Technometria: Spimes

Technometria: Spimes
The following is a transcript of a Technometria podcast episode, of March 18, 2008

Bruce Sterling suggests the creation of a new type of technological device called a "spime" that through pervasive RFID communications and GPS navigation can track its history and interact with the world. On Technometria from IT Conversations, Phil Windley along with Scott Lemon talked with David Orban and Roberto Ostinelli about OpenSpime, an open source project for supporting spime technology.

Phil: Hi! This is Phil Windley, the executive producer of IT Conversations. Today I am happy to bring you another edition of my personal podcast "Technometria". Phil: Hi David! Hi Rob. How are you guys today? David: Hi Phil, I'm fine. This is David Orban here. Rob: And hi Phil, this is Rob Ostinelli. Phil: Yeah, and you're both speaking to me from Italy right? David: Yes, that's right - we have just been over in the U.S. and now came back and are very happy to be invited to be with you on the show. Phil: Well that's good. It's great to talk to you, I'm glad we could get this worked out. And Scott, glad to have you back after your vacation in Hawaii. Scott: Yeah it's nice to be back. Phil: Now Scott, before we start talking to David and Rob about why we asked them to be on the show, I did actually want to question you a little bit because last week you weren't just on vacation in Hawaii. You were

getting married, and I follow you on Twitter and as far as I know it has to be the first Twittered Wedding! Scott: It was actually kind of fun you know, since playing around with Twitter - you know, at the time my fiance is on Twitter also and we've both been having fun with it just doing things. Today as I took off on vacation I realized that a lot of different friends who are following it was a destination wedding in Hawaii, so a lot of people couldn't come over so I kind of just took the time to sit there and Twitter on and off. And then of course you get all the people in advance who start saying, "Are you actually going to Twitter through the ceremony?". I thought, "Well obviously I don't think I'm going to stand up there with the Minister and Twitter while it's going on"... Phil: I just said "I Do!" Scott: Yeah! But it was kind of fun, because it did give Andrea the chance that you know, she would see my Twitters. I would see hers of where we were, what we were doing - you know, preparing for it and stuff; and we actually got married at one of the Hotels there, in Waikoloa; and so it was kind of interesting sitting there, waiting until the last minutes. You know, you got to do something with your time and sitting out at a little


Technometria: Spimes

gazebo by the ocean I thought, "Well I can always throw out a couple last Twitters of observation". Phil: I thought it was fun because you know, I've said over and over again that I think one of the funnest things about Twitter is that it gives you that sense of what people you know are doing in a way that's not about work, right. It's that I knew more about your wedding and what you were doing - and I enjoyed it. Scott: You know it's interesting because I think it does blend into even this conversation with David and Rob because I agree with you. I think there's this real interesting aspect, even though it's not over the Internet of sort of this remote awareness that you're gaining of what's going on elsewhere in the world, elsewhere with other people, without a lot of effort. You're just carrying your cell phone and you keep getting these updates. Actually I was kind of jealous as I saw you were riding your bike the other day and I thought the same thing, "It's always cool to see when Phil goes out on his bike and I gotta connect up with you one day, doing that." Phil: Yeah. Scott: But it was neat because I had a lot of friends who Twittered back after the ceremony. We Twittered at the dinner a couple times as we were sitting there and everyone's talking. It was interesting too, the technological dinner after the ceremony because even though there weren't a lot of geeks there was family. Everybody is passing around Digital Camera's showing off, "Oh I took these photos, Did you see this one? The sun has set and it was really neat and..." It was kind of funny because here it is we were Twittering and people were Twittering back saying, "Dude you just got married. What are you doing?". I was like, "Well I'm sitting at a table full of people who are all passing around digital cameras and cell phones and things of what's going on. It's a real interesting awareness, a linking of community. Phil: Let's get to David and Rob - don't want to ignore them for the whole while although we probably could talk about Twittering weddings for a while. So David I ran in to you last week at ETech in San Diego. You gave a talk at the Ignite Session right? David: Yeah that's right. I was very happy to be able and speak right after Tim O'Reilly's keynote because I knew the room would be full. It was just like that, and it was an exciting session.

