Subject: Viridian Note 00118: Viridian Commentary
To: Viridian List <>

Key concepts: comments from readers of Viridian List,
pervasive computing, neologisms

Attention Conservation Notice: They're people just like you, so heaven only knows if they're worth hearing. Over 1,500 words.

(((Viridian Note 00113, "Pervasive Computing," ventured the remarks:)))

"The twentieth century didn't have this kind of device at all. It's unheard of. It's crying out for a brand new name. In fact the whole pervasive computing field is calling out for a new terminology, because none of the terms we have are working properly. (...) We need a new 21st century word."

(((The terms "polite" and "wary" were offered in the speech, but these metaphors still miss the mark. Networked machines, being machines, are neither polite nor wary. List readers had further suggestions.)))

From:^* (George Dyson)

"'Pervasive computing' sounds like what Olaf Stapledon ('Star Maker,' 1937) called the (evidently Bluetooth equipped) 'Minded Swarm':

"'So perfectly organized was the life of the minded swarm that all routine activities of industry and agriculture had become, from the point of view of the swarm's mind, unconscious, like the digestive processes of a human being... The little insectoid units themselves carried on these operations consciously, though without understanding their significance; but the mind of the swarm had lost the power of attending to them.'

"My own suggestion would be 'Overmind' for those processes that are too distributed for us to comprehend, and 'Undermind' for those local processes, however collectively intelligent, that are too individually understandable to be credited with intelligence at this time. This leaves us in the middle, which is where we belong."

(((That's a useful distinction of scale, but it still leaves us with the anthropomorphic assumption that machine processing involves "mind" and is somehow "intelligent.")))

From:^^^^^^^^^** (Peter J. Denning)

"I liked your piece about pervasive computing. I was thinking that software in your toothbrush and shoelaces and such might be called 'awareware.'"

(((I rather like this, but "awareware" is too hard to say and spell. It's also anthropomorphic. Plus, it looks Japanese. The Japanese phrase "mono no aware" (a kind of pastel, transitory melancholy) is a particularly apt term for rapid technological transitions.)))

From:** (Kevin Kelly)

"Pervasive computing means linking, not thinking. 'Things that Link,' not 'Things that Think.' Linked shoes, linked chairs, linked cement, linked umbrellas."

(((This seems very close to the mark, but web "links" may have used up all the semantic vigor in the term "link.")))

From:^^**? (Brad Bulger)

"I'm thinking about a world where the salt and pepper shakers are talking to the broom and the cereal bowl. Though the word 'social' could work, it's awkward. Unfortunately the other term that springs to mind is 'magic.' Or 'enchanted.' Or 'disney,' even worse. A disney fork. As long as they don't sing."

(((You've got to give the Disney Corp. credit for branding talking teapots before they even exist.)))

From:* (Philip Bundman)

"Both 'polite' and 'wary' seem a bit over-the-top. I propose the name 'alert technology.'"

(((Thanks for the apt proposal, but "alert" makes me feel even more nervous than "wary.")))

(Stefan Jones)

"One of the guys at work dredged up a nifty, archaic word == 'coadunation' == to label a way that separate servers could be configured to back each other up, and act as one apparent whole to the outside world.

"'Coadunation' is too good a word to use just for that. I think a 'coadunation' should be a cohort of enchipped devices. They're all hooked into a greater network, of course, but it's the way they're put together == acting together for you == that makes your coadunation useful.

"Much better to call them this than to repurpose 'hive' or 'gestalt'. (Although, like a hive, coadunations would shed and lose members through time and space. And who cares what particular widget is filling a slot, as long as the whole gestalt works?)

"The word 'coadunation' has some almost-forgotten occult meanings, glopped on by theosophists, but if it gets used properly, those will slip away."

(((The concept here is great, but there's too many syllables in "coadunation" and it's hard to spell.)))

From:^^*** (Michael Lynn)

"If I were to come up with a word for this type of pervasive computing, I'd run with variations on 'agent,' such as: actor, artificer, butler, creature, delegate, diplomat, domestic, emissary, employee, envoy, executor, functionary, go-between, lackey, menial, operative, puppet, representative, servant, symbiont.

