Here is another recent, and interesting article about revisiting Weiser’s vision of ubiquitous computing,
Rogers, Y. (2006). Moving on from weiser’s vision of calm computing: Engaging ubicomp experiences. In P. Dourish & A. Friday (Eds.), Ubicomp, LNCS 4206 (pp. 404–421). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
Rogers describes Weiser’s vision as one focused on “calm computing”, aimed at making our lives more “convenient, comfortable, and informed“, and most ubicomp research being based on this vision. She continues by describing how this vision has led to stagnation in the field of ubicomp research:
But, as advanced and impressive as these endeavors have been they still do not match up to anything like a world of calm computing. There is an enormous gap between the dream of comfortable, informed and effortless living and the accomplishments of UbiComp research. As pointed out by Greenfield  “we simply don’t do ‘smart’ very well yet” because it involves solving very hard artificial intelligence problems that in many ways are more challenging than creating an artificial human . A fundamental stumbling block has been harnessing the huge variability in what people do, their motives for doing it, when they do it and how they do it.
The very idea of calm computing has also raised a number of ethical and social concerns. Even if it was possible for Weiser’s dream to be fulfilled would we want to live in such a world? In particular, is it desirable to depend on computers to take on our day-to-day decision-making and planning activities? Will our abilities to learn, remember and think for ourselves suffer if we begin to rely increasingly on the environment to do them for us? Furthermore, how do designers decide which activities should be left for humans to control and which are acceptable and valuable for the environment to take over responsibility for?
Instead, Rogers argues for an alternative:
which focuses on designing UbiComp technologies for engaging user experiences. It argues for a significant shift from proactive computing to proactive people; where UbiComp technologies are designed not to do things for people but to engage them more actively in what they currently do. Rather than calm living it promotes engaged living, where technology is designed to enable people to do what they want, need or never even considered before by acting in and upon the environment.
Sounds a lot like what we’ve been saying in the blogosphere about what needs to be done with education. To put it in Yvonne Rogers’ word: “We should be provoking people in their scientific, learning, analytic, creative, playing and personal activities and pursuit.”
Image credit: “Where Ubicomp Started”, Ilpo’s Sojourn’s photostream: