November 17, 2013

When Apps Attack – Director Calo contributes to

(photo credit Johan Larsson)

My colleague Yoshi told me an interesting story the other day.  He looked down at his smart phone to find a large spider running across it.  Understandably, my colleague dropped the phone in surprise.  The screen on the phone cracked when it hit the floor.

It turns out there was no spider.  Yoshi had been using an app to count calories.  The app makes money by displaying the occasional ad.  This particular ad, for pest control services, consisted of an elaborate spider animation.

. . .

Now take our spider ad.  The ad’s designers scared my colleague on purpose in order to sell him pest control services.  He predictably dropped and broke his phone.  Other academics and practitioners may disagree, but I think what we have here is a case of digital assault.

It will not be long before apps can do much more than just scare people.  There’s already an app store for robots (which I help advise) and a 3D printer that costs $499.  The wizards at MIT Media Lab recently developed an interface that permits the user to reach out and touch distant objects.  But the line between the physical and the digital was perhaps never all that bright in the first place.