Notes on “The Human Experience”

October 3, 2008

The Human Experience by Abowd et al. includes a summary of other work in the field of ubiquitous computing. The authors offer their thoughts on a roadmap to achieving Mark Weiser’s vision of ubiquitous computing. A brief sidebar on a project called Classroom 2000 summarizes some ubicomp work the authors performed on thorough integration of technology in a classroom. They articulate three goals supported by three research areas. The three goals are to integrate technology into everyday life, to fill the world with devices supporting different interactions, and to network the devices for a holistic user experience. These goals are supported by three research areas: Defining physical interactions, discovering general features across Ubicomp applications, and learning how to design and evaluate Ubicomp experiences.  

The paper includes numerous insights about Ubicomp, which I’ll summarize here. Devices will need to make use of implicit input, where they receive input from byproducts of human behaviour. Devices will display their output everywhere, of heterogeneous size and type. They must integrate with the non-ubicomp world. Ubicomp as a whole needs a killer application that justifies investment in the field. (The paper dedicates one sentence the need for an “evolutionary path” of Ubicomp adoption as a major open problem.) We will need to develop context-aware computers: Computers that leverage information such as who is using them, where they are being used, why the user is using them, and when they are being used. The authors define capture & access as a fundamental application of Ubicomp for recording real-world events in useful ways. They define a distinction between user activities and tasks and show its relevance. They state the need for thorough ethnography to enable everyday computing and seamless integration into people’s daily lives. They also state the need for new measures of Ubicomp effectiveness.  

With the exception of the subsection on Classroom 2000, this paper doesn’t include a novel contribution. It is a summary of other work in the field and introduces some ideas and terminology. Another limitation is its lack of a coherent narrative, which makes it hard to follow and somewhat boring.

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