Behold, the NFC-enabled smart whisky bottle

Sure, drinking too much Scotch can dull your wits, but if you can’t tolerate dumbness from the bottle itself, then here’s one for you. Thanks to the latest in flexible electronics, the smart whisky bottle will now be a thing.

On Wednesday, the drinks giant [company]Diageo[/company] and the Norwegian printed electronics firm [company]Thinfilm[/company] announced a prototype connected bottle for Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky that will have a range of features enabled by Thinfilm’s new OpenSense NFC tags. The internet-of-things identity and authentication firm Evrythng is tying things together in its cloud (Evrythng has a partnership with Thinfilm). The bottle will be shown off at Mobile World Congress next week.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky bottle with Thinfilm OpenSense NFC tag

Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky bottle with Thinfilm OpenSense NFC tag underneath label

The features are largely stock control and anti-counterfeiting measures – the tags will make it possible to track the bottles and see with a tap of a smartphone whether the bottle’s seal has been broken, and one of Thinfilm’s big selling points is that its smart labels are pretty much impossible to copy or modify.

However, there’s also a marketing aspect to all this. Customers will be able to tap the tag, which is discreetly stuck underneath the label at the back of the bottle’s neck, with their NFC-enabled smartphone in order to get “personalized” messages. These messages will be contextual – if they tap the bottle in the store, it may trigger a promotional offer; once bought, it may offer up cocktail recipes or other content.

“Our collaboration with Thinfilm allows us to explore all the amazing new possibilities enabled by smart bottles for consumers, retailers and our own business, and it sets the bar for technology innovation in the drinks industry,” Diageo Futures Team global innovation director Helen Michels boasted in a statement. Meanwhile, Thinfilm CEO Davor Sutija noted that this sort of customizable marketing functionality wouldn’t be possible with conventional NFC tags, which aren’t integrated with sensors in this way.

It is certainly true that advances in printed and flexible electronics will change the nature of everyday product packaging, because the technology is now at the point where it’s becoming very cheap to implement — when Thinfilm recently partnered with Xerox on the production of printed memory labels, it said it expected to manufacture a billion of the things each year.

So in the coming years, expect produce packaging that can tell you when the contents are going off, blister packs that can point out how many pills have been popped, and yes, smart booze bottles that suggest appropriate mixers. It’s a brave new world.

This story was updated on 26 February to include a mention of Evrythng’s involvement.

“Cyberspace” must die. Here’s why

We’re halfway through the second decade of the 21st century and people are still talking about “cyberspace”. This has to stop. The term has become not only outmoded, but downright dangerous.

Burning Chrome, the short story in which William Gibson introduced the term "cyberspace"

Burning Chrome, the short story in which William Gibson introduced the term “cyberspace”

“Cyberspace” suggests a place other than the real world. Perhaps that’s how things once felt, when online life was still sparkly and anarchic back in the 1980s, but that’s not where we are now. Everything’s going online. When Eric Schmidt said last month that “the internet will disappear”, he was right – the online and offline worlds will merge to such a degree that the connecting infrastructure will no longer be apparent and the split will be meaningless.

But still we constantly hear media and politicians and policy-makers refer to this other realm. Last month the U.K. government talked about keeping businesses “safe in cyberspace”. U.S. president Barack Obama talks about “threats in cyberspace” and “securing cyberspace”. Israel’s National Cyber Bureau “works to promote the national interest in cyberspace”. China has a Cyberspace Affairs Administration that promotes “a peaceful, safe and open and co-operative cyberspace” (i.e. a more heavily censored existence).

The online layer

It’s as if everyone’s talking about a new continent that recently rose up from the sea – uncharted territory or “Neuland”, in the much-mocked phrasing of German chancellor Angela Merkel. In reality, what they’re referring to is an online layer that augments the offline world, thanks to the physical infrastructure that is the internet.

The problem with “cyberspace” is that the word suggests a place where different rules apply, and as such it can be misleading. We all need protection from theft and fraud, whether it takes place online or offline. If we’re tracked and spied upon in the online layer, the effect is similar (though more surreptitious) to being stalked around town and in the living room. Online harassment can be as painful as being menaced in the street. We cannot allow the impact of rights violations to be downplayed because they take place online, and we create such a risk by referring to the online world as another, less immediate place.

The need to abandon the false digital dualism embodied in the term “cyberspace” (hat tip to Nathan Jurgenson and PJ Rey) becomes more urgent as everyday items become connected to the internet. To appreciate how anachronistic the word has become, consider whether your fitness tracker or smart thermostat exists in cyberspace or the real world. When leaked NSA documents talked about strong decryption capabilities as the “price of admission for the U.S. to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace,” that wasn’t about mastering Neuland. It was about being able to access and exploit the entire connected world, smart homes and all.

[pullquote person=”” attribution=”” id=”913012″]The problem with “cyberspace” is that the word suggests a place where different rules apply, and as such it can be misleading.[/pullquote]

Of course, the online layer is a deeply complex and occasionally paradoxical concept that requires much philosophical digestion and even more political adjustment. For one thing, it’s a layer that spans discrete jurisdictions while lacking inherent borders, creating a conundrum that’s exemplified in Europe’s “right to be forgotten”. Whether it’s a good idea or not, Europe has the right to tell Google to remove certain links from its results within its territory, but it doesn’t have the right to make Google remove those links outside the EU.

