Iskander Smit is an innovation director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting professor at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab, and chairman and organizer of ThingsCon Netherlands.
Hi all! Thanks for subscribing to my newsletter (if not, check this), happy to share the observations of last week again!
Do I want to talk on Clubhouse again I’m wondering? It is still interesting to follow the developments. There is something strange happening with Clubhouse; the first people to embrace this new social platform are not teenagers or young adults, but it adapted with all ages and even more maybe with a bit more mature users. And it got adapted really quick by ‘the old media’ and entertainment people to have conversations, share the gossip. I am not speculating why that is, this deserves a better analysis. One of the research questions could be if this is related to a broader maturing of digital media as part of our -locked downed- lives? Or is it about the low barriers in audio-chatting?
Shift to another news. From the Cities of Things-lab; I am happy to have two news students joining with graduation projects; on the design of engaging cultural specific digital assistants in future mobility systems (working title), and the other looking into the relationship with a robot vacuum with predictive knowledge. I also started looking a bit more into the relation of Digital Twins and Cities of Things, more to follow up soon I hope.
I participated in a couple of sessions last week; the Cross Media Café on Synthetic Media, AITech Agora, Sensemakers AMS on business transformations (half of it), IoT Ghent, and Uncertainty Cocktails by Changeist. With most of them, I fell into the online meetup-trap of getting distracted by other things… I still think it is a good chance to pick up one or two inspirational insights, so I will keep doing this; check the end of this newsletter for this week.
Inspired by a podcast (Another Podcast) of Benedict Evans discussing Clubhouse: the current social networks are not judged on the social character but the discovery: TikTok vs. YouTube, Clubhouse vs. Podcast. And in his newsletter, he wonders: “But if social is pop culture, you can’t ‘win’ pop culture or own or control it – you can only try to ride it and try to keep up, and there will always be something new.”
That to jump in a look at last week, the second week of the Clubhouse-hype. What I think is interesting is that Clubhouse has found a way to discover audio that is happening in a way that podcasts lack discovery. Just like TikTok created a form of discovery that YouTube can not offer (or Facebook). It is another time, but what seems to happen that the social networks built on relations between people and the reputation of users are now shifting to the mechanics of addictive discovery pur sang.
As a disclaimer: I am not saying that the success of Clubhouse is only about this discovery model, the good-old nearness factor, being close to like-minded friends and famous is a fundament. But the spread and the buzz are mainly caused by the addictive discovery.
The topic Clubhouse might be a bit of the usual focus here, on intelligent things and our relations. It remains an overview of what happened last week and the reflections on that. I am planning to start a specific newsletter more in-depth on the human-nonhuman relations in cities. Hopefully, I can point you to that next week (I am creating a deadline for myself here 🙂).
As I announced last week, I had two ‘Things That Predict’ new initiatives happening last week at the Industrial Design faculty. The presentation and Miro-session at the Master Research Day and the bachelor elective Designing Connected Experiences kick-off. The latter 8 teams will work on the exploration to design things that predict in the city context. I was happy to the students ask some good questions. Looking forward to the results!
We sent out a newsletter to our ThingsCon community. Looking back at our latest event and announcing some new Salons and workshops April 9 at IoT Rotterdam and April 22, May 6, and 20 with Eindhoven IoT. Keep an eye on the website.
Ok, let’s have a look at the news of last week. Snow and ice distracted us here in the Netherlands from Covid, literally sometimes, looking at the open-air parties happening… And collective blobs and intentionally designed mistakes in AI.
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…
I don’t think I gonna say anything about GameStop here. Or do I need to try to look at it from a more human-tech-relation? The wandering and getting lost, or the new ‘weapons’ we have to break institutions. It might segway to the interesting essay of Shoshana Zuboff on epistemic coup; I really like here analyses on the stages of the coup and the recognition of the current state of epistemic chaos. It is a much better wording of my couple of sentences on the algorithmic system failure I noted last week. There is a tendency with thinkers to see the dismantling of capitalism as a society and economic structural thing, set apart from political colors. Benedict Evans is writing about the great unbundling in his yearly core presentation. They are kind of the same drivers.
To bring it home to last week, I was happy to be part of the Midterm Review Panel of Master Digital Design of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. It started 4 years ago to create a school for stunning designs; it soon developed into a place to educate critical designers. And this is also the route for the whole of the creative faculty, seconded by the professors of practice Kate Raworth and Marleen Stikker, who both are known for rethinking the (digital & economic) system. The master has done a good job the last 4 years and is promising to get even better with Gabriele Ferri’s plans, the new head of the program.
For me, it is highly relevant. It is one of the guiding principles to look at the Cities of Things research; what is happening on a structural level, what does the city look like? How will we design governance if we are not living exclusively as humans in the city? I might forget to share the presentation of Elisa Giaccardi last week where she has the very true observation: “Agency should be foundational to our understanding and crafting of autonomous technologies as was once was the notion of function to our understanding of tools.“
Let me quickly mention two project-websites of the student teams (WePredikt and WeConnect) that have been working on Things That Predict last semester at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. They did both a great job translating the rather abstract assignment into interesting design explorations; for a mental health coach, a sleep coach can.
