Personal Infrastructure

“Case was twenty-four. At twenty-two, he’d been a cowboy, a rustler, one of the best in the Sprawl…jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix.”
– William Gibson

Personal Shopping Accessory

Personal Infrastructure

As I pack to attend the annual Consumer Electronics Show, I am gearing up for a wave of personal infrastructure. Amazon Japan has introduced a new feature called “Amazon Scan Search.” After users download an application to their cell phone free of charge, they can scan barcodes of ordinary products, which in turn enables them to search the cell phone version of for the respective product. I wonder, if you’re already in Wal-Mart, haven’t you already assumed you’re getting the lowest price??

“Designed for on-the-spot price checks.”

Biometrics Today

Personal Infrastructure

Biometrics caught my attention years ago as a means for individuals to interface with machines without using a keyboard, mouse or touchpad. This was before 9-11 though, and since then all manner of homeland security funding has inundated the industry. Here’s a government (National Security Agency) founded consortium devoted to the subject. Look at the recent Biometric conference to get a sense of the government and industry interests involved – I will be investigating each as I suspect the advances in the field, like all Defense Department funding targets, will be huge and have interesting and unexpected civilian benefits. These advances may contribute to a better interface to the World Right Now.

“The Biometric Consortium serves as a focal point for research, development, testing,?evaluation, and application of biometric-based personal identification/verification technology.”

There’s also a corresponding industry trade association.

The Neural Interface Moves Deeper

Personal Infrastructure

As neuroscience identifies more and more neural correlates of movement and thought, prosthetic interconnection seems to follow on more closely.

“For years, researchers have dreamed of devising prosthetic devices that paralyzed people could operate by brain signals alone. So far, patients’ brain waves (electroencephalogram recordings) have controlled simple computer programs, and robots and cursors have moved under the guidance of brain cells that dictate motion (Science, 24 January 2003, p. 496). Until now, however, nobody has succeeded in tapping the messages of higher-order neurons involved in planning and motivation for potential use in prosthetics. On page 258, neurophysiologists Richard Andersen and Sam Musallam of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and their colleagues report eavesdropping on neurons in a cognitive brain area involved in planning–but not executing–future arm movements.”

Meanwhile, the Center for Consciousness Studies coordinates the ongoing attempts to nail down the neural correlates of consciousness, assuming that is they can define what consciousness is. The contention of some is that neural prosthetics tackly the “easy problem” – what neurons are associated with what activities. The “hard problem” is, where in the brain is located “the feeling of what happens”.

Neural Prosthetics Update

Personal Infrastructure

A selection of prosthetics sites. These prosthetics are controlled entirely by connection to the residual limb muscles of individuals who have undergone amputation. The prosthetic limbs use a combination of hydraulics, processors, and sensors to transmit information back up through the limb muscles to enable walking, running and other activities. (I love the applet on the Hanger site showing a man dancing, quite stylishly thank you, with a prosthetic leg.) These individuals in turn are the most likely to explore the frontier of neural prosthetics when that technology is ready to, if you will, take the next step.

Liberating Technologies:

Hanger Orthopedic Group

C-Leg microprocessor-controlled knee

For the human element, here’s the personal site of Cameron Clapp, a triple-amputee after being hit by a train. I challenge you not to be inspired.


Personal Infrastructure

Wireless broadband is possible in Laramie Wyoming, without centralized national scale planning. Hmm

LARIAT.NET is a local Internet service provider based in Laramie, Wyoming. Founded in 1993 as a community network and relaunched as a private ISP in 2003, we were the world’s first wireless broadband provider and have more than 11 years of wireless experience. We remain an innovator in wireless technology and Internet security, and are the only Internet provider serving Laramie which is locally owned, locally operated, locally managed, and not a franchise or chain…Get out of the house, dormitory, or office and enjoy a beverage, food, and/or the company of others while you work.

Grid Television

Personal Infrastructure

Television becoming more Internet-like is always a promising development. But IP doesn’t mean Free TV. There is a contractual production and distribution infrastructure that won’t be “disrupted” so easily.

