Zeitgeist Panel — Human/Machine Interaction

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Thanks so much to everyone who came out to our second event last Tuesday evening! Big ups to our panelists, Irwin Chen (@irwin), Ian Spalter (@ianspalter), Jill Nussbaum, and Dan Paluska (@thesixmill), for some fascinating presentations and scintillating discussion, and a huge thank you to Hive at 55 for hosting us.

Here’s a time-lapse video of the event (in the context of Dan’s day, skip to 1:24 for just the event), courtesy of Dan Paluska and his handy Brinno GardenWatch Cam (see below), our cutest attendee.

Brinno GardenWatchCam

Irwin’s presentation on reading kicked us off; here are some of the highlights:

  • Reading is hard!  We saw some images of what the brain has to do in order to ingest, process and interpret text, and it’s pretty complicated.
  • Reading in different character sets (for example, English -vs- Chinese) uses different parts of the brain! (Mind. Blown.)
  • As computers fade into the ambient environment and our pockets, the parts of the brain that are devoted to the use of the keyboard and mouse will be freed up for reading.
  • According to Nicholas Negroponte (founder of One Laptop Per Child and the MIT Media Lab, which just turned 25!) books will be obsolete in 5 years.  Irwin says probably not, but they will become more of a luxury/bespoke product as device-based reading becomes the norm.
  • The future of reading depends on the future of writing. Perhaps the next great novel be written in C++!

We then heard from Ian and Jill on personal informatics (also called life-tracking.):

  • Examples of note: halitosis tracking (only in Japan…), the Body Bugg, the IBG Star, the Fit Bit, and Nike+, of course, Jill and Ian’s baby.
  • The concept of the BAN (Body Area Network) designates the body as an input device.
  • Wearable lifetracking devices need to look good if they’re going to be used consistently.
  • Data sets get more interesting when you overlay them with one another.  For example, tonight.im crossreferences health data with Foursquare checkins — neat!
  • Design is critically important to making tracked data useful.
  • The next phase is integrating data into the ambient environment.
  • Huge opportunities exist for learning and innovation in healthcare, the environment, and government.
  • This innovation will be greatly enhanced by open data standards.
  • Life tracking can go too far — no one needs an emission detector in the back of their tighty-whities.

Then Dan Paluska showed us some of the projects he’s been working on over the last several years from his big-budget days to his current more low-budget DIY approach to adding write access to shared public devices, and he brought actual drawings ON PAPER.  He’s already thrown up a post over on his blog, summarizing his presentation way better than we can.  Be sure not to miss:

  • Building a walking robot is pretty hard.  Witness, the blooper reel.
  • Absolut Machines— a piece by Dan collaborated on with Jeff Lieberman. A visitor to a web site enters a melody on their computer keyboard. A very large machine (located for a time in Lower Manhattan) then uses this melody to generate an original and unique 2 1/2 minute piece of music. The web visitor also recieves a link to a webcam video of their piece being played.
  • An effective way to see how you’re spending your screen time.
  • Brooklyn Mobile — Dan tries out content publishing as a service with a mobile video cart

Stay tuned, we’ll be talking more to our panelists in the near future!

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  • […] Anyways, Freyja Ballmer, who sort of inherited my position at FEED after I left, asked me to talk at the first Zeitgeist NY Panel this past October. (Zeitgeist is a think tank/social club for digital people.) I gave a little talk on the future of reading. You can read more about what happened here. […]