New relations in generative things

On 4 June 2024, I gave a talk at an evening on “Designing Intelligent Cultures with Data and AI”, organized by design agency CLEVER°FRANKE from Utrecht (check also their recap). I decided to share my developing thoughts on the emergence of Generative Things, a new breed of things that we foresee happening in a certain form in the research of Cities of Things for some years, but with the rise of the new generative AI could become even more relevant to explore. Especially for designers. My goal for the talk was to give a kind of direction of thinking that -in my humble opinion- is needed to design these new things, or better said, the new relations with these generative things.

As background for a transcript of the talk, I recorded a test run that I did as practice (and timing), and I feed this together with the slide deck to ChatGPT. I then asked to rewrite the first rough breakdown of slides and transcript into a blog post. It did a good job making a summary, and I did the final edit afterward. Below is the result. Let’s start by sharing the slides. If you like to know more, get in contact.

reflections update

April reflections and update

Following the method of last Month, I again asked the AI-intern (ChatGPT-4) to reflect on the different weekly thoughts at Target is New, through the lense of the Cities of Things Manifesto. I continued the conversation a bit with my own feelings about last Month, as an important moment with two long-expected AI-enhanced devices finding their way to customers and reviewers. Humane and Rabbit make different choices in the way they interact with the environment and with the user. The technology and execution are both rather flaky and more of an alpha version, but it gives some views into a future for wearable technology as an extension of our current phone practice.

Here is the conversation, I end with some ‘human’ reflections 🙂

reflections update

March reflections and updates

Every week, I post a newsletter via Target_is_New signaling notions from the news and elaborate on one topic triggered by a news item or event I visited. As my frame of view is the City of Things beliefs, it makes a lot of sense to create a monthly post here looking back and combining these thoughts. And it would be nice if I could use the generative tooling.


multilateral augmented intelligence

New AI-endeavours build communities of self-improving multilateral augmented intelligence, as flocks of multi-core AIs improve themselves in continuous self-reflection.

(This post was sent as a newsletter on 31th July via Cities of Things Substack)

Having AI as co-performers with humans has been the topic more than once, referring to the concept defined back in 2018. In the latest developments of the AI uprise, we see the power of conversational AI in chatGPT and all the followers. It is often perceived as the interface with the AI, the new way of addressing the powers in combination with the magic of tokenised predictive language created through the large language models (LLMs). On top of that, starting from this new implementation of conversations with the machine intelligence, the start of real interactions with the AI emerges and with that, a potential learning loop between the human and the AI. 


Are we closer to building an Oracle Machine?

With Cities of Things, we look at intelligent (behaviour of) things in our future cities. Robotics combined with an intelligence agency. Last week I attended a lecture by James Bridle, who wrote a book last year on other intelligence last year (Ways of Being), that I liked a lot. They showed how there is more than human intelligence and how these can inspire us. Bridle also made a link to how computing is designed still around the Turing machine. There is another concept that Turing once hinted at in a footnote (1) in his first paper on the automated machine, and later a bit more in the 50s in another paper, but never was able to flesh out. In short, the difference in computing concepts is the way it computes intelligence. The Turing machine uses as much of the existing information and generates the intelligence internally in the system. The Oracle machine is using the art of making theses and the learnings from responses to build intelligence, a machine that is looking outside itself to build knowledge. The lecture by Bridle will be online sometime soon I expect, but he explained the concept in earlier lectures like this one.

Last week Noam Chomsky wrote an opinion piece in The York Times on why ChatGPT offers a false promise (2). I see links here, and interesting enough, the thesis of Chomsky is built upon the notion that current machine intelligence is based on a limited form of computing. At the same time, you could make a case that the form of accessing this machine intelligence via the chat-routine is testing the promise of the oracle machine. On the verge of the introduction of GPT-4 it is useful to think about what we can learn from the application of GPT-3 in the world through these new interfaces, and what we need for the next iteration.

What is missing in the current models is an ability to learn, and to reference a general mental model of the world. If we are using the current tooling right, we make sure that these models (morality) are provided by the human in the loop. We need to be sure there is a human in the loop in using the tooling. And to be sure, having a human in the loop is not the same as a human using machine intelligence to provide answers to questions formulated by humans. It is definitely true that asking the right questions is key, and that is why prompt engineering is such a highly valued expertise in the near future. The example in the article of Chomsky is a speaking example.

