Moving on from Weiser's Vision of Calm Computing: Engaging UbiComp Experiences

Posted: February 6th, 2007 | No Comments »

Rogers, Y. Moving on from weiser’s vision of calm computing: Engaging ubicomp experiences. In Ubicomp (2006), pp. 404–421.

This paper urges for an alternative agenda in ubicomp research that shifts from Weiser’s calm vision to engaging people (i.e. proactive computing, persuasive computing, engaged living). Yvonne Rogers acknowledges that research in context awareness, ambient intelligence and monitoring/tracking have been somehow fruitful. However they have yet failed to reach Weiser’s world. Indeed, there is an enormous gap between the dream of conformable, informed and effortless living and the accomplishment of UbiComp research. In fact, the fundamental stumbling block has been harnessing the huge variability in what people do, their motives for doing it, when they do it and how they do it. While it has been possible to develop a range of simple ubicomp systems that can offer relevant information at opportune moment, it is proving to be much more difficult to build truly smart systems that can understand or accurately model people’s behaviors, moods and intentions. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to try to implement context in any practical sense and from which to make sensible predictions about what someone is feeling, wanting or needing at a given moment. Therefore, ubicomp technologies should be designed not to do things for people but to engage them more actively in what they currently do. Rather than calm living it promotes engaged living, where technology is designed to enable people to do what they want, need or never even considered before by acting in and upon the environment. Examples include extending and supporting personal, cognitive and social processes such as habit-changing, problem solving, creating, analyzing, learning or performing a skill.

The author mentions the problems of calm computing in the most prominent ubicomp research themes (i.e. context-aware computing, ambient/ubiquitous intelligence and recording/tracking and monitoring).

Key questions in context-aware computing concern what to sense, what form and what kind of information to represent to augment ongoing activities. Many of the sensor technologies, however, have been beset with detection and precision limitations, sometimes resulting in unreliable and inaccurate data. While newer technological developments may enable more accurate data to be detected and collected it. However, people often behave in unpredictable and subtle ways in their day-to-day contexts. Therefore, it is likely that context-aware systems will only ever be successful in highly constrained settings.

Ambient and Ubiquitous Intelligence
While there have been significant advances in computer vision, speech recognition and gesture-based detection, the reality of multimodal interfaces – that can predict and deliver with accuracy and sensitivity what is assumed people want or need – is a long way off. In consequence, when a ubiquitous computing system gets it wrong – which is likely to be considerably more frequent – it is likely to be more frustrating and we are likely to be less forgiving.

Recording, Tracking and Monitoring
Much of the discussion about the human aspects in ubicomp has been primarily about the trade-offs between security and privacy, convenience and privacy, and informedness and privacy. This focus has often been at the expense of other human concerns receiving less airing, such as how recording, tracking and re-representing movements and other information can be used to facilitate social and cognitive processes.

Yvonne mentions 2 goals of my research, one being to use ubicomp technologies in the wild, the other to evaluate how to present data and information:

In addition, more studies are needed of UbiComp technologies being used in situ or the wild – to help illuminate how people can construct, appropriate and use them. With respect to interaction design issues, we need to consider how to represent and present data and information that will enable people to more extensively compute, analyze, integrate, inquire and make decisions; how to design appropriate kinds of interfaces and interaction styles for combinations of devices, displays and tools; and how to provide transparent systems that people can understand sufficiently to know how to control and interact with them.

Currently, the more engaging approach is beginning to happen through the areas of playful and learning practices, scientific practices and persuasive practices.

As already mentioned in Comparing AI’s Failures with Ubicomp’s Visions, Yvonne Rogers concludes on “strong” and “weak” UbiComp.

Just as ‘strong’ AI failed to achieve its goals – where it was assumed that “the computer is not merely a tool in the study of the mind; rather, the appropriately programmed computer really is a mind”, it appears that ‘strong’ UbiComp is suffering from the same fate. And just as ‘weak’ AI2 revived AI’s fortunes, so, too, can ‘weak’ UbiComp bring success to the field.

Relation to my thesis: I would argue that current “strong” UbiComp problems not only lays on modelling people and their activities, but also in the integration ubicomp systems in the real-world (e.g. co-existence of systems, real-world constraints). I enjoy the difference between what is “relevant” and what is “smart”, as I find the word smart or intelligent are widely (over)misused. Finally, the agenda proposed in this article, goes in the direction of my research: in sitiu (out of the lab) studies, investigate the playful approach of ubicomp and how to present relevant information rather than seeking the seamlessness utopia.