rfid smarttag ubicomp

Smart Book concept precedent: Mark Weiser at PARC (of course)

Kevin Kelly's prescient 1994 book Out of Control is online its entirety, searchable, linkable etc. This chapter covers the smart book concept as envisioned early on, naturally enough by one of the progenators of dataspace: Mark Weiser at Xerox Parc


The research labs of Xerox in Palo Alto, California (PARC), invented, but unfortunately never exploited, the signature elements of the first friendly Macintosh computers. Not to be burned twice, PARC intends to fully exploit yet another radical (and potentially profitable) concept brewing in their labs now. Mark Weiser, young and cheerful, is director of a Xerox initiative to view the office as a superorganism -- a networked being composed of many interlinked parts.

The glassy offices of PARC perch on a Bay Area hill overlooking Silicon Valley. When I visit Weiser he is wearing a loud yellow shirt flanked by red suspenders. He smiles constantly, as if inventing the future was a big joke and I'm in on it. I take the couch, an obligatory furnishing in hacker dens, even posh hacker dens like these at Xerox. Weiser is too animated to sit; he's waving his arms -- a marker in one hand -- in front of a huge white board that runs from the floor to the ceiling. This is complicated, his arms say, you are going to need to see it. The picture Weiser begins drawing on the white board looks like a diagram of a Roman army. Down at the bottom are one hundred small units. Above it are ten medium-size units. Perched at the top level is one large unit. The army that Weiser is drawing is a field of Room Organisms.

What I really want, Weiser is telling me, is an mob of tiny smart objects. One hundred small things throughout my office that have a uniform, dim awareness of each other, of themselves, and of me. My room becomes a supercolony of quasi-smart bits. What you want, he says, is every book on your shelf to have a chip embedded in it so that it keeps track of where it is in the room, when it was last open, and to what page. The chip might even have a dynamic copy of the book's index that will link itself to your computer database when you first bring the book into the room. The book now has a community presence. All information stored on a shelf as, say, books or videotapes are implanted with a cheap chip to communicate both where they are and what they are about.

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Content © Beal Institute for Strategic Creativity.