The design of these tooling should facilitate, or even more maybe steer, the right flow of theses and claims. The human actor should always create a moral framework before the machine is asked to ‘oracle’ based on general knowledge, and the final judgement is also to the human. In the most sophisticated versions of this tooling, the AI can help to formulate the best claims. I wrote earlier on the concept of co-performance which provides some insightful poses. A useful metaphor is also the centaur, the half-human, half-machine; that is what we are developing more quickly than we might have expected. The most important challenge is to balance the right tasks for the machine and the human.

The image and reference that Bridle uses from the Cybernetic Factory by Stafford Beer (1959) is a possible implementation design. The goal was to create a better way of automating factory processes by using all kinds of outside knowledge and building a complete ecosystem. Bridle connect it to learning from other intelligence like how slime moulds can solve the traveller problem much more efficiently than our current computers can do.

Cybernetic Factory of Stafford Beer (via Research Gate)

What was not discussed is the relation of the current interaction model within tools like ChatGPT and the possibility of building a kind of Oracle Machine. It feels almost too simple to connect these; what if we can use the power of the dialogues with intelligence in a real learning environment, and what if the outcome is a new form of ecosystem computing? The biggest learning from the upheaval around the use of ChatGPT for all is that we should take into account what the value of the knowledge is. If we can build in the right human guardrails in the oracle machine we might be able to loosen up the limitations of current implementations.


(1) “We shall not go any further into the nature of this oracle apart from saying that it cannot be a machine” Alan Turing, Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals (1939)

(2) The oped of Chomsky has triggered a debate, Gary Marcus is reflecting on this debate here.

(This post was published earlier via the Cities of Things newsletter)


blog – Balancing act of sharing agency with the intelligent things

Dear readers. The last edition was just released after the war in Ukraine started. The flow of the war is maybe different than expected in some parts, like the resistance and duration. On the other hand, patterns seem the same as earlier wars initiated by Putin, and also compared to the rituals of growing dictatorships. Some are predicting a long-lasting fight for dominance by democratic systems or dictatorial systems. We only can hope that France will not vote for a extremist new president in two weeks…

How does this all relate to the topic of this newsletter? I made the connection when thinking about one of the key elements of the explorations in Cities of Things: the agency balance. We see that part of our own agency is delegated to the intelligent systems, and that there is a shift happening toward technology as a partner above being a tool. A silent partner though, it is not always visible what is defining the help we get. There is a danger in that, linking it back to the balance between centralized and decentralized systems, between democratic and dictatorial systems. Even if we can resist that shift and if the war is not coming to our own country, we can expect more centralized ruled systems, as part of a warlike state of being. And in the end we are integrated in a geopolitical ecosystem that is already balancing value systems.


blog – Designing agency in a troubled world

Dear readers. As everyone is writing stuff on a routine (at least planned to do so), you think about the relevance at a moment that a big crisis is happening so nearby (I am based in the Netherlands); the invasion of Ukraine, that is, of course, Putin’s War. The images of what is happening are so sad and terrible.

I would have probably been writing a reflection on how this example of human-tech interactions is taking an interesting different stand on what autonomous driving is about with an AI taking the role of an attentive passenger and how that can be related to a different form of coaching relation. But I think it would make more sense to reflect on some of the analyses of the developments in the conflict and potential follow-up. There is a link with the themes that drive Cities of Things, I think, on a certain level. I read analysis and listened to a podcast that made me connect some of the aspects to the usual topics of this newsletter: is there a shift in agency of control that we need to be aware of?

There are a lot of assessments on the intentions of Putin’s crew for this war. Is it about re-establishing the Russian Empire or more? Is it economically driven or military defense? Is he getting crazy or sick and fighting for a place in history? It is useful to know the motivations to anticipate; it would be useful too to focus on the context. And instead of being surprised, anticipate the worst.


blog – relations shaping cities of things

The first month of the year is a moment for looking ahead to the year. Predicting is something that does not make too much sense. A year is too nearby to expect big shifts as the real changes can be found looking back for some years. Nevertheless, there is a strong uprise in robotics, and uncertainty about what is real.

There were a lot of critical notes on Web3 last month. It was clear that not all is sunny for the future of decentralizing. Moxie’s article was a kind of accelerator.

