Weeknotes 214; the invisible present

Hi! A crypto crash, a democratic uptake, climate hell, twitter meltdown, one of those weeks…

Updates from last week

Last week we had a good week with Structural meeting with our first user and having conversations with two others. The students at Rotterdam UAS working on another iteration of the Wijkbot made some serious steps to make it more autonomous.

We found a location for the ThingsCon Winter Unconference 2022 and sent out our first mailing. Check it out if you like to join us on 9 December 13:00-20:00!

I listened to the interview by Ben Thompson with MidJourney founder David Holz, and shared how inspiring it was on Mattermost (ok, also on Twitter), and got a remark that it was a pity it was behind a paywall. So let me share some of my impressions here.

“In the end, the best way of knowing is starting by consciously not-knowing.” Ben Thompson is summarising his interview with David Holz, founder of MidJourney, one of the generative AI tools that use the techniques that DallE has become famous for. I really liked the interview. It is only accessible to members of Stratechery, but let me share some of the nice insights.

The tool of MidJourney has its own style of images with a certain dreamy feel to it that is different from DallE and Dreamstudio, although the latter can produce similar images. What I found most interesting to hear are the choices they made in developing the tool to stimulate imagining, the prompt they literally use in the tool. The tool is built in Discord as a chatbot that you can ask to imagine your imagery. It does not try to be a human though, as often is done with bots. It is honest as a tool. But the whole setup is creating that the tool is mixing human and machine creativity in an exploring generative way. As a first-time user, you land in a newbie channel to find out the tricks and learn from other newbies. Being aware of all other art that is generated remains a part of the experience. You can see what others imagine, what prompts they use, and what results they deliver. This is a rich way of learning.

Another aspect they carefully designed is the waiting time for images to build up. It is a benefit to have it built up not all at once, but seeing it come together, makes you understand even more how it generates your imagination.

David says that he aims to build new human infrastructure as “the world’s going to need a lot of new things, and we need infrastructure to build new things”. It connects a lot to the concept of co-performance I have mentioned here before and written about here. AI is not a dumb tool for humans, it is a partner in exploring shared goals. Generative AI is the most direct form of that concept, the most transparent to use that word.

“a lot of people who want to make the icon for the chatbot a little robot. And I was like, “Absolutely not. This is not a robot. You are not working with a robot. It’s a vehicle. We put a little sailboat on there.”

Mid-journey is telling: “There’s no conversation between you and the computer, but then there is a conversation between you and other people.”

David shared more on his way of developing the tool, and now into V4, which is a big release. “Version four is in a weird place right now where we’re still using some of the data from the older versions to kind of define the look, but the system itself is so different. It really should have a new look of its own.” It is not marketed widely as there will be stress on GPUs if the growth is too rapid; the GPU crunch. They are one of the largest GPU users in the world now. An image is now generated balancing GPUs from eight different regions from all over the world.

There was a lot more in the interview, but I found the conversation on building a generative AI tool most interesting. In this weekly update Ben Thompson shared some parts too and is accessible without a subscription.

Events of interest

Ok, a short list of events that might be interesting.

  • We visited Glow this weekend in Eindhoven. If you are into light art is always nice. I am not sure, but I think the number of good work vs. average was a bit lower this year, but still, there is enough to see.
  • We were not able to visit the Evoluon, but next week there is an event that I hope to attend.
  • That Smart City Expo conference is happening now in Barcelona; in case you work at a city on smartness or are a vendor that something has to sell to cities 🙂
  • Sensemakers is doing a workshop on 3D printing and laser cutting this Wednesday.
  • Today you can still (remotely) visit a symposium Humans at the Centre of HRI.
  • Immersive Tech Week is approaching; in Rotterdam.
  • And as said, 9 December we are organizing ThingsCon Winter Unconference

Captured news

Let’s look at the interesting news articles of last week dealing with human-machine interactions, responsible tech, autonomous systems, and generative intelligence.

In general, I like to share the blog of Matt Webb – Interconnected. This past week again, two articles worth reading I think.

