Self Surveillance

I’m a huge data nerd. I really like collecting data, even though I suck at data analysis. I always imagine a scenario where I build an amazing AI, and I’m collecting data for then. One of the types of data I like to collect are interesting conversations. The audio recorder is on my home screen. I always seek permission to record, of course. But, the best conversations happen spontaneously. I’m often lost in the conversation and we realize only too late that we should’ve recorded the audio. I can’t count how many good ideas I’ve lost because they came with like a half dozen others over the span of an hour of conversation. By the time you pick up your phone, it’s too late.

I want to make an audio recorder, that just keeps recording. It keeps a buffer of the last, say three hours of my conversations and gives me the opportunity to go back to the conversations and store them. By default, it doesn’t store anything, just keeps a buffer. It can be as simple as an app. No dedicated hardware needed. I always have a pair of bluetooth headphones on, so the phone being away or in my pocket is not an issue. I know that most voice assistants store voice as well, but I like the idea of this being away from the cloud. Some semblence of privacy and ownership remains that way.

Now, I know this sounds very black mirror ‘grain’ like, and privacy intrusion is a big issue. I’m not sure how I feel about that. One can argue that privacy is pretty much dead and we should just accept the fact. Our only real hope is to rely on the decency of our fellow human being. Huh, well.. good luck with that.

Put yourself in else’s shoes

I was really inspired by this story of Emma, a designer who lost motor control in her hands to Parkinson’s. She was unable to draw a straight line or sign her own name. The story is about a device that helped her get over the tremors and regain control of her hands. But, the thing that really interested me was the feeling of losing control. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to want your hands to move, to beg your muscles to contract in just the right way, and watch yourself fail.

I want to make a pencil which would simulate the experience of that frustration. I guess it would be a pencil with a wide, poorly designed grip which would force you to hold it the way Emma is forced to. It would have motors that would move the tip to match the way Emma’s hands vibrate. Or perhaps the pencil would just have electrodes and act as a TENS device, exciting the muscles involuntarily.

I hope that this would give me, and perhaps others a taste of what it might be to live with Parkinson’s; and make us more empathetic.

Augmented Reality. Education. Textbooks.

Is that enough hints?
Okay, let me spell it out:
Kids don’t like to open their textbooks. If we can remove the dread of opening the textbook, and give them content that is relatable they’d learn more. So, what if you had an app that would work offline, in which you scan the page from your standard textbook and it puts relevant 3D models or fun graphics, or MCQ’s or short videos right on your cellphone screen? You don’t need to go through a menu or type anything or log into a web portal. It’s all about making relevant information available readily. It can be used as a teaching aid in a classroom or individually. There are some AR educational aids in the app store, but there’s nothing tied to a textbook as of yet. I think the big difference would come from the fact that the students can jump to a topic by simply turning the page. It maintains the searchability and tangibility of the book and the rich content availability from the cellphone displays. Of course the app would put the phone on airplane mode to avoid distractions.

I’m sure in India, where everyone is obsessed about high school education, this’ll be a smash success. Make it free and open, wiki style, and teachers will flock to add content, one hopes.

Please oh please someone make this! I’m not good enough at programming :/

All about context.

I’ve been ranting about bringing the digital to analog. I really want to pursue a set of projects that provide information through non visual means i.e. through haptic feedback, or sound.. So, a cup that screams when you pour hot coffee in, and shivers when you have ice tea. A work table that shouts out when you bang it too hard. And, I realized that I don’t really care for the non-visual bit of it. What the projects really have in common is that they provide contextually relevant feedback. So it doesn’t matter whether the cup screams or vibrates or turns red. What matters is that it does so when you pour coffee in, and not when say.. you’re rinsing it. It’s about contextual awareness.

Here’s another idea from the same stem.. a contextually aware digital photo frame. The photo frame listens to ambient conversations and changes the photos to become more relevant to the conversation. It can pull photos from facebook as you post them and run a simple search through the tags and comments. If you happen to come across a photo you like, clicking on it takes you to your feed back then, photos of your then active friends pop up. The point is to allow for nostalgia and rediscovery.

It’s all about context.