The Algo Rhythm of FutureEverything

This year I attended the conference FutureEverything for the first time. The event is in a way more a festival than a conference, with a combination of music, art and ideas. FutureEverything had a nice exhibition on data visualisation and some art installations in town, and a extensive music program in the evening, my primary reason to visit was the conference, I heard some good recommendations from a.o. Bruce Sterling at SxSW.
The conference did deliver its expectations with some good presentations and inspiration. Main conclusion after this conference, it is clear again that 2011 is the year of the algorithm context. FutureEverything touched different aspects, from bots to the way to play this new context.

For me the first revelation of a true trend was set by the great presentation of Kevin Slavin at Lift in Geneva. In other bigger events like SxSW and The Next Web the ideas resonates in different ways. In my own presentation on the Future of Services I connected the ideas to the emerging impulse shaped services. Interesting also is the way Eli Pariser talks on the Filter Bubble, his book was released at the same moment of the conference.

I think FutureEverything offered a balanced view on these developments, spot on. James Bridle had the most direct related talk, closing off day 1 with a plead to become friends with the data centers, try to talk their language. Just like Kevin Slavin did at Lift he showed the gap that emerges in the way we think and the algorithms we created act.

Earlier the same day there were some interesting presentations related to this. The day started with David Bausola from the Filter Factory who showed his project on social bots called Weavrs. Algorithms creating social characters here that live in the different social websites. Alter Egos for the social web. Still in alpha phase but some interesting examples already.

It fits the whole idea that we are moving into a digital social space where more bots are living than real people. We need to think on post-user experience design on the post-user internet says Bausola. Like the black box that is selling itself on eBay (A Tool to Decieve and Slaughter) and a cardboard robot Tweenbot that is moving around in a park, inviting people to push it in a certain direction. Beautifully connecting a digital life with the influence of real people. And of course the example of the flashcrash.

Bausola thinks it is like Mr Potato Head where a face is built by adding pieces to the potato. Method acting resembles the process of a robot learning how to behave. Chris Speed, who did a talk on ‘an Internet of things that no longer exist’ and is replaced by the tales of things. He promotes to let go the linear look to the Internet of Things, like the EU does: the idea that we will add Internet of things to all products from a certain moment would mean we loose all memories to products. He therefor commissioned some projects to connect memories to things. Things will be more important as containers of memories and stories.

Interesting are two concepts that he explores. Used things have different stories; as soon a thing is used an extra layer is added that makes the thing much more valuable. On another project he created archetypical things in white that are just the transporters of the stories that live in a virtual world. A temporal spatial artifact, the things will become the media. Will we also connect conversations to things? Chris compares it to the concept of ghosts, that also have a lack of presence. Ghosts that come out when you play them.

I like to connect that concept to the open-ended games Kars Alfrink promoted in his talk ‘New games for new cities’ later that day. He gave a very thoroughly and inspirational plea on why gamification won’t save us. We need open-ended play where the gameplay is not defined, gamification does the opposite, create scripted play. Find his complete presentation here.

The concept of gamification is often connected to the concepts of a world of algorithms and bots. We gonna need a extra layer to play the world in order to understand what is happening on one hand and be able to influence the system on the other. Kars introduced the open-ended game as the way to play the city of non-scripted. The literacy of the cities lie in people not in things he advocated. I don’t think this clashes to the world of things Chris sketched, in contrary. The things are the carrier of the open-ended play in a way, in order to make things human.

Thinking of the open-ended aspects, two talks are interesting on day two. The panel on hackatons explores the way we can use a kind of open-ended play to create new stuff. The next phase of the hackdays are differentiating to more disciplines. But the flow of the hackdays stays the same, open-ended by default. The installation ‘We are Forests‘ by Émilie Grenier and Duncan Speakman is an audio game in the open space balancing on the open-ended aspects. They try to play the people by giving them continuous instructions. But at the same time they challenge and encourage it when people try to break out the gameplay.

Cities will become more and more dominant in culture, Luis Bettencourt showed us. He shared his research data on cities. Since 2008 humanity became more than 50% urban. In 2050 this might be 80%. His research proved very nicely what we all thought already: the way cities are organized and the way we live together, trigger economic productivity and save material in infrastructure and energy. Cities are greener, and the interactions of people in cities drives the creative development. He shared some remarkable stats on the size of cities: the economy of Tokyo is greater than the whole of India and the walking speed is correlated with the size of a city. The supercreatives correlates with the size of cities. The research showed how stats tells the story and create the fundament for the development.

We do disconnect now with the algorithm driven Internet, but on the other hand we are more and more evolving to creatures where the continuous connection with the data is essential in our functioning. Tom Chatfield believes the Internet is more human than one person is, tells more about us. Our way to amplify ourselves with labels like brands is amplified with the digital presence. Will this mean the end of the analogue identity, or will it blend? Like Bill Thompson told us in the closing keynote. We are making new culture by our digital data trails. Going offline is like cutting of part of the mind. “Say no to offline existence.”

So in my opinion, FutureEverything touches perfectly the tension that is emerging in the new algorithm context. A context where things are merging with the digital artifacts and we as people merge with the bots and virtual knowledge in the cloud. To play this complex context we should shape open-ended gameplay that aim to give maximum space for creativity and in highly connected cities.

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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