Another topic that will remain relevant this year, and I expect to deal with later is living a meta world. Not as a world or company, but as a feeling. Do we have lost connection with the real? It represents a kind of uncertainty for the real. More than specific forms.

But let’s dive a bit into another aspect: the defining role of relations in cities of things.


blog – predictive systems shaping an ownership economy

In this reflective blog I like to dive into one of the fundamental concepts of Cities of Things that is touched upon in several posts but deserve a specific fleshing out I think; the active and initiating role of the bottom-up based network of objects that builds a Cities of Things, what makes a Cities of Things stand out other smart city concepts. It has a lot of aspects that can be dealt with in several posts. Like the role of relations as defining element, and the connection to incentified systems.

Back in 2012 when we kicked off the INFO innovation lab, big data as an important new concept was a rising topic. I reflect on the developments in a whitepaper and promoted an angle where big data served the creation of tiny services, meaning that you should not use the big data as just profiling, generalizing, analyzing tool, but keep it connected to the personal interest of users. I defined three separate layers to support that focus: the objects and the relations between the objects, the people, and the relations between the persons, and binding these together in an intelligent orchestrating layer that generates bespoke services via rules.


blog – Embodied reality with citythings

There were a couple of impulses for the reflection this month. One was an exploration of trends I did for a workshop that discussed amongst others the relationship between sport, data, and intelligent systems. Apart from the very functional use of data, the role of the coach is super interesting here. Peleton is a popular home training system in the States that is a mix of datafying products and human coaches that become stars. Last month Facebook became Meta and introduced a peek into their -skewed imho- future vision on the metaverse. With a fitness program too of course. Now still with the normal controllers, but you can expect all kinds of physical objects like dumbells made for the metaverse. How will these look if they only have an appearance in the virtual world? Optimizing for weight and sensors, that is an interesting design project. How to prevent a reality sketched in Wall-E with everyone immersed in a chair becoming obese… So how it will develop is unclear; will we live a life where everything is made frictionless like in Wall-E or create a full representation of physical experiences enhanced or augmented.

Lidar point clouds create reality through a dialogue with objects

This embodiment of virtual life is super interesting but not what I wanted to address here. I had to think a bit further on how we will relate to the concept of sports as an individual activity. Last month we learned that gen z is losing the connection with the physical mental model with virtual service-based systems like file systems. What will be our understanding of the psychical world if every object is becoming an active object?

It feels like a balancing act; are we turning technology into a collaborative relationship and understanding, or we are getting more disconnected from reality. Not the disconnection with reality that is happening with fake news and opinions become facts through the dark patterns of social media amplification. The disconnection, the distance is more a subtle one; what does it mean to our relation to services, to objects, to an embodiment of our lives if everything is in continuous flux and what is real is defined on the fly? Do we still have a touch-base that is reality?

We need to find a new balance. In this article on how AI is reinventing computing the different relation is a key point.

Traditionally, to get a computer to do something like recognize speech or identify objects in an image, programmers first had to come up with rules for the computer. With machine learning, programmers no longer write rules. Instead, they create a neural network that learns those rules for itself. It’s a fundamentally different way of thinking.”

The training and needed interplay is promising for the collaborative technology; there is also a need for having reality-anchors if everything is adapting to everything. The designer of the (near) future is not designing the end state but is designing the training objects that a robot (or service) is encountering to become valuable. It is now explored for basic activities such as the walking of a robot, but why not also for cognitive tasks?

The new movie by Superflux is in that sense a hopeful future sketch however we need to drive a bumpy road first. That is an intersection. The road we are on now, is extrapolated a bit. So there are possible dangers that it takes a different route if we don’t get out act together.

“What’s most compelling about sci-fi literature isn’t the technology but how people’s relationships change within technology,” says Jack Weinstein, a philosophy professor at the University of North Dakota (source)

To bring it home to Cities of Things; living in a city with all kinds of intelligent objects that are touchpoints to mixed intelligent – self-initiating systems, and the objects becoming more and more self-supporting and initiating. How we relate to these objects and through these objects to others is the defining question. How we can use intelligence to make an impact? What is the role of the mentioned sports objects in understanding a game more than the rules? What will the embodiment of reality look like in a virtualized life? The system of these objects, these citythings are shaping how we perceive, and value reality.

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