By Deane Barker on July 24, 2006

When Blobjects Rule the Earth: This is a really interesting concept, buried under a long-winded, rambling speech. This speech was delivered by Bruce Sterling at a conference in late 2004. In it, he reveals the concepts of a “Spime,” which is a thing that carries a history with it.

You buy a Spime with a credit card. Your account info is embedded in the transaction, including a special email address set up for your Spimes. After the purchase, a link is sent to you with customer support, relevant product data, history of ownership, geographies, manufacturing origins, ingredients, recipes for customization, and bluebook value. The spime is able to update its data in your database (via radio-frequency ID), to inform you of required service calls, with appropriate links to service centers. This removes guesswork and streamlines recycling.

Now, that sounds ridiculous, but the Wikipedia article is a little more concise about it, even with an actual example of a Spime.

Sterling sees spimes as coming through the convergence of six emerging technologies, related to both the manufacturing process for consumer goods, and through identification and location technologies. These six facets of spimes are:

Small, inexpensive means of remotely and uniquely identifying objects over short ranges; in other words, radio-frequency identification.

  1. A mechanism to precisely locate something on Earth, such as a global-positioning system.
  2. A way to mine large amounts of data for things that match some given criteria, like internet search engines.
  3. Tools to virtually construct nearly any kind of object; computer-aided design.
  4. Ways to rapidly prototype virtual objects into real ones. Sophisticated, automated fabrication of a specification for an object, through “three-dimensional printers.”
  5. “Cradle-to-cradle” life-spans for objects. Cheap, effective recycling.

With all six of these, in theory one could track the entire existence of an object, from before it was made (its virtual representation), through its manufacture, its ownership history, its physical location, until its eventual obsolescence and breaking-down back into raw material to be used for new instantiations of objects. If recorded, the lifetime of the object can be archived, and searched for.

Put another way, a Spime is an object that blogs about its existance. Handy? Sure. Possible? Perhaps. Scary? A little.

(Although, I may be moving towards this. In three organizations now, I’ve felt the need to write the same piece of software for physical asset management. I’d like to physical tag everything that needs to be tracked — computers, printers, etc. — with an ID number. That number would correspond to a blog about that thing.

For instance, a computer would have a blog where people could log what maintenance they complete, or any problems they were having with it. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to design it so that the computer could blog itself — export items from its Event Log or something.)