Phil: So your website, we'll have this linked on the page for this podcast but your website is and that's "S-P-I-M-E". For people that aren't familiar with that whole concept why don't you, either Rob or David, either one of you - why don't you just tell us what a "spime" is and where that came from. Just give us some background. David: Yes, of course. The spime neologism has been coined by Bruce Sterling the science fiction author and Wired columnist two or three years ago. It represents a new category of objects that are aware of their surroundings. They know where they are and when they are through GPS positioning and they have a memory unit and communication. The memory for storing values when they are not in the cloud, and communication when they enter the cloud and then can transmit whatever they are sensing, which is this last important element of what makes a spime. They have a sensor that can record what is then space-time stamped and transmitted somewhere and someplace. So this is what Bruce envisioned and we are very honored to have received his blessing for our technology. To take on the name that he invented and sent out in the wild, to put out roots and flourish, because we want to implement his vision of smart objects getting widely available in the world. Phil: So if I were to take your description into account. I think that maybe the closest thing I've seen at this point to something like that would be like a SunSpot. Are you familiar with SunSpots and is that a reasonable approximation to this? David: Yes, I mean Bruce actually says—he wrote a book called "Shaping Things"... Phil: Yeah, which I've read actually. David: Uh huh, it is a very nice book about design and the environment and about how technology will transform our perception of the environment and our impact on it. He basically says that from enough distance everything is a spime, which is basically true! But your example is very correct, as Sun Microsystems in their Sun Labs have a very nice hardware unit that people can purchase and play with to program with all kinds of behaviors; hook up to the web and play around with. Yes, we had the chance to talk at ETech extensively with the people from Sun. They certainly have a vision that is very close to ours. Phil: So a spime is this computer thing that knows where it is and is connected to the network and can make measurements and maybe transmit that data to


Technometria: Spimes

other things. What's the point? Why does anybody care? Why do you care, why did this excite you when you heard about it? David: The way technology goes, accelerating its impact through Moore's Law and other similar quantities like processing power or number of transistors which Moore's Law covers - becomes more and more accessible, smaller and smaller, more and more powerful and there are a lot of applications that were not really practical before that become very practical, very reasonable, and universally available as certain thresholds are crossed. Global positioning through the GPS system, the Global Positioning System is one of these technologies and now you can put GPS everywhere, anywhere. So why would you, and why would you want to measure the environment values about the environment? There are a lot of reasons and the widest possible impact that I can formulate is that really the way we are structuring society, has disconnected from the rest of the world. Not only the environment of the natural world as we see it but also our urban life. Our buildings, our cities can not talk to us at a high frequency. Can not talk to us in a language that we can easily understand. And we must! Whether it is the natural environment that we lose contact with, or it is very simply a bridge that is straining under the load of trucks and cars going through it, and it is about to collapse. But we don't know until it's too late. So measuring the environment is fundamentally important in ways that we have just now started to understand. Our technology which we call the OpenSpime technology is going to make it so that people can apply their creativity, their fantasy and come up with applications forming a community of solutions that are compatible and interoperable. Rob: Well I'll just add this, basically that it is important to understand which are the scopes of OpenSpime which is not only about providing connections. There is a lot of that which is related to social networking and when you really do understand what OpenSpime is all about, and I hope that I will be able to, together with David to give you as much insight as possible. Basically it becomes instantly clear that the applications are endless since at OpenSpime we are providing an infrastructure which allows any kind of application that is needed, by any kind of person that needs to connect multiple objects. I'm staying generic here, because this is really what it's all about. We provide an infrastructure based on open source software which allows for people to communicate and to make spimes communicate, which means it can be both about governing data and also about things which are much closer to instant messaging between spimes and things like this. The kind of applications that can have this is really endless.

