Category Archives: Scifi Reality

The Social Internet of Things and an Old Can of Privacy Worms

The internet of things is coming. And then it will go social. As this video – posted in March 2011, almost 3 years ago! – from Ericsson (still a name then!) illustrates. Have a look:

Imagine a fridge that messages you to tell you that the milk expires today.
Looks great doesn’t it? And then the privacy issues will come in. Notice in the video, the man appears to have blocked his girlfriend from seeing his activity in order to surprise her (Video: 0’26”). So, you see, even in the future – we will still need lists and privacy settings. We’ll still have to make decisions about what we post, when and who will see it – for both good reasons as well as not-so-good reasons.

Just as people grapple with and complain about online privacy issues today, they will continue to struggle with balancing pros and cons as social expands beyond the mobile gadget and web browser. When your home or office knows your location, for example, you will have to think about who ought to know. If at all.

Imagine your sofa telling the TV to turn off because you’ve dozed off.
Now imagine: what about businesses? How will a typical business deal with the social internet of things? What will it be like, when your photocopier/printer, office desk, telephone, room, water cooler all become part of the internet of things? Would you welcome such a technology paradigm? The meeting room prepares itself for a presentation 15 minutes before a big meeting. The printer orders extra cartridges knowing that next week, a big report is due.

Imagine an office that arranges a meeting for 10 people in one-click
But: just like useful social apps on mobile phones, would we run into issues of having or giving out too much information? Would employees like the idea of their boss knowing when they are in the pantry? Would the boss like it if his employees knew exactly where he is all the time? When he arrives in the morning? Some would say this is useful information. I imagine a system that automatically arranges a meeting for X number of people based on knowing their needs, their schedule and location. Just tap YES to confirm. Productivity would shoot through the roof(?)!

Imagine a boutique that can find out the clothing sizes of customers who walk in.
But, at some point, people will start to say they’re uncomfortable with being findable anywhere, anytime. They don’t want to leave digital footprints – let alone social ones – in the office. Some will even say the internet of things is a security hazard – who knows if that WiFi-connected microwave is listening to discussions at the pantry?

Companies will balk. They will start to shy away. They will question. They will want to play safe. And then, they will simply say they don’t want any part of it. Networked machines will not be allowed in office.


The rest of the world will move on, especially among consumers and homes. Consumers will play with the social network of things. Yes they will complain about privacy issues too, but they’ll use it anyway, like smartphones and Facebook. Then one day, some companies will realize they are falling behind their customers. Companies which resist the advancing tide of consumer technology will realize that they don’t really understand the market. Just like how today, consumers are ahead of businesses in use of social. Consumers have higher expectations because they have more experience adopting social.

Businesses may recognize the need – they may try to design services which are social B2C, but because they do not adopt it internally, their appreciation is limited. It’s like how many businesses market to customers with social tools, but do not use social tools within the company.

We can be certain that the internet of things will come, and that it will become social. It will have privacy issues. It may even suffer the occasional massive hack/breach disaster. It will also have many as-yet undiscovered uses and advantages. We’ll have to use it to understand how to deal with it. Above all, we cannot use “Not a priority”, “No budget”, “Lack of management support” and other barriers that have long plagued implementation of social media as an excuse to hide from the reality that it is important. The future will only get more connected.


Google Glass is an Inevitable Technology (Just Like Social Media)

Since its debut, Google Glass has had its fair share of raves….. and a lot more ranting. It is absolutely, completely, utterly, 100%-ly NOT surprising that the first thing people jumped on is the issue of privacy. It’s been talked about, debated, speculated upon (with suspicion), fingers pointed at, and is still being questioned.

But you know what? Despite all these threats to the technology’s viability, I believe it will still win in the end. This is because, Google Glass represents an Inevitable Technology. It is a technological concept, like radio, screens, wireless internet, rechargeable power sources, recycling and not forgetting social media, that makes sense. So long as you take away the “petty” concerns, the idea makes so much sense and has so much true value that it is inevitable that it must exist.

scifi contact lens
Life imitates sci-fi as contact lens displays inch closer to reality (2009)

Granted, Google Glass is not perfect – and by “Inevitable” I do not say it is perfect. The idea is inevitable, not this particular manifestation of the idea. The idea that we will wear information displays on our head, before our eyes, is as inevitable as the idea that the phone must leave behind its wires to the wall (and go mobile).