Peering Into The Invisible Present
DIGITAL LIFE – “How datasets spanning decades and nature apps are expanding our ecological attention span into the long now”longnow.org  •  Share
Formal Informal Languages
GENERATIVE AI – Ending with a question; “Will the next stage in the development of generative software be the development of informal formal languages?”www.oreilly.com  •  Share
Even if you’re paying for the product, you’re still the product 
AGENCY – Life is not so easy. The simple adage that a paying customer is a customer with an agency might not be the whole story. “For so long as corporations can use technology and law to hide their misdeeds and power to avoid consequences for those misdeeds, “voting with your wallet” is as useless as opting out of Ios tracking.“pluralistic.net  •  Share
AI and the Age of the Individual – Superorganizers
AI FUTURES – AI is not replacing individuals but giving individuals superpowers to compete with collectives.every.to  •  Share
What The West Misunderstands About Power In China 
GEO POLITICS – “Often overlooked in portrayals of China, provincial & local officials have the greatest impact on day-to-day governance, & their actions shape national politics.”It feels like an interesting piece; on different power decentralization in China in comparison to ours.www.noemamag.com  •  Share
a fleet of robots is building largest community of 3D-printed homes outside austin
3D PRINTING – With a star-architect involved… “3D-printed by ICON together with Lennar, the 100-home community will express a contemporary, elevated Texas ranch-style aesthetic with architecture co-designed by Bjarke Ingels Group.”www.designboom.com  •  Share
Japan’s emotionally enhanced robots 
ROBOT FRIENDS – Typical for Japan or a future for everywhere? “The future is now for these individuals and families that treat robots as emotionally as they might treat a pet — or even a child.”www.japantimes.co.jp  •  Share
Our Favorite Gadgets for Plant Parents | WIRED
MUNDANE TECH – “You don’t need a degree in horticulture to help your indoor garden grow, just a few key pieces of gear.”www.wired.com  •  Share
Australian man uses brain implant to send texts from his iPad
INTERACTING – “An Australian man with ALS has used a brain-computer interface (BCI) called the Stentrode to send text messages from his iPad — marking the first time anyone has used the unique implant to control an Apple device.”www.freethink.com  •  Share
Researchers Gain Insight Into Brain Activity During Human-Robot Collaboration 
HUMAiN – “A team of researchers at Texas A&M University has used functional near-infrared spectroscopy to capture functional brain activity during human-robot collaboration on a manufacturing task.”What will that be used for?www.unite.ai  •  Share
Magic Leap 2 is the best AR headset yet, but will an enterprise focus save the company?
NEW REALITY – Is this still a thing? “We dive into the tech behind Magic Leap 2, the company’s second-gen AR glasses..”www.engadget.com  •  Share
Autonomous vehicles tested on public roads in Luxembourg 
AUTONOMOUS – It is closing in! “Researchers from the University of Luxembourg are testing the first single-family autonomous car on the streets of Luxembourg with members of the public as passengers.”electronics360.globalspec.com  •  Share
The Age of Social Media Is Ending 
SOCIAL MEDIA – I am not sure I agree, but useful to read “Now that we’ve washed up on this unexpected shore, we can look back at the shipwreck that left us here with fresh eyes. Perhaps we can find some relief: Social media was never a natural way to work, play, and socialize, though it did become second nature.”www.theatlantic.com  •  Share
TWITTER – More reflections on Twitter in relation to the state of social. “It is time, I think, to allow ourselves a respite from the public light, to rediscover the pleasures that attend practices and deeds done for their own sake.”theconvivialsociety.substack.com  •  Share
The Muskening 
TWITTER – Interesting analysis. Full article after the paywall “In brief, an irresistible force has met an immovable object. An entrepreneur who has never met a venture he couldn’t master has met a platform that has never met a leader who could tame it. A legendary emperor has marched into a fabled graveyard of empires.”studio.ribbonfarm.com  •  Share
The Elegoo Mars 3D Printer Is the Nerdy Gift That Never Stops Giving
3D PRINTING – I did not follow the device market a lot, but 250 euros seems like a new pricepoint for lower the barriers… Still:“Finally, a 3D printer that’s useful to have in the house (if you’re a huge geek).”www.wired.com  •  Share

Paper for the week

I did not have time to dive into this one, but it was tipped by a respected blog Ready for robots? Assessment of autonomous delivery robot operative accessibility in German cities

This paper presents a prototype evaluation methodology based on Open Street Map data for the assessment of ADR deployments considering one-to-many delivery schemes. 

Plank, M., Lemardelé, C., Assmann, T., & Zug, S. (2022). Ready for robots? Assessment of autonomous delivery robot operative accessibility in German cities. Journal of Urban Mobility, 2, 100036.


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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.