Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


The Display Continuum

Speak to Me, Greta…

“Keep right, take the next exit, then turn right.”
“Continue for 200 feet, then turn left onto Main Street.”
“Turn right and continue for 100 feet, then turn right onto Main Street”.
“Turn left, continue for 100 feet, then turn onto Main Street”.
“Approaching destination.”

“Thank you, Greta. My apologies that I was in the wrong lane and couldn’t get over in time to make the turn as you instructed.”

As you have undoubtedly already concluded, Greta is not a real person but the portable GPS navigation unit that we take with us on our travels by car. So why do we call this electronic appliance Greta? Well, it’s because she seems to be developing a personality. Or at least I am ready to endow her with one. The especially endearing part is when I don’t follow her instructions as in the example above. When she says, “recalculating” there is just that slight tinge of sarcasm in her voice. Any day now I expect her to say something much more explicit such as “How many time do I have to tell you?” or “If you can’t do this easy stuff, what will we do when we get into city traffic?” But, so far, her only truly sarcastic comment has been, “A better route is available!” And I really do appreciate her not ending this observation with something like “you dummy”.

As we approach this Christmas season, when purchasing decisions for all kinds of toys and gadgets are weighing heavily on our minds, it’s worthwhile to look ahead at what’s in store for us as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century. I am predicting that the next decade will be the decade of electronic machines and toys that begin to have selectable personalities and we will begin to interact with them at about the same level of affection as we show some of our colleagues and certain casual friends. Real intimacy may be another decade or two away, but for now casual relationships will at least get us started.

Children are already beginning to grow up with dolls and other simulated personas that allow for learning experiences not only on a factual level but also an emotional one. And soon we adults will begin to get comfortable in relating to our electronic gadgets in a way that a few years ago would have seemed borderline insanity. No more.

Recently, I read a newspaper article that people were beginning to treat their robotic vacuum cleaners as pets. They were even dressing them up with special decorative “clothing” and taking extra care to make it more convenient for these robotic vacuums to get around their homes. And yes, they too were giving them names. Another interesting observation made in this article was that people became more tolerant to a product having a failure once they developed this emotional attachment.

Will it be long then, before our automobile will say to us, “You know, I really feel lousy this morning. My engine exhaust sensor just picked up an extra high level of carbon monoxide emissions and you know how I hate that!” “I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to leave this garage -- unless you promise to drive me straight to the service guy.” “And by the way, I should tell you that the last time he checked me over, he really made me feel good.”

The actual technology to do this is pretty much already in place. The engine computers are recording these malfunctions that can later be accessed by any service shop or anyone else with the proper software. So why wait for the service person to tell us what the computer has already decided? Why not just have the car tell us “in person”. I think we all would actually appreciate that. And for now, if the conversation is a bit one-sided because the car can’t relate to our crudely expressed opinion of why the sensor should be picking up this information and how we are supposed to get to our 9:00 am meeting on time, then maybe that’s just as well.

I’m actually somewhat surprised that this transition to talking appliances has not started to happen sooner. We did have a few early attempts with cars that incorporated voice commands, but they were more irritating than helpful. The information that was being verbalized was too basic and too redundant with what we could easily see on the instrument panel. But since then, the world has changed -- thanks mostly to cell phones. Just a few years ago, when people were seen in public loudly talking to themselves, this was considered seriously nutty. Today it’s the sign of a busy executive taking care of business – even while standing in a public restroom. If we can carry on a conversation while doing that, what could possibly be wrong with having a vacuum cleaner that tells us how it’s feeling today? “My sinuses are really plugged up from all that dust I picked up yesterday – I sure could use a new filter.” “Thanks, you’re sure a good master”.

So, as we once again enter the season of frenzied acquisition of toys and gadgets, we should begin to think about the mini-personalities that we will soon be accepting into our lives. This year we’re at the threshold of infancy for these gadgets, but their birthrate will accelerate and they will become more like us with each passing year. It’s actually going to be great fun. A device with a built in personality can, if nothing else, be more predictable and more patient with us than the “real” personalities we sometimes have to deal with in our daily lives.

Will all this have an effect on displays and display technology – absolutely. Along with these mini-personalities will come software-created personas that will populate our displays. They will become like companions to us and be transferable from device to device. The scary part is that some people will begin to immerse themselves into this world of artificially generated “beings” and become less functional for the real world as we know it today. But all in all, this future will have many more positive experiences to offer than the few negatives that may arise.

Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming! Toys and gadgets galore for all to enjoy. But remember as you shop, Santa Claus has just begun to create the world that we will all be part of in just a few years. A fascinating place of talking devices – even ones that tell us what they think of us when we mistreat them. And displays will be everywhere to enhance all of this expressiveness.

And in closing, this one -- still real -- human being expresses his sincere wish for all of you to have the greatest of Holiday Seasons and the best in the coming year of 2008.