Yesterday I attended a really cool event called xCAMP, information pills organized by my friends Nabil & Riwa Harfoush (a killer father/daughter act). They have started a project to examine the opportunity for and develop a plan to scale the work of Natalie Jeremijenko’s fascinating xClinic work.
During a discussion after Natalie & Nabil had made brief presentations, I offered up a gloss on what I took to be one of the goals of their proposed project. In the process I coined a term to capture the idea of using people in networks as sensors. I called this the “Internet of sentient things”. I doubt I am the first to make this coinage, and I am certainly far from the first to discuss the underlying concept.
Then, commenting on a friend’s blog this morning I was prompted to “upgrade” the coinage to an Internet of sentient social things. Just after posting, it occurred to me that I really should have said, an Internet of intelligent sentient social things. Of course, an Internet of people would be a much more economical expression.
What I was trying to get at when I brought it up yesterday is that we are starting to design for people as beings that are augmented by their attachment to the Internet and that this connection is becoming more and more constant, at least de facto. Many things arise from this, such as the continuing erosion of the distinction between being online vs. offline, which will have policy, privacy and even cognitive implications.
Jaremijenko’s work, and certainly its possible expansion, points to the emergence of the sorts of design projects that involve working with people as sensor tech. It is not that this approach is reductive, to the contrary, Jaremijenko wants to do this, I think, precisely because the frictions that are introduced by using people as sensors provide opportunities to both rethink and rewire how we interact with complex systems like public health and the environment.
What I find intriguing about work like the xClinic is the way its design forces the hybridization of human and non-human technologies. It reminds us that we are not slaves to our machines, but that we are deeply implicated in machines that we are building and extending. There are serious and deep issues here. They are BOTH exciting and frightening. What is comforting to me is that we are in this together. Now, more than ever.