The CO2 example we are providing is just the prototype. We have started to make clear to everybody how easy it is to start from an Open hardware like, the example you gave was a Sun Spot, but there's also in Italy for example a great company called Arduino which is providing very similar devices. To use these kinds of devices in a way that then, they become really, totally social. Scott: I'm really interested in hearing a few of the details of what will be provided in OpenSpime. What are the services or the API's, what is it that you're providing with that? Rob: Ok, let me start just by saying a very simple thing. When you think about OpenSpime, the thing that you better start with is actually considering two aspects of OpenSpime. You can consider us somewhere in between things like Google developers applications, the API's that are delivered by using developer keys and identifications like this. The other side, something which is close to let's say, DNS services like the one provided by Internic where the information is actually public on how to connect the various servers in the world. On top of that we just need to consider the fact that we are adding a layer of security and certification in a way that objects can communicate. It sounds always pretty complicated to discuss architecture, especially in a podcast where I can't give you any images. I think the best way anyways is to go by example, because examples are a great thing and basically allow us to understand why an architecture has been setup in a certain way and this will lead to answering your question, "What is going to be provided?" Does that work for you? Scott: Yes perfect. Rob: Let me start with the simplest example ever. You just have a spime, as David has already explained is just a device which is aware of where it is situated and has a series of abilities to communicate. Let's see that you have a piece of open hardware like the Arduino or a Sun Spot that you first started the conversation with. You can also imagine that the spime may be almost anything because an iPhone can become a spime if it is connecting, providing data and wanting to communicate with other iPhones. Really a spime is a very generic term. Let's start with a very simple example that you are like me a little bit, a computer geek, you like to have your open hardware and sometimes move components around see what's happening and override the blinks.


Technometria: Spimes

Let's say that you find it interesting to add a CO2 sensor to this device, this is what we did with our prototype. So this is a very simple situation. So you have yourself now your piece of hardware in your hand which is sensing the level of CO2 in the air and is telling you in some way that it's high or low or correct for where you are. What you want from this is to go from holding it in your hands to something that is more like a connected object. This connected object can for example send data and transmit the data it is collecting to somebody. Let's say that you actually want even more than that, you are not satisfied with it being a connected object. Let's say that you really want it to become a social hardware - so you want it not only to send and collect data but you actually want it to discuss with all spimes. This is where OpenSpime comes in, basically all you need to do to take advantage of what we will deliver is have your spime connected to the Internet. To have it connected you can go two ways, either directly - you add a modem to your device and processing powers sufficient to handle this modem communication. Or you might connect the device using Bluetooth or wireless and therefore you will have somewhere another resident application on a computer or a server or anything that is able then to talk to the spime on one hand - and to OpenSpime on the other hand. From then on it's pretty much straight forward. All you have to do is use an OpenSpime protocol which we've written, and use the OpenSpime API to send data and to request data. If somebody is sending data to the spime it can also be requested, and this is sent directly to the OpenSpime server. This is really a simple example where you actually are taking a public scope, which is CO2 and I mean providing the level of CO2 and you decide to somehow participate in this global earth monitoring forum. The reasons you might have could be for fun, or maybe it is some kind of business initiative or a Greenpeace initiative. Whatever that might be, in this very simple example all you have to do to your spime is connect it the Internet and use a protocol and there you have it. These are really the basics. Let's say that you want more. You're not just happy with, "what the hell am I supposed anyway to do, I'm sending CO2. I'm happy with myself. I've provided some valuable data to the world." But let's say that I really want something more of a private application, something that is really useful and immediately available to me right now. This is what we call a Scope. I said before the Scope was CO2, but you can imagine in the previous example what that means. It talks about really Google Earth Monitoring, they're talking about aggregation of data - providing enough data to have a

geographical level or any kind of information of that level. Let's say that you want something completely different - you don't want to contribute to a google project, you just want something for yourself. Again another very simple and actually maybe too-easy example, before I talked a little bit about an iPhone. Well let's say that you have an iPhone and you know that when google maps went by it's possible to track where you are even without GPS or a sensor. There is of course some error, but that one is about 200 Meters. Let's say that you're happy with that and that what you want to have is basically to have device to track the data where you've moved around in the last weeks. Then you have it somewhere and you can have fun and matching it up with Google maps and things like this. So on top of what I said before, on top of having your phone connected to the Internet what you need to do is basically create your own Scope and to create a scope you will go exactly, this is where I said the example of the Google developers application key. You will go on and get your scope ID created and the second thing you will have to do, you will have to download and install an OpenSpime server on your own server. These servers are absolutely open source and therefore you can just get it to call you to start. We'll start by leaving one of these is PHP and MySQL and the other one which is more Enterprise and a little more intensive will be Python based over PostgreSQL. This is just the beginning. Once you have created your scope and then you have configured your server - your OpenSpime server with this scope. What happens is that it's your scope, it's your private scope - so the data that you collect now from your spime is actually available physically and maintained on the database of your server. It's not on any kind of OpenSpime server in this case. Since you wanted a private scope, what you did is that you have it yourself, on your server. Now once you've done this you have the data which is there. You can build any kind of application that suits your needs. You can do anything as you want with the data that has been collected. Here is actually where it gets interesting, because the server you have is not just a spime-alone server because your server and all the other open-Spime servers out there are actually relaying one to the other. What happens is that when a spime transmits data the scope that it's transmitting it for is actually inscribed in the protocol itself. The packet that is being sent over tcp/ip to the OpenSpime API has within it information of the scope which means where the data should be sent as a final


