Twitter for cats

03 Jun 2010

Twitter has endured plenty of scorn from critics as a big fat wasteland of minutiae as users post useless updates in mind-numbing detail that no one would want to read.

If the current generation of tweeters bugs them, wait until our pets start microblogging.

It may happen sooner than you think. Last week, Sony Computer Science Laboratories demonstrated a lifelogging device for cats that allows them to post updates on Twitter.

The device, co-developed by Sony CSL and the University of Tokyo, is fitted with a camera, GPS, Bluetooth and an acceleration sensor, and is small and light enough to be attached to a collar.

The sensor collects geotagged data on the cat’s activities (i.e. walking, eating and sleeping) and transmits it via Bluetooth to a PC, which posts Twitter updates based on the data.

“For example, it is possible to automatically post a comment like ‘This tastes good’ when a cat is eating something,” reports TechOn.

If yr wondering just why we need cats on Twitter, think of it as a symptom in the larger context of lifelogging – that is, using computer technology to document most of your life.

The concept itself has been around since the 1980s, but lifelogging has seen a burst of activity on several fronts in the last year or two. There’s a growing number of gadgets already available to enable it, and the rise of microblogging/social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have given us someplace to easily store, organize and search all that data.

Also, storage is becoming less of a barrier every day. Science-fiction writer Charles Stross (who I’ve name-dropped before) observed way back in 2007 that storage will be so cheap in the next few years that we’ll be able to archive the entire cradle-to-grave digital history of everyone in the 21st century inside a nanoscale diamond storage bank that weighs under 100 kg.

Like any tech trend, there are pros and cons to this level of personal data generation and storage.

Pros: apps like online health monitoring and a digital memory of yr life (which may sound funny, but consider that some lifelogging devices were developed with Alzheimer’s patients in mind).

Cons: obviously, the idea of technology recording our every move and conversation comes with serious privacy implications, especially when it’s unclear how the data will be stored, who will be allowed access to it, and who gets held responsible when it gets leaked or stolen or sold to advertisers.

Still, as with social networking and the rest of the web, no one is going to wait for those issues to be resolved before deploying lifelogging apps and devices. The technology already exists, and people are already doing it to various degrees.

How many of them will connect their pets to the web is unclear, but many will do it for the novelty factor alone, or the safety factor. We already inject pets with RFID chips, and can buy GPS trackers for them in case they get lost. Following your cat’s Twitter account for updates seems inevitable at this stage.

Machine-to-animal communication is one of the many new niche app opportunities in the Big Cloud Future. And in a world where we’re teaching dolphins how to use iPads, why not?

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