As a youngster, “ubiquitous” was one of my favorite words, even when I had only a dim understanding of what it meant. Now I am again challenged to understand the concept as the Japanese government sponsors a WSIS-related meeting on the “ubiquitous network society” on May 16.
The Japanese government describes the “ubiquitous network society” as a place where it will be “possible to connect anytime, anywhere, by anything and anyone.” In a ubiquitous network society
everyone and everything can be connected, and new innovations that will completely change the current dimension of ICT are anticipated. In the ideal ubiquitous network society, smooth interaction, reflection of users’ needs and points of view as well as the tapping of individual energy are set to be realized.
Only Japan, or perhaps Korea or Sweden, could host such an ambitious conference. Where else has mobile telephony, computers, and broadband had such penetration that one could talk about “ubiquitous” networks realistically?
Frankly the whole idea of “tapping of individual energy” and everyone and everything being connected sort of sounds like New Age mumbo-jumbo or The Force. Perhaps Obi-Wan Kenobi could be projected into the conference hall:
The Ubiquitous Network is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.
I have done much to enmesh / entrap myself within a ubiquitous network, with my various devices and gadgets. I don’t have my refrigerator connected to the internet or a wifi connection for my vacuum cleaner, but it is only a matter of time.
Perhaps if our devices do all of the talking, we can just sit in the corner with a cup of tea and read a book.
I joke, but of course the subject of the conference is quite serious. As we get closer to creating the kind of society where various objects around us are “smart” and connected to us and each other, what sort of ethical and political concerns get raised?
Professor Dr. Hans van Ginkel,
The Rector of the United Nations University, notes that
[t]here are many concerns that need to be addressed as we move forward to embrace the notion of the ubiquitous network society. These do relate, in particular to questions of individual privacy and security. It is essential that these technologies are exploited without allowing them to be intrusive or invasive. The problem is not with the technologies like RFID (radio frequency identification) tags themselves, but how we use them.
That is, with all of our gadgets talking to each other, how do we know what they are saying about us? And who is snooping into my cell phone web browser anyway?
Dr. van Ginkel also remarks that
one of the key issues associated with the ubiquitous network society will be how to share the potential benefits across the digital divide. Another challenge will be how to create compelling content and ideally we will see the emergence of new partnerships between diverse groups working together to develop content to meet a range of social, cultural as well as economic aspirations.
That is,how do those of us who benefit from our podcasts and video-on-demand help those who are struggling to get “always on” potable water and electricity?
And will more networked devices just add to the market share of Time Warner and Sony? Or will we see an opening up of the media spectrum to new kinds of programming and artistic expression from a multitude of sources?
These are all important questions that hopefully the “ubiquitous network society” conference in Tokyo will help answer.
Which is not to say that this concept is a new one. Indeed, as early as the 1970s hackers and geeks have been trying to hook up all manner of random devices to the net, including the infamous Carnegie Mellon coke machine. But in a ubiquitous network society, when you swear at the coke machine for eating your change, it might swear back.