At the same time, the technical reality of the online layer makes it difficult or perhaps impossible for Google to meaningfully enforce its right in Europe without applying it globally, because the layer’s borderless nature makes circumvention far too easy. Is there an easy answer to this? Not without some kind of New World Order. But reality is complex — we’ll probably need carefully drafted international treaties to manage this issue — and the reductiveness of a concept like “cyberspace” won’t help us get where we need to go.

Give and take

“Cyberspace” denotes a place but, if anything, it’s about the elimination of spatial concerns as we socialize, collaborate and work together across the world. As such, it’s an awkwardly-named property of the online layer — related to the shared “internet commons” idea — rather than a good descriptor for the layer itself. It’s only one property among many; the online layer still remains tied to the framework of the nation state, with all its political and legal implications, and so it must for now. Citizens of a particular country can’t live under one set of laws and norms offline, and another online.

Minecraft Reality augmented reality app

Minecraft Reality augmented reality app

The information ethicist Luciano Floridi refers to the “onlife experience” as the state in which we are increasingly living. There’s a lot of value in that concept, though we’re not really there yet. The online and offline layers are inextricably bound, but there’s still a lot of friction that will have to be resolved.

Governments and others whose nature and ideas are rooted in offline structures may want the online layer to conform to those, but its technical properties require the fundamental rethinking of many offline social and legal concepts. What does “theft” mean in the online sense, where the original copy of the “stolen” data remains in place? How do social norms around not listening in on or butting into private conversations in a public space apply on Twitter?

At the same time, the connected world is something that’s being shaped by us, and the technical nature of its online layer will ultimately be tempered by our choices and needs. For example, the corporate spying that funds the current free-services model may have to be reined in to respect our inherent right to privacy, even though our understanding of privacy will inevitably adapt to exploit the potential of pervasive connectivity. There will be a lot of give and take.

We have a long way to go before the online and offline layers coexist in “onlife” harmony, and at that point we may as well just call it “life.” But that’s the end state we’re aiming for, and if we’re going to build it with conceptual clarity, then we need to abandon the idea of “cyberspace” and the baggage it’s accumulated since William Gibson coined it (with little semantic intent) over three decades ago.

It’s all the real world now.

Tech firms say schools need more spectrum

If President Obama really wants to put Wi-Fi in every U.S. classroom, then the government will need to release more unlicensed spectrum for public use — or so says WifiForward, a spectrum lobbying group backed by Google, Microsoft, the cable companies and the Consumer Electronics Association.

WifiForward prepared a paper this week that calls for regulators to open up or lift restrictions on big swathes of the 5 GHz band so it can be used to build bigger, badder gigabit Wi-Fi networks. It also calls for the government to open up more white space spectrum and move forward with its plans to create a shared public-private band at 3.5 GHz, which could be used to link those Wi-Fi networks to the internet proper without using wires or fiber.

Obama is pushing an ambitious plan called ConnectEd to link 99 percent of all U.S. schools with high-speed broadband, and many tech companies like Apple and Microsoft and carriers like AT&T and Verizon have signed on as partners, pledging money, services and equipment to the effort. But WifiForward claims that if the administration wants to ConnectEd right, it needs to think in terms of very fat pipes.

A school of 1,000 students and staff needs at least a 1 Gbps broadband link to ensure every pupil and teacher has access to a 1 Mbps connection, according to a study by the State Educational Technology Directors Association that the paper cited. By 2018, there will be an estimated 56.5 million K-12 students in the U.S., and they will need a combined 56.5 Tbps of bandwidth. Those kind of capacities will require more spectrum than available today, WifiForward claims.

Of course, opening up more unlicensed spectrum wouldn’t just benefit schools, since that new capacity would be available to any company, organization or consumer using a Wi-Fi router. Emphasizing schools is a good way to pull on the public’s heartstrings, but WifiForward’s arguments are still valid. Unlicensed airwaves produced a tremendous amount of innovation around the world. Investing in more unlicensed technologies will keep that innovation going.

A documentary about addiction to technology that could save us

Connected, currently in limited theatrical release, is about the evolution of human communication and how it has changed our lives for better or worse. It is also about Shlain coping with her father’s brain cancer. It is about a lot of things.

LinkedIn starts spending its IPO cash — very, very slowly

LinkedIn has finally started spending some of that cash it raised in its May 9 stock market debut. But given the company’s $7.3 billion market cap, its first post-IPO acquisition — of husband-and-wife startup “Connected” — is not quite as splashy as some might have expected.

Connected, a Constantly Updated Online Address Book

Finding it hard to keep up with contacts spread across email, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? Connected is a new service that connects to your various online accounts and consolidates your contacts into into a constantly updated online address book, with a single, easy-to-navigate interface.

App Review: Rolando 2 — Roll On the Second Coming

title=Rolando 2

Rolando 2 is the sequel to Rolando, a game which proved that the iPhone can compete with Sony’s PSP and Nintendo’s DS in the handheld console wars.

Just over a year after opening, the App Store is coming into its own. Indeed, there’s the dodgy dirge of novelty joke apps, but at the other end of the spectrum, we’re seeing publishers like ngmoco producing smart and fun apps.

Ngmoco is the publisher that picked up the original Rolando, reviewed here back in December, and pushed it in to the realms of essential iPhone titles. Rolando 2 is ngmoco’s latest release. The game features tilting puzzle platforming action with music from Mr. Scruff, and includes Plus+ network integration for achievement and score tracking. Read More about App Review: Rolando 2 — Roll On the Second Coming