The mobile technology of tomorrow may be real-time, always on and algorithm driven in its characteristics, writes designer Jessi Baker, but there is a real opportunity to design, create and promote open, empathetic systems allowing the Internet and connectedness to not only empower us to act as a global society, but to embed this in our every action, forging more than communication, but empathetic, social connections, between us, our lives and actions and other people, societies and environments.
Posts in category 'Ubiquitous computing'
Nick Hunn, CTO at Onzo, a “smarter than normal” Smart Energy start-up, criticizes the service model of the Nest thermostat:
“A basic programmable thermostat in the US costs under $20, not the $250 price tag of the Nest. As such, Nest appeals to those who like buying technology and form rather than function – it’s no surprise that it sells as an accessory in Apple Stores in the US. It has all of the glamour and pizzazz of Apple products, but with a worrying limitation – it is just hardware – there’s no service model. In other words, it’s a bit like an iPhone without an App Store.” [...]
“[Also] this new generation of connected wireless thermostats has an Achilles’ heel – they need someone to support the web service for their life, which may be ten to twenty years, and I can’t see where that’s been factored in.” [...]
“This is an issue with every new connected device that comes to market – who will keep the servers running? It’s not so much of a problem for fast moving consumer products, which will get replaced regularly. But it is very big problem for home infrastructure products like smart thermostats.”
Will design researchers (and our models and explanations) be replaced by data tables and “experience actuaries” that tell us what to build, for whom, and what it should be like? Artefact’s Dave Mc Colgin doesn’t think so.
“In our field of designing products and experiences, the ‘why’ stays at the center of our process and creativity. Many designers work mostly on new products and services for which there may not yet be reliable data available. To do this work, we need to understand whether insights from the past are applicable to new people and contexts. While Big Data can inform designers on how to improve once they put something out there, it is design research that provides principled guidance towards good solutions all along the way. Big Data can’t help us do that right now.
However, Big Data can augment design in other ways. It provides us with new resources when determining which people our products should be made for. Its ability to find patterns and correlations allows us to reach a broader set of research participants. Over time, it can deepen our understanding of human behavior, interaction and preferences, making our designs better and our ability to understand and predict the outcome of our work more accurate.”
The Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities – a cooperation between University College London (UCL), Imperial College London and Intel – was launched in May 2012, which a focus on how to enable future cities to be more connected and sustainable. Their activities entail investigating, developing and deploying adaptive technologies that can optimize resource efficiency, and enable new services that support and enhance the quality of life of urban inhabitants and city visitors. Their approach is interdisciplinary, combining methodologies from computer science, the social sciences, interaction design and architecture to improve how cities are managed and maintained in order to ensure and enhance citizen well-being.
The Institute is directed by Duncan Wilson of Intel, assisted by Charlie Sheridan. Other people involved include David Prendergast (Intel senior researcher and anthropologist), Yvonne Rogers (UCL Professor of Interaction Design and Director of the UCL Interaction Centre), Licia Capra (UCL Reader in Pervasive computing), and Johannes Schöning (professor of computer science with a focus on HCI at Hasselt University, Belgium).
According to an initial overview article, the focus of the Institute is to be human-centred:
“Our perspective in the Sustainable Connected Cities Institute is to be human- centred. We have wide-ranging expertise and background in user experience, interaction design, ethnography, together with research in the built environment, commerce, engineering, anthropology, the arts, and social psychology. We also work as inter-disciplinary teams that can make a real change to enrich and extend city dwellers lives.” [...]
We will develop and exploit pervasive and sensing technologies, analytics and new interfaces, putting humans at the centre of technological developments. Our approach is to address four main themes:
- City Experience: How do we enhance the City Experience and communicate services?
- City as a Platform: How do we create the digital platform of the city from sensor/edge to cloud?
- Sustaining Sustainability: How to sustain behavioural change?
- Connecting the Invisible City: How do we visualize the Human-Environment Interface?”
