17 December 2008

"Digilogue" U-City

I've been interested in the relationship between analogue and digital for a while; two years ago I explored stepping back and re-exploring analogue for the ritual side of things. Over time, though, I started noticing that this doesn't need to be the case anymore.

I brought this up at the PSFK thingie earlier in the month. The introduction of new applications, products and even places (as you'll see) doesn't draw a line between the two at all. Probably just as well, since the generations behind us don't know what it was like "before the Internet" and it's hard probably hard for them to contextualize the idea of "offline." It's no longer about analogue vs. digital, but about how they work together and enhance each other, no?

[image from technabob.com]

I decided to write my February column around this thought, and was lucky to get some insight from the very smart guys over at Hyper. Simeon wrote to me about Ubiquitous Computing (otherwise known as "U"). "U basically means that everyday objects are embedded with the ability to send, receive and process information - everything from your chair to your Coke can."

You know how my head explodes a lot, right? Well, one of Simeon's examples of U made my brain fly out the window. I don't know how I hadn't heard of it before, but here goes: New Songdo City. It's a brand new city being built in South Korea that will be finished in 2015. Its digital infrastructure was apparently built before the physical one was started: in Songdo, every information system will be linked together. Residential, medical, governmental and business. Residents will have a card that they'll be able to do a a ton of different things with: pay bills, take public transportation, check your medical records and buy things. Simeon gave the example, "...you might buy a can of Coke in the store, drink it whilst walking down the street - then toss it into a recycling bin when you're done with it, for which you'll automatically get money credited straight back into your account (because the can's RFID will be unique to you, and the recycling bin will know what's in it and when)." Wow!

What else. Your house's floor will have pressure sensors in it. So let's say I fell off a ladder while installing a chandelier (or something). The hospital would be notified and help would be on its way, immediately. Or, as I was getting ready for work one morning, I could be told that traffic is really bad on Street X – which I usually drive on – so "try route Y."

As you can imagine, this type of U can be tricky regarding privacy. From what I understand, this is why the U-city experiment wasn't tried in the U.S. first (we're pretty touchy about that stuff). I found a quote on we make money not art which addresses this:
Much of this technology was developed in U.S. research labs, but there are fewer social and regulatory obstacles to implementing them in Korea," said Anthony Townsend, a research director Palo Alto. "There is an historical expectation of less privacy. Korea is willing to put off the hard questions to take the early lead and set standards."
Here is the video rendering of New Songdo City. I knew that the technology for this was good, but this video is so impressive. Not to mention that they used Sigur Rós as as soundtrack.

So, so cool... I can't wait to see what happens. What's your favorite example of U?
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