How Esri’s Amber Case Plans to Make Technology Invisible

ambercase150At Street Fight’s Local Data Summit in Denver on Tuesday, Esri R&D Director Amber Case spoke about “calm technology” and the future of location data.

“With calm technology, your actions themselves can be a button,” said Case. “So your whole life can be these trigger-based interactions.”

During a presentation, Case, who sold her startup Geoloqi to Esri in 2012, argued that mobile data should empower people and bring meaning to their lives by making interactions  invisible.  Instead of beeping constantly and sending unsolicited alerts, smartphones should be automatically pushing information to users when they actually need it.

“[There’s] this idea that with smooth computing and calm technology, it’s not getting in your way,” Case told an audience.

Case and her team have spent years finding new ways to combine data sets and utilize location-based messaging in innovative ways. For example, an app called Geonotes allowed anybody to leave location-based messages for other users.

“It was a completely different way of interacting with reality,” Case said. “It was all this really interesting local data.”

Case, a self-described “cyborg anthropologist,” stressed the importance of developing products that have meaning, avoiding the trap to building technology for its own sake. “Really this is about bringing static content to life,” she said. “You need to piece out the information and determine what you want the end user to subscribe to.”

One of the ways that developers can make their apps more meaningful is by allowing people to subscribe to specific subsets of categories. For example, a consumer may subscribe to a certain type of specials or coupons.

“[The] location-based message should be the sprinkle on the top or the entire metric. But it cannot be the entire basis of the app,” Case said.

Ultimately, it’s up to developers to think about the logic of stitching together location data in ways that are both useful and invisible.

“The best technology can be invisible,” Case said. “Not necessarily that it doesn’t exist, but the interface and how you deal with it blends in seamlessly with your life.”

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.