Before diving into the news, let me congratulate Thijs Turel on opening the AMS Responsible Sensing Lab. I participated in Marcel and Kars’ nice workshop to introduce some aspects of transparency when designing Citizen Interactions for Urban Sensing Systems. Time was too short to dive into depth, but it was good to see the current projects.
I also listened to the lecture and discussion on the State of the Internet on Inclusive AI. Or, in other words: do you agree that the best way to reach equality is to respect differences? You can rewatch it here (in Dutch). And finally, I attended part of the minor Interactive Environments presentations with some nice explorations on how to make social distancing into a social experience. Check the 5 projects here.
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.
Last week, it was a mix of preparing for future plans, and having some nice projects presented. The two Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences teams I mentioned before here finished their design projects that dealt with predictive knowledge. The team ‘WePredikt’ added predictive behavior to the Somnox sleep cushion. Team ‘WeConnect’ designed a device to prevent burnouts by creating a kind of a reversed-Tamagotchi. Check their product pages to find out more details; overall I think they did a good job! I will dive into their learnings about adding predictive knowledge soon.
Some time ago, I was invited to a session on the future of mobility in the city by Urban Arrow. The report of the session is published, and I had time to post the main conclusions here.
I also checked some of the program of the Dies Natalis, that I mentioned last week. The theme was Resilient, and they tried to create an interesting online asynchronous experience. It can still be watched here. Always interesting to have new approaches, good input for the program committee for Dutch Digital Day that I am invited for again this year. Keep you posted.
Last week (or a week earlier maybe), a small upgrade to the online meeting setup: I received the OBSBOT camera, a Kickstarter project that I almost forgot that I had backed it. The OBSBOT Tiny is the cheaper camera with the same AI features of following you around and gesture-controlled zooming in and out. The image is entirely white and in the first weeks it works quite well. And it is a nice conversation starter. It is a nice example of how ‘AI’ is used to sell products nowadays and how it enhances products by not only connecting but also adding intelligence.
What else happened last week? Some interesting articles on HRI (Human Robot Interaction), as apparently this type of device, become standard part of CES.
What a week… Especially the events in Washington of course. It overshadows all news moments on vaccines for instance. Are we skipping the roaring twenties for a ‘Kristallnacht’? On the responses by Twitter and Facebook, and all others. I listen to a couple of podcasts that discussed the topics extensively like Dittering and Stratechery, and Sway and Pivot. And there are many more but keeping up with Twitter and talk shows deliver so many opinions that it is sometimes enough. Benedict Evans just sent his newsletter with this take:
“However, the move by Apple and Google to remove Parler from their stores is, I think, much more significant than Facebook and Twitter’s Trump bans, and the move by AWS and Twilio to deny it service is more significant again. There’s a parallel with the moves to cut off Wikileaks, Cloudflare cutting off 8Chan, and more recently Visa and Mastercard’s move against Mindgeek: private companies are free to decide who they do business with, but what if their product is essential or near-essential?”
My initial feeling is of course that we will be better without the hate speech president on Twitter and his followers, but if we zoom out it is the ultimate edge case of a system that is built on wrong drivers that cannot control themselves. I think it is a good step to react now with the bans, but it should be acknowledged that a new form of regulation is necessary. I might have mentioned it before, but my hunch is that the real problem is not the platform for different opinions, the problem is the design of clickbait-stimulating algorithms, the self for-filling prophecy system, etc that is the driver of the problem and should be the first step to stop. Switch all filtering and start designing a new system with the learning of the current state of the systems… But I understand this is hard to accomplish. Maybe keep profiling for advertising and make the platforms responsible for the content of the ads. It is probably not enough but could be a step to try…
Happy new year! Maybe not the most cheerful year-turning ever. The turn of the year will not end the tough pandemic-winter period, and however, the vaccines offer some hope for the future, it will take some time to fully play out the new future… Nevertheless: happy new year.
Last week I had a holiday break. I did some work on the plans for 2021 and ThingsCon administration, video-editing, and after-movie planning, but managed to keep tasks open for the new year too… ;)
Looking ahead: this week is about catching up with the students doing research, graduation projects, and selecting new projects (there are too many applying for projects now, which is nice, of course…), and looking into possible new educational links with Cities of Things at TU Delft.
No events yet this week on my list. Normally there are numerous new year drinks planned, some will be online, but it makes a lot of sense to skip them.
Traditions. Looking ahead into the new year. It is a fine tradition I think. Not to pretend to be able to make predictions all right, it is not a competition, but set your mind in another mode. Last year I did more than ever forecasts on developments in mobility and energy, autonomous systems, and mailboxes, all furthermore in the future, like 2030, 2040, or 2050 even. Doing these is always arbitrary too. You try to spot bigger developments and weak signals as the innovations for the next 20 years started today, and the future is a continuum, meaning that a future state is a framing of a moment on a future time.