Technometria: Spimes

destination. An example is, well you're at your server (let's call it server A) but for x-reasons (I will give you one very soon after I finish this example) let's say that you don't want to or you can not view directly server A to connect to send your data. Well you can choose a server that's say, server B from all the available ones. The list is provided of course in This list will provide of course some kind of reliability for instance pinging times, or up-times, this kind of thing. So that you can select your preferred server to send your spime information. What happens in this case is that Server B you selected to send your spime data will contact OpenSpime servers and this is why at the very beginning of the little speech I am doing here I said you have to consider services like Internic because basically it's OpenSpime who will know which is the server to contact with that precise code so the data will go from Server B (Which is a third-party server) to the OpenSpime server and will finally be transmitted to your own personal Server A. Why would you want to do that? Well basically you can imagine the first reason is coverage. It is not only tcp/ip coverage we're talking about spime, so anything can actually be a spime. So let's imagine for instance that your spime does not have a tcp/ip connection—instead it has a wireless connection and let's say that you're too far from the server to connect that wireless and just imagine that somebody else has already set up an OpenSpime server which connects wireless and allows you in a geographically different area from your own server to send the data to server A. We're actually building an open-source distributing network where OpenSpime provides functionality such as gateway and security. I'm talking about security, this will be a pretty complex matter but basically I just want to say that all the data being transmitted can, and it is recommended of course - be encrypted. So that for instance my previous example, server B receiving a packet from the spime will receive an encrypted packet and absolutely have no idea what is contained in there. It is only at the OpenSpime level which it is decrypted and actually then re-encrypted for Server A in a way that Server A can then read it. My final example is the last step. The first step was a very simple spime, we just wanted to connect and send some data. The second step is actually private applications where you can build your own things and actually even decide if you want to go public with it. You can even open it up to other people, it's up to you. You have decided your own scope and then you can do what you want with it. The third level is, actually: you're not even happy with our open source servers because you want something

absolutely wonderfully big. You want to become an OpenSpime partner, for example, in anything that is related to Google monitoring. Well in this case you want to create your own server, your own infrastructure able to receive spime and their data and connect them one to the other. Well in this case of course all the specs to create your own server are absolutely freely available for download. If you're not happy with all the open source applications on the server we are running, we will provide you and we hope the community will also contribute to provide. You have the ability to create your own server, and you have your OpenSpime server and there you're part of the packets of all OpenSpime servers. Phil: So let me just make sure I understand. So you have a concept called a spime ID which is the ID for an individual spime, is that right? Rob: Yes absolutely, I forgot to mention that. Basically we provide all these services absolutely for free. All the infrastructure services we are discussing are provided for free. The only small fee that we actually request to finance our business model in a way that we can support these kind of things - is actually the purchase of a spime ID. spime ID's price is not defined yet, but we're talking something like a Dollar US or something like this—a very small amount. This is your unique OpenSpime ID, which enables you access the whole system. Let me just address two things. The first thing is that spime ID is not requested, I mean you can still in the first example send the data to the servers without a spime ID. The fact is, for example, if your spime needs to be contacted by another spime you of course need to have a unique address and this is your spime ID. The second thing is associated to every spime ID we deploy a secret key which is based on AES Standard which allows the form of the encryption I was talking to you about. So the only thing that you will see going through the net is your spime ID and all the data is actually encrypted with the key that is provided with your spime ID. Phil: So let me build a small example. So lots of people have cell phones, but let's just say iPhone for simplicity —I could write an iPhone application with the newly released SDK that (and I'm making some assumptions here) but let's say the application could get the signal strength that the cell phone was seeing and then I could use the OpenSpime protocol to transmit signal strength of wherever that phone happened to be at periodic intervals. And if enough people downloaded this application and had it running on their iPhone we could use OpenSpime to build a map of AT&T signal strength across the area that they're roaming in.


