There are moments when lots of little inklings that had been hovering in one’s periphery suddenly snap together to form a coherent thought. One of those that informed this book happened as I was working on my prior Rosenfeld Media book, Make It So. I was describing at the HUD of the anti-aircraft weapon that Mal uses in Serenity Valley, which looks a little something like this…
You see that the interface has two reticles. One that is hardware, physical, mounted to the weapon and showing where it is pointed; and another one that is software, showing where the bad guy is. I was about to go on to discuss the Weyland-Yutani logo at the top when I wondered
Wait…if the weapon already knows where the bad guy is, why does it wait for Mal to aim it when it could just aim it itself?
Of course Hollywood (or the TV-equivalent anyway) is wrestling with the notion with how to keep heroes heroic in the face of technology that can do so much stuff, and so they bypass this dilemma. But for those of us in the real world: If the gun could aim itself, what would we call that category of tech? What are its defining characteristics?
These questions snapped together patterns I’d seen across interaction design clients, about the logical end result of considering users’ goals and working to minimize their effort while maximizing effectiveness. It seemed to draw in lots of related questions: What happens as sensors and actuators become more ubiquitous? How are we going to make genuine use out of all the big, social data we’re starting to accumulate? What happens when everything is connected and we start to suffer from option overload?
These questions lodged themselves like a server app in my brain: They stayed there, running all the time, checking in on the stream of projects completed, articles read, and thoughts thought. And eventually, over the course of maybe a year, I’d carved away enough of the negative space to see that underneath there was new category of technology. It’s one that we don’t have language for or a practice around, and that we’re going to have some awesome design challenges as we do more and more of this kind of tech called…called…crap. I realized I needed to name the thing.
So I’m dubbing it agentive tech for reasons that will become clear when you read more about it online, or hear more about it at speaking events. But I am really excited to be able to develop this material into something I can share with you because I honestly think it’s going to change the world, and we will have a big job ahead of us to help it change it for the better.