User:Casey Marshall/Spime

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Spime is a neologism for a currently-theoretical object that can be tracked through space and time throughout the lifetime of the object. The name “spime” for this concept was coined by Bruce Sterling, in various speeches and writings on the subject.

Sterling sees spimes as coming through the convergence of six emerging technologies, related to both the manufacturing process for consumer goods, and through identification and location technologies. These six facets of spimes are:

  1. Small, inexpensive means of remotely and uniquely identifying objects over short ranges; in other words, radio-frequency identification.
  2. A mechanism to precisely locate something on Earth, such as a global-positioning system.
  3. A way to mine large amounts of data for things that match some given criteria, like internet search engines.
  4. Tools to virtually construct nearly any kind of object; computer-aided design.
  5. Ways to rapidly prototype virtual objects into real ones. Sophisticated, automated fabrication of a specification for an object, through “three-dimensional printers.”
  6. “Cradle-to-cradle” life-spans for objects. Cheap, effective recycling.

With all six of these, in theory one could track the entire existence of an object, from before it was made (its virtual representation), through its manufacture, its ownership history, its physical location, until its eventual obsolescence and breaking-down back into raw material to be used for new instantiations of objects. If recorded, the lifetime of the object can be archived, and searched for.

Spimes are not, of course, defined merely by these six technologies; it is, rather, that if these technologies converge within the manufacturing process (CAD and automated manufacturing are already in wide use in the manufacture of many things today; RFIDs are becoming more and more prevalent in consumer goods) then spimes could indeed arise.

What is an “Object?”[edit]

The use of the term “object” may seem slightly obtuse and overly generic. As a concrete example by what is meant by “object” in the context of spimes, consider a pair of tennis shoes. A unique pair of tennis shoes (or, even just one of them), can be thought of as an object in the manufacturing cycle — it first exists as a digital specification for a shoe, then raw materials are gathered and formed into the shoe, an RFID may be embedded into the fabric, and then it is sold. Location and searching for this shoe may involve asking a computer search engine “where are my shoes?” To which the reply may be “your shoes are under your bed,” which would combine identification, location, and data mining (linking the shoes to your ownership of them). Once the soles wear out, the shoes may be sent back to the manufacturer, who will break them down back into raw material which could be used to fabricate a new pair of shoes for you.

This article is based in part on Sterling’s own talk on the subject, “Shaping Things to Come,” at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich on December 13, 2004 (audio recording of the talk [1]).