Monday, September 12, 2005

I looked into the future, and the future looked back.

For the past century, cultural theorists have lamented a side-effect of technological innovation: alienation.
  • Humans alienated from other humans: instead of face to face contact, we pick up a phone or write an e-mail.
  • Humans alienated from animals: instead of stalking, hunting, killing, and preparing animals ourselves, we buy them in neat, unrecognizable form at the grocery store.
  • Humans alienated from their environment: instead of walking amongst the trees, we drive everywhere, enclosed in climate-controlled, steel capsules.
This much isolation defies our instincts, and we begin to look for solutions. Philosophers such as Emerson suggest that we go back to nature, give up our worldly conveniences to experience a more direct connection with the environment.

For those not ready for such a drastic lifestyle make-over, there may be other options. What about using the very instrument of our demise to craft a brighter future? By rethinking the role of technology in our lives, we can use technological innovation to re-establish or even strengthen our ties with other humans, animals, and the environment. Think about it: Who says that the only role of technology is to make things more convenient for humans?

We are quickly digging our way out of this narrow perspective. It's already happening with human to human communication: video-conferencing, cell-phones with cameras...these are all inventions designed to bring us closer.

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In the future, technology will go beyond facilitating human to human communication. It will allow us to understand and connect with animals and our environment -- perhaps better than ever before. One project embodies this trend: It's called Ooz, and it's my absolute favorite thing. in the world.

Ooz is like a zoo, except backwards. Instead of sticking animals in cages, Ooz tries to attract animals with various incentives (much as a restaurant or hotel would attract customers). The critters can come and go as they please.

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Ever feel like zoos are a little one-sided? Not Ooz. Here, the power is evenly distributed between humans and animals. For example, a horse can turn a computerized fence post to different positions to communicate certain desires: If he turns the post one way, a voice tells the human to come forward. If he turns it the other way, the voice tells the human to withdraw. He can even share his food (an apple) with a human by pushing the post to a third position.

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In the badger exhibit, humans will be able to turn a light switch on. However, the badger will have the option of turning it off.

Ever wish you could really interact with animals at the zoo? (other than making faces at the monkeys?) At Ooz, you sit in a "goose chair" and remote control a robotic goose to interact with the real geese out in the water. Your words will be translated into "goose language" and transmitted from the robot's mouth. If the real goose says something in return, their vocalization is translated into English and transmitted into your headphones.

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Anonymous Claude Mothman said...

The ooz sounds like fun. Is there one in the US? I hope that the horse will let me take the first bite.

11:10 PM  

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