Meanwhile the Institute has published its first research papers and articles:
Toward a real-time city health monitor
A common metaphor to describe the movement of people within a city is that of blood flowing through the veins of a living organism. We often speak of the ‘pulse of the city’ when referring to flow patterns we observe. Here we extend this metaphor by hypothesising that by monitoring the flow of people through a city we can assess the city’s health, as a nurse takes a patient’s heart-rate and blood pressure during a routine health check. Using an automated fare collection dataset of journeys made on the London rail system, we build a classification model that identifies areas of high deprivation as measured by the Indices of Multiple Deprivation, and achieve a precision, sensitivity and specificity of0.805, 0.733 and 0.810, respectively. We conclude with a discussion of the potential benefits this work provides to city planning, policymaking, and citizen engagement initiatives.
Smart Citizens in the Data Metropolis
Article with some insights on the discussions around smart citizens and community engagement. It was original published in the website of the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona.
Reflecting on the Institute, Mandeep Hothi, programme leader at the Young Foundation, writes:
“Much of the institute’s outputs will be relevant to local government. For example, a recent study shows a link between measures of multiple deprivation and patterns of passenger flow on public transport in London.Researchers propose that this data could become an early warning system for identifying areas of high deprivation, helping local government to better target its resources.
Data sensors such as Oyster card readers are becoming ubiquitous and the availability of real-time data is going to vastly increase.
It is important that the applications that emerge are co-created with local citizens, using ethnography and design as the starting point. Not only will this maximise usefulness, it should ensure technologists and officials respect issues such as personal privacy and autonomy.”
(Wow, it covers Turin!)
Beyond Smart Cities: How Cities Network, Learn and Innovate
The promise of competitiveness and economic growth in so-called smart cities emphasizes highly educated talent, high tech industries and pervasive electronic connections. But to really achieve smart cities — that is to create the conditions of continuous learning and innovation — this book argues that there is a need to understand what is below the surface and to examine the mechanisms which affect the way cities learn and then connect together.
This book draws on quantitative and qualitative data with concrete case studies to show how networks already operating in cities are used to foster and strengthen connections in order to achieve breakthroughs in learning and innovation. Going beyond smart cities means understanding how cities construct, convert and manipulate relationships that grow in urban environments. The eight cities discussed in this book — Amman, Barcelona, Bilbao, Charlotte, Curitiba, Portland, Seattle, and Turin — illuminate a blind spot in the literature. Each of these cities has achieved important transformations, and learning has played a key role, one that has been largely ignored in academic circles and practice concerning competitiveness and innovation.
With Forewords by Dr Joan Clos, Executive Director, UN-Habitat, and Wim Elfrink, Executive Vice President and Chief Globalization Officer, Cisco
2- The Slow Emergence of Learning Cities in an Urbanizing World
3- Cities as Collective Learners: What Do We Know?
4- A Gamut of Learning Types
5- Light on a Shadow Economy: City Learning in 53 Cities
6- Informal Learners—Turin, Portland and Charlotte
7- Technical Learning: Curitiba and City Think Tanks
8- Corporate Styles: Bilbao, Seattle and Others
9- Clouds of Trust in Style
10- Taking Stock: Why Some Cities Learn and Others Do Not
11- Turning the Learning World Upside Down— Pathways Forward in Policy and Research
Tim Campbell has worked for more than 35 years in urban development with experience in scores of countries and hundreds of cities in Latin America, South and East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. His areas of expertise include strategic urban planning, city development strategies, decentralization, urban policy, and social and poverty impact of urban development. He is chairman of the Urban Age Institute, which fosters leadership and innovation between and among cities in areas of strategic urban planning, urban policy and management, sustainable environmental planning, and poverty reduction. Campbell retired from the World Bank in December 2005 after more than 17 years working in various capacities in the urban sector. Before joining the Bank, he worked for over 13 years as a private consultant and university professor. His consulting clients included private sector firms, governments, and international organizations. He taught at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. He lived in rural and small town Costa Rica for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
The future is rich with sensor-based, animated devices to give us affirmation, coach us and just plain keep us company. Smart Design’s Carla Diana gives a good overview in this opinion piece for the New York Times.
“As products become smarter, their behaviors will mean they essentially have continuing conversations with us, whether they include verbal exchanges or not. Just like we read subtle cues from our pets (we see a dog’s ears and believe that he feels sad, guilty or excited), we’ll read emotion from our products, perceiving nuances of dialogue and a sense that the object is “alive.” [...]