Technometria: Spimes

David: Yes, and the reason why your example is correct is because you are measuring something and so what is being mapped is the distribution geographically and in time as well, of that value. So the example that you made is probably quite useful too for people to on one hand understand why their phone is not working some place—or maybe an AT&T Carrier has kind of a crowdsourcing application of where it puts the other set of towers. Phil: Yeah, and if I understand what Rob was saying correctly OpenSpime is providing the various pieces I would need to make that happen. Is that correct? Rob & David: Yes, absolutely. Phil: Yeah, well good. David: But say that it will provide some kind of standard pieces of course along the way from which you can build whatever you like. Phil: Right, right. Yeah the libraries, the protocols, all of the server, all of those things and I just put the application together and then I can start doing that. It will be fun. David: At ETech we actually presented a prototype which Rob briefly mentioned which measures CO2 levels and you Scott or maybe Phil asked at the beginning, "Why would spimes matter?" and I think that the example prototype that we chose illustrates this point actually pretty well. Because we all know how the environment is changing and now the scientific consensus is there for people to incontrovertibly understand that it is due to human impact on the environment—but still what we are told day after day is these millions of pounds of CO2 in the atmosphere, countries that are good - countries that are bad. That tells us nothing, so when there are thousands or hundreds of thousands of people in the world and hundreds in a given neighborhood that day after day are measuring CO2 concentrations sometimes in house, sometimes outside as they are moving around in their lives. This data gets aggregated, visualized, meshed up, second order knowledge - derives from it to correlate maybe seasonality or local weather, not global weather but local weather. That is when people feel empowered by their understanding, their capability of asking questions that matter. After you start asking questions, that is a great way to start and pretend that somebody gives you answers and once you put those pieces

together the whole picture is totally inverted. Now you feel and touch with what people tell you about the changes in the environment. You are measuring the concentrations of CO2 are actually higher than in historical places or times, and you start to understand why that happens better. Maybe your car or your heater is raising concentrations where you live and maybe after that you can decide whether you want to change the way you live. This is I think a good example of why spimes can matter. Phil: Yeah because essentially what we do is, when we "show and know" then people make different choices than when it is just some abstract notion as the idea there. David: Exactly. The quantities do matter. We are accustomed in the IT world to talk about megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, petabytes and we live in these orders of magnitude. Phil: Exobytes and Xenobytes! David: Absolutely. Then unfortunately we will start to be without, so people at Système International which is the body devising these prefixes will be busy inventing new ones. Phil: Yeah! David: To laypeople, quantities don't necessarily mean a lot and they can not relate those huge quantities to their day to day lives. So spimes are about understanding the world and then being able to do something with the knowledge. Be empowered by the knowledge. Scott: When I was looking at your web site and you were talking about OpenSpime and the various projects, Servers etc. When do you expect the code and servers, APIs, things like that to be published and available? I didn't notice them anywhere on the web site right now. Are they there and linked to, or is this all sort of coming in the next few months or later this year? David: That's right. We are currently in an Alpha stage, we will go Beta in a few months and then as it is, I think today, a question of pride - we will stay Beta forever. Anybody who dares to come out of Beta is getting beaten up, so we will probably never. So yes, soon you will start to get the few initial things of the architecture that Rob described. And very concretely the OpenSpime servers that people can run themselves that Rob was mentioning will be virtual appliances that the Geeks


