Technology, Innovation, Education

"technology creates feasibility spaces for social practice"

Archive for July 7th, 2011

8 disruptive pitches

A new platform has just been launched in beta. It is called Imagination for people, a collaborative platform dedicated to social innovation. The projects listed on the platform have to be for the public good, they have to be disruptive (so a “worldwide first”) and it needs to be able to scale.

We were presented with eight different ideas in this vein:

  • La Ruche qui dit Oui a way to disintermediate wholesalers and supermarkets from the farmer client relationship by creating “hives” of consumers that pool their demand.
  • Mocaplab does motion capture services. He is talking about using motion capture to create a tool to record, play and edit the natural language of many deaf people: sign language. This is a challenge because you need to capture the motion of not only the fingers and hands, but also the face and eye movements. I find this completely fascinating. One thing I wonder about though is what standard you would use to digitise the language, how else will you be able to synthesize the language.
FiveFive

FiveFive

  • Fivefive, “the emotional experience”, is an attempt to create sensitive and emotional devices that enhance the way people communicate over the Internet. Our current interface devices don’t allow us to create real presence remotely. It is an object that looks like a pebble, that will produce light when you touch it. You would use it in pairs. It will add an extra dimension to your communications and might actually create a new type of language.
  • A project by the Digital Empowerment Foundation to bring digital technology to weaver communities in India. This allows them to get more value out of the total chain that profits from their work. They have four problems: Not enough money to buy raw materials, not enough skills to design the clothes, no way to find a market to retail their products and a younger generation that doesn’t belief you can earn a living with weaving. The digital technology helps them capturing and storing designs and contains an ecommerce website helping sell the weaves. Each aspect is organized in self-help groups, so that there is a sense of ownership and sustainability.
  • Exposition au Danger Psychologique is an (art) project by Emmanuel Germond aiming to prevent psychological harm from just not talking to each other anymore. Currently there is a online form where you can rate your own exposure to psychological danger, which will then allow for preventative measures and treatments (like extra-marital sex or a D-tox box). Check out the EPD Observatory to learn more.
  • Neen or Non-verbal Emotional Experience of Notification. He used the metaphor of a door to create new forms of presence (“open doors for close communication”). This short video summarizes the main theme of the project.
  • A project that creates a new definition of “health” for a new generation of digital native patients. It consists of multiple smaller on the edges between the social sphere, the physical sphere and the cognitive sphere. Read more here.
  • Eli Commins has developed the Breaking project. Commins tells the story of how he followed an Iranian young man on Twitter who wasn’t at all interested in the electoral process going on there. As the electoral process continued the young man slowly started to become an activitist. Commins then decided to get together a diverse set of testimonies from Iran and try and find a way to visualize this on stage.

Written by Hans de Zwart

07-07-2011 at 23:01

Who needs to become “smart” in tomorrow’s cities?

Transforming abandoned oil platforms into ocean mini cities

Transforming abandoned oil platforms into ocean mini cities

The first true theme of the conference is Urban, who needs to become smart in tomorrow’s cities. From the introduction:

We want cities to become greener, safer, more competitive, more inclusive, more vibrant or easier to move in. To achieve that takes more than great engineering and determined leadership, yet this is what most models of “smart cities” are built around. It requires trust and collaboration, the deliberate sharing of urban (hardware, software, informational) resources, open innovation ecosystems, empowerment policies… How will we achieve smart and open cities that could be livable?

Saskia Sassen is talking about The future of smart cities. Her research question is how much of the new technologies are truly urbanised. The cities is not just the materialities, it also is the people, the practices, etc. This means that the city can “talk back” and there is a notion “cityness”.

What would it mean to do open source urbanism? What would it mean if we start to think of the city as the hacker? Incompleteness is her foundational image for the future of the city because the concepts of the user don’t align with the concepts of the engineer.

I thought it was unfortunate that Sassen did not develop her thoughts further than these large broad philosophical strokes. This was in stark contract with the next speaker: Adam Greenfield runs a shop in New York called Urbanscale. His talk is titled: On public objects: connected things and civic responsibilities in the networked city. He prefers the term “network city” over “smart city”).

He is inspired by Lefebvre’s concept of the right to the city. In our current networked city we have become an instrumented population. There is a strong spread of locative and declarative media. Increasingly we live among declarative objects (see Tom Armitage’s project of the talking Tower bridge).

We are surrounded by objects that can process information and “speak” to us leading to new modes of surveillance based on information gathering objects. What might it mean to speak of our right to the networked city. Maybe we need a new theory of public objects to help us think about them?

Greenberg show examples of a couple of technologies that are used in urban settings to get at a “taxonomy of effects” and a first start at thinking about the morality of objects:

  • Välkky traffic sensors are non objectionable: there is local collection with a local effect and a clear public good.
  • The Nikon advertisement that is “paparazzi billboard” is mildly disruptive: there is local collection and local effect, but there is no public good and slight disruption.
  • The Acure touchscreen vending unit is gathering information about you and tries to discern your age and your gender and then present you with the right proposition. This is a prescriptive and normative non-urban technology. This is local collection with global effect and no public good: the data is analysed and used to change the propositions.
  • Quividi (“he who watches”) VidiReports video analytics suite is a technology that records people as they pass by billboards and tracks their attention. Vidireports is leeching value of the cityscape. This technology is predictive and prospectively normative. Greenfield is actively trying to influence government to legislate against this type of technology.