With this throng of sentient objects in our lives, we’ll have to negotiate a whole new set of relationships. Will we adore our new products as if they were pets, doting on them and anticipating their greetings? Or will all this lively communication create an annoying cacophony of gadgets? My hope is for the former, but it will depend on the designers’ ability to devise interactions that consider emotional value as important as any other product attribute.”
Max Levchin [one of the Silicon Valley elite—computer scientist, cofounder of PayPal, buddy of Peter Thiel, Yahoo director, restless entrepreneur, big thinker, venture capitalist, angel] gave the keynote Iat DLD13 in Munich recently, where he argues that “the next big wave of opportunities exists in centralized processing of data gathered from primarily analog systems” (think Über, neighborhood security, therapists, the human mind).
Yes, this approach has risks, but, he says, “as a species, we simply must take these risks, to continue advancing, to use all available resources to their maximum”. “The way to deal with risk is of course some form of insurance. Modeling loss from observed past events is hardly news, but dynamically changing the price of the service to reflect individual risk is a big deal. My expectation is that next decade we will see an explosion of insurance and insurance-like products and services — leveraging those very same network effects of data, providing truly dynamic resource pricing and allocation.”
In conclusion, Levchin believes “that in the next decades we will see huge number of inherently analog processes captured digitally. Opportunities to build businesses that process this data and improve lives will abound.”
The Big Brother consequences of this efficiency madhouse are obvious and Nicholas Carr couldn’t take it anymore:
“Levchin refers to “humans” as “analog resources,” a category we share with “cars, houses, etc.” The tragedy of analog resources is that they’re horribly underutilized. They spend a great deal of their time in idleness. Look out into the analog world, and you see a wasteland of inefficiency. But computers can fix that. If we can place sensors and other data-monitoring devices on all analog resources, including ourselves, then we can begin to track them, analyze them, and “rationalize their use.” [...]
This is Clay Shirky’s “cognitive surplus” idea taken to its logical, fascistic extreme.” [...]
This is the nightmare world of Big Data, where the moment-by-moment behavior of human beings — analog resources — is tracked by sensors and engineered by central authorities to create optimal statistical outcomes. We might dismiss it as a warped science fiction fantasy if it weren’t also the utopian dream of the Max Levchins of the world. They have lots of money and they smell even more. [...]
It’s the ultimate win-win: you get filthy rich by purifying the tribe.”
Evgeny Morozov is worried as well about the marketing dangers of the Big Data craze.
So, asks GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram in his summary of the debate, “is the world of big data one in which information about us allows us to personalize services and benefit from that personalization, or is it one in which our data is used against us by companies and governments?”
“The common thread in both of these dystopian visions is a world in which our data is transmitted without our knowledge, and/or used against us in some way. Where Levchin seems to see an efficient exchange of data between user and service, one with benefits for both — and presumably a level (and secure) playing field in terms of who has access to it — Carr and Morozov see companies and governments misusing this data for their own nefarious purposes, while we remain powerless.
What makes it difficult to argue with either one is that we’ve already seen the building blocks of this potential future emerge, whether it’s Facebook playing fast and loose with the privacy settings of a billion people, or companies aggregating information and creating profiles of us and our activities and desires. What happens when the sensor-filled future that Levchin imagines becomes a reality? Who will be in control of all that information?”
Dan Hill (of CityofSound, ARUP, Sitra and now Fabrica fame) is not only extremely prolific, but his writing is also very much to the point.
His latest Smart City (or better “Smart Citizen”) manifesto is a case in point. Weighing in at 10,000 words, it is a “cleaned up” and “stitched together” version of two separate pieces he wrote for the London School of Economics and Volume magazine, which he is now sharing on his CityofSound blog as “one single critique of the smart cities movement”.
The goal, he says, is entirely constructive, and to shift the debate in a more meaningful direction, oriented towards the raison d’etre of our cities: citizens, and the way that they can create urban culture with technology.
The essay surveys three types of activities, and scenarios, demonstrating active citizens, noting some issues along the way, and then critiques the opposite—the production of passive citizens—before asking a couple of questions and suggesting some key shifts in attitude required to positively work with the grain of today’s cultures, rather than misinterpret it.
