Weeknotes 129; living with proto-beings

Luckily winters still exist. I hope you enjoy the winter views as much as we do here! What is a returning question is the vulnerability of our transportation systems. The extremeness of the weather is blamed but even so important is the inter-dependability of systems I think. It is good learning for how to build a society based on a continuous connecting system and digital twin influencing both the resilience of the tools we use and our preparedness…

This last week I captured a lot more articles in my Instapaper. Might be because I had more time to collect but it might also be just a changing flow of news. Especially in robotics and how we relate to these is having a lot of attention. How to learn living together. Plans from maybe the most uncanny robot to roll out (Sophia), to new initiatives of last-mile robots. It also appears that the initiative of Apple to partner with Hyundai to build a car is focusing on an autonomous last-mile vehicle, however, the opinions of tech-watchers are not conclusive yet.

Before diving into the articles more, first a short look back to last week, I ended with the notion that there were fewer events happening, but in the end, I did check a couple. I captured the most insights from the internal presentations organized by Connected Everyday Lab of TU Delft. Matthew Lee-Smith, a critical designer and researcher, currently working with Loughborough Uni, is in is final stages of his PhD and gave an intense presentation on designing beings. He introduced Blurryism as a state for agents and looked into the design of proto-beings. How to design something that has no purpose? It triggered -amongst other things- an interesting question of how much this being is defined as a state or as an assemblage of states and interactions (in line with the thinking of fluid assemblages and phase media). I tend towards the latter, but that might be a topic to explore for another place.

Also last week I had the second evaluation session of the students of Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences on Things That Predict. We discussed how a project without a clear user-driven goal made it hard to match the ‘standard’ design process of a user experience design. That was as expected and together with the findings of the other team, it gives interesting pointers that can also be related to the research of Matthew mentioned above. This Wednesday about 8 teams of the bachelor elective Designing Connected Experience of Delft University of Technology Industrial Design Engineering will start with a similar assignment and I hope to have a lot of learnings after.

It was also good to get the results of the research into ethics and (processes) digital technology application at Rijkswaterstaat (executive organization of the ministry of infrastructure and water management) where I was invited as an external expert. There is a lot of relevance with the changes we research in Cities of Things.

Ok, let’s dive into the articles I collected. To begin with the diverse ones on robotics. On new last-mile robots, on designing strategies, and more generally, the different roles you can position the robot in our relationship with this technology with agency…

Sophia, the talking humanoid robot, is being readied for mass production during the pandemic
“Hanson Robotics says more automation is needed during the pandemic. It has now started mass production of its humanoid robot, Sophia.”
I think Sophia is an interesting representative of the humanoids, the human-like robots. I personally don’t see this as the most interesting category as it feels only interesting as a show-off and not really touching upon certain interaction qualities (unless creepiness is the goal).
Boston Dynamics’ robot dog gets an arm attachment, self-charging capabilities
A lot of attention to the introduction of the arm as a functional extension for the most famous robot dog. Creating even more of a helper profile.
That arm is not new, I did see it before in all future projections, but it was officially announced this week via a livestream presentation even watched by thousands (I was one)…
How Modern Robots Are Developed
“Today, neuroscience and robotics are developing hand in hand; how studying the brain inspires the development of robots.”
Makes sense, but I am also from the school that it is more interesting if we look at robots as a different type of species instead of a copy of us…
How Choreography Can Help Robots Come Alive 
This makes much more sense than a humanoid as Sophia imho; try to create a special dance that can connect humans and robots in a more poetic and deeper way…
This cleaning robot could help fight COVID-19 — and tell jokes
Maybe more interesting as the robot and its functions are the fact this article is in New York Post and making it a very mundane accessory… Or at least becoming more likely.
“And enterprising robotics company has automated humor’s healing power with a comedic cleaning bot that fights COVID and makes patients laugh.”
These self-sufficient robots can have ‘babies’ and colonize distant planets
Robots have a different goal; to colonize planets by overtaking the current ecology of that planet. It is a new form of old habits to colonize new land… I have to think about the future sketched in The Expanse. This is what is foreseen by future thinkers as a likely scenario. As Jeff Bezos is stepping back from operational management of Amazon to focus on space programs, one and one is two…
Meet COCO, the robot that could soon deliver you food
And another last-mile delivery pod; this one looks rather basic in design.
The Delivery Robot Market Report
It is a weak signal of our future when research firms think it is interesting to look into a topic. Could be a weak signal, no guarantees of course…
“Though fleets of autonomous vehicles winding their way across city streets and bringing last-minute lattes are already happening, their mainstream presence in our lives is far from inevitable. This report will give readers an overview of the current state of food delivery by robotic vehicles, the key players in the space, as well as challenges and opportunities for the sector.”
So what about these futures? How to deal with understanding?
Everyday Futures™
“An exploration into the state of design futures, and four approaches to aid in the creation of grounded, actionable future design work.”
I like the work of Near Future Laboratories a lot so having one of the team present is always nice. Build a mindset, explore new contexts, make many, not one, and create an integrated practice, these are the four approaches. Watch the video for backgrounds.
Dowsing the collective unconscious with GPT-3
“Like, prediction markets. Lots of people bet on complex outcomes; the market functions to surface scarce knowledge. Astral Codex Ten has been posting about prediction markets and coronavirus: They’re a type of trustless, decentralized expertise that often equals or outperforms official sources.”
Another exploration of GPT-3 by Matt Webb here, and it raises the question if you can predict the future by analyzing common dreams?
IKEA’s SPACE10 Reimagines the Ideal City in This New Book
Looking forward to this book. Curious how realistic, idealistic or wishful thinking it will be…
What is ideal so to say…
“The book, called “The Ideal City,” explores the ways we can improve city living in a world threatened by climate change and the coronavirus. It asks: “What kind of cities do we want to live in? What do we believe is important for a good life? And what makes a good home for all of us?”
Amazon plans to install always-on surveillance cameras in its delivery vehicles
I often use the example of the algorithmic boss to indicate how our relationship with technology changes and what it can mean when we add predictive knowledge to it.
That is one aspect, the other is of course the combined mapping of the real world real-time with door cams and driving cams. With the gaining interest in the digital twin to mimic our life, this data becomes extra valuable.www.theverge.com  •  Share
New report on Apple’s VR headset: 8K in each eye, potential $3,000 price tag
Another Apple thingy, the longtime expected glasses, visor, or as it appears to become a mixed reality device. Expensive now, more aimed at professionals; maybe it is combined with the Airpod Max…
Also interesting how this device seems to be build up from components developed in another context like spatial audio.
COVID-19 Drives Demand for Home Office Pods
The future is now. Living and working in hybrid mode. Having a shed to work from is not that strange, but it will be more interesting if your employer will provide this box as if it is an office chair…

To close, this week…

And looking forward to this week. Apart from kicking-off a new graduation research project, I will do a workshop for the Master Research Day at TU Delft. I might check the next session of MAB20 in the Zwijger on rights in the blockchain city this Wednesday. And check if there are interesting Clubhouse gatherings. Let me know if I miss something!

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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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