“The BBC’s Broadcast network faces many of the problems which computing grids are designed to solve. It is a distributed network , with processing of broadcast material taking place at many nodes, carrying material (broadcast video) that has very high bandwidth requirements and mixes ‘live’ and stored events. The BBC also places high demands for reliable and consistent performance on its systems and networks. Special purpose broadcast processing equipment (e.g. video editing suites or image rendering devices) are located at specific points in the network but, in general, are not available for use outside these locations. As an example of this, a producer from BBC Northern Ireland will have to travel to London (taking his programme material with him) should he want to edit his programme on an advanced editing suite not available at the BBC’s Belfast site.”

The World Is My Operating System

Personal Infrastructure

I’m not much of a Microsoft watcher – I think of them more as king of scale than as an innovator, but that’s why it’s interesting to see the following points from a leaked memo, foreshadowing a clear trend toward both broader and deeper human interconnectivity.

“SEAMLESS OS – The operating system as it would be designed for today’s multi-PC, multi-device, work anywhere, web-based world. Enabling you to login using any of your service-based or enterprise identities. Deploying software automatically and as appropriate to all your devices, and roaming application data and settings. Permitting seamless access to storage across all your PCs, devices, servers and the web.

SEAMLESS COMMUNICATIONS – Communications and notifications – from voice to typing to shared screen; from PC to service-based agent to phone. Maintaining continuous co-presence with intimate friends and family; improving the coordination amongst individuals who need to work together by reducing latency and adding clarity through shared context. “

RFID Passports

Personal Infrastructure

RFID chips will become part of your passport starting next year. Another application that makes more sense right inside the body.

“The Department [of State] intends to begin the electronic passport program in December 2005. By October 2006, all U.S. passports, with the exception of a small number of emergency passports issued by U.S. embassies or consulates, will be electronic passports. The ICAO specification for use of contactless chip technology requires a minimum capacity of 32 kilobytes (KB). The U.S. has decided to use a 64KB chip to permit adequate storage room in case additional data, or biometric indicators such as fingerprints or iris scans, are included in the future.”

It’s probably not as a well known that biometric information (fingerprints, retinal scans) are part of current ports of entry procedures.

“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today the scheduled ?expansion of the US VISIT program’s biometric entry procedures to additional ?land border ports of entry (POE)…US-VISIT entry procedures have been operational in the secondary inspection areas of the 50 busiest land border ports of entry since December 29, 2004, ?and are also in place at 115 airports and 15 seaports.”

Bandwidth All Around You

Personal Infrastructure

Among my favorite consumer electronics devices are those that do hardly anything. Sometimes that’s all you need.

“Consumers no longer have to boot up their laptops in order to search for nearby Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) service coverage, with the launch of IOGEAR’s new Wi-Fi Finder, a Wi-Fi location device. The easy-to-use product is a perfect tool for mobile workers, with a radio frequency range of 500 feet in open space. By clicking the ‘detect’ button, the device identifies nearby hotspots without interfering with 2.4GHz cordless telephones, A/V or Bluetooth devices. The Wi-Fi Finder also features four LEDs, which indicate WLAN coverage and signal strength.”

“The amazing Mini Bug Tracer RF detector is great for finding those hidden 2.4GHz wireless cameras. Outstanding performance in a small package. Keychain sized detector with telescopic antenna sniffs out hidden wireless cameras fast, assuring your privacy. Red light flashes faster as you get closer to the hidden camera. HI/LO buttons allow you to check out the entire room, then “home-in” on the bug.”


Personal Infrastructure

After a recent trip to Europe (watch for my International Broadcasting Conference Top Ten essay, coming soon), I’ve been following other European developments. Biometrics technology, used for digitizing fingerprints, retinas and other unique personal identifiers, seems to me part of the ongoing shrinking of the interfaces between humans and technology. Like RFID, biometrics seems to push civil liberties buttons. Others see it as a weapon in fighting identity theft and other 21st century demons.

“The European Commission has just launched a new public information portal on biometrics, to provide an online platform for information exchange, coordination and community building activities between users and producers in Europe. The new portal’s objective is to encourage the development of consistent policies in the field of biometrics and the respect of privacy.”