by Barry Chudakov on December 14th, 2009

Sixth Sense

“What I am in interested in is how we can combine the two worlds — the physical world and the digital world ….”

When I read those words by Sixth Sense inventor, Pranav Mistry, in the New York Times recently, I recalled an interview with author William Gibson who said in 2007: “One of the things our grandchildren will find quaintest about us is that we distinguish the digital from the real, the virtual from the real. In the future, that will become literally impossible. The distinction between cyberspace and that which isn’t cyberspace is going to be unimaginable.”


Sixth Sense: using the hand as a keypad

Sixth Sense: using the hand as a keypad

‘SixthSense’ is described as a “wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information.” In other words, the world is in your hand. Your hand reaches into the world, pulls it back through this interface and brings ‘what is’ and ‘what’s going on’ into you, into your body. It would be hard to overstate the importance of this wearable gestural interface. We have been used to seeing ourselves as actors in the world; we will likely struggle to become used to seeing the world and its actors inside of us. We will literally be wearing the world on our sleeves.


Sixth Sense: the basic components

Sixth Sense: the basic components

With the advent of this astonishing and very reasonably priced technology (the current Sixth Sense prototype system costs approximately $350 to build), it is undeniable—our Metalife is moving in another direction. Here is a quick summary of what I mean by the evolution of media, worldviews and Metalife:

1. Introducing new media (new ‘furniture of thinking’) creates a soundless collision with the previous media (old ‘furniture of thinking’).

2. Each media collision is an evolutionary signal: new media evolve older, and break down the awareness and identity patterns of the previous dominant consciousness.

3. Unacknowledged world views accompany each stage.

4. All of the above combine to create our Metalife.


Credit: I see the world, Clar@bell, Flickr

Credit: I see the world, Clar@bell, Flickr

While still weathering the transition from the Alphabetic Order to the Visual Carnival, with the Sixth Sense technology we have tangible evidence that we are moving to the Metalife of ‘things that think’ and what Ray Kurzweil described at length as the singularity. This is the Metalife of Ambient Intelligence characterized by immersion.

In the Alphabetic Order our Metalife was distributed by texts and was characterized by rule-based injunctions; these built the great world religions and many of our social institutions, i.e., church and schools. This clashed—and is still clashing in virtually all cultures—with the newer Visual Carnival which is distributed by images and is characterized by observational learning: we mimic and try to become what we see. What will happen when we adopt Sixth Sense technology which “frees information from its confines by seamlessly integrating it with reality, and thus making the entire world your computer”?




Like many other readers of Metalifestream, I first saw Sixth Sense in the engaging Pattie Maes TED Talk a few months ago. Mistry and Maes, his professor in the Fluid Interfaces Group of the MIT Media Lab, have received wide press coverage. While the presentation of this technology is impressive, the implications of actually using it may be more so. Here are a few that strike me as likely to change both our perceptions and our social structures when we ‘combine the physical and digital world’.


Credit: Wet New York, Times Square on a rainy night, Mike G. K., Flickr, all rights reserved.


Sixth Sense: So What, Now What?

1. The world becomes a kind of interactive museum, a sensorium: the twist on Second Life is that we do not just move into it—it moves into us. We effectively remake our world to look and act like a virtual world—and then swallow it.

2. Everything becomes an information object (including us).

3. Every information object has the potential to bristle with intelligence (smart objects).

4. The frames, the windows or boundaries, disappear. Today information typically appears in some kind of window; with Sixth Sense the window is in the information.

5. Proprioception redux: we may suffer confusion about where we end (or begin) and where responsive information begins (or ends).

6. Geolocation is ubiquitous, merging with real-time search.

7. The information cloud (cloud computing) becomes information ether. McLuhan once said we don’t read newspapers, we bathe in them. This technology reinforces McLuhan’s perception—except now we’re bathing in public.

8. Alphabetic tools of delineation, categorization, outlining, etc. give way to ‘ambient findability’ and a new intelligence emerges.

9. The world talks back: we will no longer look at matter or things as inert.

10. A wayfinding revolution begins as navigation becomes an end in itself. (Surfing the web becomes surfing the world.) Another way of saying this: the information stream becomes information rapids and we’re rafting our way through them each day.


Email This Post Email This Post     Print This Post Print This Post

From Trends

  1. I am most taken by the Gibson quote — “One of the things our grandchildren will find quaintest about us is that we distinguish the digital from the real…” I think this is what makes this article truly mind boggling in its implications. We always look at new technology as revolutionary. Sometimes even dangerous. Years later, when that technology is commonplace and its benefits taken for granted we look back in wonder at how primitive it was, and we were. Is the virtual world better than the real one? When we can dial anywhere on our fingertips will we know the number for peace or and end to starvation. I hope they program that in.

  2. Hi,
    I am the owner of the photo Wet New York that you have posted in the Sixth Sense article (×520.jpg ). I appreciate that you have given me credit right below the photo but according to the flickr rules you must add a link to the original flickr page. Please add links so that when you click on the photo it takes you to the page and a link so that when you click on “Mike G.K” it takes you to .
    Mike G. K.

  3. Metalifestream permalink

    Hi Mike G.K.,

    I have added the links. Thanks for taking time to look at Metalifestream and for your permission to use your photo.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Savonarola vs. the Kindle | Metalifestream

We invite your thoughts and comments about this post. Leave a reply here.

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS