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Posts in category 'Ubiquitous computing'

2 February 2013

Dan Hill’s critique of the smart cities movement

fabrica

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?”

Bruce Sterling’s reaction:

“*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.”

17 January 2013

Living the Quantified Self life

wolcott

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.”

16 January 2013

Rob van Kranenberg’s comprehensive global Internet of Things action plan

action_plan_iot

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.”

13 January 2013

How a simple smartphone can turn your car, home, or medical device into a deadly weapon

murder-weapon

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.”

4 January 2013

Fitness by design

fitbit

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.”

21 December 2012

What’s the future of doctors when the sensors in your electronics diagnose disease?

biometrics

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.”

5 December 2012

No one likes a city that’s too smart

Songdo smart city

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.”

3 December 2012

How Ford makes its cars smarter

mascarenas

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.

26 November 2012

Book: The Human Face of Big Data

humanface

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.

Book
“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.

App
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.

26 November 2012

Unpacking cars: doing anthropology at Intel (paper by Genevieve Bell)

unpackingcars

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.

4 November 2012

Human face of big data

humanfacebigdata1

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.

4 November 2012

Bridging the gap between humans and computers

driverlesscar

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).

30 October 2012

Book: Meta Products – Building the Internet of Things

metaproducts

Meta Products
Meaningful Design For Our Connected World
by Wimer Hazenberg and Menno Huisman
BIS Publishers, 160 pages
2012

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.

30 October 2012

Google and the UX challenge of augmented reality

fieldtrip

The new Google FieldTrip app probes the question: What digital information do you want to see overlaid on the physical world? A challenge that Bruce Sterling describes as “‘experience design’ problems”. Alexis G. Madrigal explores it in The Atlantic:

“If you pick up a book, do you see a biography of its author, an analysis of the chemical composition of its paper, or the share price for its publisher? Do you see a list of your friends who’ve read it or a selection of its best passages or a map of its locations or its resale price or nothing? The problem for Google’s brains, as it is for all brains, is choosing where to focus attention and computational power. As a Google-structured augmented reality comes closer to becoming a product-service combination you can buy, the particulars of how it will actually merge the offline and online are starting to matter.

To me, the hardware (transparent screens, cameras, batteries, etc) and software (machine vision, language recognition) are starting to look like the difficult but predictable parts. The wildcard is going to be the content. No one publishes a city, they publish a magazine or a book or a news site. If we’ve thought about our readers reading, we’ve imagined them at the breakfast table or curled up on the couch (always curled up! always on the couch!) or in office cubicles running out the clock. No one knows how to create words and pictures that are meant to be consumed out there in the world.”

22 October 2012

How Xerox uses analytics, big data and ethnography to help government solve “big problems”

XEROX-Logo-copy-300x81

Through the application of analytics to Big Data, as well as ethnography — the design and implementation of qualitative field studies to observe cultural patterns — Xerox is answering important questions about traffic congestion, our reaction to it, and how city governments most effectively can provide services to address this and related needs.

To explore these issues, Ben Kerschberg of Forbes interviewed together Ken Mihalyov, Xerox Chief Innovation Officer for Transportation Central and Local Government; and David Cummins, SVP, Parking and Justice Solutions.

Here are the ethnography questions:

Q: At what point do you think technology reaches its limits and thus requires ethnography to make the program as efficient as possible?

Ken Mihalyov: I think we’ve found that we like to get ethnography involved as early in the process as possible. There are things that we can certainly accomplish with our algorithms and Big Data alone. We can look at the data and see trends that we would not otherwise see. Ethnography is a strong counterpart to looking at the data a certain way and drawing conclusions from it. We can confirm that we’re working on the right problem, that we haven’t missed something and that our interpretations are correct. Ethnography helps us confirm those factors and that we’re seeing the bigger picture that includes human interaction.

Q: I can imagine that ethnography could be as important to observing a manufacturing line as it is to dynamic parking. Do you think there is an over-reliance on Big Data without looking at important human elements such as expertise gained by years on the line or on the streets?

David Cummins: I’m not sure that it’s Big Data versus ethnography, but rather we’ve found that they complement one another in indispensable ways.

Ken Mihalyov: Data can take you a long way, but when people are involved it’s not always the whole story. You need to understand and document the way things really work, especially the interactions between different processes. There’s very often a difference between what you expect to have happen and what’s actually happening when people are involved, and that’s very enlightening.

18 October 2012

Spacebrew, an open source toolkit for creating interactive spaces

spacebrew

Spacebrew is a new software – currently in beta release – for prototyping and producing interactive spaces.

It was developed by the Interaction Lab at the Rockwell Group, led by the (very bearded) Co-Chiefs James Tichenor (who studied at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea) and Joshua Walton.

When looking at the various options that can enable Internet of Things environments, the team realized that they were mostly closed solutions that didn’t play well with others. In response, Spacebrew is an MIT licensed open software toolkit free for use in commercial and non-commercial projects. Their hope is that it becomes something that can bridge groups together to allow them to focus on creating new and meaningful experiences.

The downloads page contains examples for Processing, Javascript, and connecting Arduino as well as links to github and social media. Mre examples with Openframeworks, Python, Electric Imp, and Cosm will be published soon.

Although not yet publicly launched, the team is now sharing it early in order get feedback and involvement from the larger community of people interested in interactive spaces.

This video gives a sense of the kinds of projects people are able to connect together with Spacebrew.

6 October 2012

Understanding the sensing city

Roger_Dennis

Consultant Roger Dennis, who identifies himself as “serendipity architect”, has been writing a series of posts on meetings he had related to the sensing city. Together they give a good overview of some of the most recent initiatives and thinking on smart cities.

