Monday, July 24, 2006


Bruce Sterling gave an interesting talk at a SIGGRAPH conference in 2004. He described two kinds of human artifacts, blobjects and spimes. Blobjects are simply artifacts that have been designed with modern CAD systems, so their shapes are more curvy and sexy than the same-functioned artifacts of past generations. Examples are the iMac and the new VW beetle.

The spime is a different beast. It is jam-packed full of information technology. It has RFID or Bluetooth to talk to nearby computers (or maybe other spimes). It has GPS so it knows where on Earth it is. It knows how to connect to the Internet. It willingly participates in data mining efforts by Google and other search engines and advertisers. In addition to being designed with a CAD system, it might be manufactured with rapid prototyping techniques such as 3D printers.

Sterling's predictions about the spimes' use of information are cynical. They are programmed by the corporations that built them. They collect consumer demographics information about the people who buy and use them. Their first allegiance is to their manufacturer. They are smart enough that the distinction has teeth - the hand drill I bought at Sears does not change its behavior to act in Sears' best interests rather than mine.

If spimes aren't nanotechnology, why am I writing about them in a nanotech blog? Because they shake loose my thinking about what products could be. I hadn't thought about ANY of this stuff before I read the transcript of Sterling's talk. My cell phone today has way more computing power than the Apollo guidance computer had. When a ballpoint pen has way more computing power than my cell phone has today, of course somebody will program it to do things like this.

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