web analytics

Are You Ready for Sixth Sense Technology?

Half-human, half-robot face.

Photo by Broma

Imagine walking down the street and seeing a poster for a new film at your local cinema. It looks interesting, so you stop.

With a wave of your hand, you conjure an image of a web browser, projected onto the poster from a camera you’re wearing as an earpiece. You snap your fingers, and two gold stars appear, followed by three dark blue ones — indicating an average score of 2/5 from people who have seen the film. Scrolling down (with a thumb gesture) the top-rated review tells you all you need to know: great concept and stunning special effects, let down by a clumsy script and wooden performances.

Glad to have avoided a turkey, you continue down the street, until a flashing arrow projected onto a dustbin point you in the direction of a supermarket. You smile at the photo of your partner that flashes up afterwards — you’re used to receiving these little reminder notes on your way home.

As you approach the door, the words ‘kitchen roll’ appear on the glass in front of you. Glancing down at the floor, you follow the flashing arrows taking you to the correct aisle. You don’t recognise either brand of kitchen roll in stock, but picking up the first one, you see a red traffic light signal projected onto the surface of the product. Tapping it for further information, you read a short caption telling you about its high bleach content, and the company’s poor record on corporate social responsibility. (You have previously told the system that these are important criteria for your purchases.) You turn to the next product, and are pleased to see a green light flashing, meaning you can purchase it without hesitation.

You turn and walk out of the store without a second glance. As you approach the door, the price flashes on the glass, and is automatically debited from your account as you step out onto the street…

Science fiction? For now, yes. But what would you say if I told you all the technology in this little scenario was already in development?

Have a look at this video demonstrating ‘sixth sense technology’ (via Fresh Creation) — i.e. technology that extends our perception, by giving us access to information from computer networks.

Pretty impressive huh? Yes, it’s still a bit clunky, and no I’m not in a hurry to wear coloured symbols or paint my fingernails in primary colours. But imagine if you didn’t even need hand gestures to control this technology, but could do it by simply rolling your eyes…

… Look no further than Japan where, as this video demonstrates, eye gesture recognition is becoming a reality:

Maybe you’d rather talk to your computer than wink at it? In which case, it may interest you to know that I’m writing this article without touching the keyboard. For months now, as I wrote on Lateral Action, I’ve been doing most of my writing using speech recognition software.

But sometimes even talking can feel like too much effort. What would it be like if you could control your computer just by thinking about what you want it to do?

Well, as Apple would say, there’s an app for that too.

This next video may look slightly Open University in presentation style, but it tells an amazing story — of a message sent across the Internet between two computers, using the brainwaves of two human operators. The person receiving the message didn’t even have any conscious awareness of what it was!

The Brave New World of the Clowd

When you start to join the dots between these videos, the implications are enormous. Like it or not, this technology is on the way, and it will profoundly transform the way we interact with our environment and each other.

It will even start to change our sense of who we are. If you’re concerned about what your Facebook profile may reveal about you to your colleagues, imagine what it would be like if everyone who looked at you could see a tag cloud of labels aggregated from the Internet. (‘Designer’, ‘Mum’, ‘blogger’, ‘squash player’.) Or even marks out of five!

We’re on the verge of a brave new world, where cloud computing gives way to what Seth Godin calls ‘the clowd’:

So, very soon, you will own a cell phone that has a very good camera and knows where you are within ten or fifteen feet. And the web will know who you are and who your friends are.

What happens?

Well, when you take a photo, you can automatically send it to the clowd. The clowd can color correct and adjust the photo based on the million other photos it has seen just like this.

The clowd can figure out that this was the high school graduation (same time, same location), and realize that you were there with fifty of your closest friends, and automatically group the photos together… leaving out the people it’s obvious you don’t like.

And the clowd also knows where you are, camera or no camera. So it can tell you when your old friend is just two gates away from you, also wasting time at the airport waiting for her flight. Or it can do Zagats to the ten thousandth power by not only suggesting the best nearby restaurant (based on your food circle of friends) but can also integrate with Open Table and only recommend restaurants that actually have room for you. Or it can let restaurant owners do yield management and find you a table at a good enough restaurant at the best possible price…

Exciting? Helpful? Or downright scary?

PS your privacy is fairly shot. See a dangerous driver? Send a video snippet to the clowd. The clowd collates that with a bunch of other shots of the same driver… busted.

I don’t think many of us will lose much sleep over dangerous drivers being busted by the clowd. But the idea of a world without privacy should give us all pause for thought.

How Will Sixth Sense Technology Affect Creativity?

You’ve probably guessed I’m something of a technology enthusiast, although in some ways I can be very Luddite.

In the four years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve encountered people, ideas and opportunities I’d never have dreamt of beforehand. I’m also excited by new ways of interacting with technology — as I wrote on Lateral Action, I’m convinced speech recognition has made me a better writer.

But I’m also concerned about the effects of an ‘always on’ culture on our ability to concentrate and think creatively. I’ve worried aloud about the effect of Twitter on creativity, and whether the iPhone is a creativity killer.

It probably won’t be long before I give up and buy an iPhone — but who knows whether the creative gains will outweigh the losses?

(PS — I found all the videos in this article on Fresh Creation, which promises and delivers ‘inspiration for creative minds’. Highly recommended.)

What Do You Think?

Does the prospect of sixth sense technology and an all-knowing clowd fill you with excitement or horror?

What creative opportunities can you see?

What threats to creativity do you anticipate?


  1. Mark excellant article!!
    It blew me away, I love the compilation of all videos and links. It’s so exciting technology even though I know very little – I’m still not sure how T.V’s work, that’s true by the way.
    My boys are growing up in an amazing world, I wonder what they’ll be using when they’re 20??
    Thanks for that exciting break in my day, now back to training plans.

  2. This technology is amazing, but it’s also a creativity killer.

    At what point do we have too much convenience?

    If we think that people barely use their minds now imagine what it’ll be like in the future. The art of thinking is becoming extinct. If technology handles so many things for you, what do you have to do? When are you doing critical thinking?

    Although the privacy issue concerns me some it doesn’t bother much.

  3. Your brain already knows more than it wants to know and that’s why it is a good idea to get 8 hours of sleep. Once the clowd technology is built the key is customization. Everyone knows that a large percentage of the stuff on the Internet is garbage, but there is also too much good information as well. The hard part is not producing the clowd. The hard part is getting complex problems solved like health care reform. Who really cares what the “best” restaurant is? The clowd may happen, but our brains had better focus on the serious problems that we have to solve.

  4. @ Maria – Yes, amazing to think what kind of technology our kids will take for granted. I’m convinced all these Web2.0 tools will look very kitsch one day!

    @ Ryan – Well, the counter-argument is that the more interactive technology becomes, the more engagement/thinking it demands of us. And the more drudgery we can automate, the more freedom we have to spend it on constructive, creative pursuits. That’s not to say we’ll do it, but the opportunity will be there.

    @ ecogordo – I guess it’s similar to my reply to Ryan. The clowd can give us a powerful car, but it’s down to us where we drive it. (Or even up to us. 😉 )