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1993 here again
Published on October 16, 2013 By Phil Osborn In Internet

OK, think back to 1991 or perhaps '92.  The web hadn't been invented yet - or implemented anyway.  Ted Nelson's Xanadu was known throughout the digerati, and no doubt countless other thinkers had come up with their own mental or prototypical WWW, yours truly included, circu 1979 or so.  I even spent most of a year writing a version of Prolog to run on a C64 as the foundation OS for a universal information network that I called the "Personal Knowledge Index" or PKI.  

The PKI design included the equivalent of personal web pages and transclusion - altho I had never heard of the term, or of Xanadu, or Ted Nelson, for that matter.  My system included as well automatic language translation and a unique search engine that is only now starting to appear in recent work at Google and FaceBook.  For three decades I attempted to find someone who would be capable and willing to actually implement the two separate search engines that I designed, only to run into endless iterations of NIH.  The universal response was either, "Who are you?  If you're not a programmer, your ideas are worthless, and if you are a programmer then you would do the job yourself…" and/or "Ideas are a dime a dozen."  O'well.  Someone - and me - lost a cool $trillion via those two responses...  I suspect that this is a product of our competitive educational system, in which the truth counts for little in comparison to winning a debate.  The winners are the best competitors, not necessarily the wisest or most insightful.

Anyway, about 1991 or '92 I was getting all these international and European security magazines at my job, where I handled press releases and the desktop publishing for a security products company.  One article caught my eye in a British trade magazine.  It described how the British Motorcycle Association had cut a deal with the police throughout the British Isles to offer implantable RFID chips to its members, while the police would be getting hand scanners that could read a hidden chip on a bike, making it possible for the cops to easily id a bike as stolen. 

I immediately saw a world of possibilities looming.  Only a few bits of data per RFID would enable unique labels for trillions of items from people to trivia.  An item could be tracked - or not - from manufacturing origin thru distribution thru retail sales to the ultimate purchaser, who could use a reader to enter their property into a secure database online or personal, or as a function of their credit card at the purchase point.  While theft could still occur, it would be severely curtailed.  An item's ID would be unique, and fake or missing IDs easily spotted.

That was just the start, however.  I had been covering various cutting edge digital conferences for various magazines, starting in the Amiga market in ‘89, with a focus on the hot VR scene.  I could see how one could link from a RFID to anything else on a worldwide universal database, so that with a see-thru HUD, such as the I-Glasses, one could live in a world of new digital dimensions, with information ready to be called up at a glance and OverLaid - a term I entered with IEEE, altho I never followed up to see what they did with it.  ("Augmented" reality ended up dominating - a term that I felt was too value weighted.)

So, I had been writing for "Amiga User International," http://www.aui-magazine.net/ based out of Britain, and together with my coverage of the recent Meckler VR conference in San Jose, I included a one page article on the new world of Overlaid Reality that the RFID tags from Motorola's subsidiary, Indala Corp., made feasible.  I called Indala from work, had a long conversation with one of their R&D people, and got a package of material from them at one point, but then management at work intervened and trashed the whole project.

Meanwhile, "Amiga User International" was failing, along with the general Amiga market.  They published my final stuff, but they were so disfunctional by then that they mixed up the photos with someone else's, and they attributed my article on RFID to Michael Hanish - known for his tech articles in "TV Facts" (or, some such magazine title - now defunct I think, as I can't find a link), a friend of a friend (his cousin Brian Hanish, who did VR sets for rock shows and other venues around Hollywood or SoCal), who I had introduced to "Amiga International" - and who also didn't get paid for his submissions.

So, a year or so later, I had a discussion at LOSCON with sf author Larry Niven about the implications of RFID and Overlaid Reality and he invited me to give a synopsis of it at a panel he chaired.

But then, there was about two decades of silence on the whole subject.  There was the problem that you had to be fairly close for RFID to work without a really powerful scanner.  (But see the recent announcement from IBM and Semtech on the Barcelona Internet of Things site, regarding low power RF over considerable distances...)  But I think that the main cause was that the internet sucked up all the innovative juice in the market.  The lady who ran the Meckler conferences advised me that VR was fading and the net was the new rising star.  The media can only focus on one thing at a time, and had been burned to boot by various scam artists who tried to sell VR systems that were simply WAY too underpowered and WAY too overpriced, and there were books about VR that cashed in on the hype, whose authors were invited to all the best parties (and maybe more)...  I called them out as liars, which made me the enemy. 

