Intelligent Screens Full of Data

Hello. My name is Kate Marek, and Michael has offered me the opportunity to contribute a guest entry here at TTW. What a privilege! I work with Michael on the faculty at Dominican University's GSLIS, where we both work with many other talented faculty members as well as lots of wonderful students.

In keeping with Michael's tradition in TTW, I'd like to use my posting opportunity to call your attention to a fascinating new technology that has just been unveiled. A couple of days ago Microsoft announced its new "Microsoft Surface" technology.

The demo video shown on the Popular Mechanics website announces a "new paradigm of computing" — and you thought you had just survived the last new paradigm! But, unlike John Horgan's 1986 book The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age would have us believe, innovation, invention, and discovery are just not stopping. There are certainly examples of discovery in the news each week, but this one, "surface computing" really caught my attention as being the new paradigm in computing it attests to be.

The basic idea is that a standard surface, such as a coffee table or a countertop, serves as both a computer and a display screen. Components of the technology include "multi-touch" capabilities — you can use many hands at once, rather than one mouse or one keyboard — and enhanced wireless capabilities. You've probably seen lots of touch displays, including the ones at the grocery store self–checkout. Think about that on steroids, or in the latest science fiction novel. (Or think the touch screens in the movie "Minority Report," where the huge and easily manipulated screens of data helped simultaneous users predict and solve crimes.) Better yet, watch that demo video or visit the Microsoft site for their version of the promotion. It's quite amazing indeed. The demo example shows a guy resizing photos with a touch and drag, organizing them, merging them, etc. In addition, the wireless capabilities are such that this "intelligent surface" can recognize your digital camera, for example, and "grab" its content immediately after the camera is set on the surface. The surface and the camera communicate instaneously, seamlessly, wirelessly. The promotional video calls this a "new ecosystem for computers."

How would surface computing impact us in library land? The Chronicle of Higher Education's Columnist Scott Carlson mentioned Microsoft Surface in yesterday's "The Wired Campus" article. He sees great potential in terms of research: intelligent screens full of large amounts of data, for example, and the ability to manipulate the data onscreen to discover connections, visualize outcomes, etc. (Carlson references "Minority Report" as well.) Naturally, fully automated, intelligent surface circulation desks come to mind for us. That's a pretty easy idea. Watch the video, and keep thinking about how this will change the way we collect, organize, store, and disseminate information! It's yet another new paradigm, full of potential for information and imagination.