Last week I attended the Future London conference, a collaborative event held by WIRED and London First. It aimed to celebrate Britain’s capital as a world-leading, future-forward city. The event featured a packed programme of very high quality speakers, mostly from the tech sector and other influential Londoners, renowned in their fields and at the forefront of change.
Overall it was very interesting and information packed day. Most real value came from the speakers who outlined a vision for future societal and consumer developments in technology and how these may or may not change our way of life and how we do business. If their predictions are to come to fruition the future of our capital will be an equally exciting and turbulent place. Here are my highlights from the day.
The conference was opened with an eye catching talk by Rohan Silver, Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister. Rohan gave three examples of historical events in the capital (the rebuild of the City of London following the Great Fire of 1666, Leo Slizard’s neutron eureka moment on Southampton Row and Whitechapel’s anti-fascist protesters in 1936) and used these to illustrate three key features of London’s culture, bottom-up innovation, openness to outside ideas and solidarity / community.
London’s culture is one of bottom-up innovation, openness to outside ideas and solidarity / community
Building on this idea of historical characteristics and their relevance to today, IDEO’s Design Director, Tom Hulme identified the Great Exhibition of 1851 as being a signifier of London’s long history of being ahead of the game in the arena of technological development. Pinpointing the foreign influence in The Great Exhibition he He talked of London’s unique cultural diversity and showcased Twitter Tongues an app that calculated upwards of 66 languages in common use in London during the summer of 2012.
Secondly he highlighted tools / building blocks as being crucial to any development. He used examples of how children in Ethiopia have been doing amazing things with laptops (with absolutely no training) as a result of the One Laptop Per Child initiative.
Finally he spoke of how craft was integral also. He showed examples of silly and funny websites built by kids but explained how these, albeit on the face of it, of little use, were muscle building exercises and those same kids are going on to use those skills to create innovative products that will benefit society. He finished by illustrating how London’s approach to this is on the right track. A Google trend analysis of the word “Make” showed the word’s use has been steadily on the rise since 2010.
The next session was on planning and development in Future London. This was kicked off by Ian Lindsay, Land and Property Director at Crossrail who posited that property development and transportation are inextricably linked in modern cities with Crossrail promising to be the next chapter in London’s development story. He set about this by providing glossy examples of how Crossrail is being designed to both integrate with and catalyse new property development in and around it’s stations. He stated that this will be achieved through development planning as part of the station building projects and financial stimulus to promote development projects around the new links.
Next up was talk from Christopher Johnson, Managing Principle, Gensler. Christopher’s presentation was entitled “How to transform a crisis into a triumph” and was essentially his company’s pitch for a Thames Estuary airport project.
Sometimes it is best to start again and think outside of the box
His main pitch was that sometimes it is best to start again and think outside of the box. He claimed Heathrow loses £15 billion in potential income each year due to lack of capacity and a building project of this scale could easily be recouped within a generation as a result of that additional income. Also by using innovative architecture and design techniques the whole thing could be the most efficient and profitable airport the world has ever seen and the building project could potentiality revitalize Britain’s maritime and ship building infrastructure. He then finished by positing an alternative future for the old Heahtrow location as an Eco-City, a regeneration project to rival the scale of development the East of London (Canary Wharf) has seen in recent decades.
One that will be pivotal to the future of the city is the security of it’s inhabitants. First up was Martin Hewitt, Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police who identified the challenges faced in maintaining London’s security in the coming decades. He started by highlighting the shallow nature of opinions around security using the example of how in 2011 London’s policing was seen as at an all time low following the phone hacking scandal and the riots, and then in 2012 following a successful Olympics it had a moment of glory. He outlined how this black and white approach to the security services could be unhelpful.
The rate of change in technological developments presents enormous challenges for security in the capital
He then went on to describe how the rate of change in technological developments presents enormous challenges for security in the capital. Cyber enabled serious and organised criminality is fast paced and hard to police adequately. But developments were being made, particularly in relation to terrorism and the new prevent agenda where tech is being used to identify and prevent the radicalization on potential terrorists at source.