The VR that really worked was the stuff exemplified by the Vivid Group’s Mandala, generically known as “videoplace,” a term coined by VR pioneer Myron Krueger, whose books on “artificial reality” are must reading for anyone in the field.  Krueger had done thousands of experiments using university mainframes in the ‘70’s, often involving the computer using edge detection and interpretation to map the user image or outline into a virtual world, a world that the user could directly interact with.  The whole field had a promising commercial start with “Mandala” on the Amiga in ‘86, then languished for various reasons that I’ve covered here in a previous article that I will link to as time allows.

http://forums.joeuser.com/385410/page/1/  or my original article here at http://philosborn.joeuser.com/article/15624/Virtually_Real 

However, we’re drifting away from tonight’s intended focus.  After decades of nothing much, in spite of major breakthroughs in the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, we are finally moving toward the kind of world envisioned in Vinge’s 2007 Hugo Winning “Rainbows End,” or Brin’s 2012 “Existence,” or my 1993 article in “Amiga International.”  I.e., a world in which we live in a complex and constantly evolving mix of virtual and real, seeing the world as we choose – and to the degree we can afford (like the modern Smartphone market on steroids).  Imagine being able to essentially look through someone else’s eyes anywhere on the planet, in hi-res realtime.  Imagine smart mobs in which most of the participants are there virtually or – one step further – via their virtual avatars, and you can’t tell the virtual from the real visually, and barely via touch, as the haptics will be getting better and better, too. 

And those people with the wealth will have the nicest worlds, with semi-autonomous AI secretaries and counselors, personal knowledge systems like I imagined in ’79 or so that adapt themselves to what they truly want, nano-second by nano-second continuously crafting one’s heart’s desires, and avatars smarter, at least in their realm of expertise, than 99.9% of their competition in whatever field, avatars by the hundreds, good capitalists by default, using capital to create more capital and more power.

So, last night I finally struggle thru my email stack and have a couple minutes to chill at the www.kurzweilai.net site – my fave, BTW.  And, there’s this article on the Internet of Things: 


And THAT leads me to:   http://www.openremote.com/

And THAT leads me to:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_Things

And we’re back full circle.  So, an idea-span from the late ‘70’s to 2013, or, for the RFID part that I pretty much duplicated in '93, two decades.  Darn.  How come I’m not rich?  Damn!

Parting note:  I may spin this off as a separate blog, but for now please enjoy my own excursion into the Internet of Things, written some months ago – before I ever heard the term – I swear  (oops, just discovered that I commented on an earlier similar article on the www.kurzweilai.net site - so, likely that take got stuck back in the recesses of my mind.  Totally forgot about it!) Anyway, this takes the movie a few frames further: 

For a look at that earlier article go here:  http://www.kurzweilai.net/how-the-internet-of-everything-will-change-the-world


Phil Osborn - early 2013

The chime forest became quiet as she slipped thru the dense foliage into the central meadow, a gentle silent breeze barely ruffling the blades of silver grass.  The maestro, waiting, just touched the podium with his golden wand, and the response, a single “ping,” resonated like the pure note of a leaded wineglass.  But, like an intricate three-dimensional cascade of dominos, the note echoed in multitudinous, tumbling, liquid variations, chords, trills, thumps, bringing to mind the opening of Wagner’s immortal “Das Rheingold,” but condensed/enhanced a thousand-fold. 

But these musical instruments / musicians were alive, plantlike creatures, presumably a piece of the latest Kurzweil mindspins, not quite fully sentient but in their little universe, geniuses and savants.  

Without thinking, she clapped in delight, which became multiplied into sharp bangs, knocks, booms and more thumps than she could begin to count in unenhanced mode, and then an emerging sharpening, almost quietly, on the edges of the tympani.  The scene was already far beyond umode sensory overload territory.  She called upon her Mind’s Ear to run some stats, and, as they displayed on her retinal implant, she saw an anomaly that triggered a focus from her new communications director, a chip that watched for interactions, of all kinds, directed at her.

Her older version from a competing chip designer had been able to isolate, amplify and warn, on necessity, of systematic responses that might lead to programmed subversive feedback loops, including emoticals trying to insinuate themselves between the boundaries of her scales, but the new version allegedly went far beyond the mundane hacks and the ocean of adverts and madverts churning just outside the sacrosanct core of her conscious identity, like mental bacteria or tiny insects, all determined to infect her with their value-streams.

No, the new version, or so a Trusted associate had asserted, went way beyond simple defense, into creative territory, judo-like, routinely subverting the attackers from parasiticals to symbiots, until the next gen, at least.  The maestro was saying something, “oh yes, sorry, just let me ReCall.”  She stepped back several sentences and replayed his InVoice.  Such a narrow pipe left from the intersectioned dimensions of the experience.  She could STILL only really follow one logical thread at a time, darn it all.  At least now, she had ReCall.  “Something, someone? was watching her.”

“Why don’t you call something forth?” he was suggesting, or that was the surface message.  She imagined a handsome, virile princeling in tights, smiling in anticipation, drawn from her humemory of a fave erotizone.  Nothing…

Wrong channel, obviously, so, what were the plants looking for?  She studied them, mapping them into a simple 3D representation, calling on her pattern detectors and the new chip, “look for the interactions that cause emergence.”  A predatory flower sang a sudden sharp tone as it attempted to skewer a soft fungal looking mass that exuded some apparent white noise. The fungus instantly transformed its surface into something hard and durable, but the flower was searching for other targets, its tonal strikes evoking similar defensive moves by other participants.

She decided that the prince was ….  there  …. posed against a tree.  She imagined his salacious eye, roving about her perfectly designed body, exploring in detail what he might imagine doing with all those bumps and curves, nooks and gravid protrusions.  The mass of fungus was climbing the tree, and now shaping itself to the image in her mind, as called up via her moves, gestures, the aim of her gaze.  She blushed, an antique reaction that she chose to preserve, and boldly widened her stance, leaning back to emphasize the sacred space between.

