Information Ecology, Design, and the Age of Trillions
Founding Principal, MAYA Design
Wednesday, September 26, 2012 4:00pm
Newell Simon Hall 1305 (Michael Mauldin Auditorium)
There are now many more computing devices in the world than there are people. The number will soon grow into the trillions. We now put microprocessors in nearly every significant thing that we manufacture. Although most of these processors are currently computational islands, we are rapidly learning how to make them communicate with each other, and with us. As a result, we will soon be living amidst a trillion-node network, whose scale and complexity will dwarf that of today’s Internet. Although the inevitability of the pervasive computing future is well recognized, its implications for the design professions are not.
In this talk, I will discuss topics from the recently released book Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology (Lucas, Ballay & McManus, 2012). I will argue that conventional approaches to usability design will prove to be inadequate when applied to systems of the scale, complexity, and decentralization that we will soon face. We will have to stop thinking of the computational environment as machines or interfaces that we as designers can specify, and start thinking of it as an ecology, in which usability—or lack thereof—will be an emergent property of huge numbers of decisions made by many designers acting independently and often in competition. In this regard, design will become more like tending a garden than designing a machine. In such an environment, the importance of communities of practice will become increasingly central. Such communities are held together by shared architectural principles. In particular, two kinds of architecture are likely to become central: device architectures and information architectures. Device architectures are concerned with modular interfaces designed to support the evolution of stable, composable components and their hierarchical composition into complex systems. Information architectures are concerned with the relationships among well-defined information objects abstracted from the machines used to process them and the interfaces used to display them. Device fungibility and information liquidity are proposed as dual aspects of the holy grail in our quest for emergent usability.
Peter Lucas is founding principal at MAYA Design, which he cofounded in 1989. For over 25 years, he has worked to break down the disciplinary boundaries that lead to technology that is poorly suited to the needs of individuals and society. He holds a PhD from Cornell University, where he studied educational and cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He has authored numerous scholarly papers and co-authored a book on language perception. He holds 15 patents. He is adjunct associate professor of human computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. He served on the Committee on Networked Systems of Embedded Computers of the National Research Council. His current research interests center on device and information architectures designed to achieve emergent usability in a world of pervasive computing. He is co-author of the newly-released book Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology.