Ubiquitous Computing

 

The Forum gives visitors the chance to express their thoughts and share memories about Mark Weiser's career, ideas, and life. By sharing your stories about him, you help us better remember Mark's place in the Silicon Valley community, and in the history of computers.

 

This Forum is devoted to Mark's ideas on ubiquitous computing, as expressed in his writings, lectures, and inventions. You may also find Forum areas on his career, and his life.

 

 See also the background page on ubiquitous computing.

"My colleagues and I at PARC think that the idea of a 'personal' computer itself is misplaced, and that the vision of laptop machines, dynabooks and 'knowledge navigators' is only a transitional step toward achieving the real potential of information technology. Such machines cannot truly make computing an integral, invisible part of the way people live their lives. Therefore we are trying to conceive a new way of thinking about computers in the world, one that takes into account the natural human environment and allows the computers themselves to vanish into the background." --Mark Weiser, "The Computer for the 21st Century"

 

"Ubicomp is an unusual project for an engineer, for two reasons. First, I took inspiration from anthropology; and second, I knew that whatever we did would be wrong." --Mark Weiser, "The Technologist's Responsibilities and Social Change"

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Messages

Jim Mitchell:

I was shocked to hear of Mark's passing. Mark and I interacted only a few times per year over the last 10 years or so, but I always found myself resonating with his ideas, which continue to have a profound influence on me in my pursuit of ubiquitous computing at Sun Microsystems in the Java world. Of course, it was also easy to resonate with his drum playing in Severe Tire Damage, but that was a much more physical and visceral "resonating" :-) I already miss him a lot. We needed him in this valley. I feel privileged to have shared time and ideas with him.


Hugh Messenger:

I first met Mark in about 1984, whilst working for Xerox, deploying "our stuff" to various schools around the world, as part of a university grant program. Mark's lab at the University of Maryland was one of the recipients.

During my days on-site at Maryland, and later at UGP conferences in Leesburg, Mark and I talked briefly about some of the philosophy involved in the "digital revolution", but really only in passing - I was just a grunt, deploying systems and running LISP classes, who happened to know some philosophy - which I later came to realize was his main hot button.

Five years later I met him at PARC in his new role, whilst I was working for EuroPARC in Cambridge, as a research support programmer ("they think it up, we make it work"). He not only remembered my name, he also picked up our conversation where we had left off 5 years ago.

I cannot express the sense of loss I now feel. Mark's ideas and his personality infected me at an early age, and I've been quietly working towards the same goals ever since - calm, ubiquitous computing.

A decade ago I left the womb, so to speak, and quit Xerox. I now live and work in Huntsville AL, where I'm the Internet Product Manager for Intergraph Computer Systems, an Intel/NT OEM....

Mark's dream is coming true. I just wish he could have been here to see it. I'll miss his guiding voice, and his power to convince people of what is just plain "right".


Eric Saund:

Sometimes the right person in the right position can do a little to ignite a lot. In 1993 Mark hosted a workshop on "The Next Phase of Ubiquitous Computing." Mark opened the forum to random PARC researchers, but only if they submitted an adequate position paper to contribute to the discussion, showing that they had done some thinking about the issues. This condition prompted me to think about ubiquitous computer vision; my position paper was on the PVA---the Personal Visual Assistant. This device has yet to be built, but it is the inspiration behind a piece of ubiquitous computing technology that I have devoted several years to since. I am grateful that Mark Weiser remained always one of the strongest supporters and enablers for the ZombieBoard Whiteboard Scanner system now deployed in the PARC conference rooms he graced with his presence.


Frieder Nake:

I was deeply impressed, at one CHI conference-- the only occasion when I had the chance to listen to Mark Weiser-- by the way he appeared on stage and acted as a human being with a great message. Nothing artificial, all convincing. There has been no semester since then that I did not tell my students at the University of Bremen about Mark Weiser.... It must have been the day of his death, I suppose, that in one of my current courses I talked about him. Is there anything better to be said about a scientist and researcher than that his word gets spread internationally?


Adina Levin:

I didn't know who Mark Weiser was until I read the notice of his passing. And yet his ideas about the relationships between people and smart things have shaped a lot of the work I've done, as an analyst in the image peripheral industry, then working on long-term trends in communication and commerce.

There's a powerful myth in the technology industry about how technology transforms people. According to this mechanistic vision, we adapt to our tools. The truth, instead, as Mark Weiser saw it, is an ongoing conversation and mutual adaptation between us and our tools. I believe and hope that the influence of Mark Weiser's humanistic vision will increase the chances that our new tools will serve:

as a blessing and not a curse,
toward life and not toward death."


Frank Rimalovski:

I never had the chance to meet Mark Weiser in person, but his ideas inspired me to join the computer industry back in the early nineties (after reading John Seeley Brown's paper in the Harvard Business Review). The whole notion of computers that blend into the background is still just a notion, but one desperately worth pursuing. I am hopeful that we, as an industry, are finally making the first real steps on the path Mark laid out.


Other comments can be found on pages devoted to Mark's career and professional activities, and his life.

Date: Created 29 April 1999;