Dovetailing nicely with this was the presentation of Facewatch an initiative set up in 2010 by Simon Gordon as an attempt to reduce petty crime in his family’s London wine bar – the famous Gordon’s Wine Bar. Facewatch attempts to provide a technological platform to enable community driven assitance to police in both the reporting of and resolution of crime incidence report. It utilises the Internet to bridge the gap between CCTV and the Police by facilitating the provision of a complete online evidential pack including images, moving CCTV footage and witness statements. By empowering individuals to take greater responsibility for reporting their crime incidence and joining up communities and information sharing it has the potential to improve conviction rates, improve victim support, speed reporting and reduce overheads on the Police.
There is of course no security without society and the next session proved to be the highlight of the morning session with fascinating presentations from both Nigel Jacob, Cofounder of the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and Russell Davies, Creative Lead of the Government Digital Service (a Government Department I once came very close to working within).
Nigel used his own City’s case study to outline some ways London can utilise community initiatives and technological developments to enable and empower engaged citizens to take more ownership of and share data about their built environment. He cited a pilot project launched by Ne Urban Mechanic’s to develop an iPhone app that through motion detection automatically identified and reported pot hole occurrences and locations to the city authority.
He stated that to foster the development of these kinds of initiatives organisations will need to, create a safe space to innovate, focus on people’s needs, engage party’s to manage risk and increase resources, pilot quickly and manage the projects like you would product development.
Russell started by speaking generally about cities and then onto showcase how the GDS is transforming the way Government engages with UK citizens through its improved use of digital platforms.
He stated that cities are about densely packed diversity and that to get ahead London needed to focus on its structural and cultural edge. He used a nice example of how young designers will always grow up and try to create the things they were inspired by as children. In America it was The Jetsons, and everyone there is obsessed with screens. But in Britain we had Thunderbirds, models, and so we have developed a culture of making things. That is something that sets us apart and we can use to our advantage.
He then showcased the new Gov.uk website, a new project led by the GDI which is about simplifying the point of contact between citizens and their Government services. It is about bringing learning’s from the UX industry into the Government’s digital presence, creating simpler transactional service offerings digitally and equally about learning how to integrate agile design and development methodologies in the context of a large beurocratic system. And about time too!
The morning session drew to a close with a series of presentations by UK based company’s responsible for some of the best innovations happening in the realms of product development currently. The stand out one here was absolutely Sugru, a new self-setting rubber invented by the sickeningly young and talented Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh while she was at university. Sugru can be used for fixing, modifying and improving just about anything you can imagine and I have already put some to use in my home!
The afternoon session was dominated by sessions on the growth of the start up community in East London, now commonly known as Tech City.
First up was a panel on Incubators and Accelerators which was largely an opportunity for many of the current players in this space (Google, Microsoft etc.) to wax lyrical about the number and quality of accelerators now to be found in Tech City and the uptake of young entrepreneurs in these schemes. The panel was hosted by Olivia Solon, Associate Editor, WIRED.co.uk and featured Eze Vidra, Head of Campus, Google, Bindi Karia – VC/Emerging Business Lead, Microsoft UK, Stefan Glaenzer – Cofounder, White Bear Yard and Simon Devonshire, Director, Wayra Europe. There were some words of caution though with some doubts raised regarding the similarities to the .com bubble (which of course mightily burst). These were largely dismissed however with panel members highlighting that it was many of the same people involved now who were involved in that crash and had learnt form those prior mistakes. In addition whereas previously it was seen as a business opportunity to cash in on, now the tech companies are seeing it a loss making exercise purely with the intention of increasing platform innovation, take-up and skills development. All responsibility for investment and survival is on the entrepreneurs and there is an awareness and acceptance that many will fail during the process. The aim is to find and harness the success stories not make a quick buck.
In a similar vein more panel sessions followed on the rise and provision of shred working spaces in London and a session on why a start up would choose London as its base over other cities for its start up location. Interesting themes about the value of shared working in fostering learning and creativity and the advantages London has due to it’s infrastructure and diversity.
