Bits and books



1)      Boot instantly

2)      Have a high contrast, high resolution display

3)      Is viewable at any angle, in bright or dim light

4)      Permits fast random access to any page

5)      Provides instant visual and tactile feedback on the location.

6)      Can be easily annotated.

7)      Requires no batteries or maintenance

8)      Is robustly packaged.


If the book had been invented after the laptop it would be hailed as a great breakthrough!


Ink with an electronic field can give you electronic ink.

Even better than reusing a sheet of paper is changing it while you watch.


The most exiting prospect of all is called radio paper. Driven by a solar cell, at the end of a day your newspaper doesn’t have to go into a printer.  You leave it on your coffee table, the light charges it, and the radio signal gives it an update on the page.


This would look and feel like any other book since it’s made with aper and toner.


The great innovation of Guttenberg and his peers was not the printing press, which was just a converted wine press; it was movable metal type.

This made it possible to assemble more pages than before, it became necessary to invent page numbering and tables of contents to keep the information accessible.


Aldus Manutius in Venice around 1500 settled on the dimensions of the modern book.  It was designed to fit in the saddlebags of traveling scholars.


Now you can surf through Shakespeare.  This undercuts the rarity of the expensive book.  The feeling of monopoly of libraries and universities is broken down. 


We now have supersonic cars, but no one is arguing for the abolition of horses.  So the choice between cars and books is false.


No current car can recognize its owner with a glance, or ghoose a path through a narrow mountain pass, or be left in a meadow to refuel itself, or make a copy of itself when it begins to wear out as horses can.



When playing a synthesizer one feels that something’s missing.


Improvements is metallurgy made possible the casting of iron frames that could withstand tons of force, creating the modern piano, which is what anabled Beethoven to have the long strings necessary to write his thunderous concertos.


From Pythagoras’s of a vibrating string, to Helmholtz’s discovery in the last century of the characteristics motion of a string driven by the sticking and slipping of a bow (found with a vibrating microscope he invented by mounting an eyepiece on a tuning fork).


He works on a computer emulating a Stradivarius.


The computer could emulate your CD player and play the suites for you, or your bowing could control just the tempo, or you could take over control of the phrasing, on up to the playing them the old-fashioned way.


Break the performer consumer divide.

There’s a final reason why it’s worth trying to make a digital Stradivarius:  It’s hard.



A glasses wearer finds over time he’s found that he prefers to have the world appear rotated on its side.  Once he’s had enough of seeing like a bug, he can try  out any other scheme for viewing the world that he can think of.


You can have your memory augmented by the accumulated data in his system.  By storing and analyzing what he writes, and sees, and hears, the computer can help him recall when he last met someone, what they spoke about, and what he knows about him or her. 


Not only can he exchange e-mail with friends during the course of a day, he can exchange his senses.  Steve’s wife can look out through his eyes when he’s shopping and help him select fruit (something he’s not very good at).


Now we just exchange sound.  Sight is coming. 


He wore glasses that projected a display that allowed him to see my text and me at the same time.  Floating next to the teacher is are the lecture notes. 


For these reasons aviation mechanics are beginning to wear computers with display glasses that let them follow instructions without looking away from their work.


LANS are local access networks which link up buildings.  WANS are wide access networks that link up cities.  PANs are Personal Area Networks to connect parts of a body.


Tow people using it could exchange an electric business card just by shaking hands.  A hand on a doorknob could send the data to unlock a door, or the act of picking up an airport telephone could download the day’s messages. 

Shoes are an ideal platform for computing.  You almost always have your shoes with you.  A voltage can be created when the shoe is flexed.


Instead of lugging around a laptop’s  power supply and adapters, and feeding it batteries, you need to go for a walk every now and then. 


Eyeglasses that can serve as displays for your eyes, the earrings that can whisper a message into your ears. 


Computers currently have no idea whether you’re happy or sad, tense or relaxed, bored or excited.  If  you’re in a good mood I’ll tell you different things than if you’re in a bad mood.  If your stressed, information delivered quickly helps you relax; if you’re relaxed, information delivered quickly makes you stressed. 


