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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
“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.
Thanks for tuning in for this new monthly update on Cities of Things. I am at the moment on my way to Munich to officially kick off the field lab Cities of Things MUC-AMS (Munich-Amsterdam) that have been in the planning and shaping for the last year. I will definitely keep you posted in the coming months on this initiative. On this website, you can find some background information.
A signature part is looking into the impact of mobility on the cities. We have different partners involved in this and there is a natural link. I like to have exploration on a broader development, the way new generations treat possession which can be seen in the way we treat bikes (and other goods that we used to possess).
Due to my holidays, I write this post a bit later than usual. Welcome to the new subscribers! Every month I take one article in the domain of Cities of Things that trigger thinking about one aspect that is part of the Cities of Things elements of living together with intelligent things in cities that shape our city life so to say. That can be a new insight or a connection to one of the core aspects. This month I like to dive into one of the latter categories. One of the concepts I ran into while doing research at Delft University of Technology is the co-performance as described by Kuijer and Giaccardi in 2018. It reflects on a notion that we grow into a form of collaboration with technology that is based on shared goals, on a certain leveled interest almost. At least that is what I especially take out of it.
A lot is discussed about DAOs, the decentralized autonomous organization, and last months a couple of interesting articles passed by. In A Prehistory of DAOs Kei Kreutler is looking into what to learn from different earlier types of organizations: “DAO comes from imagining how features of decentralized technology, such as global digital assets, censorship resistance, and automated actions, will change how organizations operate.” It is mainly an organizational form for shaping organizations and processes to deal with decision-making. A basic element of the DAO is the governance mechanism and operating principles. In further exploration, interesting connections are made with gaming environments and a form of guilds. All focused though on the organization of humans in organizations.
Looking back into the future; the last year I had to think more than once on a project we did back in 2013 on the future of e-commerce; Shopping 2020. It would be nice to have a look into the trends we projected back then to see what became true or not, not to prove ourselves right, but more to learn from the thinking patterns. Thinking about this and exploring the articles of June that might be the base for this month’s look-back update, I could not deny the rise in attention for the metaverse for some time now. A new promise for future forecasters from consultancies especially those with a technology focus. As often, without planning to do, links between the stories pop up… First, let’s go back to the shopping future.
Looking back at last month there were two interesting articles that deserve a closer look in relation to the Cities of Things. It connects to some of the basic concepts, and triggers deeper exploring that I probably do later.
One of the core concepts that inspire Cities of Things is the relationships we as humans have with the technology that gets more agency, will make their own decisions, will have more responsibility in taking decisions. The things that are becoming citizens. Things are still representing systems of designed agency, often by organizations. They might however become more learning creatures on their own. We strive for a harmonious society living together with these things, where we can perform in co-performance with the things reaching a shared goal, using each-others best characteristics.