Ben’s presentation was frenetic and an extremely interesting vision of how the city will develop and be mapped in the future. He spoke of the features of cities and what they are made up. He outlined how all of the changes that happened to the physical nature of the city (e.g. the industrial revolution) are now happening in the software level of the city. These are creating new perspectives on the identity of the city the result of which is that the cloud will maintain a data model of the city, fed by sensors and citizen input. Citizens will be able to change this model and write it back into the physical city through the use of technological tools such as, sensor networks, dynamic infrastructural services (e.g. adaptive redistribution of resources) and collaborative modeling. The logical conclusion of which is that we will observe and alter our environment through the use of instruments (means of communication and identification / dynamic configurations of network provisioned software), which will enable the computational comprehension of and alteration of the environment.
The conference was concluded with a parting shot by writer and technologist, Ben Hammersley. He offered a sobering warning of the impending apocalypse facing all of humanity.
He started by speaking of how capitalist society worships the lone hero. At each turning point we wait for the Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg to come with a big idea and guide us all into the light. But this is outdated. Those in the tech sector are currently living in a bubble, a bubble of wealth and progress. But we live in a society of great equality. Literally sandwiched between the financial and tech districts is the poorest borough in the UK. Those who have wealth will say that is the natural order of things, those who are without will say it is because of politics, but like climate change, the argument of why is now irrelevant, the question of what to do is the only one that matters.
The crunch on natural resources and spiraling inequality means it is going to get crazy soon. And it is only by abandoning our faith in the lone hero and acknowledging our connected nature that we will survive.
So at the end of a day of talk of startups and tech development he asks us to remember that entrepreneurship is not about solo endeavor, not one person in the room made their own fortune, everything anyone does is dependent on the support of their community and civilized system around them. It is not about being better than anyone else, but it is about coming together to develop solutions for the good of all, for the good of our neighbours and it is only if we keep this in mind that we will stand any chance of coming through the turbulent times ahead.
A talk, which for this blogger, was a fitting end to the day’s proceedings.
Add your voice and comment.
I have nothing to say about this except that it is genius! (and that it has just confirmed how badly I want a Moog!!!!!)
From analog drum machines to vintage guitars, orchestral percussion to circuit-bent children’s toys, 1980s Russian synthesizers to Indian harmoniums…these are the instruments of Robot Repair.
Robot Repair is a unique music production company creating music for commercials, TV, film, and visual artists.
For more information go to: robotrepair.net
Add your voice and comment.
Forget the zombie apocalypse – the real threat is an imminent Robopocalypse, a robot uprising!
This light hearted and amusing video from the guys at Epipheo aims to help you survive just that. They interviewed the foremost authority on the subject Daniel H. Wilson to find out exactly what to do if and when the robots turn on us all!
Daniel is the NY Times bestselling author of the book, “Robopocalypse.”
Find out more about Epipheo.
Add your voice and comment.
Music has often been the catalyst for technological discovery. When looking for examples the mind immediately wanders to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and early synthesizer pioneers of the 60s and 70s. So it should come as no surprise that this tradition is still going strong with new ways of creating sound being uncovered and then harnessed into fully fledged musical generes.
The most recent of these (and of most interest to this blogger) is ByteBeat, the result of Finnish low tech artist, Ville-Matias Heikkila (aka Viznut)’s experiments into generating sound using single line algorithms in the programming code C. As you will see from the video above the results are interesting to say the least.
Since this first release in September last year, many others have become involved in the community and development has continued at pace resulting in more musically structured compositions and advances into application and microcontroller integration.
If you’d like to know more about the project and community at large I’d recommend canonical.org’s page on ByteBeat as the most fullsome round up of resources and activity to date.
For more hardened programming junkies the definitive the theoretical resource has to be Viznut’s paper: Discovering novel computer music techniques by exploring the space of short computer programs posted December 2011 on arxiv.org.
And finally for those who just want to experiment and make some Black Dice style glitchy mayhem I’d recommend starting with Bemmu’s HTML5 Online Generator. Enjoy.
Add your voice and comment.
