Technology can be fun, functional or both but either way, buttonless technology is the goal we’re aiming for.
But what exactly do I mean by buttonless? After all, our smartphones are used all day without buttons; we engage with them through swipes, gestures and even our voice. But we still have to engage with them, I like the thought of technology that engages with us.
To me, there’s something wrong with the image above. Everything’s connected- fine, I can see it all on my device- ok I guess, but what’s the point of the button? Why must I need to turn it on or off? How long will it be until it can learn and know?
I like the thought of the washing machine knowing what clothes were put in and when the door is closed, starting an appropriate wash. It’s not that it’s difficult to configure the settings and I wouldn’t describe myself as lazy but is it actually necessary? I want the radio to come one when I enter the kitchen just before dinner time to cook and play something depending on my body language, the amount of traffic on the way home or the tune I’m singing to myself. I want the shower to come on when I hang my towel on the hook or some other action. I agree there must be a switch event or a trigger for this technology behaviour but why must it be an action whose sole purpose is control. I would like this ambient technology to be there, fulfilling its purpose without it telling me and without me telling it.
We have had a degree of ambient technology for years. Automatic doors, for example, have done such a good job of doing their job without any input from us that most of us don’t even notice them at all. Automatic doors, as we know them, have been around since the 60s.
Which brings me to the Internet of Things (IoT). Please don’t make me able to control my heating, lights, devices from afar; I don’t really want to control them when I’m at home. I’d like it if my home knew I was on the way and put the kettle on, the vacuum put itself away the downstairs lights came on if it was dark amongst a dozen other things.
I said earlier that instead of us engaging with technology, technology should engage with us, but what about technology that is simply engaging.
I was recently lucky enough to be in the audience of an intimate event co-hosted in Derby’s Quad gallery by the Quad and Mainframe Monthly with very special guest speakers Leila Johnston of Site Gallery, Sheffield and Duncan Gough of the V&A, London.
They both fascinated attendees with their thoughts and experiences of experiment with different technologies from software to robotics and the different ways of passively interacting with technology or not. There was an example of technology doing fun and functionless things whether there was anyone around to appreciate it or not. Is this art? Does it matter? It sounds great to me. Admittedly I think that if the kettle started boiling water randomly when there was no-one around that would be wasteful but no-one minded when grandfather clocks chimed in an empty house.
So maybe it’s the medium that is used, hot water is out, sound waves are in! What can you think of, that would be fun to know is happening while you’re at home or out and about? What about walls that changed colour or pattern; or tables and other surfaces that react to our motions or contact.
For technology to engage with us it needs to know us. It needs to know us at that moment and it needs to know us from before to make a comparison, it needs to know our lives, habits and moods. These metrics may be too much for some people to be comfortable with; I’ll leave that for another discussion in another place. In using this data there needs to be some sort of inferential intelligence. How intelligent does it need to be? What happens if it decides incorrectly or has no appreciation of the magnitude of its decisions? Is there a potential for harm?
I guess ambient technology that engages with us as the masters is fine but as soon as we become the pets it’s time to rethink our ideals. But, perhaps by then it will be too late.
When it comes to A.I, kill all switches, except the kill switch; make that one really big!
Follow my hashtag #ambienttech
Read next: A great article where Leila interviews Duncan
I love a job done well. There is nothing better! The feeling of satisfaction as I walk around it feeling all smug with myself and being careful not to let the smugness spill out. Perhaps I’m painting myself in a bad light here and I should replace the word smug with something else. Either way there’s no denying the enthusiasm I feel for doing a proper job.
However, in relation to the title of this post and to the fact that this is post number one (a necessary step in writing my website) at some point there comes that the realisation of two things;
- In most cases ‘perfect’ is a fantasy.
- In most cases there is more than one ‘perfect’.
The first, I realised while doing my A’ level physics when I was taught that ‘close enough’ is usually as close as we can get. It is better to do a ‘good enough’ job and see it done rather than never getting it done at all. A job done is at least a job done. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t aim for perfection, more that we should know where our physical limits are.
The second, I am still trying to learn. I am currently teaching my daughter about favourites and that my favourite colour for cars is not my favourite colour for shoes- actually it kind of is, okay then- my favourite colour for cars is not my favourite colour for butterflies. I think she’ll get that :¬) Though I might really like pancakes one day, another day nice plain bowl of cereal is just ‘perfect’.
So, when is ‘good enough’ perfect enough? Measure it. Sometimes when no one complains, that’s good enough; when everyone is happy, that is good enough; when no-one notices, that is good enough. We all have to learn and decide depending on the situation because situations are as different as cars and butterflies.
Thanks for reading, please just comment don’t worry about sounding the cleverest/funniest/(other superlative)
At Lightwave Designs our love of design and our love of interaction drive everything we do. Every day. We are ‘people’ people.
Tables are useful, everyone knows that. We’re setting out to make them more than useful. We design and build interactive LED tables, floors and wall displays for homes, schools, coffee shops, bars, clubs, shops and reception areas… and some other places too. We think that’s enough for now!
Have a look at our products to find out how they interact; read more about us to see how we interact.
Technology can be fun, functional or both but either way, buttonless technology is the goal we’re aiming for. But what exactly do I mean by buttonless? After all, our smartphones are used all day without buttons; we engage with them through swipes, gestures and even our voice. But we still have to engage with them, […]
I love a job done well. There is nothing better! The feeling of satisfaction as I walk around it feeling all smug with myself and being careful not to let the smugness spill out. Perhaps I’m painting myself in a bad light here and I should replace the word smug with something else. Either way […]