Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Early Ubicomp

Bill Buxton's 1993 Absorbing and Squeezing Out: On Sponges and Ubiquitous Computing

"Input/output transducers (and their physical form) have a large impact on end users' mental models of computation. As we move towards ubiquitous and "intimate" computing, this will become even more the case. One of the key properties of systems will be their ability to provide a seamless interface between the objects and information in physical space and those in electronic space.

Since there are many types of such objects and information, there will be many different types of input/output transducers in the UbiComp repertoire. Devices will be tailored to have transducers appropriate to the types of activities and artifacts encountered in the context in which they are found or located. UbiComp will be characterized by many devices of different sizes. It will also be distinguished by the ability to "absorb" information and artifacts of the physical world into the electronic domain, and to "squeeze out" into the physical domain that which originated in the electronic domain.

One implication of this view is an incentive to place greater emphasis on exploring alternate input/output transducers on the UbiComp devices that we are building, prototyping, or even thinking about.

... [P]erceptions of technologies are dominated by what we see and touch: primarily, the devices used for entering things into the system and getting things out. Current design is hampered by at least two problems. First, the limited repertoire of input/output devices restricts our ability to provide a seamless bridge between the objects and artifacts in the everyday physical world, and those in the electronic domain of information systems. Second, by their "one size fits all" general approach, current systems are inherently weak.

This second point brings up the law of the inverse relationship between strength and generality. Existing systems are weak and general. Individually, UbiComp devices are strong but specific, and are tailored for specific classes of task, object or context. What is significant about UbiComp is that generality is achieved through these elements working in concert as an ensemble. Consequently, what one achieves is a system which is strong and general."

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