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Am I invading a computer “personal space”?

The radar chip used by Soli, a Google technology rhat uses radar to discover where you are and … what you do. This information will be used to shape the interaction. Image credit: Google

I just read an interesting article on Wired on the potential broad application of a Google technology, developed in the Soli project, one of the research initiatives carried out in the ATAP (Advanced Technology and Product) Google division.

I should say I got hooked by a sentence in the article stating that this technology provides a way to define a computer “personal space”. I never though that a computer could have a “personal space” (although this may be in synch with the thoughts I shared on Personal Digital Twins in their evolution towards autonomy).

The Soli project aims at creating a seamless way of interfacing with a device, computer, smartphone, television set… using radar. To make this feasible a very affordable radar, based on a chip (shown in the figure) is used. You might say that this us not really a “news” since we already have several examples of using radar (like) interaction like the new Playstation. What is new is that the Soli approach is to have the device looking at you independently of the fact that you are engaged in an interaction with it. As an example, the television will watch you and if it detects you are dozing off it will switch off the set… your computer will detect you approaching and will power up…

In other word, this technology is designed to make the device aware of its surrounding ambient and of the activities going on, including the identification of the people in the ambient.

Does it sound a bit intrusive? Well, that is because it is “intrusive” but of course intrusiveness is a subjective perception. You might perceive this awareness, and the associated possibility to finely tune interactions and even be proactive, as a positive advance in our relation with machines.

Personally I feel this evolution is “inevitable” since it goes hand in hand with the growing awareness, responsiveness of single devices, machines and more generally of the ambient we live in. The problem is how we can manage the grey areas and avoid undesired side effect.

Here again, I feel that my Personal Digital Twin -PDT- might become an intermediator, bridging me with the ambient (near and far) I am living  in and interacting with. Personal data can be managed by the PDT and disclosed on a need-to-know bases.

Would this really solve the privacy issue? Not at all. There will be plenty of ways (and growing) to  identify me and to harvest data about me. Personally I feel the we will have to accept (we are already accepting) a decreased level of privacy, the same that VIP are enjoying (and that is really limited). Technology is making affordable to track a variety of data and process them. Today’s only celebrities are monitored day in day out, and that is because of cost (and value that can be generated). The cost will keep decreasing and the value will not increase but it will shift to niches (basically no-one is interested in me, and my whereabouts but a few might be and these will create niche markets).

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.