"The following would have the most sensational/public appeal: Butler, creature, domestic, executor (the military would love that one), operative, and symbiont.

"There might be categories within this type of computing, based on how actively an object interacts with other objects. 'Managerial' computing comes to mind. Or my personal favorite: 'pimp' computing."

(((That's a valiant effort to squeeze some fresh meaning out of the thesaurus. I'm rather liking the terse term "lackey," and "pimp computing" surely has a smell of the future about it. But I'm afraid we still need the hard work of an actual neologism. We Viridians should keep trying. The proper vaporware term for this technology may inspire a market boom worth billions!)))

From: Sebastian Mendler <>

"In the midst of everything else, you dropped this on them:

'Imagine we've got two armies, the Balkan ethnic separatist army of hardened guerrilla fighters, and that soft, pampered, high-tech army from the World Trade Organization's military wing.'

"Did anybody even blink when you said that?? Or did they just go 'Yeah, OK, uh-huh, I'm with you so far...'?"

(((They all went "Yeah, OK, uh-huh, I'm with you so far.")))

From:^^^^^^^^**** (Michael Treece)

"Your Holiness-Majesty,

"This pervasive computing thing worries me greatly. You had mentioned, in your address to the IBM (!) folks, 'Police state surveillance, bad.' Unfortunately, such a system as you envision lends itself beautifully to police- state surveillance, and it's hard for me to think of any way in which to prevent that surveillance.

"This is the uber-ECHELON, the ultimate anti-privacy step. It would be very difficult for commercially available systems to be encrypted, and the possibility of using a non-removable/integral inventory control tag (for example) in a pair of boots (for example) to monitor the movements of an EarthFirst! activist (for example) is real == without the cops (on whatever level, of whatever type) having to invest in anything more cutting-edge than an off-the-shelf retail system with a hopped-up receiver. This begs for the gentle touch of Ned Ludd. Open the pod bay doors, HAL."

(((I take your point. We may fail to look properly at the underside, and enter a pervasive computing system designed for evil. We may find ourselves living in a historically unprecedented nightmare: a sooty, eco- collapsed world of Orwellian cybercommunism, where an Environmental Emergency State owns and documents every tenpenny nail, and even the vodka bottles rat us out to Big Brother.

(((But we can make the same argument about the Internet. Is it marvelously empowering, or is it a giant scary 'net' for the police (for example) to pursue you and invade your privacy, using off the shelf equipment? Journalists like myself (for example) are prime invaders of the privacy of inoffensive parties, including well- meaning guys who want nothing more than the healthful exercise of spiking trees, demolishing bridges and filling bulldozers with sugar and emery powder. Can't something be done about these media busybodies with their menacing files and archives?

(((Then there's coal technology. It's so ancient, ominpresent and taken-for granted that is scarcely even merits the bravura term 'technology'. Yet it's visibly destroying our climate, with consequences none will escape, least of all Earth First! saboteurs. The devil we don't know seems impossibly scary to us, while the devil we ignore is already at our throat and in our lungs.

(((Perhaps there are some technologies which mankind was simply not meant to know. I might concede this; Faust had to. Nuclear fission would likely have topped the list of healthfully forbidden topics, but it's too late now for ignorance to protect us from the consequences of power we already have. Pervasive computing may be another quagmire. But unless we publicly talk about it, who is to judge?

(((Who is going to deny you this kind of knowledge? Who do you trust to deny you this? When General Ludd, that all-wise fellow, tells you that he is depriving you of certain computers for your own good and the safety of others, will you thank him? Who exactly are your trusted guardians, standing ready to pull HAL's plugs when things get dicey? Will you ask them what else they know about computer networks that you will never know? Will you ever think to ask the network's secret masters about ECHELON, for instance? And will they tell you the truth when you ask?

(((When it comes to networks, 'the architectural is political.' Is there any security in obscurity? Exactly how ignorant do we want to be about pervasive computing? How ignorant should IBM be, or the police be, or Earth First! be? Take this as a given: any technological limit a government imposes on its own sworn officers of the law will be imposed ten times over on dangerous, loose-cannon civilians.)))

O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O