Summary of Digital Information from Understanding Context
Summary of Chapter IV, Digital Information
“This is an abbreviation of chapter IV, “Digital
Information” from a book “Understanding
Context” by Andrew Hinton.
Without verbal explanation, some contents of
this document cannot be understood properly.
For more details, please refer the book.
Roy S. Kim
SUMMARY OF THIS CHAPTER
➤ Origins of digital technology, and why it is diﬀerent from the
➤ How digital information inﬂuences the way we understand
the world, the way we make software, and the properties of
digital agents and simulated aﬀordances.
➤ Digital devices use ‘encoded information’ for improving accuracy and eﬃciency.
➤ The ‘meaning’ of a message is irrelevant to the engineering problem.
➤ Encoded information for digital devices cannot be understood by a human
without decoding and showing it in proper formats.
Example of Encoded information: TCP/IPのデータ構造
➤ Decoupling information from context
➤ We understand our experience by coupling with the
information the environment provides us; but digital
technology, by its nature, decouples its information from
➤ We need to think about design’s communication and craft
in more complicated and changed way for digital
DIGITAL LEARNING AND AGENCY
➤ We need to create the
or it can be done by some
➤ Without it, computers can
barely do any valuable
➤ Now we have technology that has agency; the ability to make
decisions and take actions on its own.
➤ Digital system only knows about the world by abstracted
representations of the real world.
Humans and digital agents learn in different directions.
➤ What happens when you ask about the location of the
closest gas station to Siri?
➤ Siri does not know the meaning of the question.
➤ It just calculates and return result by the predeﬁned
algorithm using structured data.
➤ What happens when you use Shazam to recognise a song?
➤ Just a “pattern matching” using its database.
➤ Emotional or cultural context of the song is ignored.
➤ In digital, context has to be artiﬁcially generated, from
EVERYDAY DIGITAL AGENTS
➤ The number of rules to control physical
objects is restricted by its shape, size or
properties of the material .
➤ Digital agents can enact as many
thousands of couples rules as will ﬁt on
➤ Digital agents are getting more complex and can go terribly
EVERYDAY DIGITAL AGENTS
➤ It’s hard to ﬁgure out what is happening in the world with the
huge number of complex digital agents.
➤ More concerns on context are required when ruling digital agents.
➤ The assumption on context can go wrong.
➤ How to prevent it?
➤ It is the age of automation now.
➤ Many digital agents are type of ‘Set it and forget it.’
➤ online subscriptions
➤ bill-pay withdrawals
➤ How to manage those digital agents?
➤ Can we really forget it?
➤ Will we need agents for keeping track of our agents?
➤ Computers do not need human-understandable context to
function within and among themselves.
➤ Computers need ontology to understand the human
context in order to execute complex processes.
➤ Word is not good enough to describe the human context.
➤ The Ontology describes concepts and relations among them
in a speciﬁc domain.
EXAMPLE OF ONTOLOGY: THE “PROGRAMME” ONTOLOGY OF BBC
EXAMPLE OF ONTOLOGY: RDF IN REAL
➤ Ontology is still under developing.
➤ As designers, who are making user-facing environments,
ontology is about establishing the understandable semantic
functions that solve the contextual gap between person and
➤ Google’s service ‘Buzz’ failed because it adopted the
concept of friends improperly in their service.
➤ Boss, lover, and family are not the “friends.”
INTERFACE AND HUMANS
➤ Digital interface has many layers of abstraction, so it is
necessary to provide environmental elements that human can
recognise and understand.
➤ Any digital systems require learning(or relying on learned
convention) for an artiﬁcial user interface of some kind,
because they will always be the need to translate the
abstraction of digital information into invariants that users can
comprehend, whether simple buttons, voice commands, mere
labels, or sensor-triggered gestures.
➤ We need to establish interfaces that are part of the
environment we inhabit and are themselves smaller
environments nested within the larger ecological context.
➤ Digital interfaces have gone through a rapid evolution but
always require translation.
SEMANTIC FUNCTION OF SIMULATED OBJECTS
➤ This is not a pipe.
SEMANTIC FUNCTION OF SIMULATED OBJECTS
➤ This is not a pipe.
We don’t go around separating semantic and physical information.
