The Thrill is On
Schwartz' latest project, MIThril, hints at what life may be like when PCs and people are indistinguishable. A full-fledged personal computer network woven into an individual's clothing, MIThril will learn the preferences of its owner by watching behavior and taking note of habits. It will manage a personal datebook and know where its owner should be even before departure. And by preemptively scouring Web sites, it will constantly be updating the best way to tackle the next task. Suppose a beach party is on the schedule. MIThril will know this because the event is in the calendar and there's a note on a to-do list that says, for example: Pick up beer.
When the system observes its owner getting on a bike, it immediately seeks the best directions to the party by way of a packaged goods store -- taking into account that its owner hates heavy traffic. After calculating all of this information, MIThril displays a map to the beach on the owner's glasses without even being asked.
Still in development, MIThril will contain a computer with an advanced microprocessor; an Ethernet card and modem for communicating with networks on the body as well as external Internets; and a camera with GPS capabilities to monitor where the person is -- all strung into a vest and imperceptible to anyone but the wearer. A low-voltage wireless network will connect the system's eyeglass-mounted display and pocket input device to the main computer on the body.
Significant research and design hurdles must be overcome before such a system or dozens like it in development at places such as Carnegie Mellon, IBM, and Xerox Palo Alto Research Center become reality. There's the question of how to make the keyboard, mouse, and display simultaneously unobtrusive and comfortable to use. And the technique for conducting the network's current over the body -- through hidden wires or skin, for instance -- has to be puzzled out. What's more, these systems could be prone to mistakes, insisting that you have an appointment, for instance, and persistently offering a map for getting there when the meeting was cancelled a week ago although never changed in the calendar.