. Politicians will struggle with the baggage of history, a new generation is emerging from the digital landscape free of many of the old prejudices. These kids are released from the limitation of geographic proximity as the sole basis of interaction is friendship, collaboration, play, and being in the "neighborhood". The harmonizing effect of being digital is already apparent as has previously partitioned disciplines and enterprises find themselves collaborating, not competing. A previously missing common language emerges, allowing people to understand across boundaries.


The empowering nature of being digital is the ability to access, the mobility, and the ability to effect change what will make the future so different from the present. The information superhighway may be mostly hype today, but it is an understatement about tomorrow. It will exist beyond people's wildest predictions. As children appropriate a global information resource, and as they discover that only adults need learner's permits, we are bound to find new hope and dignity in places where very little existed before.


The "being digital" mode can be summed up in a single statement. In a recent question to Nicholas Negoroponte "How will they get information differently, say around the year 2005, from the way they get it today? What should they expect?" He replied; Quote : "When people ask how they're going to get information differently, they tend ... to sort of miss the point. That it's not how you are going to get your radio or your newspaper, but ... how you're going to live." : Unquote




The concept of books, movies, music being totally digitized must be matched with the interesting analogy of books which get rotten and the paper become brittle over time.


Today technology has proved that a bit loss its power to be a bit after a long duration of time and non usage. This is because bits have a shelf life and over a long duration of time, they do loss their capacity of holding information. Hence, digital information would constantly need to be revised and once again updated, saved and kept available for use.


Bringing information technology to younger and younger generations, make the kids dependent on computers for studies, amusement and being in the ‘neighborhood" . What actually happens about real world things like fresh air, swims in the lake, park outing’s, and neighborhood area ? If dependency is too much on machines and gadgets, will true empowerment be delivered ?? would not the future generations be slaves to their own personalized gadgets ? Will the kids loose the humanistic values of the "cuddle and play", the very emotions which make us so human ?? The impact on human psychology should be taken in a much deeper perspective.


Human beings dislike their privacy being violated. With intelligent agents all your personal information is available. What stops another person to "kidnap" your agent and hack through all your information ?? It is common knowledge that simple vital information like your credit card number etc. is not kept on the PC. The whole hard disk can be downloaded via the net to a unknown source for hacking at leisure. At this age we don't trust current technologies which don't support privacy. How much more technology will be needed for the digital vision and how long would it take to develop such technology ?


On the other hand, "Being Digital" might not take away someone's fear of new technologies, but this book helps people to think about themselves and their limited views. Being adverse to something often simply results from a lack of knowledge. "Being Digital" fills that gap in a very thoughtful manner.


One also keep in perspective, on how existing laws and living in a digital society are on a collision course. For example, a computer will be able to change the medium of the New York Times from print into, let's say, video or digital slides, would the right to transmit these digital slides be with the creator of the slides or NY Times ? Some sort of new laws and regulations would need to be addressed.


The need for "Being Digital " calls for robust networks and applications which will enhance the living quality of the individual. Having Tele-conferencing and collaboration applications are excellent as long as the images being transferred is without delay and without any jerky motion. The need of robust backbone transmission mechanisms would be the key to deliver quality information.


The "Have" and "have nots" are a dividing line between the young and the old. What would happen to those human beings who have lost the trend of being digital, what would happen to them ? some sought of control mechanism would have to built up so that these citizens are not left out of society. Moreover, there are the disabled, deaf, dumb and spastic who would not use able to use the intelligent interfaces envisioned. What type of interfaces would they require ?


The simple day to day tasks of ordering food, clothes, groceries etc. are all being done via the internet. Digital life has caught on in a big way, it has does not recognize time zones, borders , tax structures etc. Hence, Governments would need to soon address the laws and regulations which comprise of mass transactions on a global scale.

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