She knew, without thinking about the sudden moistness, how this could end, but surely a perfect erotic adventure was not the core of this visit?  The prince beckoned and started to step forward, his manhood undeniable, imprisoned by the tights.  She clapped her hands again and decided that he was not there, despite a little struggle with her own emotional momentum.  Her nanobot cleaners drank up her fertile moisture almost instantly.  How many lovers can forever hold, anyway? 

“So, what are you showing me?”  The Maestro was smiling at her terminated fantasy, the prince devolving back to a pudding mass.  The plants were singing back and forth, playing off each other’s melodies, in minor counterpoint or denial.  “Now let’s add some intelligence.  To the scene.” 

Something was happening.  A mist began to form in the central meadow.  It swirled into cloudy fantasies that moved vaguely synchronously with dominant themes of the various plant soloists or bands. Something similar to her prince emerged, but not noticing her at all, he instead began to focus intensely – on what?  What was he looking at or for?  A second mist began to form in line with his focus.  A lithe female dancer condensed from the particles, her eyes longingly fixed on the prince.  They moved together, their purpose obvious.

There was a clap. She had forgotten the maestro for a moment.  The two lovers, startled, gazed frantically about, seeking some sort of sensory anchor, but in another moment were reduced to suggestions of a cloud.

She interrupted, “And?”

“Oh, not so obvious, I suppose, but the beta of the next phase of the Intelligent Universe, where-in relationships, ultimately mere abstractions – justice, hate, quadratic equations, sexual love – all become alive, conscious, interactive, and finally sentient.

“And then?”  His smile at her understanding lit up the meadow, literally. The flowers sensed his joy and bowed or curtsied, like some kind of alien Disney characters, all in her honor. 

“Who really knows?  We enhanced humans are just getting started.  Whatever abstractions can be drawn from this phase will presumably fuel the next, and the next, and...  Plato was so totally wrong, but we will make him right, despite himself.”

“And will these abstractions made real be really conscious?  Will they be forever locked in their perfection?  Being the Ideal, what will they do with US.”

“Whatever it will be, it will of necessity have to be perfect.”  He was smiling, but she couldn’t tell if he was being serious.

She said, seriously, “But I’ve always heard that the perfect is the enemy of the good…”

“Are we good?”


So, referencing myself yet once again (in public!), here's what I just added at the Kurzweilai.net site in response to that earlier dialog...

"Ist, picking up a thread from November of 2012, for the most part, programming has become a LOT more complex and limited than it was through the early ’90′s. In the late ’70′s thru the early ’90′s, I could take on a job of writing a compiled BASIC or Turbo-PASCAL or Turbo-Prolog (to name just a few) program to do serious jobs, such as language word and phrase substitution for utility translating of customer orders.

Similarly with the “progress” of APPs. InDesign does very little for the average user that PageMaker didn’t do, but it takes months to really master, while in fifteen minutes someone could be up and working with PageMaker. And while Adobe keeps producing these monster programs, such as Illustrator, that require that the user dedicate his or her life to keeping up with them, simpler programs that produced equivalent end results seem to be disappearing. The purchasing department buys the Adobe product like they bought IBM mainframes half a century earlier – because (and this was an actual sales slogan for IBM) “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” The end users get handed something that will turn them into slaves to Adobe, while the sign-painters and poster makers, whose livlihood rests upon timely and effective graphics that don’t eat up all their time, buy COREL, which does pretty much everything that Illustrator does, with 1% of the learning curve. But who listens to the computer skills of sign creators?

BTW, I had completely forgotten this thread and then I ran accross the CISCO site’s intro and the upcoming Barcellona conference on “the internet of things,” and realized that I had written a scrap of story based on the next generation beyond the Internet of Things and wrote a blog on it and then did a search and discovered my own history here… SURPRISE! What’s next?

I think that I’m imagining that I’m actually remembering about 1% of what actually is being stored or is later accessible. That may be a clinical condition, or it might simply be a habit that I’ve gotten into, of a continuous forward vision. I don’t think much at all about what happened to me in the past minute, day, year – unless it is directly related to something I’m engaged in NOW, in which case my memory is actually not bad. I noticed that for the past several LOSCON sf conferences at which I sat on or chaired numerous panels (7, one year), I have NO memory of what happened or even what the panels were, a few years downstream. I do have videos of many of them, but never had the time to look at them. Does it matter? Or am I trapped in Rushkoff’s “Present Shock?” I would actually LIKE to be able to recall my past in detail, but have not a clue as to how to procede.

Perhaps one of the most useful near-term digital assistents would be a personal scribe and secretary who would keep that diary and commentary, ready and collated for easy access, keeping the separate threads united around fundamental personal themes and purposes…

Ok, who wants to sponsor me to the Internet of Things in Barcellona, end of this month? – read my blog and the attached story fragment and then decide if you wouldn’t like to have me take notes for you and send you my analysis of what’s really happening. Google Internet of Things joeuser Phil Osborn."

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