You might consider it unsettling to contemplate a computer that is aware of your mood.  But of course it is a hassle to deal with one that isn’t. 


One of the first applications of e-broidery  is a Levi’s jacket that doubles as a musical instrument.  A keypad sewn onto the front of the jacket lets the wearer call up rhythmic backing and play accompanying melodic fills. 


What of a jacket that can change back and forth between a solid color and pinstripe.   Softwear.


It’s already hard to sneeze without someone noticing and selling your name in a database of cold-sufferers. 


On a lonely street late at night I want as many friends as possible to be able to see what I see. 

Finding out what’s happening around the world is interesting, as is finding out what’s happening around you (not really).


Computers currently facilitate interactions that would not otherwise have occurred, with tools such as groupwear that permit multiple people to work on a document or videoconference. 


A neighborhood becomes a logical rather than a physical concept.


Al Gore said that the U.S. Constitution can be viewed as a sophisticated program written for an enormous parallel computer, the populace. 


It’s not too far from there to see wearable computers as a new step in our evolution as a species.  The organization of life has been defined by communications.  It was a big advance for molecules to work together to form cells, for cells to work together to form an animal.  For animals to work together to form families, and for families to work together to form communities. 


It used to be hard to believe that a computer could fit on a desk, much less a lap. 


3-D printers allow you to have what you make on a computer screen.  They violate the boundary between what is inside the computer and what is outside.  In a strange way, holding the part felt almost like touching the sould of the machine. 


If a static shape can have that kind of impact, then I’m not sure how people will react when the output from the printer is able to walk out of it.  Because we’re also learning how to print sensors, motors, and logic. 


There were manual milling machines and numerically controlled (NC) mills. 


Instead of going through catalogs of people’s guesses of what you want, you can directly output it. 


This is the dream of the personal fabricator, the PF, the missing mate to the PC.


Just as the ink-jet printer has cartridges with different-colored inks, it is possible to provide a printer with more types of input materials so that it can also deposit structural shapes and active elements. 


MEMS are Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems.

PEMS are Printed Electro-Mechanical Systems.


Downloading a applet to run in a web browser, a “fablet” could be downloaded to the printer to specify an object.  This would significantly lower the threshold for a company to sell a new product, since all that gets sent is the information about how to make it. 


You might then have too many things.  You can create a sorting machine to recycle (ie breakdown) the atoms. 


As an organization expands, the volume of people inside the company grows faster than the surface area exposed to the outside world.  This means that more and more of people’s time gets tied up in internal message passing. 



Markets are valuing bits far more than atoms.

The total value  of Yahoo stock was about the same as U.S. Steel, $2.8 billion. 


In 1971 the ARPANET entered into regular service.  This is the U.S. Defense Department sponsored first internet.  It was decentralized to survive a  nuclear attack.


A smart card looks like a credit card but acts like a dollar bill. 


The net cost of handling pennies exceeds their worth, there for they should be eliminated as the smallest currency unit.  The future of a physical penny does not look bright. 

Qualify that; the future of a physical penny does not look bright. 

The value of electronic pennies is just beginning to be appreciated. 


When a CD arrives as bits you pay for it one track at a time.  You don’t need to buy the whole video game, just the levels you get to. 


The atom standard (money of material) can be replaced by the bit standard. 


In pricing an item in dollars that stay active after the transaction, you don’t need to search for the lowest price; the money can.


To encourage regional economies, dollars could have a value that decreases with distance from their origin.  Boston dollars would not go as far in Texas and visa versa. 


Or money may not go as far when purchasing non-renewable resources. 

Such goals are currently done with tax policy and sales contracts.  Just like any other digital media.




Telemarketers invade your space. 

Pope Julius II and the Leo X took advantage of the monopoly on communication with god to fund an ambitious building program (St. Peter’s Cathedral) by selling indulgences.


Luther recognized that the printing press enabled on-to-many communications.  Within weeks of its original posting, Luther’s Theses had been copied and spread throughout Europe. 


He and his fellow authors understood that they were writing for the printing press and hence produced short tracts that were easily duplicated – the first sound bites.  The authors of hefty tomes in the old style that were hard to distribute were used by the Counter Reformation. 


