Ambiguating the terminology: Palpable Computing

Excuse me while a rant a bit:


We have a new entry in the terminology haze that surrounds ubiquitous computing, Palpable Computing. Hooray! Another word for roughly the same thing, but with a twist that could only have looked good on an EU grant application:

Palpable denotes that systems are capable of being noticed and mentally apprehended. Palpable systems support people in understanding what is going on at the level they choose. Palpable systems support control and choice by people.

Their claim is that they're inverting "ambient computing," which is supposedly invisible, with a vision of computing that's more, well, tangible. They position a set of ideas that claim to show how this approach complements "ambient computing," which I find difficult to see, since there's no really developed set of ideas about what "ambient computing" is (maybe inside all the Disappearing Computer project paperwork there is, but certainly not in common use or practice outside the community of people who were given grant money by that project). Moreover, I don't see how the terms they're using as complements relate to the things they're claiming to complement:

scalability understandability
sense-making and negotiationuser control and deference
(from here)

Maybe I haven't read enough about it, but it seems to me--at first blush--like a syntactic land grab and a linguistic distinction created to justify continued funding more than an attempt to clarify concepts and move the field forward. It's kind of a shame, and I certainly don't see how it's going to satisfy their project goals, a number of which, at least, seem to be jumping to try and create technology before they've finished making a philosophical argument:

  • an open architecture for palpable computing
  • a conceptual framework to understand the particulars of palpable technologies and their use.
  • design and implementation of a toolbox for the construction of palpable applications
  • development of a range prototypes of palpable applications
  • gaining a firm understanding of a range of practices into which palpable technologies may be introduced.

Further, as Liz points out, it may represent a rethinking, a retrenching, after an initially overly reductionist reading of Weiser and Norman . That reading may have led to the idea of "ambient intelligence" representing literal disappearance, rather than a philosophy for distributed information processing that meets people's needs and desires (which are sometimes to have things in the background and other times to not). "Ambient intelligence" may have now proven to be too ambient, and thus needs to be complemented with this new project, which may be as equally reductionist.


That rant over, congratulations on the funding and all the best luck to you in your new project, folks.

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Kuniavsky published on January 27, 2007 2:55 PM.

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