Monday, 28 April 2014

Sixth Sense Technology

These days, a common view at a dinner table is no longer lively conversations but each person becoming absorbed in their own gadgets, communicating their innermost and heartfelt thoughts to everybody and nobody in particular, through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social network platforms, while ignoring the person next to them.

Because we live in a world where technology dictates our behaviour.

This is why one of my favourite TED talk lectures is Pranav Mistry’s The Thrilling Potential of Sixth Sense Technology.  It was actually delivered back in 2009, a year before the iPad came to market, and yet his invention, called SixthSense is well ahead of its time, even for today.  SixthSense is a wearable device that enables new interactions between the real world and the world of data.   

Wearing the device that has a camera and having a couple of sensors on the fingertips, for example, you can take photos just by framing the object with your fingers and thumbs, dial phone numbers on the back of your hand, while placing a chip on a piece of paper you can turn the piece of paper into any digital device, whether to watch a video, play games, a touch-based computer screen and anything that today’s tablet computer can do plus more. 

The finger can also be used to make 3D digital drawings anywhere, create a watch on your wrist to tell the time and bring books, magazines and newspapers to life by linking what you see with the information available in the digital world. 

The implication of this innovation is enormous, especially the advantages it can bring for the disabled and the elderly where everyday task can be done with just a movement of the fingers or the sound of a word.  Of course, it must be developed so it can be mass produced and easy to use, but all digital technology should, I think, be steered in this direction.  To adapt to human behaviour and not the other way round. 

WhatI find exciting about Mistry’s invention is the potential for digitizing our world in a way which is human and intuitive.  While current technology and the digital world is sucking us into a life that requires us to interact with gadgets (whether the computer, the smart phones, the tablets), making us into individuals who feel more connected in a virtual world as opposed to the real world, and turning us into socially withdrawn beings who find more comfort spending time interfacing with our computer screen than engaging in face to face conversations, what Mistry offers is the opposite.  It is to turn the world around us into a digital device even as we interact like normal human beings, using our entire bodies, not hunched over our mobile devices.

Wearing the device, we become the computer, capable of browsing the Internet by moving our fingers, performing cut and paste by merely pinching our fingers and transferring it onto an ordinary piece of paper, turning any wall or surface into a digital screen where we can find information, download a map to search for a particular restaurant, check the weather and even talk to our friends.  And we can do all this while going out for a walk in the fresh air, hanging out with friends and being active.

Nowadays, a lot of the time, friends and families gather only to be close physically, while mentally everybody is elsewhere, and often finding conversing and interacting with the invisible world more rewarding, honest and authentic than the strained verbal exchanges that real life conversations demand. 

It’s getting to the point that people are finding it easier to speak their mind and have a productive conversation through their gadgets even as they are in the same room.  Certainly, in offices, the real discussions and even arguments are easier done through the digital exchanges in a Blackberry group, rather than in meeting rooms.  That is, using the thumbs rather than the mouth.

A SixthSense technology on the contrary, is where we are in control of the technology and not the other way round.  Imagine a technology that actually increases our curiosity about the people that we meet, the places that we visit and the things that we see around us, without making us addicted to our gadgets and trapping us into a life of staring and interacting with a screen. 

Instead, the technology becomes another part of our senses, but one that allows us to connect with the mine of information that the world wide web provides whenever we wish.  A technology that is digital in the real sense of the word, that is using our fingers. 

When we travel, touching our boarding pass can tell us at a glance where to go at the airport and whether our flight is delayed or not.  When we order our food, we can immediately get information on the amount of calories and nutrients it contains.  Meeting people, we can get information about their profession, hobbies and musical taste. All the stuff that we can find Online without having to go Online. 

Then our real world will no doubt be a lot more fascinating than our virtual world.

(Desi Anwar:  First Published in The Jakarta Globe)


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