So, while people continue to debate the problems of Google Glass, the technology will not die. It will get better and better, until either one day the privacy/security issues are resolved, or the value the technology provides so far outweighs the alleged dangers, that no one cares anymore. Like how we continue to “ignore” the danger of mobile phones microwaving our brains; like how we continue our addiction to social media despite all its privacy issues.

So I say, be patient – don’t strike off the technological concept just because its firstborn manifestation is imperfect. Google knows this, and that’s why it’s always, for want of a better term, trying stuff. Google has a reputation for rolling out controversial services and eventually shutting them down. Many see this as a weakness and laugh. But I see in them a spirit of innovation. We tend to forget that many others are not shut down but continue to evolve. Whether or not the Google Glass as a device will be killed in the future, I am not certain. But the technological concept (info display on eyepiece/eye), I still believe is here to stay. Google may have to face the brunt of privacy advocates’ rants, but – at least they tried the innovation. Dare you?

Some technologies are fads, some are too far ahead of its time, others are born immature; some will die, others are inevitable.

Smartphones and folding screens: bending rules for your human hand

George Colony at Forrester research writes about “Apple’s Folding Future“, and some people are skeptical.

I’m not, actually. Foldable screens is something that I’ve predicted will happen. Yes, it’s something that you and I  have seen in science fiction, and in recent years it has become reality, not just in a foldable form (2009), but a bendable form (2012), courtesy of Samsung.


But, far from just a fancy city-night lighting toy, it will solve a number of problems, such as the limitations to the size of smartphones.

iphone-handThe fixed factor is the size of the human hand. It’s this size that makes most phones about the size of an iPhone, and the Samsung big phones “comically large“. We’re forced to design it for that size, and that is ergonomics. Anything larger is uncomfortable. For a long time, the thinking is that we can’t make phones any bigger without making them uncomfortable to hold. That’s why some said in the past that the iPhone will never have a screen larger than 3.5″.

But we know today that that’s not true. Not only has the iPhone stretched to 4″, there are Samsung’s galactic screens as well. All’s well for people with big hands, for people whose need for a large screen outweigh discomfort, for people who don’t make many phone calls (or people who don’t mind holding a big tablet to the ear to make phone calls), and for those (i.e.women) who keep their phones in their handbags.

Since we can’t evolve larger hands soon, but we still want larger screens, one solution would be to make the phone collapsible or foldable. That way one can hold it like a phone when making calls, and still transform it into a bigger screen when needed.


Foldable phones and computers already exist, so to speak – clamshells. But those are still awkward because of the relative bulk, and that half the device is keypad. But with the coming of foldable screens + existing touchscreen technology… maybe what we need is truly a foldable screen with no hinges. That would make more sense, something flat like a typical smartphone today, that unfolds without hinges into a larger tablet.

Picture from
Picture from

Don’t get thrown off by the above horribly congested “prototype” shown at Forrester – one thing one should bear in mind is that, when one paradigm (in this case the concept of the screen) changes, other paradigms will shift and change as well, so we should not expect to see a wall of icons. The phone OS for a bendable screen won’t be the same as that for a fixed screen,

George Colony admits he has no inside knowledge of what Apple is planning, but I do agree that this is a viable future. Coincidentally, Apple recently patented a curious “iPhone with wrap-around display and seamless glass housing” that seems to be using a folded screen in some way, though it doesn’t seem to unwrap, so to speak.

Oh, and you would imagine that having such a MASSIVE screen estate will mean your battery won’t even last half a day. Don’t worry – the battery side of the equation is being resolved as well. Truly, we live in an age of #scifireality.

Do check out the Samsung videos demonstrating their bendable screen prototypes and ideas – some people may not agree with the size of their smartphones (it’s the main reason I don’t want one, too big for my pocket), but their daring ideas and quick innovation is admirable.

