The FRIEND-Browser

Well, I sincerely believe that our modern technology is a real threat for one on one communication with your friends. That's why I developed the idea of the FRIEND-browser. The FRIEND is a concept of mobile computer system that results in a electronic friend. Like a real friend it knows you and knows what you like, like a real friend it knows what you do and why you do it. And -like a real friend- from knowing your preferences, attitudes and interests it gives you advice and suggests you what to do. Or -if you let it- it will also surprise you or play with you.

This device uses Global Positioning and Voice Recognition to collect your data. These data are then send to your own fast connected computer, that compares them discretely with other users in a global dedicated network. It calculates the most probable future scenarios for the coming minutes, hours or days and then uses this eventually to communicate exactly what you like to know through an ear piece or an additional flexible screen.

The friend creates your personal profile on the fly, based on GPS and Voice-Rec. You can have an inter passive relationship with it. It is not so much a data-displayer, but rather a data-generator. So when you are in the coffee shop and you order a cappuccino, it knows it's your second today. You are refining your profile just by wearing it.

Through constant iteration the friend learns your information-need and the way that information is best suited. So if you just woke up it knows it has to take things a bit slower. Or after that second cup of coffee of before, it knows you could become a bit agitated and impatient at little things. And though you cannot turn off the friend, unlike a tamagotchi, the friend will know when you're not waiting for its smart advice.

The key to discrete security is a DNA like structure of your personal profile. You can trust the friend in knowing what's in your interest. The system will only exchange non-personal information and only when profiles are matching.

Quality of friendship is measured in time. Likewise the friend will evolve into this companion that exponentially becomes more precise and more elaborate, the longer you use it and the more people are in the network.

It will advices you that you should read that particular book or see that particular movie or try that particular hobby or sport.
So for example you a mathematician who've read "Smilla's sense of snow" and seen "Apocalypse Now", it's late in the night and you can't sleep. Then it will advice you to read Peter Hoeg's Tale of the Night "Journey Into a Dark Heart". Or it invites you to an exhibition or a party’s, where it lets you meet new interesting people. People with somewhat the same profile and interests or then again: maybe not at all and you will meet people with whom you appear to have nothing in common, but nevertheless you experience a very exiting and interesting night.

The friend will also serve as agent for more normal daily tasks. Buying something will be done automatically as will paying for services like video rental or subway fare. It will also be able to communicate with other appliances and machines and will do so without you're specific instructions. So you're stereo will automatically jump active when you enter home and will spontaneously start playing the song that you have been humming for the last hour. And when for instance you enter a random waiting room somewhere on this world the coffee machines there will already know exactly what kind of coffee you want. You will operate the machine through your friend unwittingly of its control. It could only be operated from in Chinese for that matter, and you wouldn't even notice.

You won't feel like a tourist anymore anywhere in the world, because the friend is translating everything of any importance and will for instance send you to a bar that serves your favorite cocktail and which is also locally known as a meeting point for art-students, new media theoreticians and writers.

This omnipresent, omniscient -god like- system doesn't require the incredible hughmongous task of data entry of everything in the world. It will know all what is important for changes are that somebody else on this world already told it to his or her friend.

In the meanwhile powerful, fixed, fast connected servers run intelligent agents which endlessly calculate possible future scenarios that are incorporated as forecasts in the decision making process.
So the friend will know weather a party will be cool, because it has predicted in advance which people will come. And it knows if there will be a traffic-jam at four 'o clock, because it predicts the schedules of every car owner.

That also means that the more people are using the friend and rely on its predictions and suggestions, the more the system and the behavior of its users could start to resonate. So if, for instance, its real quite in the Boymans van Beuningen museum this will immediately surge a flood of visitors which will then make it very unattractive and subsequently very calm. For it's calculations the FRIEND will have to use flock and heard algorithms and incorporate the individual behavioral patterns at the same time. The predictions of for instance traffic pressure will become as complicated as stock market fluctuations.

There are however two conditions which have to be kept in order to keep the FRIEND friendly:
All the information and knowledge should not be owned by big centralized companies anymore, but should be brought back to the collective shared consciousness of the people, the individuals that generated the input in the first place.

And the company that manufactures and develops the FRIEND should sanctify the integrity of this system. We don't want our city maps to be covered with ads. We don't want to be regulated in what we see, read and hear after AOL-Time-Warner bought up the FRIEND. We will all end up as slaves to the system, if we have our individuality to be sponsored.

If, I say if, these conditions are met, the FRIEND will bring along two major social and economic changes:

Because the FRIEND tells you stuff right when you need it and only stuff that is accurate, there will be no mass media anymore. Messages and programs from above, defined by the highest common factor and biggest market share. Instead the friend will bring high quality itemized narrowband intimate information, generated by this global network of real (but discrete) friends. So indeed: globalization, but then durable development and fresh innovative initiatives, instead of more of the same.

And second, connected with the end of mass media, but maybe even more significant:
The end of big marketed standardized consumerism, for the system that builds the friend stimulates small-scaleness. A sense that is beyond the grasp of old fashioned marketeers. In this the friend provokes the rebirth of high quality individualized craftsmanship.
Commercials and advertising big are no remedy anymore. It just like this: if your product and your service are good it will automatically draw the public. (And when -due to exceeding demands- you cannot match up to the expectations of your clients, they automatically will be drawn to your competitor, in the next block.)

In the end the friend will serve as the perfect traffic information guidance system (“take Bus 20: it's quiet and has a tight connection with the delayed train from the Hague”), the ultimate efficiency manager (“go the library first, 'cause the nearby school has its break in half an hour and then it will be crowded”), your personal feed forwarding to-do-list (“Hey, while your here buy the newspaper, your horoscope is remarkably striking today.”), and the continuously calculating guardian angel at your shoulder: it knows all your ethic and moral viewpoints so it won't let you buy "wrong" products.
The new array of games that could be played using the friend is incredible, for the society as a whole becomes the playing field. New games like Cinema Chases or Party Puzzles will immerge. From playing tag with strangers in a crowed shopping vicinity to a chess like match using public transportation, you could play any game you'd like... and you could do so much more.

Beyond game console or Filofax, beyond telephone and city guide.
The friend will become your external intuition.

However, the dangers of this computopian concept cannot be neglected: The friend provokes dependence to such an extent that it becomes unhealthy: when you would loose it for instance, or it gets broken, or the batteries go down without a warning, you will be com-plete-ly lost. It's hoping that you accidentally run into some anonymous discrete friend in person that might help you find your way back.
And if, as I mentioned before, after it has become successful the developers sell their soul to the devil and the FRIEND system to a big nasty company: beware! For the guarantee on the integrity of your profile is instantly expired. And you will find yourself ordering a McDonalds milkshake as your favorite drink.
Or, as your FRIEND might even be invaded, you might be sent to a desolate place by hackers where you would be trapped and assaulted by terrorists who turn to cyber-age highway robbery or think that the friend is a very bad idea like wide screen television. What to do then? (*ironic)

Again mankind should be really careful what to do with this powerful new tool.
The only consolation is that as long as people keep in mind what true friendship means, it can also be your friend.

as lectured on 22 march 2002 in V2_ for Infotopia, the Infogolem
©Dirk van Oosterbosch