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The Internet of Things and Object-Oriented Ontology

In the history of ideas, it’s no secret that related concepts, events or “discoveries” often arise together, perhaps as an extension of the overall intellectual or cultural zeitgeist or perhaps in some dialectic between or around a component therein. There is some relationship, as a facile example, between enlightenment ideas of the 18th century and the French and American revolutions. Perhaps, it is as simple as the former inspired the latter, but as equally, perhaps, the latter validated the former.

Anyway, seemingly unrelated ideas and/or events that occur closely together in time are interesting. And often have connections. I have been thinking for some time about two contemporary ideas/events: the Internet of Things and Object-Oriented Ontology. I don’t know that they’ve ever been explicitly connected (certainly someone else has put two and two together?), but either way, it’s worth exploring.

First of all, the concept of the “internet of things” has been around at least since 2008 and as a term describes the proliferation of embedded technologies in a wide variety of objects that enable data collection, processing and communication. The idea behind the internet of things is that we are seeing the emergence of an interconnected network of real objects. These real objects and their network capabilities are fairly primitive, or dumb, at present, as they consist of various sensors, RFID tags, cameras, all embedded in buildings, cars, phones, products, public artifacts like streetlights, and so on, but as technology progresses and more things get processors and networks, our shared physical environments will become more and more information-rich, integrated and “smart.”

Processor enabled, send-receive capable, and algorithmically or AI-enhanced, these objects may at some point in the near future facilitate great changes in our human experience of the world around us. It may be that our environment becomes commercialized, as in segments of the film Minority Report, or that we may experience what some (to borrow from the object-oriented ontologists) are now calling “ecology without nature.”

Secondly, the other concept at hand, “object-oriented ontology,” is a philosophical movement that apparently began in 1998. Graham Harman and Levi Bryant are two of the thinkers in the movement. Here is a good, succinct description of it, from a Georgia Tech symposium site on the subject:

Ontology is the philosophical study of existence. Object-oriented ontology (“OOO” for short) puts things at the center of this study. Its proponents contend that nothing has special status, but that everything exists equally—plumbers, cotton, bonobos, DVD players, and sandstone, for example. In contemporary thought, things are usually taken either as the aggregation of ever smaller bits (scientific naturalism) or as constructions of human behavior and society (social relativism). OOO steers a path between the two, drawing attention to things at all scales (from atoms to alpacas, bits to blinis), and pondering their nature and relations with one another as much with ourselves.

One of the key tenets of OOO is that objects have agency, in some form, which is to say that they have the power to act in the world. And thus, thinking of automated systems and objects, existing in a vast network, interacting with the natural environment, humans and each other, what better kind of philosophical grounding could we have for an existence in the midst of the internet of things? Further, OOO often puts things and their relationships with each other on equal footing with the relationships of things to humans, thereby empowering things (and thus demoting humans) in a way to which we’re not (yet) accustomed.

I am simplifying the concepts at hand, but think of it: are not things with the power to act (broadly defined) at the center of the networked world we are building? And will we not be defined by our relationships to these “smart” things in the future? And finally, is it an accident that we can consider an object-oriented ontology and an internet of things at the same time? Do they need each other? And if so, why? Does philosophy (and things like philosophy) provide inspiration or justification for tech-driven ontological change?

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Jibo: The World’s First Family Robot

In the growing category of companionship and personal assistance automation (or “social robotics”), here is a relatively new entry: Jibo, the “world’s first family robot.” From personal robotics pioneer, MIT’s Cynthia Breazeal, Jibo provides a wide variety of family and household functions, from schedule management, photography and video, to reading to children.

Read all about Jibo here. Also, check out the video:

 

Jibo is apparently in the prototype stage, but very cool, and one wonders whether or not such functionality could be integrated or transferred completely into smart home platforms. Jibo as conceived and presented here is not self-propelled and mobile, but could be carried, so he has the benefit of being transferrable outside the home. Anyway, I’d expect the fundamental concept to take many forms in the future.

Additionally, here’s a Ted Talk video from Breazeal on the general topic of personal robots:

 

Jibo is just one example of the rapidly emerging field of social/personal robotics. Before we know it, robots that care for (and perhaps about) us may be a central part of our lives.


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World Future Society Arizona Chapter September Meeting Presentation

Thanks to everyone who attended the first organizational meeting of the World Future Society Arizona Chapter on September 16, 2014. We had a great group and a fabulous discussion. Thanks also to Rio Salado College for sponsoring our event.

Here is the presentation from the meeting:


If you are in Arizona and want to join us in the future, email me at ekingsbury@cox.net.


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World Future Society Arizona Chapter September Meeting

I am pleased to announce that we are kicking off a new Arizona Chapter of the World Future Society. If you’re in Arizona and a member of the World Future Society, join fellow World Future Society members for the first meeting of our new Chapter. We will spend the evening meeting and getting to know one another, discussing mutual futurist interests and objectives, and charting a collective course for our local organization.

When:  Tuesday, September 16, 2014, from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm.

Where:  Rio Salado College, 2323 W. 14th Street, Tempe, in the Yellow and Brown room in the Conference Center

RSVP:  Join our Arizona Chapter meet up group and RSVP here.

If you have any questions, please email me, Eric Kingsbury, at ekingsbury@cox.net. If you’re not a member of the WFS, you can join easily here. And finally, if you can’t make this one, we plan to meet again in October.

Special thanks to Rio Salado College for sponsoring our meeting!

world-future-society  new_rio_logo


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Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future

Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination has announced the September 9, 2014, release of Hieroglyph, an anthology of science fiction short stories that imagine positive future outcomes.

To quote the release from ASU:

Inspired by New York Times bestselling author Neal Stephenson, our first Hieroglyph anthology features optimistic visions of the near future grounded in real science and technology, created by leading science fiction writers, thinkers, researchers and visionaries. To learn more about the stories and authors featured in the anthology, visit the Project Hieroglyph website

Mind-bending, provocative and imaginative, Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future offers a forward-thinking approach to the intersection of art and technology that has the power to change the world. 

The anthology is being released by HarperCollins and can be ordered here.

Plus, there will be a tour of bookstores in select locations across the country. Check out the new Project Hieroglyph website for details. You’ll also note from the site that the project is more than a book of SF; it’s a collaborative community of thinkers.

If you’re into science fiction and/or the future (and why would you be reading this blog if you’re not), check it out.