The Portable Explanation is the idea of an explanation that you can carry around with you, present with ease, develop, and replicate from person to person. It is the product of an imagined technology that does not exist yet, but could exist in the future. The vision of the portable explanation relies on either AugmentedReality + UbiquitousComputing, or VirtualReality. I am not aware of any Science Fiction stories that articulate this idea and the impact it could have on society, but eagerly search for such examples.
Imagine that you and I are sitting in a cafe, and having a conversation about Art & Society. And then I say, “Oh! Well! Do you know the Causal Layered Analysis?”
And you say, “No, no I don’t. What is it, and how does it relate to Art & Society?”
At that point, I whip out the CausalLayeredAnalysis. Now, what does that mean, materially? What it means is that I (perhaps) speak the phrase, “Render Causal Layered Analysis,” and then, to all appearances, I am holding in my hand a diagram of the “Causal Layered Analysis.”
Let’s not ask ourselves just yet the “What technology could possibly do such a thing?!” question. Let’s just assume for the time being that it is possible. We’ll answer that question in a moment.
So you see me before you, holding a diagram, labelled “Causal Layered Analysis,” and then I position it in the air, and perhaps it grows in size a little bit, and we see some detail larger.
Sadly, we have not yet constructed the CasualLayeredAnalysis? diagram, but I can describe what it may look like briefly: There are four layers, stacked like vertical pancakes. The top one say “Litany,” in bold letters that, then the next step says “Analysis,” and then the next says “Metaphor,” and then the next says “Art.” Written vertically to the left of those in large letters, it says, “Media.” And there are little icons and then photographs next to the rows, representing the ideas. And there are little call outs and pointers and explanatory texts around the diagram pointing into it, and a mandallic like framing around the whole thing, etched with icons, words, hyperlinks, and utilities (and so on.)
I point at Art, and say, “This is art.” I point at the layers and say, “It’s part of all the media.” “Up here, this is the litany. The newspapers. People read the news, they panic, they get worried, they feel sort of powerless, and so on.” “This here, the analysts. Foreign Affairs, Wall Street Journal, and so on.” “This next one here, these are the people studying metaphors, the framing of issues, language, and so on, as well as the myths that move us.” “But see, down here, here are the artists. They make stories and aren’t even fully cognizant of what they’re doing. But it does communicate things, and it does mean things, and it is a major power center.” “Here, let me show you another idea.”
I pull out another idea. “Art and Particulars,” I speak.
Something that looks like a PowerPoint slide appears in my hand. I hold it up on the other side of the Causal Layered Analysis diagram. I hold it on my left.
It has two bullet points, connected to quotations.
In smaller words around it, floating around the quotations, are, more faintly, various quotations throughout time, from various famous people, the same basic ideas, expressed in different ways, by different words, longer and perhaps shorter. (If you touch them, it may well take you to the full context, or some other intelligent response, either placed manually, or calculated automatically.)
This story demonstrates a substantial part of what I mean by, “A Portable Argument.”
Let us carry this further.
Suppose there is more to say about Art. Perhaps there are more models on art here.
Perhaps I have, say, 9.
When I say, “Render Art,” and perhaps hold my hand in some way (“gesture” interface, no?), 9 diagrams that substantially include art float between us, in a ring. I can pick up some, or all of them. Whatever, however.
And then I can give them to you
That is, you can tap them, and copy the explanations into your compendium.
Whether it’s “all the data” is copied, or “just the URLs of the data,” or some other pointer technology, and whether there are controls or not or however- it’s not my point.
Further, you can make modifications. I might want to, for instance, make it so that there’s a pointer back from “Art” at the bottom to the “Litany” at the top (to note that these are both mass phenomenon,) or to make it not layers any more, and make it into a ring.
Or I may want to just make it so that when you click on “Art” in the CausalLayeredAnalysis diagram, that it automatically jumps you to the “Art-persuades-without-argument-Art-communicates-universal-through-particular” diagram. A HyperLink. 1
Whether those modifications are instantly shared with others (such as on a wiki,) or whether those are changes made only in your wiki, are a matter of SocialSoftware and agreements and so on. There are a number of distribution and sharing paths that are possible and desirable.
All of this is a part of the “portable” in the PortableExplanation vision. We see these, too, in the more generic idea of MobileContent. We also see this in the concept of the spime. (NOTE: Hyperlink that.)
Is this at all realistic?
That there is a desire for this sort of thing should be clear. (If it’s not, see the section below on, that answers, “What is like this, today?”
There are two major paths that could lead to this sort of thing:
So, this is all definitely in the realm of possibility.
I, myself, (this being the beginning of 2007,) have personally worn the Nomad visor system. I wore it at SeattleMindCamp I, late 2005. At the time, such a visor would cost me $2,000, according to the demo person. He said, “Just show up at our offices, with a check for $2,000, and they’ll give you one.” He said they’re working on higher resolution systems (the one I tried was 640x480, if I recall right) and color systems (the one I tried was shades of red.)
Further, the tracking system, capable of millimeter positioning in arbitrary environments (it uses landmark-based position recognition) existed at the time (and still exists.) It’s a real no brainer to fit a camera to a visor, work out position, and then draw on top of the glasses. It would take time and calculations and so on, but it’s nothing that’s very hard to understand.
There are good reasons that it will not be long (I would have a hard time believing it would be after 2020) before there are consumer accessible Augmented Reality glasses. Whether they will have fidelty, responsiveness, uptake, and supporting software to make PortableExplanation a reality is another thing entirely. But, there is possibility there, and it could be allocated for, and so on. None of this is particularly “science-fiction.”
Ideally, it’s ubiquitous.
Further, sharing is easy, transparent. (MobileContent.)
These ideas are related, but should go elsewhere.
I’m in a big hurry. I’ve been composing this page in my Emacs buffer for days. Sorry it’s not hyperlinked; I was in the bus the whole time…
Reminds me on what we are starting to do at the VideoBridge project: http://www.dorfwiki.org/wiki.cgi?VideoBridge/VortragSeebenstein/AmIpod .
Thanks for posting, Lion. Also, maybe you are aware of SteveMann? and his “mediated reality” work?:
His class is making working examples, and they have some short movies that display their progress so far.
Yep! His work is really amazing.