Matt Jones has written a great post about Berg’s research project for Google in 2011. There’s lots of juicy stuff about smart objects and a lovely experiment with ‘lamps that can see’, prostate inspired by the idea of adding new smart layers to ubiquitous objects. But the sound byte which really struck a chord with me is a term Matt uses to describe the relationship between ‘companion species’ (“They see the world differently to us, picking up on things we miss”) and the cloud that feeds them: ‘big brain, little brain’:
“the Smart Light companion would be the Little Brain, on your side, that understood you and the world immediately around you, and talked on your behalf to the Big Brain in ‘the cloud’.”
This is a nice way to think about the connected object ecosystem. And has just the right level of humanity, for me, to give it some soul: a necessary ingredient for objects we might have an intimate relationship with.
It also reminded me of a bit from Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. Dawkins describes the difference between evolution and behaviour: that evolution is super slow and influences an animal over long periods of time (e.g. thicker fur as a result of a cold climate). But that behaviour must of course be quick (e.g. Running behind a rock to avoid a predator). Hence why animals developed brains, to be able to handle things ‘on the ground’ as it were. This is a little ‘big brain, little brain’ too.
Forgive my crude paraphrasing – I’m afraid I can’t find the original text. But that was the gist of it. And it made me think that the ‘big brain’ (cloud) is maybe more ‘evolutionary’ in its application of intelligence, learning over a long time and from sources beyond the user or object in question. The ‘little brain’ companion object is perhaps closer to Dawkins’ description of behaviour. It navigates its immediate surroundings with greater nimbleness and contextual relevance. And it’s the combination of both that creates truly smart objects and experiences.
I won’t pretend there is an intelligent, neat conclusion to this. Just dipping my creaky brain back into the very important topic of connected objects and cloud computing. I recommend you read Matt’s post for more of the clever stuff.