Technology and magic

Arthur C. Clarke famously said that

There are already many technologies that seem like magic to us. “Magical” was the exact word used by a colleague’s wife when he showed her Blippar, an app that triggers an augmented reality ad on your phone when you points it camera at the advertiser’s logo.

She couldn’t believe that something physical – like the label on a jar of Marmite – could cause something to happen digitally on my colleague’s phone. She actually accused him of playing a trick!

But the connection between physical things and the digital world is, I think, going to become stronger and more obvious over the next few years.

There are two reasons for this.

1. Intermediary devices (like phones) are linking physical things to the internet

Blippar is one example; another is Google Goggles, which enables a photo of anything you see to trigger a Google image search. Both provide a bridge between physical things and the internet.

2. New physical things are being created that use an internet connection to do useful or interesting things

This has been described as the internet of/with things. For example, a wristband that tracks your physical activity and sleep patterns, and stores the data online so that you can monitor and learn from it. Or, more simply, a little gizmo that sits in your pot plant and sends you a message when the soil needs watering.

When objects are connected to the internet, they are also connected to one another.

I suspect that this will mean a change in the way we see the physical world.

The things we see around us will become increasingly networked, and less a set of discrete objects that exist in isolation.

The network that is growing around us seamlessly connects the physical world with the digital world. The connections between the two will become more commonplace, and there may well be a point at which we expect those connections to exist and place less value on certain ‘dumb’ objects.

I hope that doesn’t take too much of the magic out of things.

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Thanks to Paul Skeldon (and his wife!) for the story about Blippar.

What do you think?

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