Technometria: Spimes

among us will be able to download directly, to just hop on and run. Scott: Are you currently, are there any other vendors or people (I know you mentioned the one company there in Italy). Are there people that are already starting to jump on board with what you're doing and are starting to look at the protocols and things... David: Yes. Yes. Scott: Or sort of like Sunspots have their developer kit out there, do you think you'll start to work with other partners? David: Yes, so Rob mentioned both Sunspot and Arduino and he also mentioned the iPhone of course, and initially it will be our job to kickstart the community. It is very natural that people will look to us to see examples, exciting ways to use the OpenSpime platform. We actually have preorders for almost half a million devices from Chinese manufacturers on one hand and from a community initiative on the other. As we go forward these will be the first volume produced devices that will become widely available and they will also present great examples of use and visualization. Another area which I would like to add if I may, regards policy. Because of course we realize how delicate the issues concerning the collection and aggregation of high granularity data can be, like the ones that we are about to manage. That is the very reason why we are always alert regarding issues of encryption, validation, and distributing reliable application frameworks and server frameworks. But we are also in touch with the EFF to make sure that we study what are the best practices, what are the best policies to recommend for adoption by both governments, corporations and private individuals as they go along in managing their digital environment through spimes in the OpenSpime framework. So they are technologies that are somewhat hampered by a certain amount of lack of foresight. If I may without wanting and pointing fingers, but RFIDs have seen a public backlash. Phil: Yeah, that's an example I was thinking of. David: Uh huh. Wal-Mart in the U.S. wanted to mandate suppliers providing it with goods that were RFID tagged, and the public didn't want that. An Italian clothes maker, which is actually world wide - which is Benetton already had great examples of consumer benefit. You bought something, you went home with it, and the next time you went back to the store your

clothes would tell the store what were your sizes. What were your preferences, what was your purchase history. Great! In theory. But people wanted nothing to do with it. So we not only think about the technology which excites us all, but we also think about how people will want and relate to it in a healthy and sustainable manner. Scott: So as you talk about the different manufacturers and you bring up RFID, and I think about the cost of RFID is very unintelligent compared to what you're talking about with the spime. Where do you see the price points being at for wireless or wired spimes, short term and longer term. I follow hardware as well and yes, there's decreasing prices you know cost. But you look at a Sun developer kit, it's seven hundred dollars. I've looked at other developer kits in wireless that are in the same realm and of course they say, "Gosh, you keep buying volume but a corporate entity would have to be behind it to get it down in volume". What's your CO2 sensor running per unit even if you were to pick up volume? I mean if you have a GPS and a CO2 sensor, and wireless? David: We are talking about less than ten dollars. Phil: That's impressive. Scott: Would this be a single chip solution to get it down, and that's for the processor, memory, wireless communications, GPS everything... David: No, the two components, Scott; sensor and GPS. Let me describe for you three different products. One product is integrated and embedded in a phone, in a mobile phone. So communication and processing memory are all provided by the phone as well as power and whether GPS is there or not is just a question of time. Very soon GPS will be a feature of a standard phone set. Then the addition is a sensor. The second product is a Bluetooth device which can rely on something else to transmit the data back to the servers and it hops on to the cloud via Bluetooth. The third product that we will actually sell on our web site is a USB stick which very simply you plug into your computer. It has a sensor and we will - we're still playing around with a little bit of pricing but it will be between $49 and $99 dollars. Scott: Ok, and at that point what you're doing is you're leveraging, at that point with USB the host operating system to run the majority of the spime code and it's sort


Technometria: Spimes

of just a USB connected sensor that's then being used by that spime code to relay the data up to a server. David: Absolutely correct yes. Phil: So one of the things that I was curious about, is you were talking about all this—both of you are obviously passionate about this topic. How did you get into this? Was WideTag something else and you decided, "Hey, we're all about spimes" or did you start WideTag to do spimes. What's your respective histories and why this? David: Well, the third founder and actually the originator of the idea of OpenSpime technology on which WideTag is based is Leeander, Leandro Agrò— who is not with us on this podcast—the CEO of the company. We all knew each other and we have been following each others ideas and projects, and I am personally very much of a technology person in general so I look at the evolution of technology and the acceleration of change and the impacts on our society. Rob will say a few words about himself too, but to answer your question we founded WideTag to make sure that the OpenSpime technology gets out in the world. One reason which probably made it easier to make sure that these ideas coalesce into the vision that we are trying to get out in to the world today is Bruce Sterling's actually living in Italy, at least part of his time. Phil: I'd heard that. David: Yes that's right. In Turin, where our developer group is based. So certainly the great catalyst of our ideas has been Bruce and we are very cognisant of that. Rob would you like to say a few words about your background? Rob: Yes of course. Well, actually, I always have fun describing my background. If you do a search in Google of my name you come up with so many things that have nothing in common. I actually like that; I am already the spime of myself. It's like, it is interesting to see that the figure you know - the technical IT person which is definitely used to managing big systems and these kind of things is not what we have until now in OpenSpime because we are pretty much very creative people, working a lot, as any kind of startups. Therefore as far as I'm concerned, anything that is related to technology is really a passion. This passion has led me in the past years to be director of our LAB technology division on which I am used to working with. So this is why it came naturally at that time to consider the development of such a thing together.

