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"I can remember when the first pulsars were discovered. I was able to go and sit down and listen to graduate students talking about what their theories, to explain what pulsars really were."
- Vernor Vinge

Talking Tape  
  Adhesive-backed network connection, global positioning, voice synthesis and speakers.  

I love this idea. Just take a small strip of this, and put it on a piece of prepared building material. Thanks to elaborate software and network connections, this object now "knows" what it is, and where it goes in the larger scheme of things.

Oscar peeled a strip of tape from a yellow spool and wrapped the tape around a cinder block. He swept a hand-scanner over the block, activating the tape...

"I'm a cornerstone," the cinder block announced.

"Good for you," Oscar grunted.

"I'm a cornerstone. Carry me five steps to your left." The construction system was smart enough to manage a limited and specific vocabulary. Unfortunately, the system simply didn't hear very well. The tiny microphones embedded in the talking tape were much less effective than the tape's thumbnail-sized speakers. Still, it was hard not to reply to a concrete block when it spoke up with such grace and authority. The concrete blocks all sounded like Franklin Roosevelt.

From Distraction, by Bruce Sterling.
Published by Bantam Spectra in 1998
Additional resources -

It doesn't seem completely impossible to believe that you could combine a speaker, microphone, and a wireless connection in a relatively small, cheap form. The real problem is how to determine position.

Since you would need very high confidence in the location, and since GPS is only accurate to about 10 meters in latitude and longitude and only about 20 meters in altitude, you would need something administered by the local network. Sterling couldn't have made a better choice on the voice for the talking tape. My grandfather hated Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Not just because of his policies. My grandfather hated Roosevelt because once he started talking on the radio, he was so convincing (and authoritative) that you started to agree with him no matter what you thought.

Take a look at the Arcology Now Construction Set which uses scannable bar coded instructions on building materials.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Distraction
  More Ideas and Technology by Bruce Sterling
  Tech news articles related to Distraction
  Tech news articles related to works by Bruce Sterling

Talking Tape-related news articles:
  - The Smart Construction Site Of The Future
  - Flexible Fabric Speakers Are Coming
  - Carbon Nanotube Speakers Are Flexible, Transparent
  - Flexible, Transparent Speakers From Graphene

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