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.
Thanks for the plug, Frank! I was pleasantly surprised by the recommendation by Frank Meeuwsen in his Cappuccino series (code 323304). Check it out for more tips. And thanks for subscribing to new subscribers.
It was a pity I did not publish last week as I was too busy with organizing ThingsCon. But let’s make it up this week, I hope.
Speaking of ThingsCon, it was a great week. We choose to create a different format than just rebuilding the regular online conference in two online days. We wanted to cater to an event feeling that we noticed with ourselves; you hop in and out sessions, and sessions are often second in attention space. So we created a program that could be consumed per session more than as a whole conference. We realized that it would be hard to have the same feeling of community as we usually have. I think, however, that we did manage to have a bit of that anyhow.
We also experimented with a couple of new formats and repeated others that we tried out earlier in Salons. The Make & Remix day worked very well. The workshops in the morning and the active remixing of your creation was very lovely. I participated actively in the Smartibot session, and we had great fun. I think the others did too.
Saskia Dörr on Twitter: “Heute beim #Thingsfest meinem ersten fernsteuerbaren Smartibot gebaut 💪 😅- viel gelernt und Spaß gehabt! Danke an @rossatkin und @thingscon #Making #GoodThings”
The Talent day was also very energetic. The mix of masterclasses, topical sessions, and the exhibition worked. And we had an evening with a real ceremony and especially the band intermezzo is something to keep. The hand-out of prizes is a bit strange; you miss a bit of the moment of handing out cheques.
These weeks running into ThingsCon annual event are busier than expected, although I probably would have written this down last year too… In the end I did not have the time I usually have to browse the news and with a day of meeting decided me to skip last weeks edition.We are looking forward to a very nice edition. Rather different than last year for certain, as an online experience. But we think we made a program in good style of ThingsCon I think. Well, check out our full program here: goodthingsfest.org/program
Almost without noticing whole days become zoom-days (aka Whereby, BBB, Teams), slurping time from writing these weeknotes among others…But I don’t complain. I will keep the update itself a bit shorter as I think I saw some interesting articles pass by that I captured in my Instapaper for reviewing for this newsletter.
It was a nice week for building on the ThingsCon annual conference. The program is now really coming together, and I’m happy sessions are getting real shape. See the program page on our website, and especially check the latest edition of a walk and talk session, listen instead of watch the speakers, and emerge the topic of shaping physical audio experiences together with a nice stroll in your own neighborhood… Happy to have experienced podcast maker Sam Warnaars doing the interviews, and we have made a nice list of speakers to invite. We also opened registrations for the workshops on Monday that has a limited capacity, so don’t wait if you are into making!
Speaking of podcasts; we are planning one for ThingsCon too, interviewing the contributors to the RIOT publication. Dries invited me to write a piece with him so we taped a podcast too, published somewhere in the coming months.I also mentioned that I was looking forward to another interesting AiTech Agora lunch presentation, and it was indeed insightful. I did not make notes but luckily the sessions are recorded and accessible for everyone to check via this youtube-channel (although the one of last week is not yet uploaded).
That was not a bad week for geopolitics, I would say. Still, a very close call what was nerve recking and weird to see. But when I watched Biden and Harris Saturday night’s winning speech and it even more kicked in than before, this will be a turning point. Still curious to see what will happen in the coming two months, but it could have been lots worse. And I follow the analysts that predict this is not a guaranteed end to a populistic politics shift…
And how will it influence tech? Expect there will be written a lot more about that. Benedict Evans wrote in his newsletter on the impact on visas, TikTok, privacy and content moderation, anti-trust, and the blaming of Facebook. So positive energy, international mindset, all ingredients for more innovative feeling. And more social as the rule of business as zero-sum-game is broken. A focus on the collective for reaching goals instead of the individual is popping up in more places, as I mentioned a couple of weeks back.With all the politics, the ‘normal’ news seems a bit lower. Or I missed it, of course while distracted…
I missed this one before. Very related to the research in Delft on predictive relations. It is interesting to see that predictive systems become more and more part of tech discours. Today I was part of discussion on so called positive energy districts and raising the question about the role of collaborations with predictive systems did trigger valuable discussions.
Once in a while there is news on the future of batteries, one of the most defining parts of our experiences with the devices we use nowadays…“There’s a renaissance underway in structural battery research, which aims to build energy storage into the very devices and vehicles they power.”
The use of Spot robot-doggy becomes crazier every week… This variation is “a robotic, fashion-forward dog.”
This week, I’m looking forward to an Aitech session with Jens Kober on robots learning through interactions. And I will have quite some meetings on detailing of sessions for ThingsCon’s event. Together with Dries De Roeck, I wrote a piece on ludicrous IoT for RIOT publication of this year, and we do an interview for the soon to launch linked podcast series. I’m curious to see what Apple Silicon will bring, and I might buy myself a blue 12 mini as a birthday gift… Let you know next week!
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