Computer peripherals come with complicated instructions.  There shouldn’t be work to use such things.  They should be invisible. 


But the computer industry forces most people’s interactions to go through one approved means (windows, mouse, keyboard) like the church did.  It sells salvation through upgrades. 


The first amendment, of course, extended the freedom of speech and press to everyone.  The importance of widespread access to the means of communication was echoed in the Communications Act of 1934, the bill that was to regulate the emerging radio and telephone. 


Motorola’s Iridium system comprises 66 such satellites.  Governments and private companies are launching spy satellites for commercial applications.  Soon, the only way to cut a country off from the rest of the world will be to build a dome around it. 


We should now worry less about the control of the means of communication and more about control by the means of communication.  While we’ve been diligently protecting each new medium from manipulation by latter-day Leos, communication and computing have been merging so that the medium can not only become the message, it can make sure that you know it. 


This is what Lotus and Equifax did in 1990, when they announced the Marketplace:  Households product.  By assembling legally available consumer information, they pieced together a database of 120 million Americans, giving names, addresses, ages, marital status, spending habits, estimated incomes.  Interested in credit-card overspenders?  No problem. 


The phone summons me when I’m in the shower and can’t answer it, and when I’m asleep and don’t want to answer it; it preserves universal access to me for friend and telemarketing foe alike. 

In 1980 the US consumed 16 million tons of paper for printing and writing; ten years later that jumped to 2.5 millions of tons. 


We’re spending more andmore time responding to the demands of machines. 


Oppressive machines are as bad as oppressive churches; freedom of technological expression is as important as freedom of religious expression.



People abuse words for impressiveness.  “multimedia” “virtual reality” Chaos theory” “neural networks,” and “Fuzzy logic”.


The modern study of chaos arguably grew out of Ed Lorenz’s striking discovery at MIT in the 1960s of equations that have solutions that appear to be random. 


Poincare showed that it was not possible to write down a simple solution to the three-body problem.  A tiny nudge to one planet would cause all of the trajectories to completely change. 


This behavior is familiar in an unstable system,  such as a pencil that is balanced on its point and could fall in any direction.


There has proved to be a thin layer between systems that appear to be simple and really are, and those that appear to be complex and really are. 



A Turk did an automaton.  A more credible attempt to build an intelligent machine was made by Charles Babbage, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge from 1828 to 1839.  (Newton and Hawking’s seat).

Babbage’s accomplice was Lady Ada Lovelace.  Realized that an engine could just as well could manipulate the symbols as well as mathematical formulas. 


Deep blue was able to evaluate 200 million positions per second.  It beat Kasparov in 1997.  There’s a sense that Deep Blue is little better than van Kemplen’s Turk. 


This is a curious argument.  It retroactively adds a clause to the Turing Test, demanding that not only must a machine be able to match the performance of humans, but the way that it does so must be deemed satisfactory.  We are now required to ask the machine how it feels about winning or losing.


One vocal school holds that quantam mechanics is needed to explain consciousness.  He sees no reason for this. 


Leibniz also designed a machine for multiplying and dividing numbers, extending the capabilities of Pascal’s 1645 adding machine. 


A cyber guru once explained to me that the WWW had no future because it was too hard to figure out what was out there.  The solution:  search engines. 


The money has been spent on computer’s minds so far.  Perhaps it’s time to remember that they have bodies too. (eyes).



Since 1968 computers have used windows and manipulate it with a mouse. 

Magnetoencephalography is a fancy MRI that can,also , deduce something about what one is thinking.  Psychicness is a way to control computers. 


Air Force has built a cockpit that lets a pilot control the roll angle by thinking.

Another big interface is 3-D graphics.  If you wear special glasses, it is quite convincing. 


But a holographic car doesn’t look as good as a real car.  Reality is too good. 


An ordinary table could have electrodes that pick up weak electric fields by putting your hand above it.  It is unobtrusive and responsive to the smallest movement we can make. 


Coffee makers can tell the coffeemaker how you like your coffee.  Shoes can tell a doorknob.  Mouse bads that can read a WEB URL from an object placed on it. 