Phil: So WhiteTag, I take it - you formed to do spimes? David: That's right, WhiteTag has been incorporated recently in California and with the visibility that our ideas are getting we are receiving an enormous amount of input. We talk about our vision and since we are an open source model based company all our activities are very inclusive. We will release the hardware reference designs, the APIs communication protocols, people will be able to run their own OpenSpime servers, and this is really the basis for a community that is going to be forming around the OpenSpime technology and also the basis for all the great feedback we are getting. We are very excited as you can understand about OpenSpime and we are sure that white tag is going to have a great future. Phil: Earlier you said that there's stuff coming - servers and SDKs, other stuff. What kind of time frame are we looking at? When can I write my iPhone app I guess is what I'm asking. David: Rob, are you ready to go out on a limb, or should I so you can blame me? Rob: (laughs). Ok let's talk about we are really as David said before, we are in this Alpha stage and the fact that we already have a prototype up and running says a lot about this. I would say that really we are talking about forthcoming months, definitely before the end of the year and I hope way before the end of the year. Phil: Yeah, so if people are interested in this they obviously can go to your web site. Do you have a mailing list or something they can sign up for, if they want to be notified when you go Beta? David: Yes. Absolutely. On our web site there's a form for people to sign up, to be part of the mailing list and we will notify everybody. obviously on the home page of; also there is our blog and people can subscribe to our RSS feed to get all the news that they can manage. (Now developer signup is on ed.) Phil: Yeah. O.k. that's good. Because I personally think this is a really interesting project. I love the notion of spimes and I think there's a lot of opportunity for people, as you say, to monitor all kinds of stuff. Who knows what people want to monitor, it could be, you know, we have no idea. And having the infrastructure available that makes this easily doable - I think it is going to be really popular. David: Yes. We are sure that the examples that excite us now so much will be dumb in a few years time. As well


Technometria: Spimes

we are sure that there are so many smarter people than we are, and they will come up with so many incredible exciting applications. One angle that maybe is worth mentioning is that OpenSpime enables, facilitates, enhances machine to machine communication. So the visualizations that we're going to have are certainly fundamental otherwise humans would feel cut out of the loop totally. But certainly one of the reasons why all kinds of people are getting very excited about our framework is because you can only sell six billion cell phones, or maybe ten. The number of people in the world is really limited but there are literally unbounded opportunities for machine to machine communication to flourish. From the point of view of the industry— hardware makers, infrastructure companies, companies like Cisco who provide the communication needs for gluing it all together—the vision of OpenSpime is extremely exciting. The need is also there because we know very, very little about our planet. Phil: Yeah, seems like there's all kinds of interesting things that people would want to monitor. So David, I was noticing on your bio that you like or you're, I don't know what the right word is, "fan", but singularities or something - you're very interested in. "The Singularity", right? David: The word is, "I am a Singularitarian" Phil: Singularitarian! And you know, you may not know this but Scott is too. I'm not unfairly characterizing you, am I Scott? David: Well, I say "Hello" to a fellow Singularitarian!. Scott: Exactly. Phil: So do you think that spimes are important in that whole Singularity idea? David: I'm the founder of the Singularity Institute Europe which is the European branch of the American Singularity Institute—that is backed by people like Ray Kurzweil; the author of "The Singularity is Near", and Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal—this past September 2007 organized a great conference "The Singularity Summit" in San Francisco that I had the pleasure of attending. Just for your listeners who might not be familiar with the concept: the Technological Singularity is the point in time in the future when the speed of change in technology, and it's impact on society, will be so great that humans—to be more precise, unaugmented humans—won't be able to cope. Basically the world will pass you by and it's not that you will cease to exist, and eat or sleep or love. You will stay human as before but interesting stuff will happen

