Sixth Sense

A new sort of cell phone is in development, with those working on it describing it as a sixth sense. It projects a new image on any surface, which one can interact with in a manner of ways using one’s fingers. It is not difficult to be awed by its sheer awesomeness, and indeed it gives a sense of the future being here. It’s enough to make any nerd jitter in excitement. Nevertheless, I’m going to attempt to reflect a bit on some of the consequences it could have.

Added Complexity

A mobile phone used to be primarily for mobile phone calls. A mobile telephone, basically, being different from cordless phones in the sheer vastness of geographical range it could be used. But as phones developed they began to have “additional services” such as being able to send text messages, play music, alarm clock (how many still use an  actual alarm clock, as opposed to mobile phones or radios?) have an inbuilt camera, internet access etc.  This new device being so much broader in available uses, can it even be called a mobile phone?

They aren’t bashful in the video about the sort of future availability they want; mass-produced sixth sense phones so cheap (and of so short lifespan and quality) everyone will have it. Of course, if contemporary cell phone devices are of any indication, they will also be quite complicated to use. A guy called Antoine de Saint-Expury once said Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but then there is nothing more to take away”. But then again, I doubt perfection is what they’re after. Anyway, I can see that maybe many of the current motions, voluntary or involutary, could be interpreted by this device to mean something. Perhaps similar to the sometimes inconvenient times the cell phone rings?

Connoisseur As Norm

I am reminded of a quote from Anti-Dühring:

Just as in the modern state it is presumed that every citizen is competent to pass judgment on all the issues on which he is called to vote; and just as in economics it is assumed that every consumer is a connoisseur of all the commodities which he has occasion to buy for his maintenance — so similar assumptions are now to be made in science.

The sixth sense phones could possibly fulfill the above bolded part. We can see in the TED video how the consumer checks products he is interested in buying. This could perhaps be seen as similar to the “self-scanning” process currently being built into many supermarkets. It can think of two consequences of this: The producer puts more responsibility on the part of the consumer, and it can be seen as a way for the consumer to “redeem” hirself by buying green products.

Of course, I can see this having the effect of rendering many professions specialized in informing the consumer becoming more unnecessary. Seeing the broad picture, this is a good thing, freeing people for other activities. The information society abolishes itself. From a more immediate viewpoint though, in light of current norms and values, it could lead to unemployment, which is unfortunate.

Erik Henriksson

The talker at the start of the video talks about the problem of not being able to easily check up on the identity of the people she’s talking to on TED, implying that sixth sense phones is the solution to that. Further along, we see how the device is used to project a “tag cloud” on one of the MIT students. This can be seen as a further step in the commodification of actual people. I see tendencies in contemporary societies towards the common person being a seller of hirself, everyone being an entrepreneur. You make a trademark out of yourself. This sort of vulgar individualism leads to, among other things, a greater amount of conformism. You are not free to be who you are, as you find yourself being more conventional, sellable, making sure you have the right tags. One consequence I can think of: The transperson which has succeeded in emulating the appearances of the biological sex sie wants to be, might find hirself having the “trans” tag.

I can also be seen it being misused by regimes to further bolster their power. It is not far-fetched to imagine these devices being used to quickly and handily identify people. Information technology is often assumed to be tools for democracy and revolution, but I think you’ll find it a two-edged sword. This is of course part of a greater tendency towards less anonymousness both on the internet, and also now in “meatspace”.

Perhaps this RSA Animate video could be of relevance:


The title says it all, really: Developing a sixth sense. A rather daring vocabulary, but I’d wager with a lot of truth. A human is composed of many factors, social, biological, technological etc., and cannot be seen as seperate from these factors. Is the walking stick of a blind man part of him or not? From a posthuman perspective, the answer would be yes. We are all cyborgs. Technology can be seen as a way for humans to extend their power. From this perspective, this sixth sense, true to the phrase, could be empowering for humanity. And that’s what makes it awesome. As with all technologies, however, it can be used for both good and bad, and that is worthwhile examining.

Update: It appears that this TED talk was from 2009, so one can assume this technology has developed a bit since then.


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