You can think of this as a kind of digital shadow.  Right now objects live in real world or cyber world.  That line will blur.


A business card should contain an address, but also summon a Web page if place near a Web browser.  A pen should write in normal ink. But also remember what it writes so that the information can be recalled later in a computer, and should serve as a stylus to control that computer. 


Hiroshi Ishii made a ping pong table that shows where the ball is going.  Interaction should happen in the context that you rather than the computer, find meaningful. 


Taken together, ambient displays, tagged objects, and remote sensing of people have a simple interpretation:  the computer as distinguishable object disappears. 


A window is actually an apt metaphor for how we use computers now.  It is a barrier between what is inside and what is outside. 



While it would be nice to be able to walk out of a supermarket without waiting in line because the groceries come tagged with chips that can automatically be scanned by the door.


MRI applies a magnetic field that varies over space, so that the oscilation frequency of a nucleus becomes a function of its position. 

Quantum mechanically there is nothing preventing this book from splitting into ten copies and leaping into the moon, but the interactions with you and rest of the world force it to remain sensibly classical. 


Feynmann was struck by the recognition that it takes a classical computer an exponential amount of time to model a quantum system, because it has to keep track of all of the possible states of the system in parallel. 


If a quantum bit is in a superimposition of 0 and 1, and it interacts with a second bit, the value of the second bit will depend on the state of the first.  If they’re now separated to opposite ends of the universe and the first bit is measured, it is forced to decide between being a 0 or a 1.    This appears to be an instantaneous action at a distance, something that made Einstein very unhappy. 


If a tube full of quantum computers in the form of a liquid sample in an NMR apparatus was used, then all of the external interactions might ruin a few of them. 


With lasers to align the nuclei, the quanturm coherence lasts for thousands of operations. 


Have a special structure at the end that can be used to load in data and read out results.  This sounds disturbingly like a microtubule.  Microtubules are a kind ofmolecular scaffolding in neuron. 




Many of the same constraints apply to education, but few of these lessons have been learned.  Universities go on filling students with an inventory of raw knowledge to be called upon later.  This is sensible if the world is changing slowly, but it is not.  An alternative is just-in-time education, drawing on educational resources as needed in

support of larger projects. 


In regards to distance learning, rather than let folks eavesdrop from a distance, it is better to give them tools to learn locally. 


They can make furniture that can see printing that can change smart tabletops and World Wide Web footwear.  These ideas come out of media lab.

They must put intelligence into the transmitter and receiver.  Look up Andy Lippman, Digital Life.  Some look at the bits, some the people and some the atoms.  Also look up things that think.  How does my shoe communicate with your laptop?  There are also issues of personalization.  A ticket to Disneyland should modify the experience for you.  How can anyone sent file folder communicate its contents?


Health-care is now sick care.  How can medicine monitor you proactively?  A toilet that creates routine chemical analysis and since the results to doctors.  It sends results to the pharmacist (along with the milk and soap the refrigerator and washing machine have ordered) and is automatically delivered. 


Smart name badges would have the answers to provocative questions.  They would light up when people had things in common.  Green means a lot of things in common.  A short read it lined means a weak overlap. A beep means you disagree on everything.


He is not concerned about privacy.  Code readers can never keep up with code scramblers.  encoders always win over decoders.


Right now your car insurance is based on crude demographics.  You eat well and you're willing to let your life insurance company talk to your kitchen.  Then you could be rewarded for having a salad instead of a cigarette.  This stirs insurance from a static document into an online tool.  But the insurance company will make less profit, because it has less to go on.


Africans came to visit the media lab.  He expected sensitivity about cultural imperialism, or cultural pollution.  But found people saying the world is changing.  And it is far more elitist to insist that developing countries progress slowly than to give them the Web now.  Of course a computer in the middle of Africa has no spare parts or technical support.  There are not Web sites or technical manuals in swahili.


Why not put a display in your retina?  You could edit the genome to make implant compatible humans.  What's so privileged about our current I design?  We now know a lot about optics, chemistry and good design eyes that have a broader spectral response.  How about adding transmitters to brains?