Greenfield then gives a definition of the public objects. They should be designed in such a way that they are open and easily available. This has some problems: we are enormously increasing the “attack surface”. We also don’t have the etiquettes and protocols of precedence and deconfliction. But the aspirations are big though: among other things it could be a physical manifestation of the public sphere.

Next up was Alain Renk talking about Unlimited cities. He talked in French which was simultaneously translated. This setup made it very hard for me to both pay attention to the talk and blog. According to him we are confronted by a trend of standardisation of urban environment and it is very difficult to develop “urbadiversity”.

Robin Chase gave an incredibly inspiring talk about people-(em)powered platforms.

Some examples of people-(em)powered platforms are meetup and Etsy, Waze, Airbnb or Couchsurfing. This stuf is powerful: Intercontinental built 4400 hotels in 60 years, whereas Couchsurfing has 1.2m “couches” in 8 years (twice the volume of Intercontinental).

The economics are sustainable: I put my excess capacity into a common platform. This can grow very fast (low financial risk) because now the common platforms are completely scalable. This is a much more efficient use of resources. It is a dematerialisation: so more service than asset and it is focused and collaborative consumption. Put another way: ownership will not be the higher status consumption.

Chase has now started buzzcar (they have an app), a way for people to share their cars. It uses a collectively built infrastructure that is collaboratively financed where end users gain financially. Doing it like this she doesn’t have to wait for government or private companies, instead she has “auto-preneurs” putting their cars into the system. See here for a video explaining the concept. This way one well-used shared car can be used by 30-50 people. Some of these people will sell their car so one well-used shared car equals about 15-20 cars and can save 40-60 parking spaces.

This type of collaboratively built infrastructure will create the people’s city. Rather than having centralized or decentralized systems you now get distributed robust and resilient systems. We can finally have a future where there is scale without the homogenisation that this would usually bring.

The final talk is by Frédéric Mazzella. He has created a new way of carpooling and talked about how car-pooling can help forecast car traffic. Covoiturage.fr has 1.2 million members. By using people’s intentions of where they want to go when, they can forecast traffic (he showed a nice visualisation of this).

Written by Hans de Zwart

07-07-2011 at 22:31

Innovating within innovations challenges…

Joëlle Liberman (Égérie Research) and François Jégou (Strategic Design Scenarios) are hosting a session titled Innovaton Futures, Innovating within innovation challenges. This workshop is based on an European project titled Innovation Futureswhich is a foresight exercise on emerging patterns of innovation. From their introduction:

How is innovation changing and which challenges innovation will have to face in the coming future? INFU (www.innovation-futures.org) is an on-going European research project focusing futures of innovation, scanning weak signals of change in the current innovation landscape, extrapolating new patterns, discussing emerging visions, scenarios and implications for policy and practices.

At the start of the workshop we were put into pairs and given a “weak signal” that they have identified. Mine was: CoWorking Houses as Creative Hubs: “More and more of the nomadic knowledge workers from the creative class join CoWorking spaces. CoWorking houses offer an easy, flexible and budget workspace combining workspace with a creativty hub. One question to ask about these weak signals is what would happen if they would turn into mainstream which of course begged the question whether maybe in the future mainstream is that there is no mainstream anymore. Next up we were asked to imagine being at a board meeting of the Innovation Agency in 2036 (25 years from now). The agency is facing a couple of challenges and has to find a solution to these. Our table had to think about the following:

Thinking about the challenge

Thinking about the waste challenge

“Waste based innovation has taken off in the 00′s and a complete new range of new products definitions and production processes based on reuse of existing components instead of rough materials. The world waste stock exchange market is working very well, even too well inducing a perverse increasing demand for waste materials. The Innovation Agency is asked to propose solutions to avoid this bias.” ‘

Our initial thoughts were around whether this would be a problem that the market can solve itself or whether this would require some governmental intervention to solve. Could there be a tertiary market around waste credits to counter this? Should we require companies to deal with their waste locally, avoiding worldwide trade in waste materials?

I proposed that the cause of the problem seems to be that the consumer has been educated to appreciate recycled products. This signal for whether something is “good” is not working anymore and we should have an alternative. The obvious thing to do is to take more effects of a product into account when you decide to buy something: look at the total cost of ownership over the use-life of the product. Philippe Méda suggested that one way of doing this would be to focus on making sure that products have longer lifecycles. How do we know whether it is better to drive a very old but wasteful car, versus buying a new one with its environmental costs of production? Somebody suggested that maybe the idea of ownership is the problem and wasteful in itself. Instead of ownership you will start licensing/renting products. Proposing an alternative model to ownership based on sharing. Hopefully the current transaction costs for sharing will be made small enough in 25 years for this to be easier than it is today!

Each group had to present their ideas. Unfortunately this drained the energy out of the room. It seemed like each table had had a good discussion, but these discussions didn’t translate well to a presentation to the whole group. No deep discussions after each presentation. I do hope the output of each group will be digitised in some way and made available (the presenters promised it a link will be published here).

The one question I have after this workshop is about the methodology itself. I think there is a lot of potential in imagining yourself in a board meeting somewhere in the future, but not all the potential came out at this workshop. How could this be improved?

Written by Hans de Zwart

07-07-2011 at 12:28

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