“The promise of smart sustainable cities is predicated on the dynamics of social media alloyed to the Big Data generated by an urban infrastructure strewn with sensors. Feedback loops are supposed to engage citizens and enable behaviour change, just as real-time control systems tune infrastructure to become more energy efficient. Social media dynamics enable both self-organisation and efficient ecosystems, and reduce the need for traditional governance, and its associated costs.
Yet is there a tension between the emergent urbanism of social media and the centralising tendencies of urban control systems? Between the individualist biases inherent within social media and the need for a broader civic empathy to address urban sustainability? Between the primary drivers of urban life and the secondary drivers of infrastructural efficiency?
And in terms of engaging citizens, we can certainly see evidence of increased interest in using social media for urban activism, from crowdfunding platforms to Occupy Everywhere and the Arab Spring. Yet does it produce any more coherence or direction for the new cultures of decision-making required in our cities, or simply side-step the question of urban governance altogether? And what if the smart city vision actually means that governance becomes ever more passive, as it outsources operations to algorithms or is side-stepped by social media, whilst citizens also become passive in response to their infrastructure becoming active? Or might they be too distracted to notice as they’re all trying to crowd-fund a park bench?”
“*After reading this I feel that I understand myself better: I like *other people’s* cities. I like cities where I’m not an eager, engaged, canny urban participant, where I’m not “smart” and certainly not a “citizen,” and where the infrastructures and the policies are mysterious to me. Preferably, even the explanations should be in a language I can’t read.
*So I’m maximizing my “inefficiency.” I do it because it’s so enlivening and stimulating, and I can’t be the only one with that approach to urbanism. Presumably there’s some kind of class of us: flaneuring, deriving, situationist smart-city dropouts. A really “smart city” would probably build zones of some kind for us: the maximum-inefficiency anti-smart bohemias.”
Festooned with digital accessories that track everything from his heart rate to his footsteps to his sleep patterns, Vanity Fair writer James Wolcott has plugged into the Quantified Self movement. Farewell to gut instinct, and hello to the “data-driven” life: a new path to personal and social enlightenment.
“Self-tracking—treating your body and brain waves as an info dispenser—exemplifies the irresistible converging of microchips, medical advances, social media, geek fashion, affinity branding, and the hardy American tradition of personal improvement. Benjamin Franklin, with his meticulously kept chart book notating his progress in achieving the 13 virtues—frugality, industry, etc.—was a founding father of self-help programming, exhibiting a recordkeeping punctilio converting daily fluctuations into accounting reports with pen and paper. No need for dusty ledgers today—smart-phone apps can take dictation for us. The goal isn’t a steady uptick of Christian virtue and wise prudence, but a greater transparency of our personal biomechanics in the quest for vitality, mental clarity, sleep quality, pain management, smoother operation, enhanced productivity, Zen tranquillity.”
Rob Van Kranenburg, a member of the EU Expert Group on the Internet of Things, has published a provocative comprehensive global Internet of Things action plan, as input for the inaugural meeting of the Internet of Things World Forum Steering Committee, February 20-21, 2013 in San Jose, California, USA.
Bruce Sterling posted it on his blog.
“Owning the hybrid objects of IoT makes no sense (liability, accountability). Leasing is the logical business model. As items and platforms can no longer be secured, the logical business model of IoT is the smart city. You buy life. Pick your car, you lease mobility. Your fridge will be always full, you lease storage of food. You can secure a city. So there you have the logical trajectory of IoT: traditional policing and military securing traditional proprietary business models. The former have become militia’s as the states are gone. The latter will pay for the development of bio and nano as sophistication and preservation of their initial investments. This is happening as we speak. Gated communities are the fastest rising form of building in the US and in China. The smart cities models for 50.000 persons are no labs, and not intended to become inclusive. In 2020 there will be 1500 smart cities and Mad Max in between. You would not want to live in either.
Is there an alternative? There is.”
The day is not far off when the manipulation of medical devices will be done routinely by punching keys on a smartphone, writes Charles C. Mann in Vanity Fair, putting an individual’s internal organs in the hands of every hacker, online scammer, and digital vandal on Earth.