As nation states ruled the 20th Century, now digital corporations are positioning themselves as the rulers of this. And much like the early 20th, where a physical arms race led to a world war in the second decade, we are now in the middle of a digital arms race that is placing us in the midst of a new threat. The culmination of this threat however, will not be played out on Flanders fields in trenches and physical fighting, no it will take place across the information super highways and be coded in binary going on unseen to most casual observers.
For years now Google has been king of the online world gathering an unprecedented knowledge of its users and using that knowledge to target its services and advertising model accordingly. The profits have rolled in. It is clear Google is not happy with the expansion Facebook has enjoyed of late and there is concern at the effect this could go on to have on Google’s established staple revenue streams, particularly online advertising.
The rise of Facebook from simple social media network to worldwide behemoth and fully immersive lifestyle platform threatens Google’s position and bottom line. This threat has become particularly prevalent as Facebook moves to structure its experience so users (and their hard earned cash) never leave the confines of the network with the development of brand pages and integration services such as F-Commerce. The result being that there is now a real risk many users entire shopping experiences will take place through Facebook and all of those big advertising budgets will be redirected towards Facebook’s ever deepening coffers.
It was clear Google had to act and act it has with this autumn’s launch of the much anticipated Google+ platform.
Google+ is the corporation’s most serious attempt to establish itself as a credible social media network to date, with many of the features being specifically designed to aid content sharing and brand promotion. It has dabbled in this area before with the release of its much maligned (and ultimately failed) wave and buzz services but this is the first time you really feel Google is taking Facebook on at their own game so directly.
Facebook obviously has a head start with over 800 million active users and development across its platform rife. However Google can lay claim to being a genuine contender as it has the added advantage of an already established and fully integrated email platform, superb analytics and search marketing offerings and the unique position to pull all of these things together in a way that can really create a seamless experience.
The question of who will ultimately win this battle is for another time and will most likely create the content for countless more blog posts. I for one will be watching intently and look forward to seeing how things develop.
The question I am really interested in posing today though is what does this ultimately mean for us as both users and citizens?
Well as users it means party time. Competition between manufacturers and suppliers always means rapid development, improved services and more choice doesn’t it? Well in one sense yes, the two giants of the web will be forced into upping the ante and increasing the speed at which they develop ever more useful services with better integration across third party applications than ever before.
But at what cost will this come to us as citizens? I would like to posit the notion that it will be a high one.
Facebook has been amassing personal data for years now. It holds information about your friends, family, education and work history. In addition it collects data relating to your personality. Through integration with third party apps like Spotify and The Guardian it knows what you are reading and listening to and records what you post to “walls” and “like” across the web. All of your personal messages and “chats” are stored, too, even if you delete them. In a similar vein Google has records of all of your search history linked to your IP address and through iGoogle and its gmail platform can link this to personal information it has about you.
This has massive implications for your personal privacy with these two companies arguably holding more useful and relevant information about you than even the Government. In my opinion that is a lot of responsibility for an unaccountable corporation to hold. Facebook has already come in for a lot of criticism over its seemingly blaze approach to our privacy and it is only recently it has appeared to take this in any way seriously.
So surely then a genuine rival to Facebook will be a good thing? Each provider will be forced to offer improved privacy protection and effective profile restriction settings. It will force both Google and Facebook to take our privacy seriously or we may defect to the other camp. This is true and will of course mean our online data will become safer from prying eyes and to corruption by external forces than ever before.
So the net effect of this battle seems to be that our personal data will be safer than ever before. But to me this misses the most crucial consideration in all of this and that is, who will be checking up on the people who control all of this data themselves? Both Google and Facebook will hold details on virtually every aspect of our lives and at present there really is no play book to follow in ensuring this is handled in a way that respects our privacy and rights as citizens.
This is the issue we’ve been overlooking with most conversations about online privacy choosing to focus on the dangers around loss of data and not the threats posed by increased corporate retention of it. The elephant in the room if you will is the fact that over the course of the next few years each of us will, out of our own choice, happily give over ever increasing information about ourselves to two giant, all powerful yet ultimately unaccountable corporations. At the moment they promise they are not misusing it and the regulators are working hard to ensure it is protected. But for how long will this gentleman’s agreement hold out?
This shift is inevitable. The increased competition of Google and Facebook’s battles will lead to more integrated services resulting in more of our lives taking place online and ever more of the information that details who we are being held in the data banks of these two companies. Competitors will be swallowed up (See Google’s acquisition of YouTube and Facebook’s purchase of Gowalla as relevant examples of where this is already taking place) ensuring any potential data capture and revenue streams will eventually end up in these same centralised resources.
Furthermore with the rise of smart-phones, each of us now carries a mini GPS in our pockets (synced up to our applications) meaning even our location and movement is now trackable. More and more of our lives will be known in real time and the potential for misuse of this increases to a level only before contemplated in the land of fiction and sci-fi.
And it will not be an accountable, electable Government who will know all of this data about you. Where you are and who you are with. What you are reading and what you are planning. No, it will be a Google or a Facebook (or even an Apple).
But it’s ok as our elected Governments will regulate them won’t they? Our Governments will ensure this data is never misused, that it is only used for the purposes it was signed over for? We’d like to hope so but history tells us different I think. Armed with all of this knowledge and power I would hazard a guess these companies will develop ever increasing abilities of leveraging Governments to do their will and these will eventually include relaxations on the way personal data can be reused. Think about it, If you need to be elected you’re going to need to take seriously the views and wants of companies who hold so much sway over our personal, daily information and the economy are you not? It will be a repeat of Thatcher and Blair’s cooing to Rupert Murdoch’s News International but on a scale unlike any seen before.
And so we return to my original point. The defeat of Nation State rule and Government absolute power will be complete. The baton of control of the 21st century empires will have passed wholly to the Corporations, to the Google and the Facebook of the not so distant future. And as the Nation States warred across the 20th Century for our loyalty a war between these corporations will be raging constantly in an unseen place throughout this. The greatest irony in all of this being that unlike in previous times where we have fallen foul by rule of force, this time by buying into the services they provide we will be implicitly consensual and willing in our own subjugation.
We will love our Big Brothers with all our hearts.
Sound familiar at all Orwell fans?
Now why not share this on Google or Facebook ;)
Add your voice and comment.
Today I was introduced to this amazing live 3D project New Opera Hero.
New Opera Hero are doing something genuinely exciting and unique in the sphere of live performance, amalgamating visual and sonic art by connecting live music, dance performance and 3D holographic visuals within a live setting.
They were formed in 2007 by Steff Ungerer and Mike Wilson who have directed, composed, written and designed for theatre, opera, concerts, TV, computer games and art installations so are clearly well placed to merge these media into a single experience.
Here is a segment from their show at Shunt in London.
Add your voice and comment.
Three very interesting videos on Web 3.0 and the Internet of Things. Don’t have time to discuss them in detail right now but thought I’d share them nonetheless. More to follow.
Mike Wing, Andy Stanford-Clark and John Tolva
Animation by Lisa Kwon
Music by Lee Feldman
The Future Internet, an initiative driven by the European Union, has become a prime research focus of STI International and the Service Web 3.0 project. The video outlines the basic themes of the European Union’s Future Internet initiative. These include: an Internet of Services, where services are ubiquitous; an Internet of Things where in principle every physical object becomes an online addressable resource; a Mobile Internet where 24/7 seamless connectivity over multiple devices is the norm; and the need for semantics in order to meet the challenges presented by the dramatic increase in the scale of content and users.
Produced by STI International.
Dutch ICT think tank EPN (recently merged with ECP.nl to ECP-EPN) has produced this short movie, attempting to explain the Web 3.0 concept. The EPN foundation sets the agenda and approaches web 3.0 from various points of view and draws attention to it’s implications for society.
Add your voice and comment.
Mind blowing talk from Jesse Schell at Dice Conference 2010 on the future of gaming and how it could transform social interaction.
Schell invisions a future where gaming permeates every aspect of our day to day lives. The idea of being scored and rated against our peers during every activity driving our behaviour patterns and participation in every facet of society.
If you do one thing today, watch this.
Add your voice and comment.