The writing on the wall

Today, the forty fifth anniversary of the commercial introduction of the push-button telephone, seems like a fine day to talk about the future of computer/human interfaces.

Let’s skip forward into the future for a moment, to the time when the cost of computer displays will essentially be free – akin to the cost of printing on paper today. Whether it will end up being embodied by some variant of E-Ink, Organic LEDs, or something else entirely, this is not such a farfetched scenario. Give it another fifteen years or so, and we’ll probably have some sort of fairly pervasive and low cost electronic wallpaper.

I’ve been wondering recently, who will get to decide what’s printed on that wallpaper? Let’s say you’re sitting in a restaurant with your friend or spouse. Like most public places, the restaurant wall will consist of changeable paint or wallpaper. Various locations along the wall will be able to display text, images, animations, or whatever else happens to be of interest.

Some uses are obvious: the dinner menu, including special of the day and wine list. News headlines, theatre listings, bus schedules, Op-ed pages. But other uses are not so obvious.

For example, ideally I would like the section of wall in front of me to serve my personal purposes – as though I’m looking at a Web browser on my own computer. I’d want the wall to recognize me and bring up that magazine article or movie I was in the middle of viewing earlier in the day. We will begin to see that sort of capability in just the next few years, through the use of face recognition software.

And it won’t be all that difficult to design this electronic wallpaper so as to show something different to people who are looking at it from different directions. The means to do this is already around – essentially a variant on lenticular lens displays, which have been used for over half a century to make stereo postcards and blinking Jesus pictures.

But will we really get our own customized wall space, wherever and whenever we want it? Perhaps the walls around us will be given over to narrowly targeted advertising – like the nightmare vision of personalized intrusiveness we were shown in the film “Minority Report”. Maybe the dictates of “homeland security” will require that face recognition software be used for reporting our whereabouts to some helpful government agency. In that case you might want to think twice before choosing that left-leaning Op-ed page to read over dinner.

Information utopia or dystopia – who gets to decide? Somehow I suspect that the reality may fall short of our hopes and dreams. But it would be nice to be proven wrong.

4 Responses to “The writing on the wall”

  1. sally says:

    i think it won’t be wall sized. I think walls will be premium space–unless there is some way the wall can be multiple things to multiple people at the same time. I predict it will be tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny! Maybe it will look big to our eyeballs, but in space, it will be tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny!

  2. Dagmar says:

    Well, technology is and will be always as bad or as good as the society is, where it is invented. So we better take good care of the society we live in.
    And we better take care of a good education of our engineers and scientists, they should not only be taught maths and physics, but about ethics and responsibility, too.
    What you wrote here, shows perfectly what I mean, we should stand up and say things like: “This technology can be misused!” and make people aware of it. Not to make people fight against technology but to make them stand up and fight against the misuse. As far as I remember at least the both of us live in free societies so far, right?

  3. Cynthia Allen says:

    New Media and Restaurants:
    There is a restaurant in London where the menus are projected onto the tables, and users can browse through and make their orders, and even pay, right on the table with a mouse and keyboard.

    Here is the link to a video of the table in use:

  4. Lisa says:

    ooh, I don’t want technological moving wallpaper and web browsers at dinner. I want attractive, static wallpaper. Or stone. Stone walls are nice.

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