“[Increasingly,] a smartphone links patients’ bodies and doctors’ computers, which in turn are connected to the Internet, which in turn is connected to any smartphone anywhere. The new devices could put the management of an individual’s internal organs, in the hands of every hacker, online scammer, and digital vandal on Earth.” [...]
“Medical devices represent only one early and obvious target of opportunity. Major power and telephone grids have long been controlled by computer networks, but now similar systems are embedded in such mundane objects as electric meters, alarm clocks, home refrigerators and thermostats, video cameras, bathroom scales, and Christmas-tree lights—all of which are, or soon will be, accessible remotely. Every automobile on the market today has scores of built-in computers, many of which can be accessed from outside the vehicle. Not only are new homes connected to the Internet but their appliances are too.”
Can data heal? Yes, argues Dan Hon, whose type 2 diabetes spurred him to embrace “personal informatics” devices such as the Nike FuelBand and the Fitbit. Yet as such devices become a part of everyday life, a new challenge emerges: the Balkanisation of health data across multiple platforms.
“What isn’t clear is the design process of ecosystems to support passive, wearable devices that are intensely personal and mix-and- match. We don’t worry about fashion being interoperable, about wardrobe-archive issues, or being able to use a piece of clothing from five years ago with another bought last week. Increasingly, we will. So the kind of battles being played out around interoperability, data sovereignty and social visibility in personal informatics represent a kind of avant-garde as core issues of the “Internet of things”. The principles of the much-hyped “smart cities” market, for instance, are being tested right before our eyes, as personal informatics goes up against the obesity epidemic.
Yet we don’t know much about the psychological or cultural impact of learning so much about ourselves, of seeing ourselves through the prism of performance metrics, never mind displaying that in a public form. This is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of personal informatics: it lets us know who we really are, whether we wanted it to or not.”
In a future where biometrics are measured constantly and interpretation is aided by algorithm, what do we want our health professionals to actually do, asks Bradley Kreit on Fast Company.
“As technologies enable us to bypass the doctor and measure our own health continuously, we will almost certainly need to turn to artificial intelligence and other automated tools of big data to help sort the signals of significant health concerns from the noise of random, day-to-day changes in health. Together, this combination will not only reshape how and where we interact with traditional health providers, but ultimately redefine the basic skills and work of medical professionals.” [...]
“And so it’s here that we can see the future of how we should expect to interact with our doctors: not as independent actors who serve as the major source of authority, but as professionals who can help us sort through and make sense of all of the different information coming from our phones, cars, and coffemakers and treat the emotional, as well as physical components of health and well-being.”
This week London hosts a jamboree of computer geeks, politicians, and urban planners from around the world. At the Urban Age conference, they will discuss the latest whizz idea in high tech, the “smart city”.
“But,” writes Richard Sennett in The Guardian, “the danger now is that this information-rich city may do nothing to help people think for themselves or communicate well with one another.”
“A great deal of research during the last decade, in cities as different as Mumbai and Chicago, suggests that once basic services are in place people don’t value efficiency above all; they want quality of life. A hand-held GPS device won’t, for instance, provide a sense of community. More, the prospect of an orderly city has not been a lure for voluntary migration, neither to European cities in the past nor today to the sprawling cities of South America and Asia. If they have a choice, people want a more open, indeterminate city in which to make their way; this is how they can come to take ownership over their lives.”
In the fast-evolving world of connected cars, CTO Paul Mascarenas is bringing Detroit and Silicon Valley together to chart Ford’s path into the future.
Brian Cooley of CNet interviews him during a walk through Ford’s advanced research facilities.
Big Data is the subject of a forthcoming glossy photo book, a smartphone application for personal data analysis and comparison, and an interactive version of the book for the iPad, reports Steve Lohr on the New York Times Bits blog. The Human Face of Big Data project is the brainchild of Rick Smolan, creator of the “Day in the Life” series of books.
“The Human Face of Big Data” focuses on how data, smart software, sensors and computing are opening the door to all sorts of new uses in science, business, health, energy and water conservation. And the pictures are mostly of the people doing that work or those being affected.
The idea is to get as many people from around the world as possible to use the application. The program will be able to collect data on travel and movement (through the smartphone’s GPS and accelerometer), food (take a picture and shortly after the program identifies the food, including estimates of calories and fat content) and attitudes (the user answers questions posed by the app). The data will be fed into a “Measure Our World” database, and people can see how their habits and attitudes compare with others by, say, where a person lives, gender and age.