Curiosity Engages – how big is a full-sized Gundam?

What on earth is that?
What on earth is that?

At a recent training programme for trainers, i.e. teaching teachers to teach better,  every participant was asked to do micro-teaching. Basically we had to do a short presentation and be critiqued about our teaching ability. Most of my class chose to teach their existing subject in the university, which ranged from cancer research to performance studies. I decided, since my courseware wasn’t ready, to do something a little different. I talked about a pet subject of mine, the Japanese cultural phenomenon known as Gundam.

But Gundam isn’t the topic of this post. Curiosity is. When my little talk about this 30-year-old franchise ended, one of the participants commented about the above photo, which I included in a slide about Gundam as a cultural phenomenon in Japan. Among the various pictures of Gundam artwork, packaging, cosplay and merchandise, I had included the above shot as a teaser to something bigger. She felt that this was very effective in keeping the audience’s attention. They were curious.

Earlier in the programme, we had the opportunity to hear Professor Alex Ip from the Department of Biological Sciences speak about life as academic in the NUS. He is a multi-award-winning teacher and his talk proved why. He teased us right from the beginning about the story of one his students who began as an average-grade pupil. We were curious.

Curiosity and Engagement
Curiosity killed the cat? Have you ever wondered what that means? Well, you can google it to find its literary roots. But this post isn’t about cats getting “killed” (unless you can’t stand kitten videos), it’s about engaging people.

When you are in the business of engaging people online, you have quite a few advantages on hand. For one, information is in a sense just a click, google or comment away. This morning, for example, I was waiting for the bus and surfing my Facebook feed when I saw this:

Smashing Magazine Facebook post
Despite my horrible 3G connection, I couldn’t help looking through the comments (which involved loading “View previous comments”, i.e. more waiting time) because I wanted to learn. I was curious. And I willingly paid precious time in anticipation of it. (Still wondering if “[space] instead of &nbsp” was meant as a joke).

It was engaging because it got me curious. So, when you are designing content to engage your audience, do bear this in mind. The examples in this post can be described as:

  1. Teasers. A picture tells a thousand words, but don’t show them all at once. Here is a gallery of the full-scale Gundam statue built in Japan.

  2. Stories. Prof. Ip’s student, whom he took in despite her unimpressive grades, became an eminent Professor of Oncology herself. It is a classic story of “rags to riches”, professionally speaking. The story that people want to finish reading is the key.(Though, be aware that many of the highly shareable stories you see on Facebook of late are generally of dubious origin; some are unsubstantiatedsome have good intentions but aren’t exactly true; some are funny but still untrue.)
  3. Questions. Ask questions that allow others to fulfill your curiosity, and yourself to fulfill others’ curiosities.

By no means the only ways to leverage curiosity in engagement and content development, but certainly among the consistently effective.

10 Uses for Leap Motion, 2013’s Wooshable Gesture UI

According to, this little gadget is so amazing, other companies interrupted their own product demo to demo it on video.

What’s even scarier is that you can already pre-order this – yes, you can buy it. And it’s only US$70.  More info at Leap Motion.

What could this spell for 2013 computing? Let me see:

  1. Crush and throw gesture to close windows.
  2. Wave at the computer to wake it up from hibernation. (I’ve always hated jiggling the mouse.)
  3. Table Tennis games developers rejoice! Ping Pong gamers can hardly wait.
  4. “Like” a video on YouTube by clapping.
  5. No more CTRL-ALT-DEL! Just throw your arms up in the air and your computer will ask if you want to reboot. Then, just slap your face to confirm.
  6. Make strangling actions when your iDevice refuses to sync properly. This causes iTunes to offer a backup restore.
  7. Your computer automatically sets a snooze alarm for 15 minutes when you lay your head on the keyboard.
  8. Armchair conductors rejoice! Game developers, there’s your new market.

    armchair conductor

  9. A whole new world opens up for online make-up tutorials; and last but not least:
  10. Make your computer bark ferociously when your cat strolls across your keyboard.

I think I’ve just convinced myself to pre-order one.