It is also said before: some of the consequences of turning society into a virus defense mode is like a speeding up of longer predicted changes like e-commerce, homework, video calling replacing normal call, and more. But other developments were frustrated; the mobility hubs with social communicating are setback with everyone working from home.
So what to say about 2021. Let me first set a frame; I am focusing on our relationship with intelligent and autonomous operating technology. The Cities of Things Lab that we have been building and will continue to bring into practice with a field lab is the context of the explorations. Nevertheless, I like to keep a broad spectrum to watch, as everything is connected, and the weak signals can be found in all kinds of changes.
To start with the COVID developments. I am not surprising anyone to say that we are entering a new phase if vaccines start to become part of our lives. And I am also not surprising anyone with the opinion that it will probably take far into the new year to experience real effects. Not everyone needs to be vaccinated to relieve society significantly, but still, it takes time. And how will it play out? Will we leave our home bubbles into vaccinated bubbles? In certain industries (like film crews) the art of bubbling groups is already happening. Will we see more of these concepts; with gated communities that lock their neighborhoods for the external entrance of strangers? Will there be a smart testing kit to prevent quarantine times? Whatever happens, you can expect 2021 to be a transformational year where we will find ways to move from bubble to bubble. And hopefully, we can pop more and more bubbles!
Let’s also hope we will grow into a new balance end of the year where we have a sort of control on the virus, we know what to expect, and there are not all kinds of new hard-to-master mutations… Like we see now, in the first months of the new year we might expect a worsening in the dangerous mix of people feeling relieved and bored with the virus-life, and new mutations making more infections than before.
Back to the main framing of this blog; tech and intelligent partnering systems and things. As happened before a crisis is intensifying new technology adoption. This might happen with the delivery pods that can support the overflow of delivery services. The hyper-personalization is interesting. And deep fake used to create a together mode in our virtual environments. We might be tired of video-calls, we also will have gained capabilities we never had before in communicating via online tools, as a new toolset for the digital natives…
In more longer developing trends is the translating layer that is entering in our lives; everything real is filtered before it reaches us. It started with the Instagram pictures, but with the speeding up of deepfakes, also all the digital systems we use for operating our life, we will grow into a significant shift. And it is super important to realize this and keep track of who is influencing this filtered reality layer. It is much more hidden than sketched in the hyper-reality visions of a couple of years ago. As all controls are taken over by digital controls, but also all of our senses become more and more filtered, starting with hearing via transparency earbuds. Apple is a silent frontrunner here, even more than they have been a frontrunner before. Hard to predict if the next step will be a vision-filter (the AR glasses made accessible) already this year, but it is especially interesting to watch the developments of the engines; the OS’s, both with Google and Apple, but also Amazon, and not to forget China-based tech.
The virtual worlds are also part of this filtered reality, as it became more and more the substitute for social contacts last year. Question is if it will go mainstream or stay the go-to-place for the millennial and digital natives. It is another driver for the filtered reality adoption for sure.
Filtered is not the only thing to keep track of, how will it behave in relation to us? Will it be the (ideal) co-performance, or will it be driven by the big tech? In the awareness of the dangers of big tech dominance (antitrust cases), it might be even more likely the control is transformed to governments, especially under the influence of COVID measures; ‘never waste a good crisis to get more grip’.
To close, with this extraordinary year is it valid to check upon last year’s thoughts; have the year been an acceleration or a detour? Last year I took the moment to look into a new decade more than one year, and also mentioned the roaring twenties as a metaphor, not knowing how that would be triggered at large. Techlash was predicted and happened, we have lost our trust even more in the heroes of the 10s. We see that Microsoft is back in business with Teams, and new players as Zoom will try to find a place, also if we open-up more. People are more aware than ever how these tools invade our personal space though.
The longer trends are still valid: boosted humanity, relations human-nonhumans, living together with pal-tech:
(…) we shift from a decade of empowering products and services with computational capabilities towards empowering humans with boosting human capabilities on all levels. For that, we will see a further shift from new gadget-like devices towards integrated infrastructures in all things we use. To begin in creating tech that we can modify and hack into our own pals. Where we will build a new type of relations, based on hopefully more human-driven economical systems. Let that be our new-decade resolution.
This is still the path into the future. Our dependencies on tech for social communications have accelerated embedding tech in our lives, but at the same time makes it sharp what we miss in a fully digital context; we need hybrid tech relations. That is the real boosted humanity we are looking for. Keeping the focus on humanity vs controlled societies will be a balance we need to find in the coming year.
I wish everyone to stay healthy, and I hope we can pop some bubbles this year!
A short and quick weeknotes as I am a bit in a holiday mode as everyone. Last week, we had some ThingsCon after, but mainly it was about catching up with the other work. Having updates with the graduation students and speaking to students that like to do new projects. Good to see more students find their way than we can cater to the Cities of Things Lab.
Making plans for 2021 more concrete was another thing. I might be updating more on that later.
Also, as you do in these times for holidays start; three sessions to end the year. With INFO’s colleagues, including a ‘Secret Sinta’ celebration, with TU Delft IDE with some quizzes and with the Connected Everyday Lab.