Interactive iPad book
An innovative app with enhanced stories brings The Human Face of Big Data to life.
The fall 2011 issue of AnthroNotes (pdf) starts off with an article by Genevieve Bell, senior cultural anthropologist at Intel.
She describes her latest research project, designed to understand how cars around the world can serve as windows into the future of mobile technology and computers. The article also contains an ample but simply worded expose on why Intel has anthropologist and what they do.
“We wanted to see what people carried with them [in cars] and to understand how cars functioned as sites of technology consumption and human activity, and how they became imbued with meaning.” [...]
“Cars are a contested space when it comes to new technology. What makes sense to bring into a car, to leave in a car, or to install in a car – all are still being negotiated. This negotiation is being impacted by many factors – legislation, social regulation, guilt, perceptions of safety and crime, urban density, parking structures, commute time, just to name a few. As such, imagining and designing technologies for cars, for technologies to be used in cars, and for the worlds that cars will inhabit is a more nuanced undertaking than many imagine.” [...]
“Cars are so much more than forms of transportation. They are, in point of fact, highly charged objects. They say something about who we are and who we want to be. They are also part of much more complex systems, ecosystems, environments, and imaginations. In this way, cars resemble many other contemporary technologies: our smart phones, tablets, even tablets and e-readers.”
UPDATE: Video version is here.
This past week featured a worldwide experiment conducted via a mobile app: The Human Face of Big Data. On September 26, 2012, Against All Odds Productions launched a smartphone and tablet app. With it, users could map their daily footprint through GPS, share a picture of what brings them luck, and get a glimpse into the one thing people want to experience during their lifetime. Why was this done?
Rick Smolan believes in the concept of “big data”, the idea that it is possible to analytically process massive amounts of data in order to derive insights into problems facing the world. Without most people even realizing it, your smartphone is collecting a lot of data on a daily basis. Where you have been. Who you have been calling. What businesses do you like. Most of this data is used for marketing or discarded after temporary usage by your apps. But what if this data could be harnessed?
The Human Face of Big Data app allows volunteers to provide demographic information through a series of questions. Then, through the rest of the week, the smartphone’s sensors were keeping a log of how far people traveled, how fast, and where they were going. While this may mostly be interesting to social scientists, Smolan is doing this to show just how much information people are already sharing passively. He believes that big data will have a more transforming effect than the internet itself.
Heather Kelly reports on the CNN website on The Atlantic’s recent Big Science Summit in San Jose, California:
We have voice-controlled assistants on our phones, telepresence robots for when we can’t make it to a meeting in person, and self-driving cars that are headed to a road near you.
These machines aren’t just taking over human tasks. Computerized systems are also taking on more human characteristics. As technology gets more advanced, how will our relationships with it change?
She explains – through some surprising examples – how to make better computers and robots in the future, that people will embrace using, by better understanding our “little human quirks” (as she calls it).
Meaningful Design For Our Connected World
by Wimer Hazenberg and Menno Huisman
BIS Publishers, 160 pages
Meta Products discusses the rise of the Internet of Things, a twenty-first century phenomenon in which physical consumer products (meta products) connect to the web and start communicating with each other by means of sensors and actuators.
The book is written and designed by Dutch design agency Booreiland. The book is a result from their own design practice but it is written with an academic mind. What would be a good way for creative professionals to deal with the emerging demands of our connected world? How can designers and organizations gear up to face the challenges and take advantage of the possibilities the so called ubiquitous technologies?
These questions are addressed in the book to begin a dialogue, to take a step back, and to deeply reflect on our society’s history, our accomplishments, our aspirations, the way we build knowledge and learn individually and collectively. The book offers not only reflective insights but recommendations on design and development of new interactions.
Mike Kuniavsky (author of ‘Smart Things – Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design’) wrote the foreword, and many other experts from both commercial and academic worlds contributed to the book by means of interviews (TNO, Philips Research, Umeå University, MIT, University of Oxford, Delft University of Technology etc). Next to that, many cases are provided along the way to support the theory.