Singapore meetings
Meetings with the MIT Sensable Cities Lab and the ETH Zurich Future Cities Lab – both part of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology

Intel meeting in London
Meeting with Duncan Wilson at Intel, who heads up the newly created Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities – a partnership with two universities. The aim of the initiative is to understand how technology can be used as a tool to create better cities.

Cosm meeting in London
Meeting with Usman Haque, who founded the company Pachube, which has since been bought and its name changed to Cosm. He also now has an Urban Projects Division that works on special projects with cities around the world.

Siemens meeting in London
Meeting with Elaine Trimble of Siemens, who works with the (relatively new) global cities team based at The Crystal. It opened a couple of weeks ago and is “the world’s first center dedicated to improving our knowledge of urban sustainability.

Arup meeting in London
Meeting with Volker Buscher, one of Arup’s smart city people. He has a massive range of experience with cities around the world.

University College London (UCL)
Meeting with Dr Andy Hudson Smith who is the director of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), a UCL research lab. Among other things the group is responsible for the fascinating London Dashboard.

Cisco meeting in London
Meeting with John Baekelmans, the CTO for the Smart Connected Communities initiative and JP Vasseur, who is a Cisco Fellow.

> See also this frog design interview with Cisco CGO Wim Elfrink on the same topic

New York meetings
Meetings with Ashok Raiji of Arup; Bjarke Ingels, founder, and Iben Falconer, Business Development Manager of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG); Naureen Kabir of New Cities Foundation; and David van der Leer, the Curator of the BMW Guggenheim Lab.

1 October 2012

‘Smart City’ planning needs the right balance (WSJ)

 

In the pantheon of Next Big Thing trends, the concept of “smart cities” is one of the trendiest, writes Ben Rooney in the Wall Street Journal.

The idea is that by harvesting the incredible amount of data “exhaust” that every one of us generates as we traverse a city, planners can optimize services in the city to make them more efficient, cleaner and cheaper. But there is a fear that such top-down programs may threaten the very vitality that attracts people to cities in the first place.

A very different kind of smart-city initiative has had success in cities as diverse culturally and geographically as San Francisco and Singapore, and is coming to Europe. Called Urban Prototyping, the movement approaches cities from a bottom-up—not top-down—viewpoint.

Read article

6 September 2012

Ubicomp’s colonial impulse

header-logo

Paul Dourish and Scott Mainwaring, the founders of the Intel funded Social Computing Research Center at UC Irvine, presented yesterday a paper at Ubicomp 2012 with the short but bombshell title “Ubicomp’s Colonial Impulse” (pdf).

The abstract remains quite vague, and doesn’t much insight on what this colonial impulse is all about:

Ubiquitous computing has a grand vision. Even the name of the area identifies its universalizing scope. In this, it follows in a long tradition of projects that attempt to create new models and paradigms that unite disparate, distributed elements into a large conceptual whole. We link concerns in ubiquitous computing into a colonial intellectual tradition and identify the problems that arise in consequence, explore the locatedness of innovation, and discuss strategies for decolonizing ubicomp’s research methodology.

In essence the argument in the paper is centred around the idea of colonialism as a knowledge enterprise, or as I would word it, a global knowledge empire (Dourish is Scottish and has some affinity with one particularly powerful colonial empire).

Then they point out – and here we get to the more explosive subject matter that the title hints at – a series of considerations that undergird both systems of thought [i.e. colonialism and ubiquitous computing):

  • They share the notion that knowledge and the bases of innovation are unevenly distributed in the world, and that their goal is to assist the migration of knowledge from centers of power (be they colonial hubs or research laboratories) to places where it is lacking.
  • They share the related notion that progress in places where information, knowledge, or technology is lacking is something that should be undertaken by the knowledgeable or powerful on behalf of those others who are to be affected or changed by it.
  • They share a belief in universality: that knowledge and representations applied to any particular place or situation can just as easily apply to any other, and that knowledge schemes developed anywhere will work just as well anywhere else. So, for instance, the universal taxonomy of botanical life created at Kew, or the universal accounts of human needs and human activities common to modeling exercises in technology design, are both thought and intended to have power to speak to the details of settings anywhere.
  • They share a commitment to reductive representation and hence to quantification and statistical accounts of the world as a tool for comparison, evaluation, understanding, and prediction.
  • They share the idea that the present in centers of power models in embryo the future of other regions, such that the “developed” world is understood as the destiny of and model for the “developing”, or that the world at large is destined to become “like” the

In what follows, the authors examine these ideas in more depth. They "want to show how ubicomp’s research program, envisioned and portrayed since its founding as a program "for the twenty-first century" [i.e. "future-making"], nonetheless draws on a considerably older legacy. [They] then draw out some consequences of this approach, suggest some strategies for escaping it, and sketch the contours of an alternative approach to ubiquitous computing.”

The article is well argued, a delight to read, and was rightfully selected as one of Ubicomp 2012′s “Best Paper Nominees”. Most interestingly, the criticism is not limited to Ubicomp, but can be – as the authors point out – applied to all knowledge institutions and all tech companies active in Silicon Valley – and they point to Google as a good case in point (even adding also the IMF and the World Bank in their critical drag net).

Therefore their “contours of an alternative approach to ubiquitous computing” provide the outset of an alternative approach to the “Silicon Valley Empire”.

7 August 2012

How to reimagine wearable technology

Oyster-Ring-HandOriginal-525x351

PSFK spoke to Dhani Sutanto, a Digital Art Director who became fed up with swiping his Oyster card through the reader like millions of other Londoners each day.

He decided to tinker around with the card and create a more fashionable way to get in and out of the sensor-driven turnstyles.

They spoke to him about his first creation, a ring that contains an Oyster Card chip and how reimagining form factors can not only result in more pleasureable transporation solutions, but also everyday transactions.