We often use them as if they were interchangeable.
➤ This is not a button.
➤ You cannot smoke the pipe, but you
can “press” these buttons on the
➤ This is a semantic function,
simulating physical aﬀordance.
➤ Skeuomorphic vs ﬂat design
➤ These are not a binary choice; the design approach is on
more of a spectrum.
➤ Consider user’s learned environmental convention, just like
the meaning of words and sentences to do right design.
➤ Unlike our interactions with physical objects, we never
directly control what software does.
➤ Email software can have an “inbox” and “outbox”, but there
are no physical boxes.
➤ Digital technology takes the physical aﬀordance for better
understanding: Extended cognition
➤ But there is a limitation too.(Simulation is simulation.)
MODE AND MEANING
➤ “Mode” is a condition that changes the result that the same
action would have under a diﬀerent condition.
➤ Required to accomplish more things with the same number
of controls. So, the mode is unavoidable even though
with its risk.
➤ Useful, but challenging because mode can cause serious
➤ On PC, unexpected “caps lock” mode makes you type
➤ On Airplane, unexpected mode can take all passengers’s
➤ “Mode” should be expressed very clearly.
➤ When users are aware of modes and motivated to learn about
them, the negative eﬀect can be minimal.
➤ The iPhone turned the phone into an almost entirely modal
device: a slab of glass that can be just about anything,
depending on what application it is running.
➤ AppleWatch is using its “crown” for diﬀerent functions
depending on the currently active application.
➤ We need digital agents to control “mode” of other digital agents.
➤ We simply cannot manage all the complexity.
➤ We need digital agents to help manage our digital agents.(WTF?)
VARIANT MODES AND DIGITAL PLACES
➤ The Rule-Driven Modes and simulated aﬀordances of
interfaces are also the objects, events, and layouts that
function as places, whether on a screen alone or in the
ambient digital activity in our surroundings.
➤ Changing the mode of object can aﬀects the mode of places as
well, especially when objects work as parts of interdependent
➤ Software-based places
When in the shopping
tab, search results are
driven by different rules,
which you can see by
clicking the “Why these
The invariant features of
the environment need to
make the difference more
clear by using semantic
functions to establish
FORAGING FOR INFORMATION
➤ When we use information environments, we are not paying
explicit attention to a lot of factors.
➤ Humans look for information by using behavior patterns
similar to those used by other terrestrial animals when
foraging for food.
➤ We take action in digital-semantic environments using the
same bodies that we evolved to use in physical
➤ Environments made mostly of semantic information lack
most of the physical cues our perceptual systems evolved
INHABITING TWO WORLDS AT ONCE
➤ There are on-screen capabilities that
change the meaning of physical places,
without doing anything physical to those
➤ Adds a layer of digital behaviour that
changes, if only slightly, the functional
meaning of one physical context versus
➤ Our smartphones make everyplace we
inhabit potentially “smart.”
Refresh podcasts by geolocation
in the downcast app
➤ What is the My Store?
➤ The user didn’t select any store by herself. System assumed
it using a clue of information. But is it right? What if the
user is in her oﬃce or a cafe?
➤ Do not fake simplicity but to embrace the complexity and
clarify it by making it more understandable.
➤ The networked objects of the urban landscape transform what
cities are to us.
➤ Rooms and buildings will henceforth be seen as sites
where bits meet the body — where digital information is
translated into visual, auditory, tactile, or otherwise
perceptible form, and, conversely, where bodily actions are
sensed and converted into digital information.
➤ Our inhabited places are fundamentally diﬀerent, whether
online or oﬄine, through the emergence of networked
consumer technology and government infrastructures.
➤ Not only do hardware and software objects have agency, but
the “space(=places)” we inhabit can have agency, as well.
➤ Robots aren’t only in the form of objects that behave like
people or animals; entire building and cities can be
“robots” of a sort.
➤ In the near future, everything around us will be based on
the planned choices of the human being.
➤ Systems use light-speed decision logic based on rules that
are increasingly written by the systems themselves.
➤ It’s important that bridging the “black box” dimension
of the digital agency with the human-scale world that
people can actually perceive and understand.
➤ Digital agents need to be transparent about their
limitations rather than present a simpliﬁed front that
inaccurately promises human-like coherence.