Weeknotes 127 – anti-network effects of our current era

Welcome to the weekly overview of news from Cities of Things Lab, other activities I’m involved in (like ThingsCon), and the capture of interesting news from all over the internet (or at least, from the sources I follow ;-). Especially the new subscribers; thanks for subscribing! I try to post this newsletter end of Monday every week.
News from the Cities of Things Lab and other things: I had update sessions with 2 graduation students working on digital clones and mobility hub, and we had a pre-kick-off meeting on a new project designing a docking station for the autonomous sailing Seabubbles.

We also published the aftermovie of ThingsCon and had a short evaluation session with the team. We concluded that we had a great time and most of it worked as expected and better. Of course we have also found some room for improvement, especially in the planning of the AMA-sessions that deserved a bigger audience (found the videos on our channel), and the communication part (might relate to the first finding). We miss a dedicated member in our organizing team so if you know someone that wants to support us there, let me know (ThingsCon is a voluntary activity now to be clear).

The presentation during AiTech Agora on Artificial Moral Agents and autonomous vehicles was insightful as always. Andreia Martinho layed-out 5 perspectives, and posed questions like the need for Self Driving Driving Licences. You can watch the presentation via the YouTube channel.

At Sensemakers AMS session on Robotic wearables, Anouk Wipprecht showed her work. I have been invited Anouk to the ThingsCon conferences a couple of years ago, but as she is living in the States that did not work out. In current times that are easier to arrange of course. I like her work a lot. She is making real-life prototypes of the human-body-mind-tech-partnerships. You can watch the presentation on YouTube too.

I also was invited to take part in a session on a Code for Children, dealing with the impact of technology, a collaborative project by Leiden University and WAAG for the Ministry of Internal Affairs that delivered good discussions.

And today the podcast came online where Dries and I discuss the article we wrote for this year’s RIOT report on Ludicrous IoT.

Ok, let’s dive into some news of last week. As every week some interesting updates on robot(ic)s as part of our life. Is it the rise of robots that is so present in the news, or just my filtered mindset?

Robots were dreamt up 100 years ago – why haven’t our fears about them changed since?
The writer discovered that the plot of a movie on robots back in 1921 is quite similar to the narratives of the current day. The robots change their looks and capabilities, it is more on the level of agency that we kind of fear our future relations. Are we closer to that future after 100 years?
Unveiled at CES 2021, the world’s first robot dog with decentralized AI does everything but walk on water!
I think I mentioned it last week; it is interesting to see how many mundane robots are introduced at CES this year. And the dog-form-factor is quite popular…
Makers of Sophia the robot plan mass rollout amid pandemic
“Sophia and Hanson robots are unique by being so human-like”. “That can be so useful during these times where people are terribly lonely and socially isolated.
”That is a questionable statement I think. Or to be more specific; what does human-like mean in this context, it seems that we look to the presences. That might be a great starter for a conversational robot. The real test of human-like will be in the behavior…
This ‘snake robot’ will fix pipelines on the ocean floor
Looking at Sophia, Compared to that archetype of a robot, I think these kinds of task-specific robots are more interesting in the coming decade. And we might even start to feel attached to the robots.
Designing customized “brains” for robots
It is always interesting to see where bottlenecks live in new developments. Like robotic operations:
“MIT researchers have developed an automated way to design customized hardware that speeds up a robot’s operation. The system, called robomorphic computing, accounts for the robot’s physical layout in suggesting an optimized hardware architecture.”

And a bit different aspects of robotics and automated life influencing our physical reality. Like cars.

The Future Is Taking Shape Before Our Eyes
Influenced by the lobby of self-driving cars the rules on some human-aids for driving are changing. So not only new rules are made, old rules are adjusted.
rem koolhaas + AMO use ‘inviting and seductive’ materials for prada’s F/W 2021 menswear show
What triggered me in these images is the retrofitting of reality from VR-spaces. Changes are always a dialogue between new and existing paradigms I think, and this is a nice illustration of that…

The change of the city structures is also part of the physical-digital shifts. As well as the impact on open hardware vs software.

A further update on the One-Minute City projects I’m working on here in Sweden.
Last week I captured two projects, one on the 15 min city and one on the one-minute-city. Dan Hill made this great overview as a jump board.
“A further update on the One-Minute City projects I’m working on here in Sweden. Building on the coverage in Bloomberg CityLab”
Freie Technologien für die ganze Welt – warum Open-Source-Hardware von öffentlichem Interesse ist | Digital Society Blog
“Open-source hardware (OSH) is an essential approach to public interest technology, not unlike well-maintained infrastructure.
”But the writers make clear there is a difference with the dynamics of open-source software that need to be acknowledged.

Connecting the physical and digital in the more traditional manner, let’s call it IoT. Entering war is not strange, these experiments are done for a long time. And ideas to track people at any time for any is even more creepy. With or without a rationale around COVID.

The Internet of Things goes to war
Human-replacing or complementing robots are interesting of course in war situations. We have been bringing down the needed number of casualties for years, ultimo we just send out the Sophia-army to the connected battlespace. Presuming we will have physical warfare at that moment.
A wristband that tells your boss if you are unhappy
“Technology to help our mental wellbeing has grown in popularity during the coronavirus lockdowns.
”My feeling is that this belongs more to the category of technology that might be possible to make but might be better not to make.

Speaking about COVID, two interesting effects described in these long reads.

The Pandemic Year Marked a Turning Point in Climate Change
“The war on climate denial has been won, writes New York Magazine’s David Wallace-Wells, author of ‘The Uninhabitable Earth.’ And that’s not the only good news about climate change and global warming.
”I am curious to read this long read to hopefully out that this title is climate clickbait….
Anti-Network Effects – Breaking Smart
I listened to this podcast in which Venkatesh makes an interesting case for the rise of anti-network effects:
“As I am recording this, governments around the world are working out the logistics problems of distributing billions of vaccine doses. It feels like a symbol of the times we are entering into, times that I think will be defined by anti-network effects.”

And to close this week, a sharp analysis by Matt Webb again.

Towards the Orthogonal Technology Lab, v0.1 (Interconnected)
My favorite post of Matt Webb of last week is this one. It relates a lot to the investigations in the development of our lab and possible next step.
“What we need are visions of the future of technology that are values-driven, but we don’t need just design fictions. We need business model fictions, engineering feasibility study fictions, interop protocol specification fictions, investment return fictions.”

Let’s keep it to that. I will have a hard time again reading all articles as the week is filling with meetings and activities. One public event you might consider is on Friday (in Dutch): De Staat van Internet 2021; inclusieve AI. An important topic for sure!I will let you know how it was. And Wednesday 27 to Friday 29 you can visit Micromobility World online in the evening. Have a great week!

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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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