elsewhere. So your question is, "Do spimes matter in a Singularitarian world view?" Phil: Yeah. David: I would say, Absolutely. Absolutely because one subtext is artificial intelligence. Artificial general intelligence. The concept that machines can become intelligent, acquire common sense, acquire purpose, self consciousness and so on; with the collateral being what is called "The Intelligence Explosion" because contrary to us, who have a hard time understanding ourselves and our rights - the machines actually will have access to their own source code and they will apply introspection —what we call introspection—to debug themselves... Phil: Mmm hmm. David: ...and realize their abilities, and they won't to do this in millions of years like biological evolution is bound to do, but they will do it in a matter of hours or minutes. After acquiring a given level of autonomous intelligence they will be able to acquire ten times as much, a hundred times as much, a million times as much without further intervention and potentially will assert their control. They won't be able to do this without knowing the world, they cannot live in a black box and pretend - or we can not let them live in a black box and pretend that they can grow healthily. We wouldn't do that with our biological children and we should not do that with our mind-children. Now of course, one of the most important tasks of the Singularity Institute is to make sure that the AGI's are friendly to us. Because once we bring them to the world, the probability that we can control what they do is minimal. Phil: Kind of like real kids, kind of like biological children. David: That's right! Except that kids might become unruly but when we kick them out of the house - or when they leave the house voluntarily, well they grow up and become humans. When an AGI becomes unruly you don't want it to get mad at you, and so there is this concept that is advocated by Eliezer Yudkowsky of the Singularity Institute which is called the "Friendly AI". That is what we must strive for. Scott: The question there becomes, is the Super Intelligence going to do anything to us that wouldn't be super intelligent? David: That's right, certainly it would be intelligent. But morality and goals can be fairly different. We pretend to be intelligent and still are only now starting


Technometria: Spimes

to believe that extinguishing other species is wrong. We have been intelligent for tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years and we didn't mind killing all the woolly mammoths. Scott: Yep. That is the interesting morality question, the general question is the future of a next-level or a nextsubstrate of life form dependent on prior ones and is it necessary to keep them alive. So it will be interesting, I love the same conferences and the same conversations because it gets into an interesting area of the machines gaining the awareness, using these kinds of technologies and continuing to accelerate forward, and then all of a sudden we become very worried about our preservation even though for the Universe that really might not matter. It matters to Humans, but it doesn't necessarily matter to the best future for the Universe. David: On planet Earth, according to some points of view, the predominant life form is still bacteria. And certainly we could not live without bacteria, even for a few hours. Scott: Yep. David: So there is precedent for the more complex to depend on the simpler. Scott: Yep. David: "What is human", matters to humans and it will stay like that, even after the Singularity. Which according to Ray Kurzweil at least is around the corner really because it is around 2040, or something like that. Scott: Yeah exactly. David: And our arts, our creativity, our poetry and so on will have certainly a lot of value. To talk about what you just mentioned on the scale of the Universe and certainly science fiction from the ‘70s, or 60's or 50's— up to cyberpunk I would say—had this notion that humans would explore the universe... And in our current form we are just not good at it! We suck, we are meatbags - we need oxygen, we are delicate, and space is just not for us. The expanding sphere of probes on a potentially nano-technological scale accelerated by a laser beam to close to light speed in an onion skin architecture where newer and newer generations will never be able to catch up with the first one, because they are already going at close to light speed are going to be really, our universal spime. The way they will learn about the planet in the next few years and decades, it will be the same way that our spime Ambassadors are going to learn about the Universe and they will tell tales and tell stories and we will feel like we've travelled with

them; because of course the quality and the fidelity of the data representation that we will have by then will be as immersive as any virtual reality dreams that we have today. Phil: Yeah. I think one thing is for sure; as we started out on this topic you mentioned that monitoring, being connected with the environment, is important to intelligence. Whether we get to the Singularity or not, I mean this whole idea of spimes certainly gets us a lot better environmental monitoring than we have had in the past in a general, an abstract way which I think is important. This has been really fun, interesting and I appreciate you coming on with this. I know it's late where you're at, so thank you very much. David: Thank you very much for having us. Phil: Yeah, and Rob thanks to you. Rob: It's been really, really great to be on your show. Phil: Bye guys. David & Rob: Goodbye. Phil: You've been listening to Technometria. For more of Technometria please visit my weblog at