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Word of the Day: “Spimes”


I attended a great mobile usability meetup last night – more on that later – and was introduced to the word “spimes” – objects of the future tracked in space and time.  Our context included purpose, environmental impact, and enabling better choices in regard to mobile UI.

Now the Wikipedia entry:

Spime is a neologism for a currently-theoretical object that can be tracked through space and time throughout the lifetime of the object. The name “spime” for this concept was coined by author Bruce Sterling. Sterling sees spimes as coming through the convergence of six emerging technologies, related to both the manufacturing process for consumer goods, and through identification and location technologies. *

These six facets of spimes are:

  1. Small, inexpensive means of remotely and uniquely identifying objects over short ranges; in other words, radio-frequency identification.
  2. A mechanism to precisely locate something on Earth, such as a global-positioning system.
  3. A way to mine large amounts of data for things that match some given criteria, like internet search engines.
  4. Tools to virtually construct nearly any kind of object; computer-aided design.
  5. Ways to rapidly prototype virtual objects into real ones. Sophisticated, automated fabrication of a specification for an object, through “three-dimensional printers.”
  6. Cradle-to-cradle” life-spans for objects. Cheap, effective recycling.

With all six of these, one could track the entire existence of an object, from before it was made (its virtual representation), through its manufacture, its ownership history, its physical location, until its eventual obsolescence and breaking-down back into raw material to be used for new instantiations of objects. If recorded, the lifetime of the object can be archived, and searched for.

Spimes are not defined merely by these six technologies; it is, rather, that if these technologies converge within the manufacturing process (CAD and automated manufacturing are already in wide use in the manufacture of many things today; RFIDs are becoming more and more prevalent in consumer goods) then spimes could indeed arise.

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