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Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

Building Intelligence meets the Intelligent Building. The Intelligent Building negotiates with the Intelligent Grid. How will this transform how we interact with the physical world?

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Ambient Information and Behavior Changes

Yesterday I wrote of using control instead of management. Today I am thinking along the same lines and wondering if the all the displays on a Prius are really useful/ All the gauges, all the dials, present to the driver what is essentially the engineer’s control-oriented view of the car and its processes. They provide constant feedback on what each part of the engine and power train is doing, and how it is affecting fuel use.

A couple months ago in Wired, the described a program by Southern California Edison that did away with all the detailed messages. For years, they had emailed, and texted, and phoned key customers to alert them to changes in the state of the grid. The provided information about pricing, and load, and stability. The problem was, that this had all too little effect on the behavior of the customer’s company. Energy load was not being managed.

One day, Mark Martinez of Southern California Edison had an inspiration. (Can we say a light bulb went off on an energy and facilities blog?). He was looking at an ambient orb ( ), a high tech pet rock that could be programmed to change colors in response to changes in the Dow Jones Average, or in freeway traffic. For an extra monthly fee, one could request data feeds shaped to one’s personal portfolio. Mark developed an energy-related channel for the Orb, one that would cause it to glow green when the Grid was underutilized, and red when the grid was saturated. He then bought 120 Orbs and mailed them out to key customers.

These ambient orbs elicited a better response from his customers than had all his previous detailed efforts. Automated phone calls, text messages, emails all looked busy, but together they never produced the effects produced by the glowing Orb.

The human brain excels at finding the smallest of patterns, and developing hidden correlations. In a well known university psychology experiment, students in an introductory class were asked to compliment any woman seen on campus wearing any red, be it so little as a small red hand-bag. They were cautioned against mentioning any details, or mentioning the color, just a simple “You look great today!” Within a few weeks, the campus was awash in Red, with nearly every women wearing red.

Along with this pattern finding comes a great capacity to ignore outliers. Single occurrences of information do almost nothing to change behavior. This behavior has only been increased by today’s modern messaging-based society. We are bombarded with information, much of it unwanted. Our attention span has shortened as we constantly move to the next email message. The man who deletes 150 spam messages from his mailbox each morning has little trouble yet another message from the Grid.

Ambient displays do not interrupt, and they do not require an instant response. They sit their quietly, persistently conveying their message until finally it generates a conscious response. Perhaps the value of the Prius interface is that it has now grown too complex, beyond what the driver understands. If so then it is now like to rain forest, surrounding the non-technical driver with an ambient sense of a thousand forces beyond his ken. The subconscious then processes the information, using abilities evolved to avoid being eaten, and arrives at optimum fuel mileage by a back route.

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  • Response
    Response: New Daedalus Blog
    Lynne Kiesling I have been remiss in not recommending to you the New Daedalus blog by Toby Considine, one of the most visionary folks I know in the intelligent buildings and IT space. His post about information and behavior changes...

Reader Comments (1)

Gonna read it later.

January 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhui

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