Etherface, if you’ll let me coin the term, will refer below to the inevitable pervasive network interface that will link physical things and the information that describes and controls them. There will be a tangible world, and a corresponding representation of that world, that will be rich with detail and control. The etherface will enable interaction with our world at a much deeper level; a level where the tangible is supplemented. Analogous to hyperlinks supplementing texts, tangible objects in our familiar physical world will be linked with information and controls. Other virtual environments will also develop for personal and thematic use.
There will be many paths in the development, including:
- The transition of computing systems to capture the strengths of centralized, peer-to-peer, and personal computing.
There is a transition toward centralized and peer-to-peer systems-away from personal computers-but there is a role for all three, based on the natural strengths of each. Personal computers are well suited for local storage, personal applications, and private servers. Centralized and P2P computing can better take advantage of commercial and shared applications and storage.
- The evolution of portable digital assistants (PDAs) into wearable, even sub-dermal, sensory, productivity, and interactivity tools.
The opportunity to support the existing senses with supporting devices offers people the ability to enhance the human condition in a wide variety of ways, and the ability to compute with mobility frees us from many traditional location-based confines.
- The extension of networks into a broader scope of devices.
As 802.11, Bluetooth, RFID, or other wireless networking systems are supported in a broader array of appliances, the usefulness of the network increases. Definition of an interface standard for the broad introduction of compatible devices will be an important milestone for increased adoption.
- The development of intuitive interfaces, taking advantage of more of our senses and biology.
Interfaces will come to replicate the natural interface through which we experience reality, namely, our senses and biology. Visual and auditory interfaces are advanced further than others, but still have a long way to go. Voice interaction, holographic video, biofeedback, and dynamically self-enhancing affective computing techniques are some stepping-stones toward truly intuitive human-computer interaction.
- The standardization of information management and distribution platforms to support all of the above.
.NET and SOAP are strong steps in the right direction with regard to interoperability and integration standards for information applications. Further, systems like CPAN make available a very large and constantly growing code base that is public and documented. XML extends HTML for the definitions of unlimited tag definitions, and new standards are developing for the sharing of data. XSLT transfers allow for the separation of the content and the presentation with almost unlimited extensibility. These trends will continue, representing an evolving standard for the management and distribution of information.
- The development of machine understanding standards and tools.
Objects in the physical world share characteristics with other objects in the same class. This type of inherited descriptive understanding enables us to understand deeply and draw analogies based on commonalities. It may even be the case that creativity is based in part on the exploration of indirect analogies. Similarly, inheritance and object-oriented design is growing as an important heuristic for information management and distribution. Inheritance plays a key role in the functionality of a code base, and similarly allows for deeper machine understanding of virtual objects.
The etherface is key to enlightenment and the extension of the human life span. Eventually, the etherface will allow individuals to live with any level of relationship to the tangible world that we choose. This means that one could choose to use the etherface to set a timer for coffee in the morning, or to overwhelm the physical world with a virtual environment where one controls the rules and the access. Enhancements to our sensory, memory, communication, and processing systems increase our opportunities for experience, reflection, sharing, and learning.
Mental health will grow in importance relative to physical health over time as better tools reduce demands on our physiques. The etherface is one of these tools, enabling productivity and interaction while reducing the risk that failing physical health will end life. Taken further over time, we could extend life spans and quality of life to a degree that we do not yet understand or have any experience with.